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Points of Order

Volume 604: debated on Wednesday 13 January 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wondered whether, overnight, you have had an opportunity to reflect on the point of order that I raised at the end of last night’s debate. The certification process is a new procedure, so it is very, very important that we get it right, particularly as it has such negative and adverse effects for MPs from Northern Ireland and Scotland. I intend no criticism of you, Mr Speaker. However, I hope that you will accept that when the Government table a new clause, which mentions both England and Wales, and then a designation is made in a certificate that it applies exclusively to England, it is inherently ambiguous and contradictory. That is the point that I was making. I should like clarification on how we correct a certificate that is designated apparently incorrectly.

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. Moreover, I can of course confirm to her and to the House that I am aware of the point of order that she raised with the Chair yesterday evening—the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means was present at the time.

Let me say to the hon. Lady, who I know would never be guilty of any insult to, or display of discourtesy towards, the Chair, that she and the House can usefully benefit from an explanation, which, on this occasion—I will emphasise the relevance of this later—I am very happy to provide. It is understandable that she initially surmised that new clause 62 should have been certified as relating to Wales as well as to England, but the reality is, as close examination testifies, that the application to Wales falls into the category of minor or consequential as, crucially, it makes no change in the law applying in Wales. So, in the view of the Chair, which was informed by the combined advice of the Clerks and the Office of Speaker’s Counsel, it was rightly certified as relating exclusively to England.

I do not in general intend to explain my decisions in this way—that is why I emphasised that I was happy on this occasion to provide an explanation—but as this is the first occasion of a Legislative Grand Committee, and the suggestion, which I absolutely accept was honest and well intentioned, of error on the part of the Chair, is on the record, I have thought it best to put the matter straight.

That said, I should also like to take this opportunity to say to all Members that the whole point of my publishing provisional certificates is to give them ample opportunity to make representations, if they think that an error has been made or they wish simply to express a contrary view, before I am required to make a decision, which must then be regarded—for reasons with which the House will be well familiar—as final and not subject to further appeal. The appropriate channel for timely representations on the draft or provisional certificate is via the Clerk of Legislation in the Public Bill Office. I hope that that is helpful, both to the hon. Lady and, indeed, to the House.

I am not sure there is anything further, but I hold the hon. Lady, who is a distinguished advocate, in the highest esteem, so we will hear from her.

It is related, Mr Speaker. I am enormously grateful to you for making that statement and I have noted that it was an exception on this particular occasion.

Bearing in mind what you have said, Mr Speaker, may I note for the record that there are four Sinn Féin Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies but who do not take their seats? However, they do receive support for administrative and secretarial assistance. I sit as an independent Member representing North Down and am proud to do so. I receive no additional funding at all for secretarial or administrative assistance. In the light of the very complicated certification process that has now been introduced, which affects me and other representatives from Northern Ireland, could you give some consideration to the provision of additional support for Members such as me when we have to go through the provisional certification list? That would be very helpful.

The answer to the hon. Lady is twofold. First, it is not for me to consider the provision of additional support in the sense in which she implies it—that is to say, financially paid-for support. Secondly—I intend no discourtesy to the hon. Lady and I am not being pedantic; I am trying to be precise—there is a very real sense in which she does not go through the certification process. I do. That is the responsibility of the Chair, with which I have been invested by the House.

Thirdly—I am really trying to be helpful to the hon. Lady and to the House in the context of what is, let us face it, a new procedure—although it is not for me to pledge or to hint at any additional support of a kind that she might have had in mind, what she does have is the support of the Clerks and other procedural specialists in this House. The hon. Lady knows well the route to the Table Office and, if I may say so, I think she should take advantage of its expertise. Our bewigged friends have very considerable expertise in these matters. They are not only prepared to advise the hon. Lady and any other Member; they are positively excited by the prospect of doing so. [Interruption.] I say to the shadow Leader of the House that the fact that they are excited by the prospect rather suggests that they will have a smile on their face at the time.

And they have now. I hope that will do for today. The hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) and I know each other well, and if she has further difficulties in the future I am always pleased to hear from her and to try to assist her and any other Member in this or other matters.