Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 25 July 2019

Yes, indeed. I will come to the hon. Gentleman, but I want to save him up; I do not want to squander him at too early a stage in our proceedings, so we will keep him on ice and come first to the point of order from Jenny Chapman.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your advice. If we exit the EU without a deal, we can no longer export millions of lambs slaughtered in the UK for consumption in the EU. This represents a third of the industry, and in this event if a wasteful cull of millions of lambs and breeding flock is to be avoided, arrangements need to be made now to store the meat safely. We do not have anything like the cold storage capacity needed to do this at the moment. Knowing this, on 17 July, I tabled a number of written parliamentary questions to the Government to establish what the plan is. Although distinct and tabled with advice from the Table Office, they were inexplicably grouped by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and its answers tell me nothing other than that there are contingencies, but it will not answer my questions, which is what those contingencies might be. I would be grateful for your assistance, Mr Speaker, on how I can get the truth from the Government.

I am advised, although I do not know whether the hon. Lady is yet aware—a simple nod of the head would suffice—that she has secured an Adjournment debate on Tuesday 3 September on this matter.

The nod suggests that she has seen her emails and is aware of that, although it does not satisfy her now. Well, that debate will take place and she will have the opportunity to explore these matters. In the meantime, what can she do? First, she can before the rise of the House table further questions, and it may be possible for there to be named day questions; I cannot say for certain off the top of my head, but that is possible. Secondly, although it may be suboptimal so far as the hon. Lady is concerned in the absence of an appropriate departmental Minister, she can either raise these matters herself among the matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment—that is to say, for the benefit of those observing our proceedings, this afternoon in the debate almost immediately to start—or she can cajole, exhort or entice a right hon. or hon. Friend of hers to do so. That may be unsatisfactory, but it is better than nothing. She can also, of course, correspond with Ministers.

But meanwhile, the hon. Lady has apparently excited the interest and attention of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I reassure the hon. Lady that we are well aware of the difficulties the sheep industry would meet with in a no-deal Brexit situation and we have a number of contingency plans in place? This is not something the Government are ignoring; we are absolutely on top of the job, and certainly I will be happy to meet her—and I hope that I will be the person to respond to the debate in September.

Well, I must say to those observing our proceedings that that is quite an innovative use by an occupant of the Treasury Bench of the point of order procedure, because that is not so much a job application but is rather a “please can I keep my job” application from the right hon. Gentleman, displaying an ingenuity and perhaps a cheekiness which may or may not avail him—only time will tell, but the puckish grin etched on the contours of his face suggests that at least he has not lost his sense of humour.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you are aware, the Government were found to be in breach of the arms export regime by the Court of Appeal. The Government have applied to the Supreme Court for a further, final appeal. A Minister told the House that they would review hundreds of applications, but I am told that in the application to the Court of Appeal the number of applications to be reviewed is significantly—almost half—lower than the number told to the House. However, the Court of Appeal documents are sealed and I cannot see them. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, how I can best see whether what they are telling the Court of Appeal is the same as what they are telling Parliament? Normally, I would go through the Committees on Arms Export Controls, but four of our last meetings have been cancelled because they were inquorate. I also ask you, Mr Speaker, how we could pursue a system where the Committees on Arms Export Controls becomes a stand-alone Committee, as the Committee itself has asked.

I am not responsible for Select Committees or quite what the architecture is of individual Committees and how they might interact with each other—whether they are combined or whether there are separate. That is a matter for others, but what I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that, if memory serves me correctly from perusal of the intended speaking list, he is intending to favour the House further with his dulcet tones in the course of the afternoon, and therefore he can draw attention to these matters. As to whether there is an incompatibility between what is said in the House by a Minister and what is lodged before a court, I know not, and that may be so, but even if it is so, it does not necessarily follow that anyone has been misled; it rather depends on what was said at the time. There may have been a guesstimate of numbers and that might have changed, but I do not know, so I reserve judgment on that. But what I would say is that the hon. Gentleman has ventilated his concern and if he aspires further to ventilate his concerns on these matters this afternoon, there is a reasonable prospect that he will have the chance to do so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In a debate last week on High Speed 2, the Minister, the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), was asked very directly whether any non-disclosure clauses had been included in redundancy agreements with former staff at HS2. She said on several occasions that no such non-disclosure clauses were included in those redundancy arrangements. A subsequent parliamentary answer to that debate confirms that, in fact, there were a number of such non-disclosure clauses in agreements with staff who were made redundant. Is there anything at this stage I can do, Mr Speaker, in terms of making the Minister accountable for the answers she gave during that debate?

Every Member is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says in this House. In the event that a Member discovers he or she has inadvertently misled the House, it is incumbent upon that Member to correct the record. That obligation applies across the House, and of course it applies to Ministers as well as to those who are not part of the Executive branch. I rather imagine that the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) will have her attention drawn erelong to what the hon. Gentleman has said; if she judges it necessary to act, she will do so. If she does not, it is something that he will have to pursue by other means. I know that he would not expect me to be the arbiter of right or wrong, but I have tried to guide him procedurally.