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Points of Order

Volume 642: debated on Wednesday 13 June 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As he left the Chamber, the leader of the Scottish National party apparently said that it will use parliamentary devices to hold this Government to account—I wonder how you use parliamentary devices when you walk out of this Chamber in a co-ordinated move. As you will know, Mr Speaker, I had submitted an application for an urgent question on the Sewel convention, which I hoped to call Ministers to the Dispatch Box to discuss. I am sure that in your determination of that, you considered the fact that we had a Standing Order No. 24 application in front of us. Because the mover of that SO 24 application has now left the Chamber—been forced to leave in a co-ordinated move—and applications must be lodged by 10.30 am, there is no opportunity for any Scottish Member of any party to raise that now. I wonder if you can tell me how those who remain on these green Benches—who remain here representing our constituents—can address these issues, rather than those who take the pathetic, theatrical route of leaving this Chamber and not representing their constituents by walking out. [Interruption.]

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman —I would urge that we try to lower the decibel level. I understand that he feels his point keenly and he has made it with sincerity. He is a very assiduous Chamber contributor and I respect that.

I will not make any personal criticism of any Members. We have had what we have had and people will make their own assessment. The hon. Gentleman’s surmise is, of course, correct. I say this as much for people attending to our proceedings as for people sitting in the Chamber: an SO No. 24 application—an application for an emergency debate under the relevant standing order—requires notice by 10.30 am, on a Wednesday, and I fear that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), for example, who has expressed some interest in this matter, and I will come to him soon, made no such application. Nothing new or urgent has happened since. We have to take things on a case-by-case and day-by-day basis. I cannot be expected to work retrospectively. The fact is that there was an application. It would have been heard. The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) who had made the application chose to put himself in a position in which he would not be able to persist with his application. Responsibility for that choice is that, and that alone, of the right hon. Gentleman. It is not down to the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) and it is not down to me. Members must take responsibility for their own actions. As to whether there will be either an urgent question on the matters of which the hon. Gentleman has just treated, or indeed an SO 24 application on another day, that is a matter for another day.

I see that a former shadow Secretary of State wants to get in, but I will take the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) first, and then the shadow Leader of the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker—this is, in fact, further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross). As you have said, Mr Speaker, applications should normally be made by half past 10 in the morning. Obviously, I did not make such an application, but Standing Order No. 24, subsection (4), allows you, Mr Speaker, to consider an application if

“the urgency is not so known”

at 10.30 am, and notice can be given

“as soon thereafter as is practicable.”

My suggestion to you, Mr Speaker, is that the urgency became apparent at the point at which the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) decided that pulling a stunt was more important than allowing Scottish Members a proper debate on this subject.

I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, and I say that with sincerity. He is an accomplished and dextrous lawyer—[Interruption.] Well, I think he is an accomplished fellow. What I say to him is “nice try”, but I am afraid that it does not work. The reason why his argument, or thesis, if I may dignify it thus, does not quite work is that the matter in question, which was arguably urgent or even constituting an emergency, was the need for a debate on the Sewel convention, adherence to, violation of or non-compliance with it. That was the urgent matter, and not the fact that there was subsequently an eruption, whether pre-arranged or otherwise, in the Chamber. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman for having a go—he would not be the versatile lawyer he is if he did not—but I am afraid that it does not work on this occasion. I rather think that the genial smile on his face suggests to me that he knows he was being a cheeky chappie. We will have to return to these matters subsequently—I hope at not such excessive length, but I will take the remaining points of order briefly.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice on clarification about this misinformation that seems to be circulating that the Opposition did not want to take part in the debate on devolution yesterday and on the amendments? You will know, Mr Speaker, that the Opposition voted against the Government’s programme motion. Initially, we were allocated only 12 hours, but then under pressure, it was extended to two days. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney) made this point yesterday through a point of order and was shouted down. My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman) mentioned in the debate that the only voice that would be heard was the Deputy Prime Minister’s. Could we seek your clarification on the fact that the Opposition did want the extra time to debate the devolution amendments?

I am not sure that it is for me to interpret proceedings, and to attempt to place my own construction on motivation not publicly declared, but what I would say to the shadow Leader—I think I can say this without fear of contradiction, because it has the advantage of being true, and demonstrably true—is that the Opposition opposed the programme motion. That is a matter of unarguable, incontrovertible fact. There was a Division on the matter, and I was notified by the Opposition Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown), courteously—he was not obliged to notify me, but he did notify me in advance—of an intention to oppose that motion, so it certainly should not be said that the motion was bought into by or was under the ownership of the Opposition. It was a Government programme motion.

I have tried throughout these difficult altercations of the last 24 hours to be scrupulously fair. As I said to Scottish National party Members last night in the presence of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Minister was not guilty of any procedural impropriety yesterday at all. He was entirely entitled to speak for the length of time that he did in setting out the Government’s position and indeed, characteristically, taking a very significant number of interventions, including from people who subsequently complained about the fact that they did not have the chance to speak. He was entirely in order and the Government were procedurally perfectly in order to operate as they did in the construction and submission to the vote of the programme motion. The Standing Order is written in that way presumably for a reason, and it has been written, in a sense, and approved with Government support. There was nothing disorderly about that, but it certainly was not the Opposition’s programme motion. It is abundantly clear to me that the Opposition were opposed to the programme motion. I do not think that I need to add anything more beyond that.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to have caught your eye from such an unfamiliar place in the Chamber. We had lengthy points of order yesterday on what the shadow Leader of the House has just intimated, and we were looking forward to the Standing Order No. 24 application today, so that we could represent our constituents on major amendments relating to devolution and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Given that we no longer have that Standing Order No. 24 opportunity because of the childish antics of certain Members of this House from the Scottish National party, I wonder whether, through you, I could ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is in his place, whether he would be willing to bring forward a statement in the House today, or first thing tomorrow morning, so that Scottish Members who are here, with their voice, to represent their constituents can make the points about the Sewel convention that were the basis of the Standing Order No. 24 application and so that the SNP cannot gag us as well as themselves on behalf of the people of Scotland.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. I simply say to him that I do not think I need to consult the Secretary of State for Scotland on this point. There is no possibility of a statement on that matter today, even if the Secretary of State were minded to volunteer it. That would interfere with our proceedings in a way that a lot of Members would regard as frankly unsatisfactory. In so far as the hon. Gentleman is seeking some guidance from the Chair, I would say that that would not be appropriate today. Tomorrow is another day. I simply point out, without wanting to venture further into this otherwise hazardous terrain, that even had an Standing Order No. 24 application been successful, the debate would not have been today—it would have been on a subsequent day. The debate would not have allowed any vote on any propositions appertaining to parts of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill; it would simply have been a debate on a “take note” motion. There could be such a debate subsequent to today; tomorrow is another day and let us wait to see what happens.

I must apologise to the right hon. Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett), because she has an important point of order, which hails from her experience not just as the Member for Derby South, but as a former Leader of the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that under the rules of order of this House, if the parliamentary leader of the SNP had had his way, not only the baby to whom you referred but every member of the public and indeed of the press would have been cleared from this House? Can you inform me, because I am not now sure about this, whether under present circumstances it would also have led to the cessation of the broadcasting of this House, which would have brought a great loss in public scrutiny?

In the first instance, people would have had to exit the Gallery—I am pretty certain of that and the right hon. Lady is quite right. The specific proposition was that the House do sit in private. I do not know whether amid the hubbub people heard that that was the thrust of what the leader of the SNP here was requesting, but it is the gravamen of what he was requesting and it would have required members of the public to exit the Gallery at once. If the motion had been carried, the broadcasting of our proceedings would have had to be halted with immediate effect. It is important that people understand the implications of some of these devices that people use.

I also add, without prejudice to any particular application but on the basis that I think the House will believe me and that the record shows this to be true, that I am very open to urgent questions being heard in this place and to Standing Order No. 24 debates taking place, whether the Government of the day particularly like it or not. I might make the judgment, as Speaker, that it is in the interests of the House for such a debate to take place, but of course if people absent themselves when they have the opportunity to make these applications, they cannot then complain. I really do think it would be a good thing if we perhaps brought to a close the operation of stunts and focused instead on the proper discharge of our responsibilities in this place. I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you confirm that where someone is named, as happened today, they have to leave the House for the remainder of the parliamentary business? I believe they also give up pay for the day. They certainly cannot vote in any proceedings that happen in the day, so the implication of what the leader of the SNP parliamentary group did today, apart from pull a stunt, is that he made it easier for the Government Chief Whip to get his business through.

I hope the hon. Lady will understand when I say that all she needs to know, and all the House needs to know, is that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber is out for the day. You cannot be half in and half out. You cannot come in and out.

We are not talking about the customs union. The fact is that the Member is out for the day. He cannot speak today and he cannot vote today. The position has now been made crystal clear.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I just wondered whether you were aware of a piece of paper that came into my possession just before the start of today’s business. It listed points of order to be made on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, with eight of them written out. It even had words such as “outrage” and “disappointment” in three of them. I am happy to put this in the Library so that all Members can get hold of it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a bit of an expert on being thrown out, may I just explain to you that there are various ways of throwing people out? Obviously, one is where everybody follows, but that has never happened in my case. Secondly, it has been possible for somebody to be sent by the Speaker’s Office to the room upstairs that I inhabited and for them to say to me, “On reflection, the Speaker said you can stay.” That is a different way. Another way is where people are sometimes barred from the House but not from the building. These variations have something to do with the Speaker at the time. So all I want you to explain to me is: just which one is this, because it is different?

I am always open to discussing these matters with the hon. Gentleman. I did not discuss this matter with him at 7.30 am, because, obviously, the eruption had not happened by then. However, as I toddled my way back from the health club this morning, we did discuss the question of last night’s points of order. He volunteered his opinions to me about that matter with his customary forthrightness, of which I was duly appreciative. He asks what type of exclusion today’s was. The answer is that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber was excluded from the Chamber and from the precincts of the Palace of Westminster for the remainder of the day. I think that is now clear. If there are no further points of order, and I hope there are not, as we have a long way to go and many hours of Chamber debate to come, we will now come to the presentation of Bills.

Bills Presented

Employment Guarantee Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Frank Field, supported by Sir Nicholas Soames, Jack Brereton, Margaret Beckett, Stephen Timms, Jeremy Lefroy, Sir Roger Gale, Kate Hoey, Ruth Smeeth, Sammy Wilson, Jim Shannon and Diana Johnson, presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to guarantee paid employment for six months for claimants of Jobseeker’s Allowance, or the jobseeker’s component of Universal Credit, who have been unemployed for six months or longer; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 July, and to be printed (Bill 224).

That is a very good day—the first Friday of Wimbledon.

Animal Welfare (Service Animals) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sir Oliver Heald, supported by Sir Roger Gale, Sir Paul Beresford, David Hanson, John Spellar, Mr Ben Bradshaw, Neil Parish, Gareth Thomas, Maggie Throup, Mr Nigel Evans, Jim Fitzpatrick and Sir Mike Penning, presented a Bill to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in relation to service animals.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 June, and to be printed (Bill 225).