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House of Commons Hansard
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19 December 2016
Volume 618

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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The deliberations on the statement we have just had show why it is absolutely vital that we have robust parliamentary scrutiny of UK arms exports. In that light, have you or Mr Speaker received any notification of any Committee attempting to withdraw from the Committees on Arms Export Controls structure, which exists to scrutinise UK arms exports and has done so for many years, formerly as the Quadripartite Committee?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, but I think he knows, as does the House, that it is not a matter that I can address from the Chair. However, he wished to make a point, he has made it, and I am sure that those on whose ears he wished it to fall have heard what he said.

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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. As I understand it, that Committee, whose Chairman is sitting on the Government Benches, has withdrawn from the Committees on Arms Export Controls. When we were deciding on our report on Yemen, there was considerable pressure, with visits from Saudi Arabian Ministers. It is right that the House should know that there are pressures going on here. In the past, the Committees on Arms Export Controls were quite strong, revoking 50 licences in the previous Parliament. In this Parliament, their regrouping was delayed by six months. I think that speaks for itself.

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The right hon. Lady knows that that is not a point of order. She wished to raise a point of political interest in the Chamber, but it is not a point of order, and I can say nothing further on it.

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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that this is a point of order; it is on a different matter entirely. Today I tried to submit an urgent question on the recall of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which was debating a motion of no confidence in the First Minister. Could the Speaker explain, perhaps at a later time, why the question was not selected, as the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has responsibility for political stability in Northern Ireland, especially at such times of crisis and failure of the Executive?

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I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point, and this is a matter about which he and other Members may well be concerned, but I absolutely cannot address it from the Chair here in the Chamber. Nor will Mr Speaker give, now or at any time, an explanation as to why he has or has not granted an urgent question. That is not a matter that should be brought up in the Chamber, and not information that can be disclosed from the Chair.

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Further to the previous points of order—

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Further to the previous almost points of order, I give the right hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt that this might be a point of order.

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I think that this one might actually be a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Although the Defence Committee has not withdrawn from the Committees on Arms Export Controls, I am aware of the serious concern that was caused by the leak of a draft report that those Committees had drawn up. Do you agree that it is of absolute importance that if Select Committees, or quadripartite composite Committees like this, are to function, there must be no question of draft reports being leaked for political purposes, as happened in this case?

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That may or may not be a point of order in relation to order in the Chamber, but it is a point about which Mr Speaker will be extremely concerned, and we should all be extremely concerned, because the leaking of reports undermines the work of the Committees who are working hard on them. It is not honourable behaviour becoming of hon. Members of this House to leak reports.

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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you clarify whether any Committee of this House should be disbanded if there is a leak?

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That is not a point of order. It is not for the Chair to opine on whether a Committee should or should not, in any particular circumstance, be disbanded. However, it is a matter that I am sure hon. Members will address in another forum in another way, and the hon. Gentleman has made his point.

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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not want to prolong this discussion, but I wonder whether anything could be done through your or Mr Speaker’s good offices to get together the Chairs of the Committees that make up the Committees on Arms Export Controls to try to get this impasse resolved for the benefit of our constituents, who want robust arms export controls in this House.

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. However, although not many things are outwith the competence of Mr Speaker, it is outwith his competence to require any action by the Chairmen of Committees. However, once again, the hon. Gentleman has made his point. I am quite sure that the Chairmen of the relevant Committees will have heard the concerns expressed in the House and will act accordingly.