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Points of Order

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 21 February 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Item 4 on the list of written ministerial statements for today is about the continuity of trade deals. It would have been extremely helpful to have had that written ministerial statement before the debate that is about to take place, and I deeply regret that it has not been made available by the Department for International Trade. This is the second time that such an omission has been made, and I wonder whether there is anything that we can do to ensure that in future, such a lackadaisical approach does not happen.

The hon. Gentleman has made his point in his own way. I must say, on a personal basis, that I have always found the Secretary of State the very embodiment of courtesy. It does seem to me that if it was a deliberate decision that the written ministerial statement would appear later, that is less than considerate to the House as it embarks on this debate. If it was inadvertent, that is unfortunate and perhaps rather inept, but it certainly should not happen again. Whether the statement can be made available fairly quickly, so that Members could at least consult it in the course of the debate, I do not know. It is a regrettable state of affairs, but hopefully there will not be a recurrence.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a momentous debate, called on a Thursday during what would have been half-term, and the statement is not even available. The problem with Brexit is surely that people are talking about the divorce, not what is going to happen to the children. We simply do not know what will happen to trade deals, which are terribly important. I feel that there should be some sort of ruling on whether the debate itself should be deferred, so that we have the information at hand.

Well, I do not think the hon. Gentleman would carry the House with him in suggesting that the debate be deferred. I hope he will not take exception if I say that I think that Members on the whole, at this point, although they may well have benefited from sight of the statement, will have a clear sense of what it is they wish to convey to the House, and I do not exclude from that category the hon. Gentleman himself. Although it is an imperfect situation, I think “needs must” is the principle that should apply here and we should proceed with the debate as scheduled. In that context, I look to the Minister to open the debate—and not any Minister, but the Secretary of State for International Trade himself, Secretary Dr Liam Fox.