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Point of Order

Volume 543: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Home Secretary said that it was not a good idea to warn Abu Qatada that he was about to be arrested, which obviously prompts one to ask whether he would then have been able to abscond. She maintains that that is why she could not tell the House first and suggested that there had been no briefing to the media, but the precise words in the Evening Standard, which was published before the House sat today, are:

“A deportation order to send Abu Qatada to Jordan and allow him to be put back behind bars will be issued within days, Home Secretary Theresa May said today”—

not “will say today” or “in the next few days,” but “said today”. That was published before she came into the House and before the House sat. It goes on in precise terms to detail every single element of what the Home Secretary has said to the House this afternoon.

Mr Speaker, will you investigate precisely why and how this came to pass? Surely, at least on matters of national security, about which the public need to have confidence in the Government and parliamentary process, Parliament should hear first. Will you also confirm that if Mr Qatada is not under detention at the end of today it is perfectly possible for the Home Secretary to return to the House to explain why not?

I will rule on that, but as the hon. Gentleman has raised a point of order that relates directly to the Home Secretary and she is in her place, she has the opportunity to respond if she wishes to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I assure the House that I gave no such briefing to the press in relation to this. In response to the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) that the Special Immigration Appeals Commission had not been properly informed, I made the point that the number of people who were aware that the arrest was about to take place was limited. I understand, however, that there were a number of journalists outside Abu Qatada’s house, as there have been at various stages in the past three months. Therefore, when action was taken it was only to be expected that that information would be available to the media.

Order. I am happy to respond to the point of order from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). First, I have had no opportunity to make any direct comparison between the text reported in the Evening Standard and the content of the Home Secretary’s statement. Secondly, as has already been said, it is commonplace for there to be heavy media speculation in circumstances of this kind.

Thirdly, I take this opportunity forcefully to underline the crucial importance of statements of this kind, and indeed all significant statements of Government policy, being made first to the House. The Home Secretary did me the courtesy of contacting me over the weekend and we discussed her desire to make a statement today. Of course, I pointed out that it was extremely important if the statement was not to be made until Tuesday that nothing of it emerged in advance into the public domain, to which proposition I know she readily agreed. I do not think I can say more than that now, but these things must first be revealed to the House and not outside. Although of course there are many actors on the stage, not least within Departments and other organisations, Ministers are responsible for everything that is said by those within their Department. I know that that is a responsibility of which the Home Secretary will be keenly conscious.