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Points of Order

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax), the Prime Minister made an assertion on the question of treaty change. He said that he had secured “treaty changes”, but that is clearly not the case. This may have been inadvertent and if so, I have no doubt that the Prime Minister will take the opportunity to correct it. I have to say that it was not a statement that could be sustained in the light of the facts.

I am at a disadvantage by comparison with the hon. Gentleman because I do not enjoy a precise recall of everything that the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, although I rather imagine that the hon. Gentleman does have such a recall and may even be capable of reproducing the verbatim text of prime ministerial answers backwards. Anyone who gives incorrect information to the House is responsible for correcting it. If the Prime Minister judges that he made a mistake, which would naturally be inadvertent, the responsibility is no less great or absolute on him than it would be on any other Member. Knowing the hon. Gentleman as I do, I feel sure that he, too, will not let go of the bone until he receives satisfaction. I will leave it there. His point of order will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and doubtless its contents will wing their way towards No. 10 Downing Street ere long.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope you will be able to help and advise me on how to achieve some consistency in the Government’s position on Saudi Arabia. On 24 May in topical questions, the Foreign Secretary said:

“There is no evidence yet that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions.”—[Official Report, 24 May 2016; Vol. 611, c. 395.]

In a written answer of 26 May, however, the Secretary of State for Defence said:

“The UK is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in the current conflict in Yemen.”

In a debate this morning, furthermore, the Minister for Europe said that the Government were seeking clarification about “allegations”. I hope you would agree, Mr Speaker, that this highlights some confusion at the heart of government, which must indeed cast doubt on the Government’s assurances that the Saudis have not broken international humanitarian law.

My response is twofold. First, I am not responsible for the consistency of Government statements. It is probably as well that the Chair has never been responsible for the said consistency under any Government of any complexion. Secondly, if the right hon. Gentleman feels that the statements to which he referred cause such confusion or uncertainty as to render an urgent clarification vital, he knows that there are devices available to him. I say this not to flatter him, but as a matter of fact. The right hon. Gentleman is a former Deputy Leader of the House, so he is well versed in the mechanisms available to him.