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Points of Order

Volume 576: debated on Wednesday 5 March 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have heard the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, the hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) refer a moment ago to the fact that he had seen the evidence on the future jobs fund, which was cancelled in 2010. The convention and courtesy in this House is that if a Minister prays in aid a piece of information, he makes it available to the whole of the House. The Minister served his apprenticeship working for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so I can only assume that he knows that fully to be the case and that he is, therefore, desperate to publish that information in the Library of the House later this afternoon.

The countenance of the Minister gives no indication of his awareness or unawareness of that convention. I confirm that it is a convention. The Minister is champing at the bit. He will not be silenced, and nor would we want to silence him.

I was quoting from publicly available evidence that shows that the proposals that were brought in by the Labour Government did not lead to sustainable jobs. Of course, we know the result because Labour left office with youth unemployment up, unemployment up and employment falling. This morning, we found out that the inactivity rate in Britain is at its lowest level since 1992, which shows that we are turning that problem around.

We cannot have a continuing debate on the matter. I simply say, in a spirit of trying to bring the matter to an amicable close and to serve the interests of the House, that it would be helpful, if the Minister was quoting from publicly available material, if he wrote to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) quoting chapter and verse, and referring him to the particular statements or paragraphs that he has in mind.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I informed the relevant Minister that I intended to raise this point of order, as is the protocol. I would welcome your guidance on the mechanisms that are open to me to have the record corrected, following my exchange on Monday with the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis). In responding to my question about the unfair cuts to the budget of Liverpool city council, he made serious allegations and may have inadvertently misled the House. I am seeking guidance from you, Mr Speaker, on what I can do to have the record corrected by the Minister, so that the smears against Liverpool will not be repeated outside as facts that have been raised in this House.

The Minister, in common with every right hon. and hon. Member, is responsible for the veracity or otherwise of the statements that he makes in the House. If he has made an error—I say if, because I have no way of knowing off the top of my head whether it is so—he is responsible for correcting the record. The Chair cannot engage in a regular series of debates between Members about whether the House has been misled. If it is a matter of political contention, it might be best for the hon. Gentleman to seek to resolve it first through correspondence with the Minister. That is my advice to him and let us see where it gets us. If he needs to come back to me, doubtless he will require no encouragement.

I am saving up the point of order from the hon. Member for Maldon (Mr Whittingdale), because I think that it is a rather juicy one. I mean no disrespect to the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you will categorise this as juicy, but it will certainly be juicy back home in Northern Ireland. It relates to the revelation that there was an administrative scheme for on-the-run people in Northern Ireland. That came as a bolt out of the blue to people in Northern Ireland and, indeed, to the House. Careful perusal and examination of the parliamentary record going back over a number of years indicates that there were occasions on which the House may have been misled by ministerial statements, whether oral or written. Will you advise the House on what can be done, now that there can be a thorough examination of how the matter was handled by Ministers in their public utterances in this House? What action can be taken to correct the record, to put the facts before the House and to ensure that the matter is thoroughly aired?

My initial response to the right hon. Gentleman is that it is open to the Northern Ireland Office, which will be privy to all the material, to correct the record if it judges that to be necessary. I do not think that I can add anything to that statement at this stage and we will leave it there for today. I thank him for his point of order.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may recall that in November last year, I raised a point of order to express my concern that Dato Makudi had been given leave to take to the Court of Appeal his action for defamation that related to remarks made by Lord Triesman to the Football Association, in which he merely referred to statements that he had made to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport about possible corruption in FIFA. Those remarks were, of course, made under privilege.

At that time, I expressed my concern that the action represented a significant threat to the privilege conferred on Members and, indeed, on witnesses who appear before Select Committees of this House, and that it could have the severe effects of preventing us from exposing truth and giving witnesses the impression that they do not enjoy the protection of parliamentary privilege. You were sufficiently concerned, Mr Speaker, to make a submission to the Court of Appeal.

As you may be aware, Mr Speaker, the Court of Appeal has reached a judgment in which it is clearly stated that Lord Triesman’s remarks were covered by article 9 of the Bill of Rights. I believe that that is a significant re-establishment of the rights of this House. I wonder whether you would like to make a statement in the light of that.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he rightly says, I shared his grave concern, not principally on behalf of Lord Triesman, but on behalf of the House, that a threat to parliamentary privilege and, therefore, to Parliament was entailed. I did, as I indicated to the hon. Gentleman was my intention, cause representations to be made to the Court of Appeal. It was, of course, a matter for the court and I am absolutely delighted that it found in favour of Lord Triesman. That was a victory not just for Lord Triesman, but for the precious principle of parliamentary privilege and for Parliament itself. It was a very important day, and the hon. Gentleman is right to celebrate it and to give me the opportunity, on behalf of the House, to do the same.