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Points of Order

Volume 654: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2019

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In answer to an urgent question on 8 January, the Transport Secretary claimed that his decision to award a contract to Seaborne Freight incurred no cost to the taxpayer, telling the House that

“we are not spending money unless these ferries operate.”—[Official Report, 8 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 191.]

Yesterday, the National Audit Office found that £800,000 had been spent on external consultants to assess the bid. The ministerial code says that

“it is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity. Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”.

Has the Secretary of State indicated to you that he plans to make a personal statement to the House on his conduct in relation to this matter?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I understand that he has also advised the Secretary of State’s office that he would be raising the matter. If the Secretary of State believes that he has inadvertently misled the House, I am sure that he will take steps to correct the record. Of course, he may have a different view of the facts, but I am sure that all of this will be the subject of further scrutiny and debate. The shadow Secretary of State has put his view on the record, so the Treasury Bench will have heard it, and there are many other ways in which he can pursue this matter for further information.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Several days ago a local newspaper in Northern Ireland, the News Letter, carried a story about two Sinn Féin MPs with the headline:

“Sinn Fein MPs did not register trip at Venezuelan government expense”.

After reading the story, I wrote to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards about the matter. All Members will be aware of sanctions that can be levied against Members who take their seats and fall foul of the registration process, but I seek your guidance and that of the office of the Speaker regarding Members who do not take their seats and are still subject to a registration process, but who in this case appear not to have followed that process. Setting aside the politics of going on a visit to a dictator in Venezuela, the actual registration process appears not to have been carried out. What sanctions will follow given that those Members do not take their seats and therefore do not get a salary? How will financial sanctions or other types of sanction be levied if, indeed, those Members are found to be guilty?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this point of order. I can confirm that the requirement to register financial interests applies equally to Members who have not taken their seats as it does to Members who have done so. Registrations should be made within 28 days of any appropriate hospitality. It is far too early to talk of sanctions, but the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and put his concerns before the House.