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Points of Order

Volume 634: debated on Monday 8 January 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the debate on Russian interference in UK politics on 21 December last year, I misspoke. I wrongly said that Nigel Farage had attended conferences in Russia. I have been informed that that is not true. How can I correct the record?

The hon. Gentleman has found his own salvation, and we thank him for that. Nothing further needs to be said.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Would you please clarify whether it is appropriate for a Minister to respond to an urgent question when his brother knows personally the individual appointee who is the subject of the question? Is that in order and in line with our expectations in this Parliament?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The answer is that it is for the Government to decide who should respond to an urgent question. No impropriety has taken place. I am not myself aware of the personal relationships to which the hon. Lady refers. However, in so far as she is asking me whether there has been some breach of parliamentary protocol, the short answer is no. That may disappoint her, but it is the factual answer. She has made her point in her own way. Meanwhile, I thank all colleagues who took part in the exchanges during that urgent question; I also thank the Minister for his time and energies this afternoon. The issue has been given a very full airing.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may remember the second time I raised as a point of order the difficulties of the Select Committee on Defence in getting the national security adviser to give us evidence in relation to the national security capability review that is currently under way. You expressed yourself in very strong terms on 27 November, when I last raised this subject. Since then, this stand-off has not made any progress, but I have discovered one thing—[Interruption.]

Order. This is a serious matter. I know that colleagues are waiting for the next business, but previous points of order were heard with courtesy. The right hon. Gentleman must be heard. This is an important matter and I want to be able to give him an informed reply.

I have discovered a matter that gives a fresh perspective on the claim that the national security adviser need only give evidence to the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy and not, for example, to the Defence Committee—namely, that I now see from the recently published annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee that as recently as last year the previous national security adviser gave evidence, in his capacity as NSA, to that Committee in addition to the Joint Committee. When precedent has so clearly established the fact that the NSA does speak to other Committees when it suits him, what more can I do to get him to speak to my Committee?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I think I am right in saying that it is open to him to require the attendance of the said witness. It would be prudent of him to be sure in his own mind that he has the support of his Committee in making any such direction or requirement. Moreover—I am sorry that these are muddy waters—giving effect to such a requirement if it is not adhered to would very likely require the approval of the House. This is therefore a matter that can take a little time, and it is not completely straightforward or immediate in terms of effect, but it is open to the right hon. Gentleman to persist. I note what he said about previous examples of the national security adviser appearing in front of the Defence Committee rather than in front of, or in addition to, other Committees, and that is certainly a powerful argument in his arsenal.

I know that sometimes Governments are inclined to invoke the Osmotherly rules as justification for saying that one official can and another official cannot appear in front of a Committee. My response to that, on behalf of Parliament, is to say that the Osmotherly rules are very much a Government creation. This House has never endorsed or recognised the Osmotherly rules. They are, perhaps, a matter of great importance in the minds of Ministers, and in particular, I fancy, in the minds of officials; they are not important in my mind at all.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House has previously discussed the remarks of Toby Young. This weekend, the MP for West Tyrone celebrated the murder of 10 Protestants at Kingsmill by dancing around a shop with a loaf on his head with the name “Kingsmill” written on it. In doing so, he has caused outrage among all decent people in Northern Ireland. Can you give me some guidance as to what action can be taken by the authorities in this House to condemn and to draw this House’s attention to the obnoxious behaviour of the MP for West Tyrone, and what action can be taken to deal with him?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am advised that there has been a significant number of letters about this matter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. If that be so, matters will take their course in accordance with the judgment reached by the parliamentary commissioner. More widely, though I take extremely seriously what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I share his distaste—his utter distaste—for any celebration of deaths, it is only right to point out that the Chair and the parliamentary authorities to whom he referred have locus in relation to conduct in this place. Where the alleged miscreant is someone who has not taken his or her seat in this House, I think that inevitably somewhat different considerations must apply. That said, in so far as part of the objective of the hon. Gentleman in raising his point of order was to highlight what he regarded as atrocious and unacceptable behaviour, he might be thought, and might think so himself, to have succeeded in his mission.