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Points of Order

Volume 632: debated on Wednesday 6 December 2017

There is a considerable appetite for points of order today. Let us begin with Mr Pete Wishart.

(Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to you—[Interruption.]

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The ongoing farce on the release of the Brexit analysis papers, as mandated by a binding vote of this House on 1 November, continues today as the Secretary of State now says that no such papers exist. This follows papers being made available in the most bizarre circumstances in a restricted reading room; media reports suggest that there is nothing other than rehashed public announcements and stuff included in old press releases. The Government have singularly failed to meet the requirements of that binding vote in the House six weeks ago and must surely be in contempt. I have written to you on this matter, Mr Speaker, and await your reply, noting your generosity and typical and immense patience. However, this must come to an end. It is a case of either full compliance or contempt proceedings commencing.

Order. I will come to other Members. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. Moreover, I understand, because it has oft been stated by him, his very real concern about this matter. I do not merely understand it but respect it. He said that the matter must be, as he put it, brought to an end. Let me say to him that I am very conscious of my responsibilities and I will discharge them. The matter is of considerable importance and interest to Members in all parts of the House. Moreover, it has been going on for a considerable period. Quite properly, it has been the subject of exchanges between the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Select Committee which has had ownership of the matter in dispute.

That said, and aware as I am of reports of this morning’s exchanges in the Committee, I do not propose to rush to judgment now on the basis of what may be incomplete reports of what was said in the Committee this morning. Let me say in terms that should be clear and, I should have thought, uncontentious to the hon. Gentleman and to the House, that I await the Committee’s conclusions on the evidence that it has heard. When I receive that material I will study it without delay and I will return to the House in similar vein.

(Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker, relating to that very issue. As you rightly say, Sir, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union appeared before the Select Committee this morning, and it has considered the matter, but we have not yet finished our deliberations. I did not want the impression to be given that we had already done that.

The hon. Gentleman is always ready to be helpful. He indicated earlier his willingness to help the Prime Minister, and he has now indicated his willingness to help me. His generosity of spirit and willingness to ensure that I am kept fully in the picture are greatly appreciated in the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Your remarks today have been extremely clear. For Members who are not on the Committee—I first put questions to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on 5 September—would you expect a letter from those Members in line with chapter 8 of “Erskine May”, or do you believe that that is a matter solely for the Select Committee to conclude? I would be grateful for your judgment on that.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I am not sure that it would be right for me to expect letters from Members on the basis that he has set out. It is perfectly open on this matter—or, indeed, for that matter, on any other—for any interested hon. or right hon. Member to write to me. That said, I have tried to indicate to the House that as the Exiting the European Union Committee has ownership of the issue—quite specifically for the benefit of those attending to our proceedings beyond the House, it has ownership in the sense that the call by the House was for the release of material to the Committee—I am interested to hear from the Committee. One way or the other, I rather imagine, whatever it wishes to say, that I shall do so.

I hope that that is helpful, but if the right hon. Gentleman is eager to rush to his computer and bash out a communication to me with the zeal and alacrity for which he is renowned in all parts of the House, I shall await the results of his lucubrations.

I am coming to the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake), but first I call Chuka Umunna.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take note of the comments that you have just made. This is related to the documents that were promised to the House. There is an issue regarding the motion that we debated in the Chamber the other day, and there is an issue regarding what has been said to the Select Committee—I note what you said about it needing to come to a judgment itself—but there is a new issue in relation to statements that have been made in the House. On 20 October, in oral questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) asked the Secretary of State:

“Will the Secretary of State tell us what assessment his or any other Department has made of the impact of leaving the EU on the economy, and when will he make that available to the House?”

The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union replied in the Chamber:

“We currently have in place an assessment of 51 sectors of the economy. We are looking at those one by one”.—[Official Report, 20 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 938.]

In the hearing by the Exiting the European Union Committee this morning, he was asked by the Chairman, “has the Government undertaken any impact assessments on the implications of leaving the EU for different sectors of the economy?” His reply was, “Not in sectors…There’s no sort of systematic impact assessment, no.” There is a clear contradiction between the statement given to the Committee this morning and what the Secretary of State said at the Dispatch Box in the House on 20 October, which, to me, provides strong evidence that perhaps the House has been misled on the issue.

I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for his skill and for his prodigious industry. He is, by background, if my memory serves me correctly, a lawyer, so I am not surprised to be reminded of his lawyerly quality: his attention to detail and his appetite for studying the Official Report. I hope that he will not take it amiss if I say that I am not entirely unmindful myself of the content of the Official Report and of various exchanges that have taken place. That material naturally comes my way, and I study it. I do not think it would be right to engage in textual exegesis on the Floor of the House.

When the Committee’s completed consideration is presented to me, if it is, and I am invited to make a judgment, I will make it, and I will be mindful of all the matters that the hon. Gentleman has highlighted—and potentially others, which hon. and right hon. Members in any part of the House wish to bring to my attention. I do not honestly think that there is much to add, but the Liberal Democrat party would be sadly disappointed if we did not hear from the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington—almost as disappointed as he would be.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am worried that the Government might, repeatedly and inadvertently, have misled the House on the sectoral reports and their nature. We heard from the then Brexit Minister, Lord Bridges, in October last year that they were being produced

“so that we can analyse what Brexit might mean”

for different sectors. The right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who was then a Brexit Minister, said in March this year

“There is…a lot of work going on to address all sorts of eventualities.”

A number of Members of Parliament have put in freedom of information requests to access those reports, but they have been rejected on the basis that information released would prejudice the interests of the United Kingdom. Having reviewed the sectoral reports, there is absolutely nothing in them that could not have been obtained by a very detailed Library information briefing—

Order. I do not wish to prolong this exchange. The right hon. Gentleman is unfailingly courteous to me, and I have no wish to be discourteous to him. Those matters which are familiar to him will be familiar to others. They may or may not be judged germane by the Committee in putting together its report, and therefore reaching its conclusions. I do not think that its conclusions will be influenced by points of order now on the Floor of the House. I completely understand why Members wish to give vent to their concern—that is perfectly proper—but I am afraid I have simply to repeat that if I am approached, if I receive a letter on this matter and related material, I will study it. I have tried to give a clear indication to the House that if I am so approached with responsibility to take a decision, I certainly intend to take my responsibility seriously and discharge it efficiently, which means, among other things, without undue delay. I hope that that is clear. If there are no more points of order—

No, no more, says the right hon. Member for Brexiter—[Laughter.] I am very sorry for my discourtesy to the right hon. Gentleman; he is the last person that I could call a Brexiteer. He is from Exeter, not Brexiter, and if there were such a place, he would not wish to live there. I realise that—[Interruption.] And the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) chunters from a sedentary position that she would not want to live there either. I am well aware of that.

Very well. If there is a final point of order, I will try to treat of it briefly. Is it on the same matter?

The House has been rightly informed by my fellow Select Committee Member, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), that we are still undergoing some deliberations. May I ask your advice on a related point? If the Secretary of State said to the Lords Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee a year ago that quantitative assessments of the impact of various scenarios were being undertaken, and said to another Select Committee today that that work had not been undertaken and that, in fact, the impact assessments had not begun, what procedure is there to address the point about evidence given one year being very different from that given the following year?

The answer is, frankly, the same as that which I have given to other hon. Members, which is, to cut to the chase, that if any Member believes that a contempt of the House has taken place, the proper approach is for that Member to write to me privately about the matter. As I said, I would encourage Members to wait to hear the Committee’s conclusions before rushing to judgment, but that is the appropriate recourse. I will not make an assessment and pronounce now. I will look at it. I would simply say again that all these matters will be considered by the Exiting the European Union Committee. I think that it is clear that its work will shortly conclude and I will then assess anything that comes my way. I will do so in a timely manner. I could hardly be more explicit than that, and I hope that it is regarded by the House as helpful.

We will now move on to the motion on the ten-minute rule Bill. I must say that when I was at university with the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin), he did not always strike me as the most patient member of the university’s student union—he used to shout at me very noisily from a sedentary position every time I got up to speak, although his behaviour has improved modestly over the past 30 years. It seems that his patience is slightly greater, because it has had to be—he has on this occasion been waiting patiently.