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Points of Order

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 21 November 2018

Yes, I will hear the hon. Gentleman when the House has composed itself. In the frankly extraordinary circumstance that there are right hon. and hon. Members who do not wish to hear his point of order, I think it is seemly to wait until their speedy and quiet exit has taken place and the rest of us can listen to his mellifluous tones.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on a recent report from the Procedure Committee regarding speaking limits on speeches in the Chamber and an older report on a review of the Standing Orders of the House. I was concerned when I saw various Standing Orders that make reference to the influence of the Chair in controlling proceedings and, of course, the conduct of Members. Oddly and archaically, in my view, these Standing Orders make reference only to members of the House being male. For example, page 43 of Standing Orders, on Nos. 42 and 42A on irrelevance or repetition—something that I know Members of the House never take part in, Mr Speaker—states:

“The Speaker, or the chair, after having called the attention of the House, or of the committee, to the conduct of a Member who persists in irrelevance, or tedious repetition either of his own arguments or of the arguments used by other Members in debate, may direct him to discontinue his speech.”

It further states:

“The Speaker, or the chair, may direct any Member who breaches the terms of the sub judice resolution of the House to resume his seat.”

On further inquiry, I found that there are numerous Standing Orders that make reference to “him” or “his” in relation to Members of the House, and no Standing Order I have read makes reference to women holding seats in the House. In the Procedure Committee’s report of three years ago, “Revision of Standing Orders”, a recommendation was made for

“amendments for gender-neutral language, such as “he or she” for “he”, when the pronoun does not refer to a holder of a specific office, or drafting to avoid the need to use a gendered pronoun.”

My understanding is that this recommendation has never been implemented, despite being several years old.

In all sincerity, Mr Speaker, I am sure you would agree that if we are to be a truly progressive Parliament, especially on the day on which 100 years ago—as referenced earlier by the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—women were rightly allowed to stand for Parliament, and in the year of universal suffrage, something as basic as our Standing Orders should reflect the fact that women are allowed to serve and sit in this House.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter as a point of order. Moreover, I think it fair to say, and I doubt anybody will demur as I do so, that no one could accuse him of excluding from his point of order any matter that he thought might in any way, at any time and to any degree be judged to be material. I have no comment to make on his observations about the Procedure Committee’s deliberations on time limits. Moreover, what he said on other matters—for example, tedious repetition—was unexceptionable, and there is no need for me to add to it.

However, on the main point that I think the hon. Gentleman wished to register with the House, let me say that I fully share his concern about this matter. Many right hon. and hon. Members, and observers outside the House, will agree with him that it is frankly archaic that our Standing Orders use gendered pronouns. It is deeply unsatisfactory that the revisions to the Standing Orders proposed by the Clerk and recommended by the Procedure Committee in March 2015 have still not been brought to the House for decision. I would very much like to expedite these changes, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, this does not lie in my hands. I would encourage him to pursue the matter with the Leader of the House at business questions, and perhaps also to urge his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench to press, through the usual channels, for action. Meanwhile, I hope that his concern, which I have reiterated I share, has been noted by those on the Treasury Bench.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. One hundred and twenty-five Members of Parliament from across the House, including Lords Spiritual, have written to the Prime Minister asking the Government to do the right thing in the Asia Bibi case, where somebody’s life is in grave danger and they are being persecuted for their faith. My question to you, Mr Speaker, is this: how long should those Members of Parliament have to wait to hear from the Prime Minister in a case of such importance where we, the United Kingdom, should offer asylum and act quickly, because somebody’s life is in grave danger?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. What he did not say was when he wrote the letter. In my experience, the Prime Minister is as courteous as anybody in this House. She receives a very large volume of correspondence, as other very senior Members do, and it is her usual practice to respond timeously, but I do not know when the letter was written. All I would say is that the matter is clearly of the highest importance, and I hope that by the ruse of a point of order the hon. Gentleman has effectively expedited the matter. If he has not succeeded in doing so, I have a feeling that we will be hearing from him again ere long. I thank him: it was indeed an important matter, and I appreciate him raising it. If there are no further points of order—if the appetite has now been satisfied—we come to the urgent question.