Iain Duncan Smith asks the Speaker if, by breaking precedent on allowing the anti-Brexit amendment, he has changed the Parliamentary rules for the future

9th January 2019

Following the Speaker of the House of Commons’ decision to allow an amendment tabled by anti-Brexit rebels, contrary to Clerks’ advice, Iain Duncan Smith asks if Back Bench MPs will be permitted to amend “forthwith” motions in future; that is motions ordinarily put forward by the Government for a decision by the Commons without debate or amendment.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, I respect the Chair and I would never push my luck with you. I do not challenge the decision by any means, and it is your right to make it from the Chair, but over the past 24 or 25 years I have on a number of occasions, particularly during the Maastricht debates, asked the Clerks whether we could amend a Business of the House motion. I was always told categorically that precedent says it is not possible and, therefore, there was no point seeking to do so—I say that only as a statement.

Because this has a big impact on the Government’s ability to get their business, regardless of Brexit, will the instruction go to the Clerks that, in future, a Back Bencher wishing to amend a “forthwith” motion will now have such an amendment allowed and accepted against any business in the House?

It seems entirely reasonable for me to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I would like to reflect on that matter. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] Order. Members cavil as though there is an assumption that there should be immediate and comprehensive knowledge of all circumstances that might subsequently unfold. It may be that there are Members who feel they possess such great wisdom and, if so, I congratulate them upon the fact. I do not claim that wisdom, so I am giving what I absolutely admit is a holding answer to the right hon. Gentleman. I will reflect on the point, but if he is asking whether I think it is unreasonable that people might seek to amend a Business of the House motion, I do not think it is unreasonable. If, in future, Back Benchers were to seek to do so, it would seem sensible to me to say, “Let us look at the merits of the case.”

Finally, in attempting to respond not only to the right hon. Gentleman but to some of the concerns that have been expressed, I understand the importance of precedent, but precedent does not completely bind, for one very simple reason. [Interruption.] I say this for the benefit of the Leader of the House, who is shaking her head. If we were guided only by precedent, manifestly nothing in our procedures would ever change. Things do change. I have made an honest judgment. If people want to vote against the amendment, they can; and if they want to vote for it, they can.