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Points of Order

Volume 639: debated on Monday 23 April 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It concerns a question posed by the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) during Prime Minister’s Question Time last week. I ask for your advice and guidance on this matter. On that occasion, the hon. Gentleman asked the Prime Minister:

“Does she believe that the honourable thing would be for the new incumbent of that seat to resign and fight a free and honest by-election?”—[Official Report, 18 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 322.]

I have many issues with that statement, Mr Speaker, and I look to you for guidance on what steps I can take to defend myself against these slurs. I was not informed that the hon. Gentleman would be mentioning me in the Chamber, and I was not present to defend myself when the comments were made. As a direct result of the accusatory tone of the question, I have now been a victim of online abuse through Twitter and via e-mail. My honour and reputation have been called into question by the comments that have been made.

I have never condoned, and would never condone, the spreading of lies and untruths about a political opponent or any other person, and nor would anyone on my team. I worked extremely hard to win the election fair and square, and I will not allow anyone to imply anything different.

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and for her courtesy of giving me notice of it. I think I am right in saying that, by e-mail, she alerted the hon. Member for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double) of her intention to raise this matter.

Let me say to the hon. Lady, and, indeed, to the House, that it is an important convention for Members to inform each other if they intend to make personally critical remarks—not expressions of disagreement appertaining to policy, but personally critical remarks—about colleagues in the Chamber. She has succeeded in putting her view of the matter clearly on the record, and if she is concerned that the original allegation will have been widely circulated, I know that she will now do her level best to ensure that what she regards as her correction of the record is equally widely circulated.

This was a proper use of a point of order, which in itself is a relative novelty—not from the hon. Lady, but from any Member of the House. I thank her for what she has said.

Well! There is a considerable competition between two Opposition Front Benchers. I hope that the hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) will forgive me if I take the point of order from the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) first.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fear that the Secretary of State for Defence may have inadvertently misled the House during Defence Questions earlier today when he said that

“the Ministry of Defence does not actually administer LIBOR funding—that is the Treasury.”

On 14 March, in a written answer, the Minister for Defence People and Veterans stated categorically:

“Armed Forces related LIBOR grants, including bespoke funds such as the Armed Forces Covenant Fund and Aged Veterans Fund, are committed by HM Treasury and administered by the MOD.”

This really matters, because there is concern about the possibility that LIBOR funds have been mis-spent by the Ministry of Defence, and the Secretary of State cannot simply pass the buck. Will you please advise me, Mr Speaker, on how the record might be put straight?

If the Secretary of State believes that he has erred—and, of course, to err is human, so there is no shame in it—it is up to him to correct the record. Each and every Member is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says in this place, and, indeed, for correcting that which is wrong. It would be perfectly possible, if the Secretary of State accepts that he has made a mistake, for him to put the record straight via a correction in the Official Report, known to us, and to some outside this place, as Hansard. I think I can say with some confidence that the gravamen of the hon. Lady’s point of order will communicate itself to the Secretary of State ere long, and we must await developments.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to express my concern about the Government’s failure to provide time for a debate and vote on the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. The measure has caused widespread concern throughout the legal sector, with barristers taking unprecedented industrial action and refusing to take on legal aid work, which has left some defendants without legal representation. A motion praying against the statutory instrument was laid on 22 March on behalf of the Opposition. The shadow Leader of the House then raised the matter during Business Questions on 29 March, and again on 19 April, but no time has provided for a meaningful vote. I understand that under the procedure, the instrument can be annulled only if such a motion is agreed by the House within 40 days of the regulations being laid. That period has now expired.

May I ask you, Mr Speaker, to confirm that we have taken the necessary steps to secure a vote according to the conventions of the House, and that a prayer from the official Opposition should be accommodated with a debate on a motion for annulment, for which my hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) has also called today? Just before the recess, my hon. Friend made a point of order about a similar situation, and after your intervention the Government agreed to revoke and re-lay the regulations phasing out the NHS bursary for nursing students. Would it therefore be your advice that the Government should revoke and re-lay this regulation, Mr Speaker? Can you also advise whether there are any other steps that my hon. Friends and I could take to secure a debate and vote on this legislation? Otherwise, we seem to be in a position whereby the Government can simply make it impossible for regulations to be annulled by refusing to allocate time.

I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his point of order. This is a regrettable state of affairs. Very few things in this place are without precedent, and I certainly would not suggest that this situation is. Indeed, he has just referred to a recent example for which there was a corrective remedy available that the Government accepted. I am not sure that even this situation, if uncorrected, would be unprecedented, but what I can say with some confidence is that such a circumstance is unusual and, indeed, in terms of the smooth running of the House and the existence of a basic atmosphere of trust between the usual channels, it is unhealthy for such situations to occur and for people to feel the need to raise them in this way. I am not cavilling at the hon. Gentleman’s doing so, but it is a pity that this situation has arisen.

I can confirm that, as the hon. Gentleman suggested—he is not in error in this—that the praying time for these regulations has now expired. He and his colleagues will therefore need to table a motion to revoke the regulations in place of their prayer and press the Government through the usual channels for the necessary time to debate the matter. If the motion to revoke were agreed by this House, it would not have direct statutory effect in the way that a prayer would have done. It would be a matter for decision by the Government when or whether to bring forward amending regulations.

Finally, in answer to the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry whether there were any more steps available to him, I think I can say no. He has, by taking the action he has done, exhausted the avenues open to him. I say that in a neutral, or indeed positive, sense. He has pursued such options as are available to him and I think he has now to await the Government’s response. Knowing his terrier-like pertinacity, I feel sure that if he does not enjoy satisfaction this is not the last we will have heard of the matter. If there are no further points of order, and the appetite has been satisfied at least for today, we can now proceed.