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Points of Order

Volume 518: debated on Monday 8 November 2010

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following your reporting earlier of the certificate issued by the election court in the case involving the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, as the case raises important questions it would be sensible for the House to pause before considering a by-election writ, for two reasons.

First, the matter is the subject of continuing legal proceedings by Mr Woolas, as you reported to the House at 2.30, and it seems only proper that the proceedings are allowed to conclude. Secondly—without wishing to stray at all into the details of the case, which we should not do because, as you have ruled, it is sub judice under the terms of the resolution passed by the House in 2001—if the judgment were to be overturned and the former Member were reinstated, but in the meantime we had held a by-election and another Member had been elected, we could end up with two Members of Parliament for one constituency, and that would hardly be desirable.

It seems to me that the prudent and practical course of action is to allow the legal process to be concluded before the House considers the writ.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, and further to the statement that you made at 2.35, we on the Government Benches are content with the sequence of events that you outlined.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will have noted your most helpful statement concerning the finding of the court that the election result in Oldham East and Saddleworth was void. Will you confirm, for the benefit of the House, that that means that there is currently no Member elected here to serve the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth? What assurance can you give the House and the people of that constituency that they will not be denied indefinitely, by untested legal proceedings, the representation to which they are entitled?

The hon. Gentleman, for whose point of order I am grateful, essentially raises two points. The answer to his first point is yes, as indicated in my statement when I referred to the need for Mr Woolas to vacate his seat from the date of the report, 5 November 2010. The answer to his second point is that of course I attach a premium, as I am sure the House as a whole will attach a premium, to a speedy resolution of the matter in the interests of Parliament, in the interests of Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency electorate, and in the interests of the country.

It is precisely because I attach such a premium that I thought it would help the House if I caused inquiries to be made of the administrative court as to the urgency with which a judicial review application would be treated. Therefore, I reiterate both for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman and for all Members of the House that I did, indeed, cause such inquiries to be made, and I was advised that the administrative court judge has ordered an expedited hearing of the renewed application. He has done so precisely because he, too, considers it essential that the electorate of Oldham East and Saddleworth should know who is their Member of Parliament as soon as possible. I hope that is helpful to all with an interest in the matter.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, and on a more general point, without in any way attempting—because you would rule me out of order if I did attempt—to get into the rights or wrongs of the case, massive constitutional issues are raised by it, which the House should debate. This is the first time in 99 years that a Member has been evicted. It is for the people, not the judges, to evict Members of Parliament.

My worry is that if the judgment is allowed to stand, robust debate during elections will become virtually impossible. People will be terrified of attacking their opponents. For instance, what happens if a minor candidate for the BNP attacks a major party candidate? The latter would be frightened of attacking the former back because he might be disqualified. These are enormous constitutional issues, which we should discuss in the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I note his point. Tomorrow he will have served 27 years and five months in the House. Throughout that time he has expressed himself with great force and conviction, and today is no exception. We are grateful to him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry that I did not catch your opening statement, but I have caught up with it since entering the Chamber. I in no way want to mention the details of the case, or defend or otherwise what is alleged, but, as you will no doubt know, the House has always been extremely reluctant to expel anyone. I know that this is not an expulsion made by a decision of this House, but the House has refused to expel Members over the years on the basis that this is not a club, despite what some people might say, and that if someone is elected it should be for the electorate to decide.

There is therefore bound to be concern about whether a court—judges—should decide, and not the electorate. From the moment I heard of the decision, I felt some concern and anxiety that the decision about whether the electorate wanted that particular Member to serve had been taken out of their hands and given to the judges. Therefore, as the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) said, the question does arise about whether in future circumstances an unsuccessful candidate will use any means to say in effect that what happened during the election was unfair, and to take the issue to the judges.

In so far as the latter part of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order appeared to be a question, I hope that he will understand if I say that I will treat it as a rhetorical question. He has essentially raised a point very similar to that of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh), and done so in earnest. That is respected, but I do not think that I need to respond to it. It is on the record, and that is important.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will be aware that at the tail end of last week the Business Secretary referred the potential takeover of BSkyB to Ofcom. The reason most Members will be aware of that decision is that it was released to the media. Is it in order for that decision, although very welcome, not to be announced on the Floor of this House?

No breach of order has occurred is the straight answer to the hon. Gentleman, to whom I am nevertheless grateful for giving me notice of his point of order. He has put his point on the record. The Procedure Committee is examining the general issue of ministerial statements to the House, and I suggest that he write to the Committee with this example as evidence. He will also know that oral questions to the Department will be answered on Thursday week.

Business of the House


That, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the intervals between stages of Bills brought in upon Ways and Means Resolutions, more than one stage of the Finance (No. 2) Bill may be taken at any sitting of the House.—(Mr Heath.)