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Points of Order

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 1 March, the News of the World smeared me in a story about parliamentary allowances, based on a false claim that I hardly visit the home in my constituency where I have lived every week for more than a decade. That story is now before the Press Complaints Commission. It was given credibility by a clear endorsement by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who knows that I am mentioning him and was in this Chamber earlier today, but who could not possibly have known whether the specifics of the story were true or not. Instead of apologising for not even consulting me first, the hon. Gentleman has claimed in correspondence that he gave only what he describes as “a generalised non-specific quote” that “does not even name” me, that he was “unaware” of much of the story’s contents before commenting, that he has not accused me

“of breaking the rules or indeed doing anything wrong”

and that he

“did not, for example, ‘fume’”

about my behaviour as the newspaper alleged.

I have now seen the newspaper’s evidence to the Press Complaints Commission. Its reporter, Jamie Lyons, states that

“before publication I had a lengthy telephone call with Mr Baker in which I went through in detail the specific allegations about”


“Lewis. He was then happy to give me the quote used in the story. I have spoken to Mr Baker since and he has absolutely no complaints about the quote.”

Is there any general guidance that you can give, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about standards of decency and integrity to be adopted by hon. Members when publicly criticising the personal conduct of colleagues, particularly when the person making the criticism has previously claimed very large sums of money from the public purse, including tens of thousands of pounds to pay rent to himself for a constituency office inside his own main home?

The hon. Gentleman’s point of order is obviously not a matter with which the Chair can deal in detail. I will say to the House, however, that I think that all right hon. and hon. Members should be very careful in their dealings with the media, particularly when reference is made to colleagues in this House. On every occasion, colleagues in this House should deal with each other with the greatest possible care and respect.

It is a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A month ago, secondary schools in my constituency were notified that their funding for sixth form places was going to be cut. It was rumoured today that there might be a statement from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on the state of play in returning that money to the schools. How can we persuade the Secretary of State to come to this House to make a statement on this important matter, which affects all our constituents across the country?

I am well aware of how important these matters are, not just to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents but to others. He will know full well that the Chair does not have responsibility for when and where Ministers make statements to the House, but his points are firmly on the record and I have no doubt that those on the Treasury Bench have taken note of them.