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Points of Order

Volume 528: debated on Tuesday 24 May 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may recall that last Monday, 16 May, we had a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence about the military covenant. Following that, because a lot of it had been leaked to the newspapers over the weekend, I raised a point of order in which I said that

“the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan)”

had

“on the record”

given

“quotations to The Daily Telegraph”,

announcing the policy before doing so in the Chamber. The Under-Secretary then said, in some kind of clarification:

“If the hon. Gentleman cares to read what was in the newspapers, he will discover that what he has said is not in fact in any way correct.”—[Official Report, 16 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 43-44.]

I have now read the newspapers. The Saturday edition of The Daily Telegraph to which I referred says clearly:

“a defence minister told The Daily Telegraph that the Government’s plans, to be announced in the House of Commons on Monday, would put the covenant ‘on a statutory basis for the first time’.”

In case there is any doubt about who that Minister was, the article later says:

“Andrew Robathan, the defence minister…told The Daily Telegraph…‘We are putting the military covenant on a statutory basis for the first time.’”

It is one thing for a Minister to leak something to the national newspapers before it is announced in this House. It is quite another for a Minister to give the House a very misleading understanding of what they have done. I do not think that the words used by the Under-Secretary in the Chamber can possibly be squared with what was in the newspaper. I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you will ask Mr Speaker to ensure that the Under-Secretary comes back to the House to make the true situation absolutely clear.

What has been said is on the record for everyone to see. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I will refer the matter to Mr Speaker, and that he will look at what has been said today.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, of which I have given Mr Speaker notice. Every Member of this House is doubtless aware that yesterday, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming)—I use the word honourable in its broadest possible sense—named a premiership footballer who is at the centre of the super-injunction row. A lot of people in this place and outside it find it difficult to see the exact public interest in naming that footballer, and I think that it was an act of gross opportunism by a politician on an ego trip. Can you, Mr Deputy Speaker, reiterate the traditional attitudes of the House towards such gross abuses of privilege?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving Mr Speaker notice of his point of order. I will simply repeat what Mr Speaker said yesterday:

“I strongly deprecate the abuse of parliamentary privilege to flout an order or score a particular point.”

He went on:

“It is important…that we recognise the need to temper our privilege with responsibility.”—[Official Report, 23 May 2011; Vol. 528, c. 653-654.]

I think that that is all that needs to be said on the matter.