Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 621: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As we are a democratic assembly, the only way we can work is to respect the authority of the Speaker; otherwise, there would be complete chaos. Personally, I think that the Queen has issued an invitation to Mr Trump under the advice of her Ministers. He is the leader of the free world, and if we have entertained the President of China, we can entertain him. That is my view but, at the end of the day, we have to respect and support the office of Speaker.

I am not sure that there is anything to add, but I shall take it and then come back to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh).

You may recall, Mr Speaker, that in business questions last week I raised the inability of ordinary Members of this House to express an opinion, through a vote, on what was an unprecedentedly quick invitation to a Head of State. We owe you a debt of gratitude for deciding that, in this case, such an invitation should not be supported by Members of this House. We know why this happened—it was done rapidly to avoid political embarrassment for the Prime Minister—but any invitation to this House should not be extended to such a person as Donald Trump.

First, in respect of the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), I thank him for what he said and add merely that I responded to a substantive point of order on this matter yesterday. I think it only fair to say that there is no need for me to provide a running commentary today.

In respect of the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Gainsborough, I also thank him for what he said. He does not mince his words. He says what he thinks, and always has done, and he is respected for that across the House. Sometimes he agrees with me and sometimes he does not, but his respect for and loyalty to the institutions of the country, including those within Parliament, is universally acknowledged. I thank him for that, and I think that others will, too.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) says. Of course we respect the Speaker. I have not always agreed with the Speaker either.

Secondly, a worrying breach of etiquette has broken out over the past few months with Members clapping in this Chamber. Is there anything in your power, Mr Speaker, to do something about that?

Members should not do so, and the answer is that perhaps I should be even more robust—I usually am pretty robust. The point was made yesterday about clapping; it should not happen. All I say is that one has to deal with every situation as it arises, and sometimes it is better just to let a thing pass than to make a song and dance about it. I respect the hon. Gentleman’s commitment to tradition. Of course if people want to change those traditions, they should argue the case for such change. I am no stranger to that phenomenon myself.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just on that previous point, if ever a statement deserved clapping, yours did yesterday, in my opinion.

I want to raise the question of irrevocability. We are about to go into Committee of the whole House, and just about every amendment that we will discuss hangs on the question of whether article 50 is irrevocable. The Supreme Court was silent on that matter. The Brexit Secretary told a Committee:

“It may be revocable—I don’t know.”

There is not much guidance from the Government on the matter. Given the importance of the amendments that we are about to discuss, and given that they hang on the question of whether article 50 is irrevocable once invoked, can we get some guidance from the Chair or the Government—or anybody—before we move into a debate without that basic piece of information, which would be important for hon. Members?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, but I am not convinced—I will explain why—that it is a point of order for the Chair. Moreover, I might be wrong about this, but I have a sense that, on this occasion, he is perhaps more interested in what he has to say to me than in anything that I might have to say to him. He has got his point on the record. The reason why I am not convinced that it is a matter for me—I am looking round for inspiration to people with legal expertise—is that, frankly, it is not for the Speaker to seek to interpret treaties. That does not fall within my auspices. My best advice to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should follow his own instincts and counsel. He has been doing so for some decades. Knowing what a persistent fellow he is, if he is dissatisfied with my answer, I rather imagine that he will be pestering the Government Front-Bench team about that matter in the upcoming debates.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) said—of course I entirely support him, and I have enjoyed a very good relationship with the Chair—yesterday did cause a number of us some concern. It was noticeable that there was great enthusiasm on the Opposition Benches and a rather subdued aspect on the Government Benches. We want to support you in the Chair, Mr Speaker. The relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States is an extremely important one, and the Prime Minister, in the view of many of us, managed to secure a very favourable outcome of what was undoubtedly a tricky visit. Although I was keen yesterday not to accuse you, Mr Speaker, of making an executive order in respect of another matter, I do hope that you will help us to ensure that we can have full confidence in your impartiality, because that is the way that this House has to proceed.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in what he says about the required impartiality of the Chair. I do not want to rerun the debate. The only thing I will say to him—I say it in a very understated way—is this: I referred in the course of my response to the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) to the locus and the responsibility of the Speaker in respect of the matter that he was raising with me. Therefore, although I completely understand that there can be different views on this matter—we have heard some of them—which should always and all be treated with respect, I was commentating on a matter that does fall within the remit of the Chair. The House has always understood that the Chair has a role in these matters. If the hon. Gentleman disagrees with the means of my exercising it, that is one point. If he does not always approve of my manner—I cannot think that he imagines me too robust for his liking as he is no stranger to blunt speaking himself—so be it. I was honestly and honourably seeking to discharge my responsibilities to the House. In the interests of the House, we should move on to other matters, but I thank him for what he says.