Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 657: debated on Thursday 28 March 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not going to go into the details, but I have shown you an email that I have sent to a senior police officer and that the Leader of the House is only just getting the opportunity to read. I am not going to go into its contents, but I will say this, because I know that it will concern you, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, a member of staff, not from this place but from the other place, sent me an email to thank me and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) for raising our concerns about the security of everybody who works in this place. I cannot help myself if there is a catch in my throat, because this is a young woman who works in an office in the other place, and she described in a very moving way how she and other members of staff in this place are being spat at and abused as they come into work, obviously because of the political situation.

I know that nobody will feel anything other than disgust at what is going on. I would like to think that some people—the majority—might be concerned about what has happened to people like me and others, but some think we deserve it. In any event, I know that the Leader of the House does not think that, and I thank her for all she has done. I thank you, Mr Speaker, and I thank Mr Deputy Speaker, who has reached out and done everything he can. But do you know what, Mr Speaker? There have been fine words and many promises, but there is no doubt about this situation, especially following a further incident in this House—last night there was a second incident involving the same person as before from a known far-right group.

In short, Mr Speaker, given events tomorrow and no doubt next week, can you assure us all that everybody, whoever they are, from cleaner to peer, will be kept safe in and out of this place?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order, and for showing me a copy of the relevant email, which I have just read at the Chair. I hope I can offer her and all colleagues the assurance sought. I make two points. First, as I indicated to the House that I would, I have had arranged for me a meeting between me, other senior colleagues and, indeed, a variety of colleagues to whom this matter is of concern, with the Parliamentary Security Director and the chief superintendent on the parliamentary estate. However, I have to acknowledge that that meeting is taking place only next Thursday, so it is some way off, but that was convenient for diary purposes for everybody involved.

My second point is that, although this does warrant further investigation and colleagues would not expect me to shoot from the hip, I am concerned by the idea, which has now been put to me not only by the right hon. Lady but by another hon. Member last night, that there has been at least one case—let us not get into an argument about how many, but at least one—of an individual coming on to the parliamentary estate and behaving in a threatening or abusive manner towards Members and staff. Although it is of course a treasured principle that there should be a presumption of public access to the estate for our citizens and people who want to visit here, it is axiomatic not only that they go through security but that they pose no threat to anybody here. If there is evidence of a person or persons in relation to whom we cannot feel that sense of security, I believe it must be right for preventive action to be able to be taken, because if there is a clash between someone’s right to visit here and our right—the right of us all, Members, staff and MPs’ staff—to be safe, the latter has to trump the former. I hope that is helpful.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the exchanges yesterday in which you quite rightly said you would convene a meeting, it might be of some reassurance to the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) that the director of security let my office know this morning that there will be significantly increased security tomorrow, for precisely the reason the right hon. Lady mentions. Our security teams here in the Palace are very aware of the concerns.

I remind all hon. Members that the behaviour code that forms a part of the independent complaints procedure applies to everybody, whether they work here or visit here, so if anybody feels that they are being treated in an unhelpful or derogatory way, that invokes the behaviour code that this House signed up to last July.

That is a very helpful underlining of the concern and the route map to resolution if colleagues are offended or insulted in that way. I had not made that point, and it is very helpful that the Leader of the House has done.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you advance notice of this point of order. Yesterday, I was quite shocked, when attending a meeting of colleagues, to find at least two—one male, one female—in tears at the prospect, yet again, having twice taken the difficult decision to vote against a three-line Whip, of being put in the position of having to decide whether to do so or not. At what point will there be some protection, particularly for younger Members, so that they are not put in that situation by being asked to come back again and again and again to vote on the same proposition?

I think the right hon. Gentleman’s point—of which, as he says, I had no advance notice—stands in its own right. Many people will feel that it is a powerful observation. There are a number of reasons for the long-established convention that the House is not asked to decide the same question more than once in the same Session. The reason invoked by the right hon. Gentleman was not, from my study of history, part of the original rationale for it, but in my own view it is a powerful reinforcement of the continuing case for the convention. He has made an extremely important point, and it is something on which colleagues at all levels need to reflect.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand why the Leader of the House is not able to give us details of exactly what is going to happen tomorrow—I think it has not yet quite been decided—but as soon as it has been decided and a motion has been tabled, it would be good if the whole House was able to know what that motion is. For instance, would it be possible to put it up on the annunciator once the Government have tabled their motion, so that people would be able to table amendments and to consider whether they think it is appropriate to vote for or against the motion that we sit tomorrow? It would be good if the Government were able to do that by 5 o’clock, before we start that debate, which I understand could go on until any hour tonight. Would you like to make some kind of provision about manuscript amendments in relation to tomorrow’s proceedings, Mr Speaker, as we still have no idea what the business tomorrow is really going to be, other than that it will be broadly to do with Brexit? The worst of all possible worlds is if we just keep on going round and round and round and round in circles, still riding the same hobby-horses.

The hon. Gentleman makes a compelling case, and it will have been heard by colleagues. For my part, in so far as he exhorts me to seek to facilitate manuscript amendments and so on, I am inclined to say to him that I shall always profit by his counsels. I always have done and I dare say I always will do.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the point of order made by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) about people being in tears, I think all of us here are grown up enough to be able to see that we need to do what we feel is absolutely right when we vote. The great Mr Forth used to say that whipping was optional. It is important that we bear in mind that we cannot allow the sensitivities of colleagues over feeling pressurised one way or another to stop us having a full choice. I am aware of 30 colleagues who have changed their minds on the meaningful vote, so I absolutely do not feel that those of us who have not committed to it yet should not have the ability to change our minds and have it back again. I am feeling rather frustrated that the two options that I supported yesterday will probably not make their way through the beauty contest, as I have described it, and I therefore reserve the right to wish to have meaningful vote 3, if am to pair it off against what I now see as the ugly sisters of the options.

The hon. Lady expresses her disappointment with the verdicts of the House on propositions legitimately submitted to it yesterday. She did that earlier in our proceedings and has thought it worthwhile to repeat and underline her point. She is perfectly entitled to her view, but it will have to be considered by colleagues alongside that just proffered by the right hon. Member for New Forest East. Conventions exist for a purpose, and I very politely say that the validity of a convention is not dependent upon a headcount at a particular time. The whole point of having a rule is that it is judged to be of value. The fact that somebody suddenly thinks it is not convenient does not mean it should be discarded.

No, I am not debating the issue with the hon. Lady. [Interruption.] No, it is not a debate. She has raised a point of order. I have answered it. The right hon. Member for New Forest East very courteously raised his, and it was answered, and other colleagues might also wish to raise points. We always need to have a sense of other.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This follows on from the point of order made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant). We do not know whether tomorrow’s business will be the meaningful vote—the Leader of the House quite reasonably told us that we would see the motion at 5 o’clock—but it is being heavily briefed to the press that we are likely to be presented tomorrow with the withdrawal agreement without the political declaration attached. Do you think this acceptable and permissible, Mr Speaker, given what has been agreed with the EU and the clear strictures in clause 13 of the EU withdrawal Act? Will it be in order for the Government to bring that forward?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As to the legality of such a proposition, I would have to look to others to advise. People can take their own counsel on this subject; I certainly would do so. If he is asking me whether I have seen any such motion, the answer is that I have not—I have seen no motion appertaining to tomorrow’s business beyond that which lies on the Order Paper suggesting that we might meet tomorrow. In terms of a substantive motion for tomorrow, I have as yet seen none. I am happy to tell him that, as the Leader of the House knows, I met a couple of very senior colleagues this morning who were exploring possibilities and consulting me. A conversation was had, as people would think was entirely normal and proper. I have not since heard from either of those senior right hon. or hon. Members, but I might do so during the course of the day.

As to the question of what people are briefing, I should observe that briefing is very much a phenomenon of our age: brief, brief, brief, create an impression, establish a narrative, try to dictate the course of events thereby—people do this all the time. I have not been briefed on any such plan, however, and the hon. Gentleman would not expect me to have changed my mind from the position that I enunciated on 18 March and reiterated on 25 March, and that I underlined again from the Chair yesterday. It remains the position so far as the convention is concerned. As the Leader of the House said—almost as a holding statement—during the business statement, we shall have to see what further work is done during the course of the day.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Once it becomes clear what the Government intend—once they have submitted their motion—would it be possible for you to make clear to the House the significance of the motion?

Yes, it is certainly important that we know what we are debating. The Leader of the House has announced that if we sit tomorrow there will be a debate on a motion relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. I am not cavilling at that; I simply state it as a matter of fact. It could of itself be a perfectly orderly motion, but it is not specific, and is not intended to be specific, in terms of referring to a particular part of the Act. The House will obviously need to know what it is and is not debating, and I hope there will be greater clarity about that in the course of the day.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you notice of my being unable to be at business questions to raise this point, but I have spoken to several members of House staff who have quite reasonable and significant concerns about having holidays cancelled. As Members, we appreciate that we have to come here, despite the somewhat arcane procedures of this place, and lose out on holidays over recess—though it would be helpful if you could reiterate, for the benefit not just of the House but of journalists and the public watching, that recesses are not holidays and that, although Members and staff occasionally take holidays, for most of us they are a time to go back to our constituents, with whom we are getting very limited time at present.

Leaving that to one side, what can Members do to make sure that the voice of the staff of this House and the other place is heard, and that if their plans are being cancelled at significant cost to them they will be properly recompensed? From the conversations I have had, it seems that that is not the case. Members understand that that is something they have to suck up, so to speak, but I do not believe that House staff should be messed about and not recompensed for holidays and time with their families that they are losing out on because of the current state of affairs.

As far as staff are concerned, one would expect them to be fully recompensed. That is the working principle here. I cannot comment about others. I mean no disrespect to them, but journalists, who are not employees of the House or Members, are a different matter, and the responsibility there is someone else’s. As far as those here are concerned, however, the working assumption must be that people are properly recompensed. I understand the anxiety that many people will feel, however, and I hope there will be clarity sooner rather than later.

Insofar as the hon. Lady asks where people should go with their concerns, or what recourse they have to ensure that those concerns are expressed, I would say that the trade unions and staff associations are obvious bodies to express concerns to. Those institutions regularly interact with the House of Commons Commission and the Clerk of the House, who is head of the House Service, not to mention the Director General of the House. There are, then, avenues, and they are quite well known, and the trade unions in this place are perfectly well aware of how to get their messages across—and it is absolutely right that they are got across.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I right in interpreting the business of the House motion to mean that we could be debating it until any hour tonight prior to the Adjournment debate, that the Government need not announce tomorrow’s business until the end of the Adjournment debate and that therefore it could be quite a late hour, should they choose to put in a lot of people to speak to the business of the House motion, before we have any concept of what we are debating tomorrow?

The hon. Gentleman’s understanding is correct. That could happen. It is what would be called a worst-case scenario, but I believe it to be so. I think that the Leader of the House is cautiously optimistic that that scenario will not transpire, but I cannot rule it out.

Bill Presented

Domestic Properties (Minimum Energy Performance) (No.2)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Sir David Amess presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to ensure that domestic properties have a minimum energy performance rating of C on an Energy Performance Certificate; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April; and to be printed (Bill 369).