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Points of Order

Volume 639: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you can advise me in relation to a response I received to a question today about the business rates consultation. I have had responses not only from Treasury Ministers, but from Ministers at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. After being forensic on the issue, those other Ministers put me back in the hands of the Treasury, but the Treasury is now sending me on the merry-go-round again. Please may I have clarity on how to get a response to my question?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I cannot provide that clarity, but I think the request for same is entirely reasonable. To be fair, the Chancellor has heard the point of order, so may I suggest a quiet word and that an attempt is made to provide satisfaction? It is extremal important that Members are not unreasonably frustrated in pursuit of factual information. We will leave it there for now.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I brought this to your attention this morning so that I can raise an important matter. It has been brought to my attention by several sources that the Government have been selectively offering intelligence and security briefings by the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser on the current situation in Syria and the UK’s military response to it. The briefings appear to have been offered to members of the Labour Opposition not on the basis of Privy Counsellor status, but on the basis of those who are sympathetic to the Government’s position. That leads to concerns that the Government are using intelligence briefings to manipulate Parliament and to bolster support on the Opposition Benches for their behaviour based not on security terms, but on politics. Is it right that the Government should treat members of the Opposition in that way? What mechanisms are open to get to the bottom of the matter?

The only mechanism that I know is open to the hon. Gentleman is for him to complain about that via the device of a point of order, which he has just eloquently done. In all solemnity, I understand why he is disconcerted or worse about the matter. That said, and while thanking him for his characteristic courtesy in giving me notice of his intention to raise this point of order, I must say to him—he will be disappointed, but this has the advantage of being true—that with whom the Government shares intelligence material is entirely a matter for the Government. It is not a matter for the Chair.

If I can attempt to share the hon. Gentleman’s pain, sometimes senior members of the Government share information with me, and I am bound to say that the more astute and sensible, from the very highest level downwards, do that, but other Ministers are not so inclined to do so. A similar principle applies in relation to the Whips. Some Whips share things with you, sometimes you think it is worth telling a Whip something, and sometimes you think, “Actually, that is about the last person I would tell.” It is a mixed experience, and I understand that he is upset about the matter, but it is not a matter for the Chair. In one sense, I am flattered the hon. Gentleman invests me with powers that I do not possess, but I cannot provide a resolution of his problem. If he really persists, I will hear him once more.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not dream of trying to invest you with powers that you do not have or do not wish to have. My point is that you preside over a Parliament that the Government have done everything to sideline since last week, and it has now been brought to my attention that they are using intelligence and security briefings here to manipulate Opposition Members—not to inform those Members but to potentially bolster their own case.

I understand your point, Mr Speaker. Of course the Government can share briefings on Privy Council terms with non-Privy Counsellors, but surely the deeply cynical fashion of only doing so if one agrees with the Government cannot go unchallenged.

It has not gone unchallenged because the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter. The truth is that sometimes in life a problem does not have a solution, and this might be an example. At any rate, if there is a solution, it is not in my hands to provide it.

What I very politely say to the hon. Gentleman is that the only solution I could offer yesterday to the very widespread sense that the situation in Syria should be debated was to use my powers to grant a Standing Order No. 24 debate, and that is what I did. It was open to me to do that for today, and that is what I did. I do that in order to try to help the House.

I do not want to be flippant about it. I will always try to help the hon. Gentleman, but I also believe in being absolutely candid with him and other colleagues. Is this something I can resolve? It is not, but he has aired it. If he can persuade a Minister to see him about the matter—it is an arguable proposition whether he will be successful in his mission—I know he will pursue the matter like a dog with a bone.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you have any indication of a Minister coming to this House to make a statement about a purported legal challenge to the Scottish Parliament’s UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill? There are media reports that the Attorney General has confirmed that such a challenge is to proceed to the UK Supreme Court, notwithstanding the fact that the legislation was ruled as within the Scottish Parliament’s competence by Scotland’s chief Law Officer, the Lord Advocate, and the fact that it was passed in the Scottish Parliament by 95 votes to 32, with only the Tories and one Lib Dem voting against it. The Bill was due to become law tomorrow.

It is surely a very serious matter that the Tory party, having been defeated by a democratic vote of the Scottish Parliament, is now seeking to challenge it. Is there any way I can secure a ministerial statement, rather than Ministers briefing to the media as per usual?

I understand entirely why the hon. and learned Lady is concerned about this matter. When I came into the Chamber I had received no notification of this matter—it may be that something has become public more recently.

I do not need the matter dilating further, so the hon. and learned Lady cannot do so. I gently say to her that she knows some Members wanted to raise the matter in the Chamber today via another mechanism and, on grounds of pressure of time, I declined for it to be raised by that other mechanism. In those circumstances it is more than a tad, if I may say so, cheeky of Cherry to seek to raise it via a point of order. [Interruption.] That was a very good-natured reply. The hon. and learned Lady should consider herself very fortunate that I am being so patient.

It is perfectly possible for the matter to be raised on another day and, knowing the pertinacity of the hon. and learned Lady, I feel sure she will make an attempt on a subsequent day, and it is open to her to do that. I hope that is helpful. [Interruption.] “Generous”, says somebody from a sedentary position. Well, that is my middle name.