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Points of Order

Volume 605: debated on Wednesday 27 January 2016

We will come to the hon. Lady’s point of order, but I should like to be able to hear it, and I should like there to be an attentive atmosphere for her benefit, mine, and that of the House.

The hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) has no cause for concern. He has never been forgotten before, and he will not be forgotten now. We are storing him up.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At Cabinet Office questions before the recess, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stated in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Jo Cox) that Kirklees Council had

“£200 million in useable and unused reserves”—[Official Report, 9 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 979.]

and concluded that the problems that we reported were facing our constituents were, therefore, “not real ones”. I have now had it confirmed, not just by officers of the local authority, that its unused reserves are nowhere remotely close to that figure. Even including reserves that are already allocated and not useable, the figure is nowhere near £200 million. Through a written answer, the Minister with responsibility for local government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), has confirmed that according to the Government’s own figures Kirklees Council had less than a fifth of that amount in unallocated financial reserves at the end of the last financial year. May I ask you, Mr Speaker, what recourse there is for Members when a Minister has, even if unintentionally, misled this House on a matter that so seriously affects our constituents?

The short answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that every Member of this House, including Ministers, must take responsibility for the veracity or otherwise of what he or she says. If somebody thinks the House has been inadvertently misled by a Member, the Member is responsible for correcting the record. That is the first point. The second point is that the recourse available to the hon. Lady lies in the Order Paper and the advice proffered by the Table Office. What I mean by that is that persistence pays, and if the hon. Lady thinks she has a good point, she should repeat it. She will have heard me make the observation that repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons, and if she wants to keep making her point, she can take advice from the welter of sagacious and experienced colleagues around her as to how best to do so; most of them are very practised at the art, as I am sure the hon. Lady will be, too.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will have heard many tributes made to Holocaust Memorial Day today and the Holocaust Educational Trust campaign, “Don’t stand by.” In the light of that and in that spirit, do you agree that it was inappropriate for the Prime Minister, in referring to the refugee crisis in Europe, to use language such as “a bunch of migrants”? Do you think that it would be appropriate for the House to ask the Prime Minister to withdraw that language and use much more statesmanlike language about the need to build a cross-party consensus on such a complex and sensitive issue?

The right hon. Lady speaks with enormous experience in this House and I respect what she says. I completely identify and empathise with her observations about the Holocaust Memorial Day, which she and I on other occasions have marked at events together, so I take what she says extremely seriously. I do have to say to her and the House, however, that the observation in question was not disorderly; it was not unparliamentary. Everybody must take responsibility for the remarks he or she makes in this House and it is very clear that the right hon. Lady would not have used that term. It is open to the Prime Minister to comment on it if he wishes, but I am not entitled to try to oblige him to say anything on the matter. The right hon. Lady has made her point very clearly, however; it is on the record and people will make their own assessments of this matter.

Order. The hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) was becoming moderately agitated, so let’s have a point of order from him; let’s hear the man.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At business questions last week I asked a question relating to post-study work visas, an issue that is subject to an ongoing inquiry by the Scottish Affairs Committee. The Leader of the House responded by stating that this was

“an area that was not in the Smith commission report.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 1566.]

However, I have a copy of the report with me, and page 28 states that

“the Scottish and UK Governments should work together to... explore the possibility of introducing formal schemes to allow international higher education students graduating from Scottish further and higher education institutions to remain in Scotland and contribute to economic activity for a defined period of time.”

May I ask your advice, Mr Speaker, on how the Leader of the House can correct the record and offer a commitment that the Government will now seriously consider this issue, as recommended by the cross-party Smith commission?

Notwithstanding the serious and statesmanlike countenance of the hon. Gentleman as he rose to raise his point of order, it suffered from the material disadvantage of being many things but not a point of order for the Chair. We can all read the Smith report. I confess that I am not myself familiar with, or do not have an instant recall of, page 28, so the hon. Gentleman has the advantage of me there, but he asks what opportunity there is for him to try to hold the Leader of the House to account, and the short answer is tomorrow at business questions. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be in his place, and if he is, I will see him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In recent weeks, Ministers have made a number of statements here and in Westminster Hall about the steel industry, and in particular about the crucial issue of the Government’s procurement measures. It was therefore extraordinary to get a written answer from the Ministry of Defence yesterday stating that

“the Ministry of Defence (MOD) does not hold a complete, centralised record of steel procurement for projects and equipment, either in terms of quantity or country of origin”.

In the light of that extraordinary revelation, Mr Speaker, how would you advise me to gain greater clarity on whether the Government’s claims about what they are doing on procurement in the steel industry are actually the case, given that they do not appear even to be keeping records?

As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, his salvation lies in further questions and in the pursuit of debate, and there are opportunities to seek Adjournment debates. I say in no spirit of unkindness or discourtesy to him that I think it is evident from his puckish grin that he was more interested in making his point to me than in anything I might have had to say to him. We will leave it there for now.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A few minutes ago, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), the Prime Minister referred to the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) by his first name. It could of course be the case that the hon. Member for Richmond Park has recently been appointed as the Crown steward or bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, or perhaps the steward of the Chiltern hundreds of Stoke, Burnham and Desborough, but I do not believe that that is the case, and he should therefore be referred to in this House by his constituency. I believe that the Prime Minister did it in order to gain electoral advantage on this evening’s news coverage in London by using a name that most viewers would recognise. I also believe that the Prime Minister has been disrespectful to the House and to its procedures in seeking electoral advantage for the Conservative party. I wonder whether you concur with that, Sir, and I seek your advice on how we might upbraid the Prime Minister for that discourtesy.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has rather magnified the issue by raising it this way. I do not disrespect him for that; I simply make that point en passant. I would say two things to him. First, Members should of course be referred to by their constituencies and not by their names. Secondly, I think this was almost certainly an oversight. Even the Prime Minister, who is immensely experienced and dexterous at the Dispatch Box, can be responsible for an oversight in the heat of the moment. I think that it was nothing more than that, just as when I momentarily forgot to call Mr Vickers to ask his question. We are all fallible—even, I suspect, the hon. Gentleman, on a bad day.