At the end of the debate in Parliament yesterday, MPs raised concerns that they "could get only 90 minutes in this House to debate a decision of such magnitude" - especially in light of the next debate to which twice as much time was given to debate "rural phone and broadband connectivity."
Below is the official record of that exchange
(The full record of the 90-minute debate can be downloaded here).
Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just had a 90-minute debate during which a number of right hon. and hon. Members from across the Chamber and with different views had to rush through their speeches. We had people putting on the record views—sometimes genuinely held views although not necessarily correct—that nobody was able to challenge. Some hon. Members did not even have the chance to contribute to the debate.
Could you confirm, Mr Speaker, that there were indeed hon. Members who indicated that they would have liked to speak? Secondly, do you think it right that we have had a 90-minute rush and will now have three hours on a Backbench Business Committee motion?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I confirm that two hon. Members who wished to speak were unable to do so. I expressed sympathy at the start of the debate for the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) who would have preferred a longer allocation of time, but I must operate within the rules and procedures of the House. It is also fair to emphasise that 12 Back-Bench Members representing different viewpoints were called. That is the factual answer.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) invites my view as to the propriety or otherwise of this matter, and I can say only that we have operated entirely in accordance with procedure. There has been no impropriety and nothing disorderly. I understand that some people are discontented, but I hope people will not take offence if I say that to a degree, I think there will always be people who are discontented. It is difficult to get unanimity on these matters, either on the merits of the issue or on the procedure. However, I think we have done our best, and people have done their best today to help each other, which is worthy of note.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP):
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is obviously of great concern to many Members of the House that only 90 minutes was allocated for that debate, and you outlined at the beginning of the debate that the Minister could control that. What advice would you give to Back Benchers who want to ensure that in future, if there are debates about such enormous change for the whole United Kingdom, we can ensure a three-hour debate rather than a 90-minute debate?
I am always happy to offer my advice to the hon. Gentleman, but whether he takes it or not is entirely up to him. The short answer is twofold. The hon. Gentleman is an assiduous attender of debates—indeed, I have often wondered if he sleeps here overnight because he is invariably present in the Chamber at all times and for every Adjournment debate. First, he should always turn up at business questions when he can raise such matters with the Leader of the House. Secondly, if he feels that Back Benchers should have a greater say in the allocation of time on matters of this kind, he might want to join forces with other hon. Members who are championing the creation of a House business committee. That was to be introduced by the third year of this Parliament, but I think it momentarily slipped the Government’s memory and therefore has not happened. It might happen in the next Parliament, however, and I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman might be a cheerleader for it. We will leave it there.
Dr William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP)
I will come to the hon. Gentleman—how could I not?—but first of all, I will take the point of order from Sir Paul Beresford.
Sir Paul Beresford (Mole Valley) (Con):
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman that introduced the point of order has conveniently forgotten that he spoke in the Back-Bench debate on just this cause, as it is in his case. He was one of the leading Members at that debate.
Well, that was—dare I say it?—a meaty point of order, or even a toothy one, but it was certainly a useful point of order and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. We must not delay indefinitely, but we must take Dr McCrea.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There is general dismay among many Members, and I am sure among our constituents, that we could get only 90 minutes in this House to debate a decision of such magnitude, and hand it over to others to take the decision forward, without parliamentarians having the final say, and yet we have three hours on the next motion, a general debate on rural phone and broadband connectivity. Only one Northern Ireland Member was able to speak, and he had to rush through his speech, and yet we find out that the legislation applies equally to Northern Ireland, where a devolved Government cannot stop it, as in other regions of the United Kingdom.
I always listen to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope to every Member, with courtesy. I hope he will not take offence when I say that that point was made in the course of the debate. If the Leader of the House wants to respond, he can, but we must operate in accordance with our rules. Members would rightly complain if we did not or if I did not.
We will have to leave it there for today. I thank all hon. Members both for their contributions to the debate, and of course for their points of order. I thank the Minister for her courtesy and consideration of other Members in terms of her own taking up of time.