Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 491: debated on Monday 20 April 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that we know that no proceedings are to be taken against the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), have you had a request from the Leader of the House to come and make a statement on the future of the Committee which was to consider the implications for the rights and privileges of Members arising from the raid on the hon. Gentleman’s office, and, in particular, on whether she is now willing to abandon the condition that would oblige you to ensure that there was a Government majority in the selection of members of that Committee—an unnecessary restriction on your discretion in a matter that concerns the whole House and not just the Government?

I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that I am looking into this matter and I will return to the House on it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In column 998 of Hansard on 8 May 1998, my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) said the following in relation to the disclosure of documents on Hillsborough:

“Our attitude to the disclosure of documents has been simple. We believe that anything relevant or material—anything that throws any light on to any of the events of that day—should be made available unless someone can demonstrate a very good reason why it should not be, although I have not so far come across such a case.”—[Official Report, 8 May 1998; Vol. 311, c. 998.]

My right hon. Friend was very strong on that, and he was very helpful during that debate.

Therefore, while I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement that she will allow full disclosure of Hillsborough documents, is it not a scandal that we have had to wait 11 years for further information when we were told that all the relevant information was published back in 1998? Can you, Mr. Speaker, do anything to investigate why this information was not given to the House as promised, and will you ensure that the information that has now been promised gets as quickly as possible to Parliament?

The hon. Gentleman has put this matter on the record. I realise the difficult situation that he is in, as he has to represent his constituents as best he can, but he will understand that this is not a matter for the Chair. Those in authority who have responsibility will have heard what he has had to say regarding this matter.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not having been skilful enough to have linked my earlier question sufficiently closely to the statement, but I say as a point of order that I know that you have many times expressed your concern about ministerial answers taking too long. I would like to hear your view on this one. I put down a question for a written answer on 9 December. I asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department

“if she will publish a list of the systematic leaks from her Department referred to in her statement of 4 December 2008, Official Report, columns 134-36, as having led to her to approve referring the matter to the police; and whether any of the leaks listed concerned issues of national security.”

I received a holding answer on 9 December, saying that I would get a reply as soon as possible. I received a reply more than 15 weeks later, on 26 March this year. This reply was from one of the Home Secretary’s junior Ministers, referring me to the statement of his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on 4 December and giving the same column references that I had given in my question in the first place. Is not that a pretty contemptible way to treat hon. Members?

I will not comment on the content, but questions should be as helpful as possible to right hon. and hon. Members.

Pardon me. The hon. Gentleman is right—I mean answers. Forgive me; I have been out of practice, having had a bit of a holiday. The answers should be helpful, but the questions should be as well.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the context of the police’s entry into the offices of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green), I raised with the Leader of the House in business questions just before the House rose the question whether the Attorney-General’s opinion could be made available in the Library of the House. That was deposited the day after we began the recess. My point of order is that this whole issue raises matters of freedom of speech for Members of this House; the question of the confidentiality of our correspondence; and questions of national security. In particular, I have in mind the case of Mr. Duncan Sandys in 1938-39. Regrettably, the Attorney-General has not referred in her opinion to this case or, indeed, to several other precedents and conventions that apply. In those circumstances, I would be grateful if you would be good enough, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that a motion coming before the House is allowed to be debated, and that the matter is referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman is legally qualified, so he will know that an opinion does not always provide the answer that someone wants. The same applies to the opinion of the Attorney-General; it may not necessarily be what the hon. Gentleman wants. I am not responsible for the reply that a Law Officer gives.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is well established, as I said in business questions, that it is the Attorney-General’s role to advise the House and Parliament as a whole in matters of this kind. Furthermore, the fact that the Attorney-General is in the House of Lords perhaps creates certain difficulties in appreciating the effects of such actions on the freedom of speech of Members in this House and, indeed, of our constituents.

The hon. Gentleman has the same length of service in the House as me, or almost the same, and there has often been a situation—I shall choose my words carefully—where a Law Officer has been in the other place. I have no responsibility for the answers that a Law Officer gives. It is up to the Law Officer to give the response.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, and as the House knows, there is a large demonstration going on outside the Palace of Westminster, in Parliament square, involving the friends and relatives of thousands of Tamil people who are being killed in Sri Lanka. That demonstration has gone on for some time, but today it is blocking part of Parliament square and Whitehall. Have you had any intimation from the Leader of the House as to whether she has agreed that the topical debate for Thursday will be on the situation in Sri Lanka, or any indication from the Foreign Office as to whether a statement is to be made to the House?

The demonstrators met the Foreign Secretary on a previous occasion, and the Prime Minister’s envoy is having discussions at the United Nations at the moment, but to bring the demonstration to an end, is there any possibility of the matter being discussed in the House as soon as possible?

It is up to the Leader of the House to decide, in consultation with others in the House, what the topical debate should be. It has been reported to me not only that a demonstration has been blocking off our entrance, but that young children—little children, and sometimes toddlers—have been put at the perimeter, or the outside, of the demonstration, which puts the police in a very difficult situation.

Policemen who have been under criticism for the way in which they have handled adults are being put in a situation whereby they cannot make any clearance because little children have been put to the perimeter of the demonstration. That is very sad and not an act of democratic demonstration—the type of demonstration that I have been used to as a Member of Parliament and as a former trade union officer. I am saddened that the police have been put in this situation and that little children have been put in their way.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What powers do you have to order the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to secure what used to be taken for granted in the House—that we, as Members, would have free access to Parliament? That used to be the Sessional Order that was passed at the state opening of each Session of Parliament. I submit that it is completely outrageous that Members of the House have been subjected to this inconvenience, and that the people of London have been subjected to it.

The situation in Sri Lanka is nothing to do with the House and it is an affront that we should have been subjected to this inconvenience. Is it going to continue? I have just spoken to a police officer. He tells me that there is no police officer out there who will take action because the police are fearful that the television cameras will be on them and that if they show anything other than a softly, softly approach, they will find themselves in court. Surely law and order has broken down outside the Houses of Parliament.

My contact with the Commissioner is the Serjeant at Arms. I will take the matter up with the Serjeant at Arms to find out what is happening today.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your comment about what is happening in Parliament square, does not all this start with our being lenient about allowing three or four tents to be permanently encamped in Parliament square? If we are not tough on an operation of that sort, how on earth can we expect to control something as large as what is happening today?

That matter has been going on for some years, and I think the hon. Gentleman knows my views on it. However, each and every one of us has to abide by the law. I stop there as I had better get on to the main business of the day.