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Points of Order

Volume 624: debated on Thursday 27 April 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any notification of a statement from the Minister at the Cabinet Office—or, indeed, the Prime Minister herself—on the Channel 4 report of last evening, which suggested that the Crown Prosecution Service has to report on 30 individuals for possible prosecution between 20 May and the early part of June? Given that many of them are Members of this House, we must consider the implications that that could have for the reporting and coverage of any such decision and the position of the candidates during an election campaign. It would be a scandal of enormous proportions if any attempt had been made to influence the timing of any such reports. Has any provision been made for coping with such an eventuality if it occurs during an election campaign? The Prime Minister has decided to reappoint all of the campaign team responsible for this boorach, who have already been fined by the Electoral Commission, but that campaign team—up to and including Lynton Crosby—having successfully bought one election, must not be allowed to buy another.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. My response is as follows: the rules governing the conduct of elections are not a matter for the Chair. I hope that the House will understand that, although I have given the right hon. Gentleman a full opportunity to register his concerns, I have no intention of being drawn into this matter. That would be quite improper. What the police and the Crown Prosecution Service do, and when, is a matter for them. Members with views on these matters can, and doubtless will, express them. I will express no view on the matter.

Very well. I am not sure it is, but I will give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt.

I raised this matter with the Prime Minister a week ago yesterday—this is a matter for you really, Mr Speaker—and did not get an answer from her. I was then fortunate enough to be called by you to raise the matter again with the Secretary of State for Justice and, once more, I did not receive a reply from the Government. What has now emerged is that you, in the Chair, are saying, “It is not a matter for me.” The Prime Minister did not respond to my accusation that the election should not have been called. She did not get a revelation on the Welsh hills; she called a snap election to try to beat the Crown Prosecution Service. That is what this election is all about, and that is why it is a point of order for you, Sir.

The nature of the system is as has been described. I think that there will be a general acceptance that the police and the prosecuting authorities have responsibility in these matters. My responsibility is most certainly to hear colleagues and to err on the side of latitude in hearing colleagues who want to raise points of order, and I think that I have done that very fairly. I have never ducked anything that is my responsibility, but I think that I know that which is not.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are long-standing problems with academy sponsor AET—the Academies Enterprise Trust. Yesterday, it unceremoniously sacked the board of governors of Sandown Bay Academy on the Isle of Wight. There is a great deal of concern about local accountability being dispensed with immediately before this House is dissolved. What steps can be taken before 8 June to make AET accountable for its actions?

I think that there are two answers to the hon. Gentleman, and I respect him for raising a matter of real concern to him and doubtless to many others. First, his concerns can and doubtless will be expressed during the election campaign. Conversations do not cease, and he must avail himself of the opportunities that will be forthcoming, that will present themselves or that he will create.

Secondly, I make the constitutional point that the government of this country continues. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise his concerns with relevant Ministers, it is absolutely open to him to do that, but there is no further opportunity for the matters to be aired in this Chamber.

The hon. Gentleman, to use a word deployed by the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) yesterday, has demonstrated again his perspicacity, upon which I congratulate him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The threat of deportation hangs over the head of my constituent Mr Pride Mbi, who originates from the Anglophone minority in Cameroon. I have been in correspondence with the Home Office about the lack of published guidance for Cameroon given that Pride has been a long-standing champion of the rights of English-speaking Cameroonians, who face a very specific threat in that country. I am concerned that, as Parliament is to be dissolved and as the civil service is already in purdah, my options for raising this case are extremely limited. With the threat of deportation remaining, can you advise me on how I will be able to ensure that Pride’s position is properly considered?

The short answer is that I can advise the hon. Gentleman that he should continue his casework. Casework continues to be conducted during election campaigns, and in the friendliest and politest possible way I say to the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure is well capable of this, that he must balance whatever activities he is undertaking in the attempted pursuit of his re-election—by knocking on doors, delivering leaflets or engaging in public meetings—with his continued diligent attention to his casework on behalf of constituents. That is what he must do. He is going to be a busy bee, but he will not be alone in that regard.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that a number of reports are going to be coming out from various Committees, including the Public Accounts Committee. What can he do to support me in my efforts to make sure that this House gets the opportunity to scrutinise the report properly—I do not wish to foresee its results—on Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs closures, which will affect my constituents? I take on board the point he makes about government continuing, but the Government must not put out their trash and be allowed not to be properly scrutinised. What can he do to support me in my efforts to make sure that those reports are properly scrutinised and no decisions are made about jobs in my constituency until we return after the election?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. If when she says, “What can he do,” she means me, I must be honest with her and say that I can do absolutely nothing to assist her in the course of the election campaign, for the simple reason—this is an inescapable fact and always has been—that when the House has been dissolved, the House does not meet. When the House does not meet, there is no Speaker in the Chair and there are no exchanges on these green Benches. However, the documents to which she refers are, or when they are published will be, public documents, so she will be able to study them carefully, marshal her arguments and write to Ministers. If she wishes to expatiate on these important matters in her constituency, it is perfectly open to her to do so—and I have a feeling she probably will.

I am actually very happy. On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In all my years in this House, I have never heard of a case of bullying in this House of one Member by another, but I have just heard of such a case. The House will not be sitting for some time now, but you will be here, and I am sure that you would not approve of one Member acting in a bullying way toward another in the environs of this House. This case is shameful. I am not going to name names, but it involves a male Government Member and an Opposition female Member. I do not want an inquiry on it, but I do want a set of rules that state that verbal or any other sort of bullying of one Member by another is not allowed in this House or anywhere in its environs.

There is a code of conduct, which binds all Members. I manifestly cannot comment on a particular case, not least because the hon. Gentleman has not given and would not give me—and I would not ask him to give me—the details. But the principle that the code of conduct must be observed is sacrosanct, and if he does know—I am sure he does, by definition—of the personalities involved, it may be that, as he is extremely experienced, he can remind Members of that code of conduct.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This was so serious that Whips on both sides of the House were involved, so I am sure you could make the inquiries to find out the facts of the matter.

I am very happy to inquire of the respective Whips Offices, as the hon. Gentleman has given me an indication that his concern relates to a Member from each of the two sides of the House. I am happy to make that inquiry, but I do not want to raise his expectations, because it is not for me to act as arbiter in the matter, unless the alleged conduct relates to proceedings in the Chamber, in which case I would take a very definite and distinct interest. The holding response I will give him, which I think reasonable, is that I am happy to make limited but necessary inquiries of a kind that I think are proper for me to make.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Tuesday, my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) raised the devastating case of baby Charlie Gard, whose family live in her and my constituency. Her question was met with short shrift by the Government. This continues to be an incredibly tough time for the family, and our hearts go out to Connie and Chris, the parents, as they continue their campaign, which is supported by the huge well of support from those known now as “Charlie’s army”. I appreciate that Parliament is being cut short by this election, but is it not right that the family continue to get the support they need and that there is clarity on entitlement to legal aid in such cases? I call on the Justice Secretary also to do all that she can, and I would like to put on the record my support today for the family and my view that, particularly in this complex case, it should be the parents who have the final say on the treatment of their son.

I hope that the hon. Lady will understand if I feel that almost everything that could properly be said on that matter today has just been said by the hon. Lady. In so far as she requires any indication from me on what might usefully be done in the days or weeks ahead, my counsel to her would be similar to that which I proffered to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield)—namely, that casework continues. The hon. Lady should feel free and emboldened to make representations in pursuit of justice and closure for the family concerned. I thank her for raising this matter and putting it on the record, and I am sure she will want to share it with those on whose behalf she has spoken.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a matter that strikes right at the heart of the integrity of our democratic system. It is based on the final report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, as well as two articles in The House magazine, one by a Conservative Member and one by a Labour Member, all of which sound notes of alarm that our electoral system is the most vulnerable it has been since 1880. There is powerful evidence of foreign Governments interfering in the elections in America and possibly here. There is also overwhelming evidence of money being paid in huge amounts, entirely invisible to the system, by the use of methods including algorithms, botnets and artificial intelligence in a manner understood by nobody except those who participate in it. We should be vigilant in this election, because the Electoral Commission does not have the tools to deal with interference of this kind, and we are trying to run a modern election with the tools of the 19th century.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He has registered a strong and deeply felt concern, and it is now on the record. It is not, however, a matter for me, and I do not say that flippantly. Algorithms are certainly not a matter for the Chair, and I am sure that colleagues will be greatly reassured to hear me say that. The wider issues are ones for us all.

The hon. Gentleman, who has now served in this House without interruption for three decades, the overwhelming majority of which, by his choice, has been as a Back-Bench Member, has demonstrated once again, not least for the benefit of Members completing their first Parliament, that he has written the textbook on how to be a Back Bencher. He has written the textbook in that he has published such a book, which is a well-thumbed tome of which I am proud to possess and to have read a copy, and he has written the textbook in the sense that he exploits—I use that word non-pejoratively—every last opportunity to give voice to his concerns. Unless someone is about to surprise me gratuitously, his has been the last point of order. I thank him, and I hope that we can leave it there.

The sitting is suspended. Shortly before the sitting resumes, I shall cause the Division bells to be sounded.

Sitting suspended.