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Points of Order

Volume 637: debated on Monday 5 March 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Thursday 1 March, in an oral statement on the Leveson inquiry, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said:

“Sir Brian, whom I thank for his service, agrees that the inquiry should not proceed under the current terms of reference”—[Official Report, 1 March 2018; Vol. 636, c. 966.]

Is it in order for the Secretary of State to describe Sir Brian as agreeing with the Government when his actual words, in a letter to the Department on 23 January, were that he “fundamentally disagrees” with the Government’s position? Furthermore, the Government acknowledged his view in further correspondence that was released hours after that statement was made.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I understand that she has also notified the Secretary of State. The contents of a ministerial statement are the responsibility of the Minister. If the Secretary of State feels that he has been in any way inaccurate in his description of Sir Brian Leveson’s views, I have no doubt that he will take steps to put the record straight. He is not obliged to say anything here, although he can if he so wishes.

Not yet; I am dealing with the matter. The right hon. Gentleman can behave with a statesmanlike reserve befitting his very high office and onerous responsibilities.

As the correspondence has now been made available, it is a matter on which all Members may take their own view. I think it partly comes down to a question of interpretation and of emphasis, and I know where the hon. Lady is coming from on this subject. I am not entirely unaware of what Sir Brian has said about these matters. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady has succeeded in putting her view on the record. I call the Secretary of State, who is in his place and was a moment ago literally leaping towards the Dispatch Box with a breezy air of confident insistence.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I very clearly and carefully described my position and Sir Brian’s. Now that his letter is in the public domain, I think it is all very straightforward.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, but I was in here and listened very carefully, and I—and, I think, the majority of Members of this House—certainly got the very distinct impression that Sir Brian Leveson was agreeing with the Secretary of State, whereas one could only describe his reaction to having been described in such a way as incandescent fury. In future, would it not be helpful if, when a Secretary of State makes a statement of this nature—particularly one citing another person and praying them in aid—he published that person’s correspondence at exactly the same point as making the statement?

That certainly could be helpful. The Secretary of State’s words are a matter for him. It is always very important, as a matter of both principle and prudence, faithfully to reflect the views of anybody whom one seeks to quote; as a matter of principle, because that is ethically right, and as a matter of prudence, because to put it bluntly—I am speaking hypothetically—if one did not, it might come back to bite one. We will leave that there for now.

A very difficult south London choice for me. I was notified by the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) first, so I will take a point of order from him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Over the last few years, there have been several major water leaks and burst water mains causing severe disruption to my constituents, meaning that they cannot wash, cook and do the basic things that we take for granted in everyday life. Yesterday, over 20,000 homes across London, and indeed many others across the rest of the country, were left without water.

My constituency is served by Thames Water. This is the worst incident of its type and it is totally unacceptable. Although the snows, the freeze and the thaw have posed huge challenges, Ofwat said this afternoon that these companies have fallen far short in forward planning and giving the right support and communication to people. I am absolutely astounded, given the practical implications of this, that no Minister has come to the Dispatch Box today to explain what the Government are doing, or will do, to support people who have been going through hell over the last couple of days. At the very least, one would have thought that there would be some kind of public inquiry. People will be interested to know whether they will get compensation for what has happened. Can you assist me, Mr Speaker, by advising me how we might get a Minister to the Dispatch Box to explain what they are doing to address this serious situation?

Would the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) like to come in at this point?

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna), who is my constituency neighbour, Mr Speaker. Thousands of my constituents have been without water over the weekend, some since last Thursday. During that time, they have been unable to contact Thames Water by telephone or through the website, and they have not received any information on when supply will be restored or how to obtain bottled water. The BBC reported this morning that a hospital had to contact the water company by Twitter to request emergency supplies of water. There has been no clear protocol for ensuring that residents who are not able to collect water in person have access to clean and safe drinking water.

There are similar reports from across the country, including one that I received personally this evening from the water industry that up to 100,000 residents in Birmingham are at imminent risk of being without water as the thaw spreads. This is a national crisis in our water industry, which, it is clear, is not fit for purpose. I welcome your advice, Mr Speaker, on how we can secure the intervention and leadership that we need from the Government to get us through this crisis, and to ensure that we have a water industry that is fit for purpose.

I am very grateful to the hon. Members for Streatham (Chuka Umunna) and for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) for their points of order, which appertain to their constituencies, but which they have made clear are of national salience. Today was a very difficult day, in that we had two Government statements that were likely to be well subscribed, and a Second Reading is to follow, but there are tried and tested mechanisms for seeking to bring to the House’s attention matters that are thought to be of some urgency. If the matters continue to be of some urgency, it is open to Members to seek to bring those matters to the House on subsequent days.

I should say to the hon. Member for Streatham that until 25 years ago, I lived in his constituency, although he was not at that point its distinguished representative, and I drove through it yesterday in the course of a rather unhappy journey in my car back from Brighton, where I had been attending a football match with my son. The reason for my unhappiness will be well known to the hon. Gentleman, as I hail originally from north London. I did see a rather large concentration of very dirty water in a road at one point. That was obviously rather a sad contrast with the unavailability of a proper water supply to residents of his constituency, so this is a real and pressing concern. The ingenuity of both hon. Members is such that I think they will find their own salvation before too long.

Bill Presented

Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

David Warburton, supported by Neil Parish, Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger, James Heappey and Mr Marcus Fysh, presented a Bill to make provision about rivers authorities; to make provision about the expenses of internal drainage boards; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 March, and to be printed (Bill 172) with explanatory notes (Bill 172-EN).