On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware of reports that the Government were offering Labour MPs in economically challenged areas financial support for constituency projects in return for support for the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. I oppose the Prime Minister’s deal, and there are no circumstances in which I would support it. If reports are correct, my area would therefore not qualify. Can you confirm that targeting individual constituencies in that way raises issues of hybridity, if targeted offers are accompanied by legislation?
“Erskine May” states that the House resolved on 22 June 1958:
“That it is contrary to the usage and derogatory to the dignity of this House that any of its Members should bring forward, promote or advocate in this House any proceeding or measure in which he may have acted or been concerned for or in consideration of any pecuniary fee or reward.”
Will you consider whether a reward includes a benefit to a Member’s constituency? It is arguable that a Member may be under pressure from constituents to accept a reward in the form of targeted support and may thereby be under pressure to vote in a particular way to secure the Government’s offer of reward. Must the offer be made to all economically challenged areas, irrespective of the way a Member chooses to vote on the Prime Minister’s deal?
“Erskine May” states on page 265:
“Conduct not amounting to a direct attempt improperly to influence Members in the discharge of their duties but having a tendency to impair their independence in the future performance of their duty may be treated as a contempt.”
Surely the Government’s offer breaches that principle. Will you consider that matter?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of her intention to raise this subject, though not of the particular question that she had in mind. About that latter fact I make no complaint whatever; I simply say it for the benefit of people understanding the context. I knew that she wished to raise the subject, but I did not know precisely what she wished to put to me.
What I will say to the right hon. Lady off the top of my head is as follows. I am not altogether clear that the criterion of hybridity is satisfied by the circumstances she referred to, but I am happy further to reflect on the matter. On the matter of contempt, which is an extremely serious charge, if any right hon. or hon. Member seeks to level that charge against any Member, including a Minister, allegations of contempt have customarily to be raised with the Chair in writing. If the right hon. Lady is moved to allege contempt on the basis of her own conviction and from her study of “Erskine May”, she is perfectly welcome to write to me about the matter, and I will consider it.
It is obvious to me that the right hon. Lady regards the circumstances she has alluded to as, at the very least, very smelly, and that point of view will be shared by many people. That is not necessarily the same as a procedural or other impropriety, but it is very clear that she regards it as malodorous behaviour. It is for individual Members to decide how they vote on these important matters. As ever in this House, it is not unusual for others to seek to persuade Members to vote one way or another, or for Members to seek to negotiate political outcomes or ministerial undertakings.
I must say that the notion of a trade is a source of concern. I have not witnessed it in this way previously in my time, and it is a matter of concern. I weigh my words carefully because I do not want to make a hasty judgment. The right hon. Lady has raised an extremely serious matter, and she does so on the basis of very long experience in the House. I am not sure—I say this with caution—that she is alleging any specific financial impropriety, but if she were, that would again be a most serious matter. If she does have such concerns, beyond what I have already said to her, she may wish to seek the advice of the Comptroller and Auditor General. I will leave my response to the right hon. Lady there for now.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Some of us freely voted for the withdrawal agreement but also represent seats in the north, and I similarly wish that we are not discriminated against because we freely gave our vote without any money.
Well, I note that. Without any pejorative reference to any other right hon. or hon. Member, I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he is veritably a sea-green incorruptible. The idea that the right hon. Gentleman would vote for any reason other than his personal conviction is, to me, unimaginable, and that is quite a striking statement from the Chair because my imagination is quite vivid. However, it is unimaginable that the right hon. Gentleman would do other than vote in accordance with his conviction. Indeed, I think he would be rather offended by the suggestion that somebody would try to procure his vote by what he might regard as an improper influence. I think we will leave the matter there for now. I saw somebody else brow-furrowed, but not rising.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In business questions on Thursday, I likened my local town to Aleppo. The Official Report unfortunately described it as “a leper”, which, as you can imagine, is somewhat different from the message I was trying to get across. Although it was probably righter than me, may I ask your guidance? I am happy for the record to stand, but it was not in fact what I actually said.
It could be quite difficult now for the hon. Gentleman to correct the record, although if he wanted to consult the Table Office about a written question he might put down, he could probably find his own salvation. For the avoidance of doubt, the hon. Gentleman, as I understand it, was referring to a place, the title of which begins with an A and, because it is a place name, with a capital A; he was not referring to someone suffering from a very serious and regrettable disease. I hope that that is helpful to him, in so far as he is communicating with the “Bridgwater Bugle” or some other organ of note in his constituency. I am sure he will want to ensure that the facts are known, and I have the impression from his grinning countenance that he is satisfied with that reply.