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Points of Order

Volume 657: debated on Tuesday 2 April 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I gave you advance notice that I wished to raise this matter. I had a smear perpetrated against me when a snapshot of frozen film footage was printed in a tabloid paper, The Scottish Sun, suggesting that I was asleep during proceedings in this House. I contacted the journalist concerned, who had not shown the courtesy of contacting me before publishing this piece, to inform him that the film of the proceedings demonstrated categorically that I was not asleep but had for a second or two thrown my head back, appealing to the heavens in despair at chuntering in the Chamber while one of my colleagues was speaking.

As a result of this misleading article, I faced an outpouring of personal abuse against me over the weekend—and it continues—with words like “whore”, “bitch” and “lazy cow” being liberally sprinkled through messages, particularly on The Scottish Sun Facebook page. Those remarks are still online; they have not been removed, as far as I am aware.

Comments on a site in my own constituency—[Interruption.] Mr Speaker, this is a matter of great importance.

Order. I absolutely accept the importance of the matter, and it is for that reason that I am very happy to hear the hon. Lady’s point of order, but, with the very greatest of respect, I will be the judge of how long a point of order lasts. Everything said in this Chamber is important. It is not for her to presume that she has as long as she wants. There are a lot of other colleagues who wish to speak and a lot of other matters to be debated. I am extremely sympathetic to her, and I already have in mind a very sympathetic response, but please do not say to me, “It is important,” meaning that you can go on for as long as you like. The answer to that, I am afraid, is no.

The point I wish to make, Mr Speaker, is that this story—if it can be called that—was printed in an atmosphere of febrile political tension, when MPs’ security is a matter of great concern. It has been reposted, and the comments online continue to sit. This is a matter of importance to us all, as an attack on one MP going about her duties—a false one at that—is an attack on us all. Whipping up hatred against any one of us plays into the narrative that we are not real people and can be attacked.

Order. I am sorry, but I must ask the hon. Lady upon what she is seeking an adjudication from the Chair. I cannot just have a speech on the subject. I will not have it. If she wants to ask me something in a sentence, I will respond, and if she wants an Adjournment debate on the subject, I can happily afford her that, but I am not having a speech now. It is not happening.

Given that these posts continue, Mr Speaker, to be available on that publication’s social media platforms and continue to perpetrate that untruth and given that the evidence shows otherwise, what course of action do you suggest I take to seek an end to this apparent campaign to perpetrate a dishonesty, and stop the tidal wave of abuse that has been unleashed, which is an attack on us all?

First, I thank the hon. Lady for raising the matter and giving me advance notice of her intention to do so. I underline and reinforce her concern. It is indeed an extremely serious matter—not just for her personally, but for all colleagues and, institutionally, for the House of Commons. False allegations against Members should not be allowed to gain traction. It affects us all and the reputation of the House if such allegations are not robustly refuted. To be fair, she has just robustly refuted the allegation. Her concern would be serious at any time, but it is a particular concern in what I think she described as the current febrile political atmosphere. She has put her view on the matter very clearly on the record. If she considers that the allegations made against her might conceivably constitute a contempt of the House, she should write to me setting out the facts, and I will adjudicate upon that. That is the first answer.

The second answer to the hon. Lady is that, if she wishes to stage an Adjournment debate on such abuse, of which this is an example, but there are many others, she might find that a friendly Chair will facilitate an Adjournment debate for her, possibly of up to an hour and a half, in which other colleagues could take part and in which she would have a full opportunity to make such speech as she judged necessary. Thirdly, my advice to the hon. Lady in the short term is that she should get her hands on a copy of the Official Report of today’s proceedings without delay—I am sure she will do so—and ensure that it is circulated to all the outlets responsible for propagating this slur upon her good name.

Fourthly, I say to the hon. Lady in terms that leave no scope for misunderstanding that I have a good vantage point in the Chair—I say that to all Members and those observing our proceedings—and I have never in my time in the Chair observing her seen her fall asleep.

She is a veritable parliamentary Zebedee—she is constantly jumping up and down—and that, as she knows, is a compliment, not an insult. She is one of the most alert Members of Parliament. She is one of the most assiduous Chamber attendees and participants. She is without blemish, in so far as her parliamentary commitment is concerned.

I will let her into a secret. I was once—not in this Chamber—watching a tennis match at Wimbledon. It was one of the most exciting matches that I have ever watched. Momentarily, I closed my eyes, not because I had fallen asleep or had drunk alcohol, because neither of those things was true—I had momentarily closed my eyes in sheer suspense. The camera caught me and the next day it was suggested in a newspaper that perhaps I had fallen asleep. As the hon. Lady knows, the notion that I would fall asleep watching a tennis match is just inherently absurd.

I do not treat this with levity. It is extremely serious, but as far as I am concerned, it is monstrous and ridiculous, and she should circulate the Official Report, which testifies to the Chair’s view of the matter. I have a better idea than those other commentators for the very simple reason that I observe Members every day from the Chair, and she would not fall asleep—amen, end of subject, period.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific said that he wanted to correct me with regard to my question, saying that the UK did not have RAF personnel in Saudi control centres. Last year, the MOD responded to other Members saying that it did and it responded to me saying that it had squadron leaders and lieutenants. It even listed the names of personnel. How do I get the Minister, who has not responded to my letter asking him to correct the record, to come here and correct the record, and state that we do have RAF personnel in Saudi control centres?

As to whether the Minister corrects the record, it is incumbent upon a Minister who thinks that he or she has erred to do so, but it is not incumbent upon me to act as arbiter of whether a correction is required. I am afraid that that must remain a matter for the Minister. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman, by the sedulous use of a bogus point of order, has taken the opportunity to put his own interpretation of matters clearly on the record. If I may say so, he looks mightily relieved to have done so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At yesterday’s hearing of the Welsh Affairs Committee, I asked the Secretary of State for Wales why he had voted differently to some of his Cabinet colleagues on the extension of article 50. He informed me at that hearing that he had abstained because he had been elsewhere and had not been around at the time of the votes. It subsequently transpires that the right hon. Gentleman cast his vote by voting in both Lobbies, thereby abstaining. I ask you, Mr Speaker, whether the Secretary of State has declared any intention to you that he will come to make a personal statement on this matter. If he has not done so, can you offer me any advice on how to proceed and deal with this rather unusual discrepancy?

I have not received any indication from the Secretary of State for Wales that he intends to come to the House to make a statement on that matter. I was not entirely clear whether the hon. Lady was suggesting that the explanation that she had had from the Minister was outside the Chamber or inside it.

Oh, it was in the Select Committee. Well, it was in the course of a parliamentary proceeding. I suppose the Secretary of State may think he was elsewhere than being in one Division Lobby, because he was in two Division Lobbies.

Oh, very well. If the Minister feels a responsibility to correct the record, he will do so. If not, knowing the eager beaver that the hon. Lady is, I have a feeling that she will be penning a letter and ensuring that it wings its way to the Secretary of State before very long. Whether he will await that letter with enormous enthusiasm is open to doubt.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your guidance? The next business is the presentation of Bills, and it is to do with the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 5) Bill, which the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) will be presenting. Would it be appropriate for me to raise a point of order on it now or after she has presented the Bill?