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Volume 54 Number 4, February 24, 2024 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Disgrace of House of Commons Debate on Call for Ceasefire in Gaza

Big Cartel Parties Block SNP Motion for a Permanent Ceasefire in Palestine

Thousands demonstrate outside Parliament on February 21 during the debate on the SNP motion
calling for Britain to support an immediate ceasefire and end the genocide - Photo: Mandy Brown

On Wednesday February 21, a debate in the House of Commons took place in response to the Scottish National Party's motion for a Ceasefire in Gaza [1] on a designated SNP Opposition Day.

Emergency demonstration outside Downing Street to stop the bombing of Rafah, 12/02/24 - Photo: PSC GBell

After months of protests of hundreds of thousands of British people alongside the millions of people and most countries in the world calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the SNP forced a debate in Parliament to challenge the British government's political and military support for Israel's occupation and bombing of Gaza, a motion that should have unequivocally been adopted by the government without delay. The desperate response of the Official Opposition, particularly the Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, was to attempt to sabotage this motion by means of an "amendment" to the SNP motion [2]. The Labour Party "amendment", effectively a new motion, put the initiative in any ceasefire back in the hands of the Israeli state who are the perpetrators of these war crimes of collective punishment and murder of the population and ethnic cleansing in Gaza. How reprehensible and disgraceful Wednesday's proceedings in the Commons chamber were can be seen also in the fact that the Clerk of the House of Commons, the senior custodian of Parliamentary procedure and standing orders, was moved to publish his reservations about this "innovation" of allowing anything other than a government amendment, which effectively prevented the SNP motion from being debated and voted on [3]. The Speaker had selected the Labour Party amendment (but not the Liberal Democrat one), as well as the customary government amendment, despite SNP protests. This departure from normal procedure effectively ruled out a vote on the SNP motion, which many MPs from all parties would have supported.

Then following the debate, where neither the Prime Minster, Rishi Sunak, nor the leader of the opposition Kier Starmer, took part but where a large majority of MPs expressed their stand with the Palestinian people against the atrocities being committed against them, the government withdrew its own amendment [4]. This was another Parliamentary trick so that the SNP motion could not be voted on and the Labour Party amendment would be adopted in spite of the fact that a large number of MPs and maybe even a majority would have voted for the SNP motion. All this chicanery was to ensure that the SNP motion for a ceasefire in Gaza would not go through at any cost, even though the archaic rules of Parliament dictate that the government does not have to accept any decision made on Opposition Day. This is the nature of the factional strife between the big cartel parties which prevails to ensure that the people's concerns are not addressed.

This debacle beyond farcical revealed the British Parliament for what it is - a facade to cover up that the people are not represented, have no voice, and decisions are being made elsewhere through police powers outside of the control even of the majority of MPs, who have to swear allegiance to the monarch, and who are themselves denied their voice. This is yet another example of how Parliament has become bereft of credibility, legitimacy and trust. The claim of this old parliamentary form to be governing with the consent of the people is shot, and the people rather perceive that this old form of so-called "representative democracy" works for private interests and not the public good. It has lost any capacity to serve as a focal point for the people. It is through the movement of the British and world's people to stand with the Palestinians and put a permanent halt to Israeli genocide that the motion demanding a ceasefire now had been tabled, and in the form of an SNP Opposition Day. Even then, the British establishment is so desperate to let Israeli Zionism off the hook in its mission to wipe out the Palestinians as a people that they set out to wreck this demand being passed by the House of Commons. But the genocide is what it is, however the powers-that-be try to divert from the reality with all their shenanigans. The House of Commons may disgrace itself, but the right of the Palestinians to resist, the egregious criminality of the Israeli regime, and the people's movement to stand with Palestine, all remain. In his apology to the House, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle, added to the disgrace by claiming that his ruling had been (a) to allow a broad spectrum of views to be expressed, and (b) that this was because of intimidation of MPs by the people's movement. Indeed the SNP motion as "amended" by the Labour Party - effectively a Labour motion - was passed without any vote but with uproar and factional strife.

250,000 march to the Israeli Embassy on Saturday, February 17 - Photo: Lucy Nichols

None of the serious political, social and economic problems in the life of the country can be dealt with in this way making life impossible for more and more people in Britain. The vital question of how Britain can change from being a force that is allied to the US and NATO that threatens to destroy entire peoples on every continent, that escalates war in the interests of its predominate war industries, to instead become a force for peace in a world, is completely obstructed by such an undemocratic political system.

This whole system, which is of dictate and police powers, pretends to be in conformity with international rule of law. But the self-serving interpretations of the big cartel parties, as exemplified in their denial of irrefutable genocide by Israel, while being obsessed with the alleged "terrorism" of Hamas, further deepens the crisis of legitimacy of the present political institutions which have had their day. It also further intensifies the conviction amongst the people that they are not represented by "representative democracy", nor by the institutions of governance. The following of the interests of US imperialism and the Pentagon by Westminster are also exposed by this state of affairs, their alliance in bombing Yemen, and refusal to demand an end to the ongoing slaughter in Gaza.

The events in the House of Commons on February 21 show a further escalation in personal attacks and factional fighting. At the same time, the demands of the British people to support what is just and oppose what is unjust, shameful and unconscionable, present an ever-widening gap between the people and the fraud of their "representation" by the cartel parties. New arrangements created by the people themselves are at the forefront of the necessities of the times. This is one important conclusion of the Commons debate on the call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Cardiff, Wales, February 13

Demonstration standing with Palestine through South Shields, February 18th

London, National demonstration, February 17

Glasgow, Celtic FC, Scotland, February 17th


[1] Motion: Ceasefire in Gaza, moved by SNP:

That this House calls for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and Israel; notes with shock and distress that the death toll has now risen beyond 28,000, the vast majority of whom were women and children; further notes that there are currently 1.5 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah, 610,000 of whom are children; also notes that they have nowhere else to go; condemns any military assault on what is now the largest refugee camp in the world; further calls for the immediate release of all hostages taken by Hamas and an end to the collective punishment of the Palestinian people; and recognises that the only way to stop the slaughter of innocent civilians is to press for a ceasefire now.

[2] Labour Party Amendment:

Leave out from "House" to end and add:

"believes that an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah risks catastrophic humanitarian consequences and therefore must not take place; notes the intolerable loss of Palestinian life, the majority being women and children; condemns the terrorism of Hamas who continue to hold hostages; supports Australia, Canada and New Zealand's calls for Hamas to release and return all hostages and for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, which means an immediate stop to the fighting and a ceasefire that lasts and is observed by all sides, noting that Israel cannot be expected to cease fighting if Hamas continues with violence and that Israelis have the right to the assurance that the horror of 7 October 2023 cannot happen again; therefore supports diplomatic mediation efforts to achieve a lasting ceasefire; demands that rapid and unimpeded humanitarian relief is provided in Gaza; further demands an end to settlement expansion and violence; urges Israel to comply with the International Court of Justice's provisional measures; calls for the UN Security Council to meet urgently; and urges all international partners to work together to establish a diplomatic process to deliver the peace of a two-state solution, with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable Palestinian state, including working with international partners to recognise a Palestinian state as a contribution to rather than outcome of that process, because statehood is the inalienable right of the Palestinian people and not in the gift of any neighbour."

[3] I am today exercising the opportunity to place on record my view that the decision to allow an official opposition spokesperson to speak and to move an amendment before a Government minister in response to an SNP spokesperson moving their opposition day motion represents a departure from the long-established convention for dealing with such amendments on opposition days, governed by Standing Order No31.

Where an orderly Government amendment to leave out some words of the motion and insert others is tabled and selected, the expectation is that such an amendment is then moved by the minister in the second speech of the debate and, once the amendment has been moved, the Standing Order provides that the first question considered by the House at the end of the debate must be on the text of the original motion. If that is negatived, the question is put on the Government's amendment.

When introducing the proposal in 1979 the Leader of the House said the arrangements were "so that a vote could take place on the Opposition's own motion" (Hansard 31 October 1979 vol 972 c1278). The procedural impact of the decision taken today is that the first division is likely to be on the official opposition's amendment rather than on the SNP's motion; and, depending on the outcome of any such division, it is possible that the House will not be able to vote on the SNP motion (nor on the Government's alternative proposition).

In taking this step, I recognise that:

a) Your decision is not specifically precluded by any Standing Order;

b) The Speaker and his Deputies have complete discretion regarding the order in which to call Members to speak;

c) The Speaker has discretion over which amendments to select;

d) There have been two occasions in the last 25 years or so when an amendment has been moved by an opposition party Member from a party other than the one to which the day had been allotted (as well as one when a government backbencher moved an amendment) and on one of those occasions, the Official Opposition Member was called to move his amendment before a minister was called - however, in those few circumstances, no Government amendment had been tabled; and

e) You have been motivated by giving the House what you considered to be the widest choice of decisions on alternative propositions, on a subject of immense importance, on which people in and outside the House have the strongest of views.

Nevertheless, I know that you understand why I feel compelled to point out that long- established conventions are not being followed in this case. I am grateful to you for making every effort to discuss this with me extensively and for taking full account of my views when reaching your decision, which I know was not an easy one, and which of course is one for you to make.

Yours sincerely,
Tom Goldsmith
Clerk of the House

[4] Government Amendment:

Leave out from "House" to end and add:

"supports Israel's right to self-defence, in compliance with international humanitarian law, against the terror attacks perpetrated by Hamas; condemns the slaughter, abuse and gender-based violence perpetrated on 7 October 2023; further condemns the use of civilian areas by Hamas and others for terrorist operations; urges negotiations to agree an immediate humanitarian pause as the best way to stop the fighting and to get aid in and hostages out; supports moves towards a permanent sustainable ceasefire; acknowledges that achieving this will require all hostages to be released, the formation of a new Palestinian Government, Hamas to be unable to launch further attacks and to be no longer in charge in Gaza, and a credible pathway to a two-state solution which delivers peace, security and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians; expresses concern at the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and at the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah; reaffirms the urgent need to significantly scale up the flow of aid into Gaza, where too many innocent civilians have died; and calls on all parties to take immediate steps to stop the fighting and ensure unhindered humanitarian access."

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