Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 589: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have noticed that I was somewhat disgruntled at being cut off and told that my question was too long at Prime Minister’s questions. I take everyone who visits me at the House of Commons to see the picture of Speaker Lenthall. I know that it is difficult to apply a principle to all cases proportionately, but will you find the time to meet me to discuss the fact that I do not believe that the principle of defending the ability of Back Benchers to ask questions of the Executive was upheld proportionately in all cases today?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I say in response that the Speaker does not refuse to see hon. or right hon. Members. If a Member wishes to see the Speaker, the Speaker will be happy to see that Member at a mutually convenient time. I say in the very gentlest way to the hon. Gentleman, first, that the Chair has to be the judge of whether a question is too long. With the greatest of respect, no Member can be judge in his own cause. Secondly, I intend no discourtesy to him, but he was in my view—and I have to make the judgment, not he—taking too long to get to the gravamen of his question. I say very kindly to him that he ought not immediately to think, “Where did the Chair go wrong?” but perhaps to think, “Where did I go wrong and how might I do better?” But of course I will happily see him—[Interruption.] I am not debating the matter with him now. I am telling him, in a very gentle and understated way, what the position is. With that statement, the hon. Gentleman will have to rest content. We will leave it there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning it has been announced that Rev. Libby Lane is to become the Bishop of Stockport, and therefore the first woman bishop of the Church of England. At a time when there are more women in work than ever before and more women taking leadership positions, I am sure that the whole House will want to take a moment to welcome such an important first step towards ensuring that the extraordinary talents of the 1,700 women clergy in the Church of England are recognised and used to the full.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I warmly endorse my right hon. Friend’s point of order. Rev. Libby Lane is currently the vicar of St Peter’s in Hale in my constituency, an office that she has conducted with outstanding ability. She has made a great contribution to the community, and I am sure that she will continue to do so in her new role as Bishop of Stockport.

I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order, and the hon. Gentleman for his follow-up point of order. I think that they speak for Members on both sides of the House and throughout it in offering the warmest congratulations to Rev. Libby Lane on her appointment. It is a wonderful and joyous occasion of celebration for her and also, I hope, a sign of great and progressive change within the Church.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A distinguished former British ambassador to Afghanistan said yesterday of our conduct of that war that it was

“a massive act of collective self-deception”

by politicians and generals. We must recall that 453 brave British soldiers lost their lives in that war. A major inquiry was promised by the Leader of the House into the war and into why we went into Helmand in the belief that not a shot would be fired. Is it not essential that we should hold that inquiry before we contemplate sending more British soldiers to risk their lives in foreign lands?

The hon. Gentleman is a wily operator if ever there was one. I think he knows that his question was directed not at me but at the Secretary of State for Defence and at tomorrow’s Official Report. In that respect, he has achieved his objective. He has made his point and it will be recorded; it has also been heard by those on the Treasury Bench.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Eugene Lukjanenko-Soifertis is a concert pianist. I have here a copy of the draft agenda of the European Parliament committee on petitions, dated 11 November. At item 15, Mr Lukjanenko-Soifertis petitioned the committee. I have attempted to table an early-day motion referring to what happened at that petitions committee—

Order. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that I cannot know what he is about to say, but I should like to establish this point. I hope that he is not seeking to use the device of a point of order to say what he would have said if he had gone ahead in the way that I was advised he should not do—[Interruption.] He has a smile on his face, and this is occasioning gentle and wry amusement in the House. I understand that, but it would be quite disorderly and improper if he were to use a point of order in that way. I am sure that he is not going to try to do that—is he?

No. I do not think that I have been told not to refer to the fact that Mr Lukjanenko-Soifertis is a concert pianist or to the agenda. I have, however, been told not to refer to what happened at the European Parliament’s petitions committee, despite the fact that it is available on the internet and can be looked at very easily. I am not allowed to refer to what happened in a motion. I would therefore like to ask my first question of the Speaker. If I were to come here with a copy of the minutes of that petitions committee meeting, would it be in order for me to refer to their contents? Secondly, given that when I tried to table a petition referring to the same issue, I was told that it could not be tabled for the same reason of sub judice, will the Speaker please explain why we, uniquely as a jurisdiction, have a rule of sub judice in respect of petitions and tell me what is happening about that?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I say in the most positive of spirits that his words are his choice and my words, by way of response, must be mine. He sought a waiver of the sub judice resolution from me in connection with a proposed early-day motion about a matter before the petitions committee of the European Parliament. Of course I took advice, as colleagues will appreciate, but I was not persuaded of the case for such a waiver. Subsequently, it was brought to my attention that another Member, the hon. Member for Burnley (Gordon Birtwistle), had sought to present a public petition on behalf of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) that essentially repeated the terms of his proposed early-day motion. I concluded that the presentation of a petition was not an appropriate way to circumvent the sub judice rule, and was not what the House intended to happen when it made its resolution concerning sub judice.

The right to petition this House is an ancient one. It can be an important last resort after all other efforts to address a grievance have been exhausted, but if a case to which a petition relates is active in the courts, all other avenues have not been exhausted. A petition must seek a remedy that it is within the power of the House to grant, and it is hard to see how that requirement could be satisfied when the matter in question is actively before the courts. In these circumstances, I have taken the view that a petition should not be received. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley might wish to take this matter up with the Procedure Committee, of which he is a distinguished ornament—[Laughter.] That is a compliment to the hon. Gentleman. The application of the sub judice rule to public petitions seems to me to be an appropriate matter for that Committee to consider. When people raise points of order, they want a reply and, preferably, some advice from the Chair. In the best possible spirit, I am advising the hon. Gentleman on a constructive way forward under the auspices of that Committee, which is chaired with distinction by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). I hope that if the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley wants a resolution to the matter, he will follow that course.

I thank the Speaker for his advice. In fact, the matter is to be discussed in the Procedure Committee later today, which is why I wished to raise this point of order to clarify the issue specifically in respect of petitions before that meeting took place.

The hon. Gentleman will have his own rationale for wanting to advertise the matter here first, and I make no complaint about that, but I hope he will accept that we have to leave it there for today.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Childcare Payments Act 2014

Wales Act 2014

Taxation of Pensions Act 2014

Buckinghamshire County Council (Filming on Highways) Act 2014.