On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State for International Trade inadvertently misrepresented my views and those of the Liberal Democrats during his winding-up speech in yesterday’s debate on our withdrawal from the European Union when he said:
“When she says that the will of the people does not matter, it might not matter to the Liberal Democrats, but it matters to the Conservative party.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 449.]
That is a gross misrepresentation of what I said. I said:
“The will of the people is a fig leaf for Members in this House to pursue their own Brexit agenda… The Brexit camp cannot agree what the will of the people is.”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 428.]
I continue to say that more than 50% of people in this country now want to stay in the European Union—
Order. The hon. Lady must resume her seat. Forgive me; I am trying, as I always do, to accommodate the House. Can I politely appeal to her to have some regard for the sensibilities of the House and the desire of colleagues to progress business? I am sorry if she is disquieted by something that someone said about her that misrepresented her views, and I accept that that is irksome to her, but it does not threaten the future of her Bath constituency. We know her views; she expresses them with force and will have other opportunities to do so. Can we please leave it there, take a wider view of the mission of the House today and not have a lengthy exchange on points of order? I have tried to be extremely accommodating to her, but we must let it rest there.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that the independent inquiry into child sex abuse is taking evidence. Yesterday, a sitting Member of the House of Lords—a legislator in the other place—was giving evidence in which they publicly stated under oath that they knew that a former Member of this House had conducted child sex abuse. Indeed, they contradicted themselves, because, on 4 June 2018, they publicly stated that such allegations were based on “scurrilous hearsay” and “tittle-tattle”.
I am sure that you will appreciate, Mr Speaker, that it places every single Member of this House in a difficult position when former Members who are also Privy Counsellors seek not to be unambiguous with the truth. We were not assisted either when the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson)—I advised them that I would be mentioning them—yesterday stated that the money spent on such inquiries had been “spaffed up the wall” and was a waste of public investment. In this matter of a sitting Privy Counsellor and legislator in the other place, can you advise the House, Mr Speaker, that the House of Lords should conduct itself better? If it does not, how might the situation at the other end of the corridor be rectified?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He has registered his consternation, and possibly that of others, at the conduct he has described, but I have no responsibility for what is said in the other place. In so far as he is inquiring about redress or recourse, the hon. Gentleman, who is a parliamentarian now of noted adroitness and dexterity, has found his own salvation by expressing himself with his customary force today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, during Cabinet Office questions, I asked about a phone conference that had taken place between the Cabinet Office and regional returning officers at which the preparations for the European Parliament elections had been discussed. The Minister without Portfolio responded, saying it was “simply not true”. In today’s Guardian, however, the Electoral Commission is reported as saying that discussions have been taking place and that this call did happen. I am seeking your guidance, Mr Speaker, on how the right hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity to correct the record, should he have inadvertently misled the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and her characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of her intention to raise it. The right hon. Gentleman is in his place and approached me to acknowledge the likelihood of this matter being raised and to indicate a readiness to respond. Let us hear from the Minister.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I will not keep the House long. I only want to say that the Government have not asked anyone to start contingency planning for the European Parliament elections. That is our position in public and in private.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is recorded in column 391 of yesterday’s Official Report that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that the Government would
“start formal engagement with the Irish Government about…decision making”—[Official Report, 13 March 2019; Vol. 656, c. 391]
in Northern Ireland. As you will be aware, that would be a complete breach of the terms of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and, indeed, the Belfast agreement. Do you believe that the Secretary of State misspoke, or has he a duty to come to the House, with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, and announce a new policy shift, if that is the case?
I had no advance notice of this matter and, in truth, I must confess that I am unsighted on it. Rather than dissemble, which would be wrong, or to seek to give the hon. Gentleman the impression that I have an authoritative view to offer, I think it best simply to say that if a Minister has a new policy to announce, they should announce it in the House. If some incorrect impression has been given, of a kind that either flummoxes or irks the hon. Gentleman or others, I feel sure that a sensitive Minister will wish to put the record straight, sooner rather than later.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During business questions, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) raised the issue of the avalanche of statutory instruments going through Parliament, particularly from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the massive overstretch next week, both on the Committee corridor and in the Chamber. It might be easier to handle the volume if we had adequate notice, but the times for the Delegated Legislation Committees keep being chopped and changed, and more Committees are added at the very last minute, making it very difficult for those of us responsible for filling them, in all parties, to do so in time for the Committee of Selection. What options are open to us to ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to get his act together and provide adequate time and notice for the scrutiny of these statutory instruments?
I think that it is always very much in the interests of the House that we have maximum notice and minimum confusion. The hon. Gentleman, in his capacity as a Member of Parliament and as his party’s Chief Whip, has registered his dissatisfaction, which will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. I trust that it will be heeded, both in order to pacify the hon. Gentleman and, if he will forgive me for saying so, for the wider convenience of the House.
I am looking for somebody who I thought might be planning to raise a point of order, but the hon. Member in question does not appear to be here at this time. We will therefore now proceed with business.
Business of the House (Today)
That, at this day’s sitting, the Speaker shall put the questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union not later than 5.00pm; such questions shall include the questions on any amendments selected by the Speaker which may then be moved; the questions may be put after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply.—(Iain Stewart.)