Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 22 October 2015

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the House was absolutely right to refer earlier to the tragedy of Aberfan, the anniversary of which was yesterday, but may I gently point out to him that it took place 49 years ago, not 50? The 50th anniversary will be next year, and I hope, having heard his comments, that we will be commemorating it properly in the House at that time.

The Leader of the House also made a mistake about the Standards Committee and the Privileges Committee. This is an important matter, because several pieces of business urgently need to go to the Privileges Committee. He said that the membership of the Standards Committee and that of the Privileges Committee were the same, but that is not true. The Standards Committee is already set up, although it has just lost a member. A Conservative Member had to resign because they had not fully declared their earnings. That Committee has lay members, but the Privileges Committee does not. There is absolutely no reason why the Privileges Committee could not have been set up already, and it is the job of the Leader of the House to make sure that that happens as a matter of urgency.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I used the word “mirror”, and the point I was making was that the Standards Committee has now moved from having 10 members to having seven. The debate with the new Chairman of the Privileges Committee has been about whether we also reduce the membership of that Committee from 10 to seven. That will happen, in order to mirror the membership of the Standards Committee, which now has seven parliamentary members. The Committee will now be set up, and it clearly has some work to do.

Order. I will come to the hon. Gentleman. I am saving him for a suitable point.

I shall briefly respond to the point of order made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) and to the response from the Leader of the House. It is of course a matter of fact that the Privileges Committee will not contain lay members. The House has made its own judgment on that matter. It is also a matter of fact that it falls to the Government to take the lead in the establishment of that Committee. It is not a matter for the Chair. It is further a matter of fact—noted by the hon. Member for Rhondda and accepted by the Leader of the House—that that Committee will have a substantial amount of work to do, and that a certain urgency attaches to it. Some of that work hails from matters that came to the attention of the House—and received much wider scrutiny in the media elsewhere—up to four years ago. It is therefore essential that that Committee be established soon. I have every confidence that the Leader of the House will now expedite the matter without any further delay.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have given notice to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that I shall be raising this point of order. Following the phone hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry, the House agreed a package of measures to strengthen the independent self-regulation of the press. They included sections 40 to 42 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which were designed to create an incentive to join a recognised regulator and to protect public interest journalism in libel and privacy cases. However, those measures still need a commencement order from the Government. In a speech to the Society of Editors this week, the Secretary of State said:

“I am not convinced the time is right for the introduction of these costs provisions”.

This is a major change of stance by the Government over a key Leveson recommendation, and arguably one that thwarts the will of the House, yet it was not announced here in the Chamber or during questioning in front of the Select Committee last month. What steps can we, and you Mr Speaker, take to ensure that the Secretary of State makes such announcements to the House first, rather than doing so outside, to a favoured captive audience?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and for his courtesy in giving me notice of it. On the basis of what he has told me in writing, I have to tell him that it is not for me to conclude whether there has been a change of policy or not. I leave others to make that judgment. However, it is a long-established principle in this place that if a Minister has a policy announcement to make, that announcement should first be made to the House. The Minister concerned will therefore have to consider whether he or she believes that a change is involved, and to draw the appropriate conclusions. The hon. Gentleman is a sufficiently adroit and dextrous Member of the House to be well aware, if he is dissatisfied with the development of events in the coming days, of the toolkit available to Members to draw the urgent attention of the House to a matter that they believe warrants its consideration.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask for your guidance on how we might secure an opportunity for the House to question the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the desperately inadequate response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on the extraordinarily important issue of benefit sanctions? The response has been snuck out this morning in a written statement, it is four months late, and it does not appear to address any of the principal recommendations. In particular, it does not address the recommendation on an independent review into the matter of those people who have died while subject to benefit sanctions. That is an extraordinarily shoddy way for the Government to behave. May I also ask for guidance on whether the Select Committee might, under the new Back-Bench business procedures, seek time to debate the issue and question the Secretary of State on why he has snuck out this response and why it is so poor?

Certainly, Backbench Business Committee debates can take place, and the hon. Gentleman requires no encouragement from me on that front. More widely, I note that he is a most assiduous member of the shadow Cabinet and that he is somewhat of a highbrow academic type. He will therefore know perfectly well what the opportunities are to air matters in the House. I have a hunch that he simply wanted a prime-time opportunity to tweak the Government’s tail. I know that he would not think it right to abuse his privileges as a Member on the Front Bench, however. These matters can be aired on a subsequent occasion, but time is pressing and we will leave it there for today.