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Points of Order

Volume 588: debated on Monday 24 November 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 4 November, I tabled a written question to the Home Secretary, asking how many Libyan service personnel who received training in the UK had claimed asylum. I received a reply on 17 November saying that it was not the policy of the Home Office, hiding behind the Data Protection Act, to disclose personal information. On 18 November, I tabled a similar question, only to be told that it would not be possible to answer the question in the time available. Today the Defence Secretary has confirmed that a handful of personnel have actually claimed asylum. Does he think that the Home Office’s replies are acceptable, and how would he suggest that we go about getting an answer with the actual numbers who have claimed asylum?

Of course, that is not a matter for me. When the hon. Gentleman asks whether “he” can advise on this or that, I assume he means me. I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not expect the Secretary of State to criticise one of his ministerial colleagues—the Secretary of State will not do that. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, in so far as he requires my protection or advice, is that he needs to pursue his usual approach, which is to be a busy bee. He should table questions and, in a legitimate, parliamentary sense, nag. In my experience of the hon. Gentleman, he requires no encouragement to do just that.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In exchanges on Friday, the shadow Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), told me with regard to the privatisation of Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire that

“when the previous Government left office there were three bidders, one of which was an NHS provider, so he really needs to get his facts straight”—[Official Report, 21 November 2014; Vol. 588, c. 575.]

I have checked the facts with the National Audit Office, the strategic health authority at the time and the press, and the three bidders still in place when the shadow Health Secretary left office were Circle, Ramsay Health Care and Serco, which are hardly NHS providers. Indeed, none of the final five was. Could you provide an opportunity, Mr Speaker, for the shadow Health Secretary to correct the record so as to avoid misleading the House on this important issue?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I hope he will understand if I do not wish to intrude into what is becoming a protracted debate between him and the shadow Health Secretary, who responded by e-mail to the hon. Gentleman at 1.46 pm and 23 seconds today. I just have a sense that there is an ongoing debate and dispute between the two of them and it would be unseemly for me to intrude in that continuing argument. We will leave it there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope that you will not consider this a “Stupid boy” point of order, but something on which you can give me some advice. Fairly recently, I have noticed more and more references made to right hon. and gallant or hon. and gallant Members, and I have tried to find out who is and who is not gallant. I served in the cadet force at school, but I am told that even if a Member without a commission—an ordinary soldier—had won the Victoria Cross, he would still not be called “gallant” because it applies only to officers. Will you clear up who is and who is not gallant in that sense?

There is no difference between commissioned and non-commissioned for this purpose. Beyond that, I would tell the hon. Gentleman, to whom I would never intend any discourtesy, that the decision whether to use the term—the newly appointed Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), chooses to do so—is purely a matter of taste. If memory serves, the former Minister, the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), was himself partial to using the term, and I think it has been used in relation to him as well. It is a matter of parliamentary taste. I am sure that we all intend to show good taste to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman), as he is now in his 35th year of parliamentary service.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask, while members of the Defence team are still in their places, whether you have been informed that we are in sight of having the statement or debate on the ending of the campaign in Afghanistan, and the lessons to be drawn from that, which we were promised a little while ago?

I was not aware that we were, but the nod of the Secretary of State’s head perhaps provides the hon. Gentleman and the House with the succour that he sought.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You very kindly referred to me as potentially gallant—I am not sure whether that is right—but I do not think that we ought to take this practice too far. I am sure you would agree, Sir, that we should not extend it to former members of cadet forces.

Something tells me, innocent soul that I am, that the right hon. Gentleman, with that rather puckish grin, was having a bit of a dig.

I will just say that the right hon. Gentleman has made his point with his usual force and eloquence, and it is on the record.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I say, with due modesty—[Laughter.] Characteristic modesty, should I say? Despite my two years’ national service, I do not wish to be referred to as “gallant”?

The hon. Gentleman has never sought any particular acknowledgment. I do not want to embarrass him, because this is something of a tribute to him, but he is the only Member of the House I have ever come across who has phoned the organisers of a parliamentary awards competition to protest at his inclusion on the shortlist and to demand his removal. He certainly cannot be accused of seeking prizes or special recognition, and I respect that.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. While the traditional practice of referring to those who have served as gallant Members may have fallen into desuetude, surely at this present time—when the nation has been committed to military options, and there is seriously enhanced concern for the well-being of members of our armed forces—there is a purpose in maintaining the tradition. It indicates that many right hon. and hon. Members across the House—I see that the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), in particular, is in his place—have served themselves, which sends out a message to the nation. I am a traditionalist, but surely tradition serves the House and the nation in this case.

Members may agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is why they deploy the term. I certainly could not disagree with the latter part of the point of order. Indeed, the word “traditional” could have been invented to describe him, and he is none the worse for that. I thank him for what he has said.

This topic allows me to mention to you, Mr Speaker, that just fewer than 60 Members of this House have served in the armed forces at some point, either in the regulars or the reserves. That is almost one in 10 Members of the House of Commons. We hold a service every year for veteran MPs, so that they have an opportunity to pay tribute to the fallen. We had one recently, which some 30 colleagues attended. I apologise to the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) because he was not on the list. We will rectify that and invite him next year. I very much hope that he will be minded to come.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order that the Prime Minister has made an announcement to the Australian Parliament about a future counter-terrorism Bill and the Home Secretary has, this morning, made a detailed speech about the contents of that Bill before it has been announced to this House?

I have not yet read the Home Secretary’s speech, although that delight awaits me ere long. I feel sure that if a significant policy announcement is contained therein, she will want to communicate it to the House sooner rather than later. If, for some reason, that does not happen—it seems to me inconceivable that it will not—the hon. Lady is experienced in the use of parliamentary devices to ensure that Ministers are held to account in a timely way on the Floor of the House.

We will leave it there. I am grateful to colleagues for their very full appetite for points of order today.