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Points of Order

Volume 649: debated on Monday 19 November 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Secretary of State if he could confirm that no one currently on a pension from Johnston Press would receive a shortfall in payments. He said to me that current pensioners would not be affected, but I am afraid that during the course of this discussion the National Union of Journalists has contradicted his account and said that some pensioners who retired under the age of 65 would indeed be affected. Is there a remedy by which the Secretary of State could check his facts and come back to the House before Hansard hits the presses tonight so that we can have an accurate account of the facts of the Johnston Press administration?

The short answer is that every hon. and right hon. Member is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says in the House. The corollary of that is that if any Member has erred, and if it is a matter not of opinion but of indisputable fact, it is incumbent upon that Member to correct the record. I do not know whether the Secretary of State thinks he has erred, but there is recourse available, either now, if the facts of the case are clear, or after reflection. The Secretary of State is not under any obligation to come to the Dispatch Box, but if he wishes to do so, he can.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps I should simply say this. I, too, will check the record, but I recall saying that I gave my understanding of the current situation. I think that I also undertook to make sure that that was correct, and I shall do so.

Very well. We cannot have an ongoing exchange on this, but the generosity of spirit for which I am renowned in all parts of the House gets the better of me, and I shall indulge the hon. Gentleman at this point.

I have an account of exactly what the Secretary of State said. He said, “The hon. Gentleman asked me about current pensioners. As far as I understand it, they will not be affected. Anyone in receipt of their pension now will continue to be paid. The changes will affect those who are currently in employment and we believe 250 or so in total.” So if it is in fact the case that current pensioners will receive a shortfall, will he agree to come back to the House and put the matter right?

The shadow Secretary of State is nothing if not persistent. His terrier-like quality is well known to all throughout the House and to many beyond it. I do not think anything he has said is incompatible with what the Secretary of State said. The hon. Gentleman quoted the Secretary of State as saying, “As far as I understand it”. I think that what I gleaned from the Secretary of State is that he will go away and check whether what he said was correct. In the event that a correction is required, there are many witnesses to his willingness to correct the record. I think we will leave it there for now. I hope that honour is served. The shadow Secretary of State has made his point with considerable force and alacrity, and the Secretary of State has displayed his customary courtesy.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have no doubt been observing with alarm and great concern the events in the House of Lords in which Members of the other place have overturned a decision of the Lords Privileges and Conduct Committee to suspend one of its Members for the most serious of sexual allegations. This sends the appalling message that these Houses of Parliament are not serious in tackling sexual harassment, and that we as an institution are prepared to defend our own and not take complainants seriously. Mr Speaker, I know that you have no responsibility for that undemocratic disgrace of an institution down the corridor, but there were allegations that a place in the House of Lords, in our legislature, was offered in return for sexual favours. You will know that the appointment of places in the House of Lords is a matter for the Prime Minister, supplied by lists from party leaders who all have a place in this House. What can this House do to ensure that this matter is robustly and effectively investigated?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his intention to raise this point of order. Let me begin by saying what I suppose will be universally acknowledged—namely, that these are serious matters. I know that there are strongly held views in the House, and outside it, on the case to which he has referred and on Thursday’s proceedings in the Lords. I hope he will not object if I note, en passant, that he is well known for having strong views on the nature, composition and source of membership of the other House, which he frequently expresses in colourful terms. However, I do not think that this House would be well served by itself pursuing serious personal allegations against a Member of the Lords, especially where the House of Lords has itself not decided on any outcome. The House of Lords has, as I understand it, referred this matter back for consideration. I am not justifying that; nor am I criticising it. I am simply noting what I believe to be the factual position. These are matters for the House of Lords. I urge Members to think how we would resent it if Members of that place raised an equivalent matter about a Member here that had been remitted to the Standards Committee for its further consideration. The issue is important, and it will be considered elsewhere. I respect the integrity of the hon. Gentleman in raising his legitimate concern.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that, but appointments to the House of Lords are a matter for this House, and there is a serious allegation that an offer of membership of the House of Lords was based on sexual favours. Surely that must therefore be a matter for this House that must be vigorously investigated.

The case will have to be determined. In so far as the hon. Gentleman is drawing to my and the House’s attention the fact that there is a role for Members of this House in relation to the other House, I think it fair for me, in neutral terms, to acknowledge that what he has said, as a matter of fact, is true. Perhaps we can leave it there for now. I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels that he has made his point with force. On the assumption that the appetite of colleagues to raise points of order has now been exhausted, the Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day.