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Points of Order

Volume 646: debated on Monday 10 September 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Thursday 6 September, the Minister for Disabled People released the Government’s response to the UN committee report on the Government’s implementation of the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities. The committee expressed serious concerns that many articles of the convention were being breached and gave recommendations for its implementation. Given the importance of the convention in promoting and protecting the rights of disabled people, the House should have the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s response. Could you therefore advise me, Mr Speaker, on how to ensure that this House has the opportunity to fully scrutinise the Government on this matter?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. If the Government decide it is appropriate to make an oral statement, a Minister comes to the House for the purpose of doing so; otherwise material tends to be communicated in written form. The Government’s response is a matter for the Government, not for the Chair. The Minister for Disabled People provided a written statement on this matter on Thursday, stating that she would place in the Library a copy of a report and letter the Government submitted to the United Nations outlining the UK’s progress. In summary, if the hon. Lady is dissatisfied with the Government’s response or the UK’s progress—or, conceivably, with both—there is a range of avenues that she might wish to pursue that ordinarily would involve a journey to, or other contact with, the Table Office. I will leave it to her and her legendary perspicacity to decide what means to seek to bring greater attention to this issue.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may recall granting an urgent question on 23 July on foreign fighters and the death penalty. The key issue at the time was why the Government had decided not to seek assurances about the potential use of the death penalty before assisting United States authorities in two specific cases regarding foreign fighters to whom we had denied British nationality. The Security Minister suggested that this had happened previously, but the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) asked:

“When was the last time that we departed from these principles”,

as he said he was not aware of it ever having happened before. When the Minister gave no answer to that question, I asked again:

“when did the Government last choose not to seek such assurances?”

I also asked him to write to all of us. The Security Minister said:

“I will write to hon. Members and let them know on how many occasions we have done that.”

He added:

“It will be for their summer reading.”—[Official Report, 23 July 2018; Vol. 645, c. 730-731.]

I do not know if you, Mr Speaker, have had a letter on this matter. I know the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield has not had a letter regarding this matter. I have not had a letter, and I presume that no other Member of the House has received a letter, so I just wonder what advice you could give me on the precise meaning of the word “summer” in the sentence,

“It will be for their summer reading.”

It is almost two months since the Minister could have sent us a reply. I have a sneaking suspicion that he is trying to get away with not bothering to inform us that there have actually never been any such instances in the past. If so, he would be much better off, would he not, just coming to the House to tell us?

The concluding thought of the hon. Gentleman is uncharitable, but may nevertheless be justified. If that is the ambition of the Minister, I fear that it is destined to be frustrated, not least as a result of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. In summary, if a Minister errs, and to err is human, it is the responsibility of that Minister to put the record straight, preferably sooner rather than later. I do not regard myself as the arbiter of what constitutes summer, but if Members are told that something is going to be for their summer reading, the ordinary interpretation of such an assurance is that it will be available to Members to read during the period of the summer recess. Clearly, that has not happened in this case. I hope that the Minister will correct the record ere long, failing which I predict, with complete confidence, that the matter will come to be aired perhaps more fully on the Floor of the House.