Owen Thompson – 2024 Speech on the Gaza Vote in the House of Commons

The speech made by Owen Thompson, the SNP MP for Midlothian, in the House of Commons on 22 February 2024.

Yesterday was incredibly disappointing, from our point of view. It was meant to be an Opposition day, and it was one of only three times in a calendar year when our party gets an opportunity to put forward its business to the House. I do not think that what we came forward with was a surprise to anyone. We were allocated an Opposition day four or five weeks ago, but totally understandably, it had to be moved when the Northern Ireland Assembly was reconvening. At that stage, there were conversations, and I was asked when people would have sight of the Gaza motion that we would bring forward, so it is quite extraordinary for anyone to suggest that they did not know we might come forward with a motion on that topic. When it got to our Opposition day—one of the very few times when we can put forward our policies—our voice was silenced: our motion could not be voted on. That is incredibly disappointing for me and a significant number of my constituents, and those of my hon. Friends and hon. Members from across the Chamber who wanted to support the motion.

Given that, in effect, we did not get an Opposition day yesterday, can we be allocated an alternative date? As others have said, we lost a significant amount of time at the start of the debate, and because of the Speaker’s decision, unfortunately we lost 40 minutes at the end of the debate. That meant that colleagues were cut short, and some withdrew from the debate. What consideration will the Leader of the House give to that suggestion—and, beyond that, to protection for the smaller parties, so that they are not simply railroaded for the political purposes of either of the bigger parties?

I echo the comments of the shadow Leader of the House, but it is critical that all Members of this place, whatever their position or status, be protected from bullying and intimidation. If reports from many media outlets are to be believed, it is entirely unacceptable that significant pressure was put on Mr Speaker to come to his decision yesterday. What steps will the Leader of the House take to investigate those very serious claims? If there is any substance to them, it is an affront to democracy that a party leader can direct decisions of the Chair of this place.

As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am, as Chief Whip, involved in a number of conversations on how business comes forward. I had direct assurances that I would have a vote on the words of my motion yesterday. Everyone knew well in advance what the potential outcome would be at the end of yesterday’s debate, so to suggest that no one knew is utter nonsense. The reason we are in this position is that convention and the Standing Orders of this House were overruled, against the advice of the Clerks. That only happened because the Labour party wanted to be dug out of a hole. That is unacceptable.