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Points of Order

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you advance notice of this; it just came to me. If the Domestic Abuse Bill relates just to England and Wales, can I clarify that the rules of English votes for English laws will apply, and that Members from Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be invited to vote on anything to do with it?

It would be somewhat premature of me to offer a judgment from the Chair on that matter at this time. Certainly, when legislation is potentially open to such designation, it is the normal practice that I am advised on it, that I see the paperwork relating to it and that a view is formed. That is something of a holding response, but the matter will clearly be live.

It is, of course, a draft Bill and will be considered by a Committee. It seems unimaginable that that point will not be further explored, both during consideration by the Committee and subsequently. The hon. Lady is herself a living testimony to the truth of what I have just said. It is unimaginable that it will not be the subject of further discussion and questioning, and therefore there will be a requirement for a ministerial response. I should say, as much for the benefit of people attending our proceedings as for Members in the Chamber, that the very fact that I granted an urgent question on it—I think it is the 550th urgent question—is testament to the fact that I regard it as a matter that warrants the attention of the House and the response of a Minister in the Chamber.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notified you earlier about the point of order that I seek to make, as I did the hon. Member I wish to mention—the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes). Yesterday in Treasury questions, the hon. Lady indicated that she had received correspondence from a constituent. That is fine; we all respond to constituents. The quotation that she cited, which relates to a bomb that went off in Londonderry two weeks ago, reads:

“‘The official position is that’ the recent bomb attack ‘is nothing to do with Brexit; everyone I’ve spoken to finds this laughable—it is everything to do with Brexit.’”—[Official Report, 29 January 2019; Vol. 653, c. 640.]

Immediately after the bomb, the police made it clear who was responsible: the dissident republican movement in Northern Ireland. Those who planted the device issued a statement—I will not read it in full—which said:

“All this talk of Brexit, hard borders, soft borders, has no bearing on our actions and the IRA won’t be going anywhere.”

I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on the need for all of us to speak responsibly and deal effectively with the issues that come to us in a way that does not raise the spectre of giving incentives to those who activate violence or support or give credence to it.

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise his point of order. I am also obliged to him for confirming in the Chamber that he notified the hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Helen Hayes) of his intention to raise the matter.

It is, of course, the responsibility of each and every hon. Member to have a care for the accuracy and appropriateness of what is said in this Chamber. It must be added that, in saying what they think is accurate and appropriate, very often other right hon. and hon. Members disagree with their assessment. I say that, as people will readily appreciate, because that is the nature of political discourse.

Does anybody else wish to contribute on this matter?

Of course, I will happily hear the hon. Lady. She is not under any obligation to respond, but if she wishes to do so, she may. I hope the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) feels that he has registered his point with his usual force and courtesy. That is on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I too thank the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) for advance notice of his point of order. I hope he will respect the fact that yesterday I quoted verbatim from a constituent of mine who works and is an employer in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in Northern Ireland, and has spent extensive time there over several years. It was not conjecture, but a report of reality on the ground.

Responsibility for individual despicable acts of violence clearly rests squarely with the perpetrator, but after 30 years of the troubles, peace in Northern Ireland was painstakingly negotiated through the Good Friday agreement. My constituent has been raising concerns with me for several months about escalating tensions in the community in Londonderry where his business is based. Those issues and the impact that Brexit is already having on the fragile and complex situation in Northern Ireland have been reported widely, but there has been very little discussion of them in this Chamber. They are of an order of magnitude that demands that they be raised. If the Democratic Unionist party will not raise them, I will do so where I have cause to do so via my constituents.

The Prime Minister has so far failed to give any details of alternative arrangements for the Irish border to provide reassurance that a frictionless border without infrastructure is possible—

Order. I have indulged the hon. Lady, who always addresses the House with great courtesy. I hope she will forgive me. She is very forensic, but she was reading out what amounted to a speech on this matter. It therefore strains credulity to suppose that it could be characterised as a point of order. I normally have no wish to cut her off. She has made her point with considerable force and insistence—[Interruption.] And she enjoys the benefit of the endorsement of her right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), who has just observed from a sedentary position that she made her point very well. I suspect that her cup runneth over, and I think she should leave it there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to support your comment that political discourse of course produces different points of view. Speculation in this House on live intelligence actions and investigations is unhelpful and rarely reflects the facts. All Members should be cautious about entering into sub judice or live investigations with speculation that can add fuel to the fire.

Everybody should be responsible in his or her use of language. I can say only, however, that although I am not unmindful of the Minister’s point, no breach of order has taken place. We will leave it there. He has made his point with some force, and I do not think there is any need for me to add to it.

I have got a feeling that the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) thinks that the House needs to hear him. Therefore, we will have a point of order from Mr Mark Francois.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you notice of this, but it is a very straightforward matter. I had a meeting earlier this month with Mr Andrew Haines, the chief executive of Network Rail, to discuss the delay in completing engineering works on the Southend Victoria to Liverpool Street line, which is vexing my constituents greatly. Network Rail representatives briefed me on a new plan to shorten the works, which was welcome. I then went on the media and explained what would happen in good faith. The following Monday, Network Rail contacted me and said, “I’m terribly sorry. We got that slightly wrong,” and then changed what they had offered. I think that was a genuine mistake, but they promised to write to me by the end of the month to clarify the matter. There are two days to go, and no letter has been received. Do you agree that if they give a guarantee like that, Mr Speaker, it would be a good idea to keep it?

It would be a very good idea to keep it as a matter of principle. Moreover, as the right hon. Gentleman has aired the issue in the Chamber, that seems to me to constitute an additional reason why it would be politic or prudent for that letter of response to be provided.

The right hon. Gentleman probably recalls that the late Sir Gerald Kaufman was much given to tabling questions about when he would receive a reply to a letter he had sent or a question he had posed. He was wont to observe that, shortly after tabling said question, the reply—to a letter or question from some considerable period earlier—seemed miraculously and speedily to arrive.

If that chief executive were here, I would say to him—he is not, so I cannot, but I will say it indirectly—that I remember what a persistent fellow the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford was in 1986, when he stood against me in a student election. He was a very dedicated campaigner, although he was unsuccessful on that occasion. It would be altogether wiser for the chief executive to recognise that of one thing he can be certain: the right hon. Gentleman will not go away. He will just become ever more demanding, and so that letter should arrive sooner rather than later.