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House of Commons Hansard
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06 March 2019
Volume 655

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker.

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I will come to the right hon. Gentleman, but I think there is a point of order from Mr Ian Blackford. I hope it is a genuine point of order.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is disappointing that the Prime Minister, who was alerted that I would be making a point of order, has chosen to scurry from the Chamber. Mr Speaker, you will agree that what we say in the Chamber is important. In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), the Prime Minister said that the Scottish National party did not have a mandate for independence. Let me say unequivocally that is not the case. The SNP stood on a manifesto commitment to holding an independence referendum if there was a material change of circumstances. It might be a surprise to the Prime Minister, but we won the election. Perhaps more importantly, we took a motion to the Scottish Parliament, because there is emphatically a majority for independence in that Parliament, and we won that vote in March 2017 by 69 votes to 59. I wonder what mechanism is open to me, Mr Speaker, to make sure the Prime Minister comes back and corrects the record and accedes to the fact that the SNP and the Scottish Government do have a majority and mandate for independence.

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I say to the right hon. Gentleman and for the benefit of those interested in this matter, first, that he has made his point with vigour and insistence, very much in the mould he has fashioned since his election to the House. No one could be in any doubt about what he believes; it is one the record. Secondly—I do not know if this will be welcome to him, but it is the honest answer from the Chair—there has been no procedural impropriety or breach of order. There is nothing untoward, in parliamentary terms, about how the Prime Minister has conducted herself. I recognise that it is disagreeable to and strongly objected to by him and his colleagues here assembled, but that, I am afraid, is in the nature of political debate and disagreement. As to when he will have a chance further to pursue his disagreement with the Prime Minister, I think that opportunity will arise erelong.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

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I hope the hon. Gentleman has a genuine point of order. He is certainly wearing a fabulous tie. Whether his point of order is of equal quality remains to be seen, but I will give him a chance.

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I accept the compliment about my tie, which is reciprocated.

The truth is that what the Prime Minister said is not the situation in Scotland. There is a mandate for independence. She said there was not a mandate, but there is. That is a fact.

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I am not sure that greatly added to the intellectual quality of the exchange, but nevertheless the hon. Gentleman has made his point with some force, and it is on the record, but I do not think it requires a response from the Chair at this time. I am sorry if I have misunderstood, but I feel he has put his point, and it rests and will be assessed and evaluated by all colleagues.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Next Tuesday, the House will vote again on the withdrawal agreement. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union was due to appear before the Committee yesterday but cancelled for perfectly understandable reasons—he was in Brussels with the Attorney General negotiating. We of course accept that, but we have offered him other times this week and next Monday afternoon, none of which have been accepted so far.

While we understand that negotiations will continue, I was very surprised to learn this morning, at a meeting of the Committee, that the Secretary of State’s office had offered times to individual members of the Committee for him to meet them later on Monday afternoon, but had not so far confirmed that he would be available to appear before the Committee. Given that next Tuesday we may well be considering further legal assurances related to the withdrawal agreement, the Committee is absolutely clear that we must hear from him before we vote on Tuesday.

I would not normally raise a point of order on such a matter, Mr Speaker, but given its urgency and the profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs, what advice can you give the Committee so that we can secure the Secretary of State’s attendance—which is his job—before we vote next Tuesday?

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My advice is simple: persist, persist, persist.

Let me say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is held in the highest esteem in, I think, all parts of the House, that if he, on behalf—and clearly with the agreement—of the Committee, seeks the presence of the Secretary of State prior to an important debate and attendant vote, the Secretary of State should appear before the Committee. That cannot be compelled, certainly not by the Chair, but it is manifest and, I think, incontrovertible that it is desirable in terms of the scrutiny and accountability process; from which something else follows.

Simply offering individual meetings with members of the Committee does not remotely pass muster. The fact is that the Select Committee is an established body in the House, established to scrutinise the Government’s Brexit policy, and it has a corporate character. Indeed, its members are operating not merely as individual Members of Parliament, but as part of a body politic—in this case, as part of that Committee. So my advice to the right hon. Gentleman is that he should persist, making it absolutely clear that it is the view of the Committee that the presence of the Secretary of State is desired. It is frankly, if I may say so, a point so blindingly obvious—[Interruption.] Be quiet, young man. In ethical terms, it is so manifestly fair, that that is what should happen.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Friday I will attend the funeral of Charles Smith MBE. When he died at the age of 98 he had been a member of the Labour party for 84 years, which I believe made him the most long-standing member of the party. In paying tribute to him, may I ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker, on how I might use this opportunity to encourage everyone in Parliament to celebrate all those people who have given long service to our political parties, to recognise that the vast majority of them do so in order to support their communities and the country, and to recognise that our political parties are broadly a force for good and we should welcome their membership?

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I do not dissent from that. The hon. Gentleman has made his point very well. It does not require anything further to be said by the Chair, but I congratulate him on taking his opportunity.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been extremely helpful in ensuring that Parliament can hold the Executive to account in respect of knife crime. Given the Prime Minister’s announcement today of a knife crime summit and given what the Home Secretary has done today in meeting various police chiefs, is there anything further we can do to ensure that, at the earliest possible opportunity, either the Home Secretary or the Prime Minister comes to the House to give us an update on this extremely important issue?

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In terms of parliamentary opportunity on the Floor of the House, there is a chance tomorrow, and, indeed, there is a chance on Monday. The opportunities are there, and it is up to Members whether they seek to seize those opportunities. I hope that that is helpful to colleagues.

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you please advise me on how I can best clarify the record in respect of a comment that I made during business questions on 20 December 2018?

On that occasion I highlighted the work of two campaigns in the city of Glasgow. One, Saving Lives, led by Duncan and Margaret Spiers, was started in the wake of the tragic death of their 28-year-old son, Christopher Spiers, in an accident at the River Clyde in 2016. Their campaign seeks to promote water safety, to ensure that vital life-saving equipment is provided on the banks of the River Clyde and across Scotland, and, most importantly, to ensure that throw ropes are attached to lifebelts. I also mentioned the Think Again campaign for emergency lifeline telephones to be installed on the Clyde to help those who are in urgent need of emotional support.

For the avoidance of any doubt that may have arisen at the time of my original remarks, Mr Speaker, I wish to emphasise that the two campaigns are separate, with distinctive objectives, and that both are doing excellent work in their respective ways to preserve life in the city of Glasgow and further afield.

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He asks me how he can best clarify the record in respect of what he said in the House in December. My response to him is that he has proved to be the architect of his own salvation. Through the device of his point of order, he has succeeded in clarifying the matter and putting the facts very clearly on the record. In the process he has highlighted again the excellent work of those two campaigns, and I thank him for doing so.