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Points of Order

Volume 622: debated on Monday 27 February 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Friday, after the debates on private Members’ Bills, the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), to whom I have given notice of this point of order, left the Chamber and briefed on social media and the media at large that my speech on the Istanbul convention—the Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill, which was first on the Order Paper—stopped her Bill, the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill, from being debated, and that I had in effect blocked it, despite my telling her that I supported her Bill. That led to my office receiving widespread, unjustified and terrible abuse, to which my staff should not be subjected.

The hon. Lady’s Bill was the eighth to be considered on Friday. You have a better memory of parliamentary proceedings, Mr Speaker, and perhaps you could tell us the last time the eighth Bill on Friday was reached for debate. I have asked the House of Commons Library to find out. In the time the Library has had so far, it has gone back 12 years and found not one example of when the eighth Bill for debate was reached. Clearly, we would still not have reached the eighth Bill had I not spoken at all. By that logic, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) should be blamed for blocking the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill by choosing to debate her Bill on Report, which would be ludicrous. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Gentleman must come to a point of order for me, but equally he must be heard, and will be.

The Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill could still have been nodded through at the end of the day. It was clearly blocked by somebody, but not by me—I was not even in the Chamber at that time. Could you confirm, Mr Speaker, that no reasonable analysis of proceedings could lead anyone to think that my speech on the first Bill prevented a debate on the eighth Bill from taking place; that I cannot have blocked the Bill because I was not in the Chamber when somebody else objected to it when it could have been nodded through; and that I am a rather straightforward kind of person who, if I say I support a Bill I support it—I support the Animal Cruelty (Sentencing) Bill—and if I say I oppose a Bill I oppose it? Finally, can you make it clear that it is irresponsible for Members to give the public a false picture of our proceedings, and that it is dangerous to do so because it encourages vile abuse of our staff, which is not justified and can have dangerous consequences?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for advance notice of it; I thank him for raising the matter with me. Let me confirm the following. First of all, nothing disorderly occurred on Friday. Secondly, although I absolutely understand the disappointment of the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) at the failure of her Bill to progress, it would in my experience be extremely unusual for the eighth Bill to make progress. Thirdly, I think the record shows that, when moved, the Bill was objected to at the point at which business was interrupted, namely 2.30 pm. I have been informed by the hon. Gentleman, and I do not dispute it for a moment, that he was not present at that point and therefore could not have objected to it.

Let me conclude by saying this in response to the hon. Gentleman. He has, on a number of occasions, very explicitly blocked Bills, possibly by shouting “Object” and certainly by developing his arguments at a leisurely pace and in detail, which he thinks have required his forensic scrutiny. In other words, he has, by one means or another, blocked many Bills. He did not block this Bill. Simply as a point of fact, because I believe in the intelligibility of our proceedings and people not running away with the wrong idea, he did not block the hon. Lady’s Bill.

The last point I would make—I make it to the hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members—is that I really think it would help if Members in all parts of the House treated each other with courtesy. I do not want to be in the position of having to arbitrate in matters of this kind, but where I have been asked factual questions I have given factual answers. Having heard the hon. Gentleman’s point of order and responded very fully to it, I think it only fair to hear from the hon. Lady, if she wishes to speak.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak. I would also like to thank the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) for advance sight of his comments.

There is never, ever any excuse for people to abuse Members of Parliament and the hon. Gentleman’s staff certainly should not have had to wade through such messages. Feelings around animal cruelty run very high. People are very passionate about it, but there is never any excuse for abuse.

I would like to make a point of clarification. First, I was very clear, in what I put out to the media, that it was the Tory Whips who ultimately blocked the Bill. Secondly, this is my first private Member’s Bill, and I had had positive conversations with colleagues on the Government Benches who were very encouraging of it and were, even up until that day, discussing the possibility of it going through. It is a matter of record that the hon. Gentleman spoke for over 90 minutes on the first Bill. Everyone in this House needs to be aware of the consequences of their actions on Bills further down the Order Paper, whether they agree with them or not.

I note what the hon. Lady says. I do not think I should adjudicate on that, because the hon. Gentleman was perfectly in order in speaking as he did, but she has made her point and some people will agree with her.

With reference to what she said about the Whips having objected, I must admit that at that point I was not here. I was here to see the success of the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill. Thereafter I had to go to my own constituency, so I was not present. The hon. Lady tells me that the Whips objected. Well, Whips do tend to do these things. It is quite commonplace. It is what they think of as one of their functions from time to time, among other miscellaneous functions—sometimes subterranean functions, but we had better not dwell on that. [Interruption.] I certainly would not make such a disobliging remark about Whips. I always had a relationship with my Whips characterised by trust and understanding: I did not trust them and they did not understand me.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In a written statement last Thursday, which was published without notice, Ministers announced restrictions on eligibility for the personal independence payment. Over the weekend, a Minister referring to those restrictions made comments which belittled the needs of people with mental health problems. Have you, Mr Speaker, had any notice of a request from a Minister to come to the House to explain to us the changes to PIP entitlement? If there has not been any such request, can you advise us on how we can ensure that Ministers answer questions on what they are doing and why, given the great importance of these matters, which I know you understand as well as any other Member of the House?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting me in the picture. I understand that there was a written statement on this matter last Thursday. It may be that that does not satisfy his palate or that of other Members, but that is where matters stand at present. I must not lead the witness, but he is an experienced and assiduous Member of the House, and if he is dissatisfied and wishes to use a parliamentary vehicle to shine further light on this matter, he must deploy his wits and sagacity to ensure that he has that opportunity. I get the impression he feels that insufficient attention has been paid to the matter. I am not aware of insulting or disobliging remarks having been made, but I am sorry if they have. I cannot adjudicate because I am not familiar with those points, but I hope that he will pursue the matter further, if he wishes to do so, through the use of the Table Office and such mechanisms as are provided for in the Standing Orders of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) is not present to elucidate his views and that the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) has potentially inadvertently impugned them, by convention should he not have given my hon. Friend notice before impugning or misquoting him in anyway?

As I have just been advised, and as I would have been inclined in any case to say, in this case the answer is no, because there has been no imputation of dishonour against a particular individual. The requirement to notify applies where a personal attack is intended to be directed. Where there is a more generalised complaint, no such prior notification is required. That would have been my view, but in any case, thanks to a speedy swivelling around by the Clerk of the House, I am fortified in my conviction by his advice, which is based on his 40 years’ experience in this place. Nevertheless, I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising his legitimate concern.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My constituent Shiromini Satkunarajah is due to be expelled from the UK tomorrow and sent to Sri Lanka, from where she and her family, who are Tamils, fled here from the war when she was just 12 years old. In three months, Shiromini could complete here degree in electrical engineering at Bangor University and would be expected to get a first. Her head of school describes her as “exceptionally able and diligent”. There is a worldwide shortage of graduates in her subject. Despite following the immigration regulations meticulously, she was called to Caernarfon police station last week, arrested, detained in a cell for three days and then transferred to Yarl’s Wood. I have contacted the Immigration Minister repeatedly to ask him to exercise discretion in her case, which has widespread support among the public—30,000 people signed a petition this weekend alone—and from Members of the House, but so far he has not replied. She is due to leave tomorrow. What advice can you give me, Mr Speaker, so that I, as a Back Bencher, can hold the Government to account on this scandalous case, and do so in good time?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for notice of his point of order. He has spoken with his customary eloquence in support of his constituent. He will understand that this is not a point of order for the Chair, but his remarks on this serious and pressing matter will have been heard—and noted, I hope—on the Treasury Bench. My advice is that he seek today to contact the Immigration Minister—from memory, the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill)—personally.