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Points of Order

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that this is an unusual time to seek to catch your eye on a point of order, but in view of the fast-moving events surrounding the allegations about phone hacking at News International, I thought that it would be helpful for the House to have clarity about any additional business this week. Ministers are minded to make representations to you that that the House should be recalled on Wednesday in order for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to come to the House to update Members on recent developments, and for hon. Members to have an opportunity to hold a full day’s debate on these issues. Mr Speaker, given that we want Parliament to remain at the centre of this debate, are you able to give an indication of whether you would be minded to grant such a request?

I am, and I will be. The Leader of the House has indicated that the public interest requires that the House should meet this Wednesday. It might be helpful to the House to say that, if I receive a formal request from the Government after the House adjourns tomorrow under Standing Order No. 13, I will appoint 11.30 on Wednesday as the time for the House to meet. The business to be taken at that sitting will be set down by the Government, and the Leader of the House has given a helpful indication of what that will be.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. First thing this morning, the Leader of the Opposition called for the House to meet on Wednesday, so I welcome the confirmation that we have just had from the Leader of the House that the Government will seek the recall of the House. However, given that events are indeed moving at a very fast pace, can we be clear on three matters? First, given the large and growing number of questions that now need to be answered by the Prime Minister concerning his judgment, it is essential that he lead the debate on Wednesday. Mr Speaker, have you been given any indication that he will do so, and of what form the debate will take?

Secondly, the Home Affairs Committee and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee will tomorrow take very important evidence from Sir Paul Stephenson, Rebekah Brooks, James Murdoch and Rupert Murdoch. If those Committees produce reports overnight, can you confirm that the House will have a full opportunity to debate those reports and any recommendations as part of Wednesday’s business?

Thirdly, as there may be issues of parliamentary privilege that arise from Lord Leveson’s inquiry—for example, whether Parliament was lied to, or about the disclosure of material—have you had any indication from the Government, Mr Speaker, as to how they propose to handle matters of privilege in the inquiry’s terms of reference?

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for that point of order. First, as far as the Minister fielded by the Government is concerned, that is a matter for the Government. The Leader of the House will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and will be at liberty to respond, after I have finished saying what I am about to say, if he so wishes.

Secondly, so far as the content of the business is concerned, I wait for the Government to decide upon their motion. Once again, it is for the Leader of the House to indicate, as and when he is ready to do so, to the House the proposed terms of the debate. Thirdly, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that I again await further and better particulars from the Leader of the House, but I should certainly have thought that the reports and the consideration preceding such reports to which the shadow Leader of the House has just referred would be obvious material for consideration in that debate. If the Leader of the House wishes to say anything further at this stage, he is free to do so, but he is not obliged to do so.

The House should also be aware that at any stage between now and Wednesday, further and better particulars could be provided, and there will be a statement on Wednesday—and statements can come at a variety of times. The House will want to be conscious of that and be alert to the possibilities.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Is this not a rather unusual way of dealing with business when the House has not adjourned? Is it not normal to have a business of the House motion—on whether Parliament was going to extend its sitting—for the House to debate?

There are all sorts of things that are normal. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) might well see himself as the very national embodiment of normality and therefore a suitable judge of what is an example of the genre, but the fact that something is normal does not preclude alternatives. The Leader of the House is the person to judge these matters, and he has made his own judgment. If the hon. Gentleman wants a chat or a cup of tea with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that is a matter for them and not for the Chair.

Further to the point of order. On 13 July, I received a reply to two parliamentary questions about meetings between Ministers and News International representatives, in which I was told that

“information relating to internal meetings, discussions and advice is not normally disclosed.”—[Official Report, 13 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 340W.]

In his statement on the same day, the Prime Minister said that he would be

“consulting the Cabinet Secretary on an amendment to the ministerial code…to record all meetings with newspaper and other media proprietors, senior editors and executives, regardless of the nature of the meeting.”—[Official Report, 13 July 2011; Vol. 531, c. 313-14.]

What advice can you give me, Mr Speaker, about the contradiction between the answers to my parliamentary questions received on 13 July and the statement made by the Prime Minister on the same day?

My answer to the hon. Gentleman’s attempted point of order, which is really a point of debate, is that he should ensure that he is in his seat, perched and primed and ready to pounce with his question to the Prime Minister and, possibly, to make a contribution to the debate that will follow. That is a question and that is a speech that the House will eagerly await.

Order. I am taking people on trust here. Normally, points of order and further points of order would be taken later. I am rather anticipating that points of order will narrowly relate to the matters to which the Leader of the House has just referred. I know the hon. Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas)will not disappoint in that regard.

I never cease to disappoint you, but this does indeed relate to named day questions that I put forward, to which I did not receive satisfactory responses from the Prime Minister’s office. Those responses contrasted with statements made direct to the press concerning meetings that the Prime Minister had. Is it in order for the press to receive details of meetings that are not provided to Members of Parliament in answer to parliamentary questions? Is that not something that the Prime Minister should come to the House to explain on Wednesday?

The business of the House for Wednesday is gradually becoming clearer and clearer, and I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman will want to raise the matters that perturb him on that occasion. I think we will leave it there for now.