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House of Commons Hansard
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14 January 2019
Volume 652

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you advise me whether there are any ways to remove the need for a money resolution for a Bill brought forward by a Back Bencher? Could you confirm that only the Government can move money resolutions?

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That has long been the practice. I am not going to get involved in a detailed disquisition on these matters tonight as I think that would be premature and unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman has asked me a question and I have furnished him with an answer. I trust that satisfies him. If it does, good; but if it does not, never mind.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may be aware of some speculation in the press, so could you confirm that a Committee of the whole House can only be chaired by the Chairman of Ways and Means?

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The Standing Orders are perfectly clear. The hon. Gentleman need not ask me, either on his own initiative or at somebody else’s urging, a question to which the answer is readily available if he bothers to read the relevant material; it is pretty clear.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

This is a brave moment for me because I have never before made a point of order. I seek just a little bit of clarification regarding these so-called devices that have been much mentioned in the press over the weekend and that might give over control of the Order Paper—something that I would find deeply concerning. I would be very grateful if you gave some indication as to which other Members of Parliament you have had discussions with about these devices and their use. Is this normal procedure or am I just worrying about nothing?

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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear; people do seem a bit confused, but I will certainly try to help the hon. Lady. First, to the best of my knowledge and recollection I have not had any meetings or, as she puts it, discussions about such matters. I see a certain amount of speculation in the press but I am not aware of, or in any way party to or involved with, any such proposals. Secondly—I would have thought that the hon. Lady would know this after nearly four years in the House but perhaps she is not aware of it—more generally I regularly see Members from across the House upon a range of matters if they ask to see me. There is nothing odd or unusual about that; there is nothing without precedent. On the first point that she raised, the fact that there might be speculation about matters that causes perplexity or befuddles some people may be a concern for them, but it is not the responsibility of the Chair. I hope that I have given her a clear and explicit answer which brooks of no misunderstanding.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister responded to my question earlier by saying:

“We accepted the result of the referendum vote in Wales…We made clear at the time that we respected the result of that referendum in Wales.”

However, her actions and the actions of her party at the time and since then are on record, and they contradict these assertions. I fear that the Prime Minister has misled the House on this matter in responding to myself and other Members. How might she correct the record?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I am sure that if she is suggesting what she has just suggested, she would wish to insert the word “inadvertently”, because she is a person of impeccable manners and I am sure that she would not suggest for one moment that the Prime Minister had deliberately misled the House. I just seek that assurance; is the hon. Lady suggesting that it was inadvertent?

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I am content to apologise and to insert the word “inadvertently”.

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I was not requesting an apology, although it is very gracious of her to proffer it. I just wanted to hear the insertion of the word “inadvertently”. The answer is that, in a sense, the hon. Lady has partially found salvation in the matter by raising the point of order and putting the factual position as she sees it on the record. In terms of further redress, my response is that every Member of this House, including the Prime Minister, is responsible for the veracity of what she or he says. In the event that a Member believes that he or she has made an error, it is incumbent upon that Member to put the record straight. Knowing the commitment to this Chamber of the hon. Lady and her regular presence at statements and other opportunities to interrogate Ministers, I am sure that she can seek a correction in direct exchange with the Prime Minister at the material time.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have seen some changes in precedent in recent days; indeed, you rightly said that precedent can be changed. If there were to be an amendment to the Business of the House motion preventing the Government from controlling the Order Paper, it would be—as I understand it from much more long-standing colleagues—a matter of precedent. What role might the Liaison Committee play in that decision?

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I am not a member of the Liaison Committee. I will look at the situation on a case-by-case basis. If the circumstance arises, I shall make an appropriate judgment. I think we should leave it there. May I very gently say to the hon. Lady that the late Lord Whitelaw was so shrewd when he said that he personally preferred to cross bridges only when he came to them?

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In my 17 years in the House, including two years as a Government Whip, I found out one thing, which is that if Members act as a Whip’s lickspittle, they get very little respect from other Members of the House—even, ultimately, from their own Whips.

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The hon. Gentleman has made his own point in his own way with considerable force and alacrity. I am not going to accuse anybody of being—

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It’s not a point of order, is it?

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Well, it will just extend the proceedings if people chunter from a sedentary position ineloquently and for no obvious benefit or purpose. It is a point of order and I am responding to it. If the junior Minister on the Treasury Bench does not like the fact that I am responding to it, he can lump it, because I am going to respond to it in my way and in the fashion that I choose. His approval or disapproval is a matter of staggering irrelevance as far as I am concerned. I certainly would not accuse anybody of being a lickspittle, but I think the record shows that when I was a serving Back Bencher—and, for that matter, often as a Front Bencher—I was not overly preoccupied with the views of my Whips.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There has been a lot of speculation—not from you, but from other MPs in the House—about the ability of a Back Bencher to influence the Business of the House motion and take control of business on a specified day. As a Back Bencher, I seek your guidance as to whether any procedural device currently exists or whether a precedent will be set so that such a device can exist going forward.

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I refer the hon. Gentleman to answers that I provided earlier. I am very happy to look at these matters in the round; there may well be discussions to be had about them in subsequent days. It is perfectly legitimate for the hon. Gentleman to seek to engage me on the matter, but I do not think that in this context there is any particular merit in repeating that which has already been said. I therefore urge him to consult the Official Report, and I hope that he will find it productive when he does.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is relevant, because I know that members of the public and members of the press are asking about it; indeed, I have just been asked. Is it your understanding that if article 50 were to be extended, that could happen only if a Government Minister were to move a motion asking for it to happen? If that has changed, then it is a massive change to our entire democracy.

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The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, but it does not appertain to the consideration that is before us today. I am certainly happy to reflect—[Interruption.] Well, she has asked me a question, very courteously I am sure, and I shall courteously reply. I do not think that the point of order is immediately relevant to the matter that we are debating today. If people want to offer opinions on the subject in the course of the debate, they can. We shall see what unfolds in subsequent days. [Interruption.] I do not know what will unfold. If some people think they are psychic and know what the result will be tomorrow, that is a matter for them.

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rose—

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No, no: I am not taking any further point of order from the hon. Lady. She has raised the issue. I have given the holding response that I have given. [Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I am not giving a verdict on this matter. I am not anticipating any such scenario. I have not been approached about any such scenario. No Member of Parliament has posited any such scenario. So when people say, “Ah!”, as though something frightfully revealing has been said, I am sorry to disappoint them, but it has not. Nothing of any great significance has been said. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) is very courteous, but I am untroubled by these matters.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been here for nine years, and I think the whole House knows that I am not entirely a Whips’ lickspittle. May I just ask for a point of clarification? My recollection is that a statutory instrument tends to be moved by a Minister of the Crown, for the very simple reason that legislation provides for that to be the case. Could you confirm that my recollection is correct?

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Yes, that has always been the case, and I am not aware that there is any imminent or likely prospect of it being changed. I am not party to any such proposal. Nobody has posited to me a scenario in which I would be expected to agree to any such change. That is the reality. The position that I have set out at present is perfectly clear. The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have the highest regard, is perfectly entitled to ask me whether I understand, with reference to that which has transpired to date, his interpretation of proceedings to be correct. I do.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, I am proud to have friends in the Whips Office—and right across the House. I seek your guidance relating to the speculation in the press this weekend, because it is important and concerning. I believe that it is a very important principle in this place that we are all equal, and that means equal knowledge, access to information and knowledge about procedures. If, as has been speculated, there are likely to be changes in procedures, can I implore you, Mr Speaker, to make sure that equal and fair treatment is considered, and that we are all aware of any changes in policies and procedures to make sure that there is not asymmetry of information, or advantage or disadvantage given to one Member of this House over another?

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I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that, as has been my unfailing practice since 22 June 2009, I am always equally open to hearing from, and then, as best I can, responding to any Member of the House of Commons who approaches me.

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indicated assent.

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I am very grateful to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes), who is nodding vigorously in assent to that proposition from a sedentary position. The right hon. Gentleman and I have known each other for well over 20 years, and he knows that I am utterly and scrupulously fair-minded in these matters. I have been, I am, and I always will be. I am not responsible for what other people might be talking about. I do not plant stories in the newspapers. That is a black art perhaps practised by other people from time to time. It is not something that greatly concerns me. I do not get very excited about it. The hon. Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) is entirely entitled to seek the assurance of equality of treatment.

Let me just say one further thing in the light of some press reports. People really ought to understand, because it is incredibly simple, straightforward and uncontroversial, that any hon. or right hon. Member of this House who wishes to come to see the Speaker about something that concerns him or her can ask to do so, and diary permitting and subject to agreement on suitable dates, that would always happen. The notion that some particular advantage is given to a specified individual, or a little coterie, as part of a secret plot in private apartments is so staggeringly absurd that I would not expect for one moment that someone of the intelligence and perspicacity of the hon. Gentleman would give it credence for so much as a single second. I hope that is helpful to him.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I mentioned during the statement that The Sunday Times was in my constituency taking its temperature. I should say that my constituents did raise your role as well as the role of the Government, and so I would perhaps say gently, in response to your earlier comment, that there is some doubt out there among the public. The question they asked me to ask you was this. You changed some precedents last week, and some of them wanted to know if you expected to change any more.

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As I have already indicated, I made a judgment last week. I look at issues on a case-by-case basis, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I know the hon. Gentleman will understand if I say that as someone who has been the guardian of the rights of this House for the last nine and a half years, I am confident and comfortable that others recognise my commitment to fairness in this Chamber. I have a high regard for the parliamentary commitment of the hon. Gentleman. I have no intention—and I do not refer to him in this context—of taking lectures on doing right by Parliament from people who have been conspicuous in denial of, and sometimes contempt for it. I will stand up for the rights of the House of Commons, and I will not be pushed around by agents of the Executive branch. They can be as rude as they like. They can be as intimidating as they like. They can spread as much misinformation as they like. It will not make the slightest bit of difference to my continuing and absolute determination to serve the House of Commons. Unlike some people in important positions, who of course are elected constituency Members but have not been elected to their offices here, I have been elected, re-elected, re-elected and re-elected as Speaker to do the right thing by the House of Commons. That is what I have done, that is what I am doing, and that is what I will go on doing. That is so crystal clear that I feel sure it will satisfy the hon. Gentleman.