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Points of Order

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 14 November 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the question from the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), can you advise Members whether you have had any indication about when a statement will be made on the apparent withdrawal agreement with the EU? We hear rumours that a statement may be made tomorrow, but many hon. Members may already have commitments. I understand that the House needs to mark the 70th birthday of the Prince of Wales today, but in the remaining six hours we could surely discuss the most important issue facing this country in a generation.

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The candid answer is that I had been given to understand that there would be a statement on this matter, in all likelihood, tomorrow. Factually to respond to her, what I would say is that the Chair would be perfectly amenable to a statement before then. That is not, however, a judgment for me; it is properly a judgment for the Government. I understand what she says about people having commitments tomorrow—[Interruption.] Order. But it does seem to me a reasonable point to make in response that, if Members consider this to be a supremely important matter, they can potentially rearrange their diaries in order to be present. I am always in favour, as she knows, of statements sooner rather than later but, if I may so, I do not think we should have a great row about whether a statement is made today or tomorrow.

What I would like to say to Members is that when there is a statement to this House, in conformity with the practice I have applied for nearly nine and a half years from this Chair, there will be a full opportunity for Members in all parts of the House, and potentially expressing or representing all sorts of different points of view, to be heard. That is the way it has always been and, as far as I am concerned, that is the way it will continue to be.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Although you say you have no role in this, do you not agree that, until very recently, it has always been the constitutional convention in this House that, when a Government announce a major policy, they do so, first of all, by a statement here in the House of Commons, usually simultaneously with the publication of a White Paper? With great respect, it is not just a question of Members having other commitments, or of convenience. We are slipping into a practice where Government policies are leaked in advance, then the Government brief the press and a great national debate breaks out, and then Parliament finally gets the opportunity to discuss it a day later. If you have any opportunity to discuss with the usual channels what the proper role of Parliament should be, I think your assistance would be greatly appreciated.

I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that point of order. I am bound to say to him that my attitude has been that we have Cabinet government in this country. The policy is the policy of the Government only when it has been approved by the Cabinet. [Interruption.] Members can take their own view on whether I am right or wrong, but I am simply seeking to explain to the Father of the House that the premise on which I am working is that it will be Government policy if and only if, and only when, it has been approved by the Cabinet.

It therefore does not seem to me to be unreasonable, if the Cabinet is meeting this afternoon, for the House to hear a statement tomorrow. However, if it is possible for that statement to be made today, in the sense that a policy has been agreed, I am at the service of the House and I am in favour of a statement being made at the earliest possible opportunity. That point will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and I am grateful to the Father of the House for his assistance in this important matter.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you advise me on the courses of action that are available to raise this issue? The Chief Minister of Gibraltar has, I understand, been briefed by the Minister for Europe and the Americas, and I understand that no such courtesy has been afforded to the Scottish Government. How do I bring a Minister here so I can ask why the Scottish Government have not yet seen the final deal but Gibraltar has?

There may be an opportunity for an exchange later in the day. The Minister for the Cabinet Office is perched as though he is about to leap to his feet with alacrity to respond, through me, to the hon. Lady.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If it will help the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), I had a very constructive meeting with the First Ministers of both Wales and Scotland last Friday morning, when we discussed the progress of negotiations up to that point. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will, when the Cabinet has taken a view and come to a decision about what has been agreed provisionally between negotiators, talk directly to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, because it is quite right that they should be fully briefed on what the Cabinet has decided.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not be frustrated at all, Mr Speaker, especially not in here.

One year has now passed since my constituent Jagtar Singh Johal was arrested in India. Neither evidence nor a witness has been placed before a court of law, and a report of torture has been placed before the United Nations rapporteur on torture. I have raised the issue with you previously, seeking ministerial responses to letters and to requests for meetings with the Foreign Secretary. A commitment was given, the last time I raised this, on the Floor of the House. Can you assure me, while I am standing here and my constituent’s brother is in the Under Gallery, that the new Foreign Secretary could make that commitment, either through a statement to the House or through my writing to the Minister directly, yet again, as I have done already?

I am sorry that it is necessary for the hon. Gentleman repeatedly to write to Ministers on this matter, and it is obvious that he is dissatisfied with the response or lack thereof. My only advice to the hon. Gentleman is the advice I usually give to Members irritated in these circumstances, which is persist—persist man, persist. He is a dexterous and adroit parliamentary performer, and he will know the instruments available to him. If he believes, as I rather imagine he does, that the matter is urgent, he may wish to deploy a procedure that might give him a chance of raising the matter with a Minister in the Chamber on that basis.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House may well not have seen that another issue has just broken in the news, which is that more than 48,000 women have not received correspondence regarding cervical screening appointments and have gone without correspondence regarding cervical screening results, 500 of which, apparently, were abnormal results. This is the latest failing of Capita, and Capita should lose this contract and the service should come in-house. The previous Health and Social Care Secretary, who is now the Foreign Secretary, would routinely update the House on these types of matter. Has the current Health and Social Care Secretary given you an indication that he is going to come to this House to update us, so that we can ask questions on behalf of our constituents?

The short answer to the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care is no, but I would very much expect that the House will be addressed on this matter very soon, certainly within a matter of days. Like the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire (Martin Docherty-Hughes), the hon. Gentleman is well versed in the instruments available to him. If he does not get a statement, or in lieu of a statement and as a reserve mechanism, he knows that he can seek to raise the matter on an urgent basis. I believe that on 528 occasions over the past nine and a half years the Chair has judged that a matter is urgent, whether the Government think it is or not.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given the very clear decision of the House yesterday in relation to the publication of legal advice and the reported very worrying comments of the Attorney General in recent hours, can you ensure that the advice will be brought forward in a timely way and should certainly not be very long delayed after the publication of any White Paper or any statement? These things should happen almost simultaneously if we are to have a proper and informed debate on the statement or whatever comes forward. The House spoke clearly yesterday and that must be acceded to by the Government.

The short answer is that I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman and I could not have put it better myself. I hope that that message has been heard clearly by those on the Treasury Bench. What happened yesterday was not an expression of opinion by the House of Commons; it was an expression of the will of this House. That will must be respected by the Executive branch—it is as simple and incontestable as that.

If there are no further points of order, perhaps we can now proceed.