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Points of Order

Volume 626: debated on Thursday 6 July 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You were not in the Chair on Monday and may not have heard the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) say that he was not going to take interventions from anybody who was not wearing a tie. Given your pronouncements on this matter, Mr Speaker, do you think there is a risk of a slippery slope that might lead a Member to refuse to take interventions from Members who are sartorially challenged in other ways, such as wearing a gaudy tie or a garish waistcoat? I would welcome your advice.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. First, I can reassure the House that rulings on the dress code, which should be observed by Members if they wish to be called in debate, pose questions or, indeed, raise points of order, are a matter exclusively for me. That simply is the fact of the matter. They are not a matter for the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), although I always value his views, as I do those of all colleagues. Many Members will be aware that I have known the right hon. Gentleman for three decades, that I enjoy his company and that I can often be observed chortling at some of his literary and philosophical references in the course of his orations in the Chamber. Those orations are always enormously enjoyed, not least by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I rather thought that what he had to say on this matter was proffered in his characteristically jocular fashion. However, in so far as I could be said to have received an application from the right hon. Gentleman, by virtue of his pronouncement, for the role of style policeman, I can tell the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) and all Members of the House that I have filed it in the appropriate place.

Secondly, it is of course for a Member, be they a Minister or not, to decide to whom to give way during a speech. That said, I am confident that no Member, in making that decision, would in any way discriminate on the basis of the attire of the colleague seeking to intervene, any more than he or she would do so on the basis of a Member’s age or gender. It would indeed be quite wrong of anyone to do so. I hope that that puts the right hon. Gentleman’s mind at rest and we can leave the matter there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the House will know, responses to Public Accounts Committee reports are published in the Treasury minute. I am concerned that the publication date for the most recent Treasury minute was first delayed from late July to mid-September and that its current publication date is now 19 October. A number of reports—three in particular, namely the Committee’s forty-ninth report, “Financial sustainability in schools”, fifty-seventh report, “Capital funding for schools”, and sixty-third report, “Housing: State of the Nation”—will not have a response until the next publication date in December. It is extraordinary that the Government can delay responses to important reports by Committees of this House. That shows disrespect for the work of Select Committees. Could you look into this on behalf of the House, Mr Speaker, and urge the Government to get their skates on?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. She will know—it is implicit in her point of order—and other Members of the House will be aware that it is incumbent on Ministers to respond to reports of Select Committees in a timely fashion. That is not just a general exhortation; it is a quite specific and explicit requirement, which is a matter of time limits. It is not altogether and immediately obvious to me whether the time limit would be thereby breached, but if it would, that time limit should not be breached.

It is very important that we proceed in an orderly way in this matter and that Ministers treat not just the Chairs of Select Committees but Select Committees as a whole with appropriate respect. It is not for Ministers to decide that they will respond when they are ready; they must respond as required. If that does not happen, I know the hon. Lady, and I rather imagine she will want to draw attention to the issue and secure perhaps even a greater focus on the subject matter of the report in House time; and it would be very regrettable if, as a result of what might be called ministerial lethargy, there had to be a greater amount of time spent on the matter in the Chamber than perhaps those Ministers had themselves anticipated. The expression “shooting oneself in the foot” springs to mind.

Of course, as the hon. Lady will know, the Leader of the House is not only the Government’s representative in the House, but, very importantly, the House’s representative in the Government. I know the new Leader of the House, and I know how attentive to her responsibilities she intends to be, so I feel sure that she will be having a word with those Ministers to ensure that they satisfy both the letter and the spirit of the requirement imposed on them.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In your position, you rightly promote a sense of tolerance and inclusion in this Chamber, and you urge all Members to uphold proper integrity. During Women and Equalities questions earlier, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) raised some questions about comments that some members of the DUP had made in the past about the LGBT community. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) was overheard making derogatory comments from a sedentary position about members of the Muslim community. Although he did not make those comments on the record, what can you do to ensure that he does not make such comments again, and that he apologises for the offence caused to anyone in this Chamber or, indeed, in the public domain?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I did not hear anything said that was in any way unparliamentary, and if I did not hear anything unparliamentary, I cannot be expected to adjudicate on it. The Chair, above all, has two key responsibilities in this regard, and there can be a creative tension between them, if truth be told. One is to uphold the absolutely critical principle of free speech, and the other is to uphold the principle that debate must be in accordance with our traditions and our conventions—that debate must be seemly.

Strictly speaking, of course, Members should not make observations from a sedentary position at all. In so far as the hon. Lady is saying that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) did so, the hon. Gentleman would scarcely be in a minority in that regard. All sorts of Members chunter from a sedentary position at various times. But what I would like to say is: please, let us try to proceed in a respectful manner and try to avoid having these matters the subject of regular points of order.

I have heard what the hon. Lady has said. I did not hear what was allegedly said, and I am not going to criticise an hon. Member when I did not hear what he is alleged to have said. All I would say is that the hon. Member for Shipley is an extremely assiduous attender in the Chamber and a very frequent contributor. Sometimes, some of the things that he says will displease other Members—[Interruption.] Order. He is as entitled to his views, within the rules of order, as any other Member.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been sitting next to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) during the period that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell). My hon. Friend and I do not often see eye to eye on many things so springing to his defence would perhaps not be my most natural response. But may I assure you, Mr Speaker, and the House that I heard nothing that was disrespectful to the Muslim community? In fact, the remark I heard was rather supportive of the Muslim community. I hope that there was some misunderstanding about the remarks as they were perhaps heard elsewhere. I did not hear what has been suggested, and I was sitting right next to my hon. Friend. I hope that that is helpful to you and to the House.

I have listened very respectfully to the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell)—and, indeed, to what was said by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), both when she was speaking from the Dispatch Box and a moment ago—and I hope that the hon. Member for Livingston will accept that I cannot be expected to adjudicate on that which I did not hear. Let us leave it there for today.

May I make the general point, at the start of this Parliament, that we should try to treat each other with respect? Somebody referred to tolerance. Tolerance, frankly, is not about putting up with things about which you do not much care. That is not tolerance; that is indifference, or apathy. Tolerance is about putting up with the expression of views of which you rather strongly disapprove, but which you nevertheless accept have a right to be heard. Let us try to think about it in terms not just of what we ourselves hold as an opinion, but of what other people might think.