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House of Commons Hansard
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10 October 2017
Volume 629

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, following the Prime Minister’s statement, the Leader of the Opposition, quite properly and rightly, sat through the entirety of the exchanges, as is the custom of the House. It did not go unnoticed, however, that the official spokesperson for the SNP, the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), left early. Given that we are about to have a couple more statements, could you rule on whether it is appropriate for official spokespeople on the Opposition Benches to stay for the entirety of the exchanges on a statement, rather than beetling out just after they have made their contribution?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The position is extremely clear—at least it has always been so—but I am happy to take this opportunity to reiterate it. If the representative of a party speaks for that party as a spokesperson, he or she remains in the Chamber for the remainder of the exchanges—no ifs, no buts. The only circumstances in which I would regard it as excusable to leave—and in those circumstances, the person would make a request—would be if they were suddenly indisposed. It is not acceptable for somebody to leave the Chamber because he or she has finished and thinks, “I have other commitments; I need to go somewhere else.”

I do not mind telling the hon. Gentleman that I was asked yesterday “would it be all right if” the Member left to attend to commitments elsewhere, and my answer was no. Let me say in terms that brook of no contradiction that I do not expect official spokespersons or their representatives to come to the Chair and seek to engage in protracted conversations or attempted negotiations on that matter. I say to the SNP Chief Whip in terms unmistakable that it is a rank discourtesy for a Front-Bench spokesperson to speak and then leave apparently on the grounds of being very busy, having many commitments, having a very full diary or having to be somewhere else. No, that is not acceptable.

As the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said very fairly, the Leader of the Opposition sat in his place throughout the exchanges, as he always does and as his predecessors have always done, and that has always been the established practice in the House. If a Member has made commitments to be elsewhere that will cause him or her to have to leave early, the answer is that those commitments should not have been made and should be cancelled. If a Member thinks that he or she would like subsequently to be somewhere else, the answer is very simple: put someone else up to speak on the statement, but do not speak and then leave. Not only is it in defiance of parliamentary convention, but it is rude to other colleagues. I should not have to make that point in respect of a party leader. It is so blindingly obvious I should have thought that everybody would have grasped it in any case.

I think that that is pretty clear and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Shipley.