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Volume 643: debated on Thursday 28 June 2018

The Leader of the House has tabled a motion on the matter of privilege, which Mr Speaker has agreed should take precedence today. I call the Leader of the House to move the motion.

I beg to move,

That this House notes that the Order of the House of Thursday 7 June has not been complied with; and accordingly refers the matter to the Committee of Privileges.

As I said during the debate on 7 June, the Select Committees of this House do vital work. The Government strongly support the independence of the Select Committee system. The House resolved on 7 June:

“That this House takes note of the Third Special Report of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee”,

and an Order of the House was agreed that Mr Dominic Cummings

“give an undertaking to the Committee, no later than 6pm on 11 June 2018, to appear before that Committee at a time on or before 20 June 2018”.—[Official Report, 7 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 492.]

That order has not been complied with. In accordance with traditional practice, it is for the Leader of the House to bring forward a motion when matters of privilege are in question, in order to facilitate a decision of the House. I therefore responded to Mr Speaker’s letter yesterday to confirm that I was seeking to raise this issue as a matter of privilege.

My letter followed the Order of the House of 7 June, and the decision of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), to report the non-compliance to the House by means of a vote entry on 20 June. I also understand that my hon. Friend has consulted colleagues and that there is broad support from members of the Liaison Committee for this matter now to be referred to the Committee of Privileges. I reaffirm today the Government’s respect for the privileges of the House of Commons and our commitment to continue to uphold them, and I therefore commend this motion to the House.

I thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward this motion today. As she said, this process was initiated by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee as a consequence of Dominic Cummings’ refusal to appear in front of the Committee when invited to do so and when a formal request had been issued by the Committee. When the House passed the motion on 7 June, this ceased to be a dispute between Dominic Cummings and the individual Select Committee and became a dispute between him and the whole House of Commons. He has refused to comply with a motion of this House to appear before a Select Committee. That motion expressed the will not just of me as Chair of the Committee and of the members of that Committee but of the whole of the House of Commons, which supported the motion.

These are incredibly serious matters. It is quite something when an individual decides that their judgment should be set above that of the democratically elected Parliament of this country, and that they have the right to disregard a motion of this House and to decide if and when they should give evidence to a Select Committee of the House and on what terms. That is unacceptable. For most people in this country, it would never get to that stage because they accept an invitation to appear before a Select Committee, and even if there are sometimes disputes about the date or the time involved, they decide to come. Anyone who holds a position of public trust—be they the holder of a public post in government or a public authority, or the leader of a company who is accountable to shareholders, investors or a broader group of stakeholders—can see that responding to a request from Parliament to explain their actions or those of their organisation is part and parcel of their job. That convention has been established, and it is increasingly important to the work of the Select Committees, whose job is not simply to hold Government Ministers to account but to pursue inquiries that are of public interest.

Our inquiry into disinformation and fake news threw up some important and serious issues that we wanted to talk to Dominic Cummings about. In some ways, however, this is not about our inquiry or the work of our individual Committee; it is about the right of Parliament to issue requests for people to give evidence to its Committees and for those requests to be complied with. The Committee of Privileges will now consider not only the conduct of Dominic Cummings and the way in which he declined our request but also the general contempt with which he treated the Committee in correspondence when he was engaging with us.

What should the rights of the House be when someone refuses to respond to a motion of the House regarding their giving evidence to a Committee? What sanctions should be applied? I believe that there has to be a final sanction—a final backstop. It is probably not for elected politicians in the House of Commons to be issuing fines and summonses or setting penalties or punishments for non-compliance, but there has to be a next step. There has to be some kind of sanction for someone who has been blatant in their behaviour and their language and in the contempt that they have shown for Parliament. This serious matter has now been referred to the Committee of Privileges, and this is bigger than just considering the response to Dominic Cummings; it now involves a wider consideration of the powers of the House when we are put in a situation such as this.

Is it not supremely telling that someone who based the whole of their Brexit campaign on the sovereignty of this place has treated it with such contempt? As the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) says, there must be proper sanctions when dealing with contempt of this seriousness.

We had a very good discussion about this issue at the Liaison Committee; I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) about the supreme irony: that the mastermind of the leave campaign, whose sole raison d’être was all about parliamentary sovereignty and taking back control, should be turning his back on this place in a show of arrogance and contempt that cannot go unmarked or unpunished.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House notes that the Order of the House of Thursday 7 June has not been complied with; and accordingly refers the matter to the Committee of Privileges.