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House of Commons Hansard
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19 December 2018
Volume 651

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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No, points of order come after statements, as the right hon. Gentleman is well aware. [Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] Calm down! I do not need any advice from the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford). I understand that the point of order flows from the exchanges, and in those circumstances, as I have done on previous occasions, I will take the point of order—[Interruption.] No, I am taking the point of order from the right hon. Gentleman. I will be the judge of these matters.

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Mr Speaker, you may not have seen it, but during the exchanges in Prime Minister’s questions, when the Leader of the Opposition sat down, he muttered words that were quite clearly visible, accusing the Prime Minister of being a “stupid woman”. [Hon. Members: “Shame!”] Bearing in mind the booklet that you issued this week, and the words that the Leader of the Opposition said last September, would it not be appropriate for him to come back to the Chamber and apologise?

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I am pleased to respond to the right hon. Gentleman’s point of order. As he rightly surmised at the start of it, I saw no such thing. I am not making an allegation, and I am not denying or seeking to refute that of the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot be expected to pronounce upon that which I did not see, which I did not hear and which was not witnessed by my advisers. [Interruption.] Order. I do not need any advice on how to respond to a point of order from the right hon. Gentleman, which is what I am doing.

What I say in response, with all courtesy to the right hon. Gentleman, who is perfectly entitled to have raised that point of order, is that it is incumbent upon all Members of this House to operate in accordance with its best conventions and to follow the conventions and courtesies. If a Member has failed to do so, that Member has a responsibility to apologise. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that. What he cannot, and I am sure does not, expect me to do is pronounce a verdict in a circumstance which I did not witness, in terms of either seeing anything or hearing anything, and neither did my advisers. I will leave it there. It is perfectly proper that the right hon. Gentleman raised the matter. I have responded to it, and there can be no “further to that point of order,” because I have—[Interruption.] Order.

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indicated assent.

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There can be no “further to that point of order” on that matter, for the simple reason—as the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges, with his nod of assent—that he has raised it with me, and I have responded to it.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

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Is it on an unrelated matter?

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No, it is on this.

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No. [Interruption.] I am not going to take lectures from Members. It is normal convention in this place and part of the conventions and courtesies of this House that when a matter has been addressed, we do not have repeat points of order on exactly the same—[Interruption.] Order. We do not have repeat points of order on exactly the same matter. [Interruption.] Order. I am perfectly prepared to take a point of order on the matter from the Leader of the House. We have heavy business today, some of which is Government statements, and with which we will in due course—preferably reasonably soon—need to proceed. I will happily take the right hon. Lady’s point of order.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. I would just like to ask, after your finding that individuals who are found to have made unwelcome remarks should apologise, why it is that when an Opposition Member found that you had called me a “stupid woman”, you did not apologise in this Chamber.

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No, no. [Interruption.] I will deal with the point. [Interruption.] I dealt with that matter months ago in remarks that I made to the House of Commons, to which the right hon. Lady in our various meetings since has made no reference, and which requires from the Chair today no elaboration whatsoever. She has asked the question. I dealt with it months ago. I have reiterated the rationale for the way in which I responded. The matter has been treated of, and I am leaving it there.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. With great respect to you, I have to say this. If it was one of my male colleagues on the Government Benches who had used that expression against a woman on the Opposition Front Bench, you would take action immediately. This is not acceptable. Please will you deal with it as you often do—in a fair way—but also from the point of view of women in this House, who are fed up with being abused by men over decades?

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I am very happy to deal with it. The right hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that if I witnessed an instance of the kind that has been alleged, I would deprecate it unreservedly. [Interruption.] It is no good people shaking their heads. I received assent to the proposition, which I think would command widespread assent, simply and logically that I cannot be expected to deprecate the behaviour of an individual that I did not witness. [Interruption.] Order. If the right hon. Lady—[Interruption.] If the right hon. Lady is asking me whether I deprecate without reservation the use of such language, yes, obviously I do, without any hesitation, but I cannot be expected to pronounce judgment in a particular case on a given individual when I was not privy to the circumstances. If she is asking me whether that language is unacceptable, it is.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I can see Members’ phones—clearly the evidence exists. If we bring it to you within the next two minutes, will you then take action? Again, I make the point that if a male on this side of the House had said this about a woman on the other side, I think you would.

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The answer is—forgive me—that it is incumbent upon a Member who has erred and who has used inappropriate language and behaved improperly to come to the House—[Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] It is incumbent upon that person to recognise the misconduct and to apologise for it. [Interruption.] Order. If Members produce what they regard as evidence, of course it is reasonable—[Interruption.] If Members produce what they regard as evidence—[Interruption.] I am in the middle of responding.

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Our word is evidence!

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I ask the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) to have the courtesy to allow me to respond to the right hon. Lady’s point of order. If evidence is produced, it will be considered, and I will take professional advice, as fair-minded people would expect me to do.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you confirm that it is not acceptable parliamentary language to call a woman a “stupid woman” in this House? As regards the point of order from the Leader of the House, may I add the words “Me too”?

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The answer is that I have already made the response to that point perfectly clear. Forgive me—I treat the hon. Lady with courtesy and respect, and she is perfectly entitled to raise a point of order, but of that point I have already treated.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. In the leaflet you distributed, you make the point, rightly, that we are all honourable Members. Our word is therefore evidence. I saw it, Sir—I saw him say it.

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All I—[Interruption.] Order. [Interruption.] Order. I am not seeking to refute what the hon. Gentleman is saying—[Interruption.] Order. I am simply saying I did not witness it. The Clerk of the House and the other Clerks at the Table did not witness it—[Interruption.] Order. I am sorry, I cannot be expected immediately—[Interruption.] Order. It is no good somebody waving something at me. I cannot be expected immediately to pronounce guilt or innocence. [Interruption.] No, no I cannot be expected—[Interruption.] What I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Order. I will deal with it in a moment. What I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman is that Members are responsible for their own conduct and should apologise if they have committed a misdemeanour—[Interruption.] It is no good a Member standing by the Chair and trying to show me something. I would say—[Interruption.] What I say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Order. What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that the Leader of the Opposition will have heard of the allegations that have been made[Interruption.] He will have heard the allegations—[Interruption.] Order. If the right hon. Gentleman, in the light of those, chose to come to the House and to respond, I am sure that would be appreciated by the House.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand the observations made by the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), and I hope I bow to no one in my wish to see the courtesies of this House observed, but do you believe that it is in order for what appears to be becoming almost an orchestrated riot to take place? [Interruption.]

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Order. No, I am sorry. Hon. and—[Interruption.] Order. Hon. and right hon. Members have raised points of order, and they have been heard and they have been answered. The notion that the right hon. Lady stands to raise a point of order and is then shouted down—[Interruption.] Don’t “no” to me. That is exactly what an attempt was being made to achieve and it is not going to work.

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Certainly, Mr Speaker, it does seem to me—and I have been in this House for some many years—that an attempt is presently being made to shout you down. There is much serious business before this House and I would be astonished if a single one of our constituents does not view these scenes with utter contempt.

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I thank the right hon. Lady for what she has said.

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Yes, of course I will come to the other Members.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is clear that this has raised some significant upset, certainly on the Government side and, I suspect, among some women—[Interruption.] The issue of the Leader of the Opposition being alleged to have called someone a “stupid woman”—to have called the Prime Minister of our country a “stupid woman”—has clearly caused high feeling. It is also clear that many hon. and right hon. Members have evidence to show you. I am really grateful that you are willing to look at that and then to take the advice that you need before coming back to the House. Can I ask within what timeframe you expect to be able to do so?

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Yes. [Interruption.] Order. That is a very reasonable point of order. The answer is that I reiterate that I am happy to look at that evidence, if that evidence exists.

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Oh, it does.

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I do not need the hon. Gentleman to chunter—[Interruption.] I do not need the intervention of the hon. Gentleman, which does not advance matters. What I say to the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson), with courtesy, is that I have heard her point of order. I am willing to consider that evidence and I would come back on the matter, as advised by the Clerk, after the two statements to the House. That seems perfectly reasonable. We have two statements to follow. If the evidence exists, it can be looked at, and a response can be provided and we can take the matter from there, but it can perfectly reasonably wait and should sensibly do so until the two statements have been delivered to the House and questioning has taken place on them.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to you for looking at the evidence—I think they call it VAR in football—but when you come back, would it be possible for the House authorities to have contacted the office of the Leader of the Opposition to make sure that he is present to hear your ruling?

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Let us wait to see. If I have a ruling, it would be a great courtesy if the Leader of the Opposition were here, and I very much hope that he will be. I note what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Calling anybody a “stupid woman” is not acceptable. Can I endorse the words of the hon. Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Dr Johnson)—that also what is important, if we want to encourage a wide range of people to get involved in politics, is that we have cool heads, accessible processes and an honest way of proceeding? Right now, the most important thing for this House is to be able to go away and look at the evidence and get on with doing our job, so Mr Speaker, please can you tell us how we move on to the next bit of business?

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The answer is—[Interruption.] Order. I do not need the hon. Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare) continually ranting—[Interruption.] Order. Don’t argue the toss with me, Mr Hoare. I will call the points of order when I am —[Interruption.] I will call them when I am ready. What I say to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is that the best way in which to proceed is to move to the statements, and I will treat of further points of order in the circumstances. Do not forget, I was not aware of this alleged evidence, and it has been brought to light by points of order, but the sooner the points of order come to an end, the sooner we can proceed with the next business of the House of Commons.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You used the word—perfectly properly—“evidence” on a number of occasions. Certainly, I think a number of us will have seen clips—on a variety of Twitter feeds—and anybody who has a basic lip-reading skill will understand what the Labour leader had to say about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Sir, will you undertake to take into evidence things which people have tweeted out to show that—[Interruption.]

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I will certainly take—[Interruption.] No, no, I have got the point.

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And to show—

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Come on, quickly.

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And indeed to take the television footage taken by the officials of this place.

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Yes. I do not honestly think that added much, frankly. I think the commitment was pretty clear, but yes, I am very happy to provide the hon. Gentleman with the assurance that he seeks.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I have the utmost respect for your position and the Chair. If you look at what has been put forward in evidence and you come back with a judgment, would you please call the Leader of the Opposition back to the Chamber so that we can hear the full evidence of what has been put forward?

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I think I rather indicated that I expected that to happen, so if the hon. Gentleman seeks the assurance that I would expect the Leader of the Opposition to be here, the answer is yes.

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rose—

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rose—

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I am saving the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford up—it would be a pity to squander him.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. When you have seen the video replay—and thank God for video replays—and you decide to come back to the House, do you have the power to call the Leader of the Opposition back to make sure that he is here to face us?

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The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that, technically, I do not have that power, but I think it reasonable to suppose in the circumstances that the Leader of the Opposition would return to the Chamber. I think that is an entirely reasonable assumption—[Interruption.] It is not for me to get into that until the evidence has been assessed, but it is reasonable to suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would return to the Chamber.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. For the avoidance of doubt, I am not taking part in an “orchestrated riot”, but I would like politely to ask a question. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald) was quite right that in these circumstances: you should consult the video referee, and I think you will find that the video evidence is overwhelming. Earlier, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) made a very powerful point at Prime Minister’s questions about antisemitism, and there was a great “Hear, hear!” around the Chamber. None of us in any part of the House would countenance an antisemitic statement—particularly made at the Dispatch Box of the Commons. If we are not going to have antisemitic statements, we cannot have misogynistic statements either.

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I agree with the right hon. Gentleman 100%. I agree with him—for the avoidance of doubt and benefiting by repetition—100%.

If we have concluded the points of order, of which it is pretty clear that I have attempted to treat in detail, we come now to the first of the two ministerial statements.