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Points of Order

Volume 650: debated on Wednesday 28 November 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice? The Financial Secretary to the Treasury failed to answer adequately the questions and assertions from the right hon. Members for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), among others, specifically on a missing scenario based on Britain’s current deal. How can I get clarity, therefore, on the content of footnote 1 on page 4 of the executive summary, which says:

“The four scenarios, and the policy assumptions underpinning them, were approved by ministers”?

In that respect, were other scenarios, including, for example, the scenario on the current deal, specifically ruled out by Ministers notwithstanding the advice of Treasury advisers and advisers from other Departments, as the Minister put it, for the sake of comprehensibility?

I always seek to be helpful to Members with points of order, although I hope the hon. Gentleman will not take offence if I say that his intervention just now had many distinguishing features, but that of being a point of order was unfortunately not one of them. He seems to me to be raising a question that he would have liked to ask if he had had the opportunity to do so and that could have been raised by the shadow Chancellor if he had chosen to do so, but he did not. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is signalling that it is a response to what has since been said, which is not an unreasonable point. I do not think that I can procure an answer for him now if a Minister does not wish to rise to his feet and stand at the Dispatch Box.

If the Financial Secretary wants to be helpful and courteous to the House, as he ordinarily is, by leaping to his feet to seek to respond to the point, he is welcome to do so. I am grateful to him for his co-operation.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect to the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd), and I do respect him, in my responses to the various questions I was asked this afternoon, I made it very clear that with the report we have, indeed, responded in the way that was required. We have benchmarked the deal—expressed as a potential range of different outcomes, which he will know is exactly how the deal is expressed within the political declaration—against the status quo, our current relationship with the EU27.

We are grateful to the Minister for that. What I would say to the hon. Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) is that it is perfectly possible for this matter to be further aired in correspondence, and I have a hunch that it might well be—[Interruption]—as we speak. Moreover, it is even possible for the matter to be aired by the alternative route of questions, and I have a physical image in my mind now of one or other of the two relevant parties on the Opposition Front Bench beetling towards the Table Office to table the said questions. Those routes—correspondence and written questions—are not mutually exclusive. I hope that is helpful.

I am saving up the hon. Lady. It would be a pity to squander her at too early a stage of our proceedings.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 13 November, this House unanimously passed a motion on an Humble Address concerning the legal advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet on the terms of the draft withdrawal agreement. I made it clear in that debate that the motion requires

“the publication of the final”—

and full—

“advice provided by the Attorney General to the Cabinet concerning the terms of any withdrawal agreement…this to be made available to all MPs…it should be made available after any withdrawal agreement is reached with the EU, but in good time to allow proper consideration before MPs are asked to vote on the deal.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 192.]

It was on those terms that the motion was passed, unopposed by the Government.

Upon your advice being sought at the end of that debate, Mr Speaker, you said that

“the motion is effective—I have been advised thus. It is not just an expression of the opinion of the House; it is an expression of the will of the House that certain documents should be provided to it.”—[Official Report, 13 November 2018; Vol. 649, c. 236.]

I understand from today’s written ministerial statement that an oral statement will be made to the House on 3 December by the Attorney General, but I am deeply concerned by the comments from the Chancellor this morning and from the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House that the Government do not intend to comply with this motion in full and will, instead, publish only a position paper summarising the Attorney General’s advice. I am now seeking your advice, Mr Speaker, on what further steps I can take to ensure the Government comply with the motion approved by this House and provide this advice in full and in time to inform the meaningful vote.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise this point of order. He raises a very important matter, and I understand from the written ministerial statement that a document setting out “the Government’s legal position” will be published on Monday—described by the Prime Minister as a “full, reasoned position statement”.

I must be careful not to prejudge, but if the right hon. and learned Gentleman believes that he already knows enough to be sure that Ministers are not complying with the Humble Address, he is free to write to me, as early as he likes, to suggest that the House has seen, or is about to be subject to, a contempt and to seek precedence for a motion to deal with it. It will be for me to decide, and I will not linger, whether there is an arguable case that a contempt has been committed, and therefore whether an appropriate motion should be put urgently before the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I concur entirely with what has been said by the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer). The view he has expressed is, I think, felt widely across all parties in this House, and I really do hope that the motion that was passed will be delivered in full, because on the day of that debate we made it very clear where we stand, and we expect the Government to respond in full to the will of the House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said to me and to the House. To what he has said there is really nothing substantive that I need to add. All I would say to him is that, on the basis of what he has said, it is open to him also to write to me on this matter.

I apologise for holding the hon. Lady back, but I had a sense that those points of order were going to relate to each other. Her point of order is on a different and unrelated matter, and I look forward to hearing it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier today, the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Andrea Jenkyns) named both the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and me in her question to the Prime Minister, claiming that we were somehow complicit with the group Another Europe is Possible in terms of its misuse of data. I ask the hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, through you, to correct the parliamentary record. Another Europe is Possible is 100% compliant with the general data protection regulation. It turns out that her constituent took action via the group’s website, and the communication she has had subsequently has been in line with the opt-in preferences that she actively expressed on that website.

Further, Mr Speaker, will you indicate what action could be taken if it were to be found that the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House during Prime Minister’s questions when she replied to the Leader of the Opposition, “This analysis does not show that we will be poorer in the future than we are today… No, it does not. It shows that we will be better off with this deal”? I think the ministerial code suggests that, if it were the case that she inadvertently misled the House, she should be able to come back to the Chamber to make a statement.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and I thank her for it. I think, however, that she may be seeking to continue the argument. All I would say is that the content of an hon. Member’s remarks is a matter for that hon. Member. I note what the hon. Lady has said, and it will now be reproduced in the Official Report, about the circumstances, and Members and others will form their own judgment of that.

In the event that anybody has inadvertently misled the House, it is incumbent on that Member, whoever he or she is, to take the opportunity to correct the record. I can assure the hon. Lady that she will have plenty of opportunity to pursue these matters in the days ahead.

I would like to leave it there at present. I am responding almost on the hoof to what the hon. Lady has said. [Interruption.] She is looking slightly quizzical and, because I am in a generous mood, and I think it is right to be generous—[Interruption.] The Clerk is implying that I should not be generous. [Laughter.] He is a very generous-spirited person, but he is implying perhaps that I should not be generous. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise a further point of order, I will hear it, although I offer no guarantee that I will reply to it to her satisfaction.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your generosity. I simply express my confusion, because I genuinely thought that is what the ministerial code suggests. Were the Prime Minister to be demonstrably shown to have inadvertently misled the House by claiming something that is not the case—we know it is not the case—I am surprised there is not some way to ask her to come back to the Chamber to formally make that correction, rather than simply allowing it to sit on the parliamentary record.

The difficulty is that the ministerial code is the code under which, if I understand this correctly, the hon. Lady is seeking redress or correction. I am not the arbiter of the ministerial code—as she will know, the Prime Minister is its arbiter. In these circumstances, it is very difficult for me to say anything beyond what I have said. If the hon. Lady feels genuinely strongly that an effective injustice, albeit inadvertent, has been committed, I strongly advise her to raise this matter in correspondence with the Prime Minister in such a fashion as she sees fit. The hon. Lady can raise it in private correspondence or she can publicise the correspondence if she so wishes and seek to extract the outcome that she thinks is appropriate in this case. I repeat that if an error has been made, an error should be corrected. It is in that sense as simple and incontestable as that, but I hope people will understand when I say that it is not for the Chair to judge whether an error has or has not been made. I have set out what the circumstances are or what situations should apply in the event of an inadvertently misleading statement. I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her patience.