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Points of Order

Volume 667: debated on Thursday 31 October 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to raise a point of order in relation to the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill, which we expect to receive Royal Assent today. The Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, of which I am the Chair, has been investigating the threat posed to this country by Russia. We have produced a report, which, in accordance with the Justice and Security Act 2013, we sent to the Prime Minister on 17 October for him to confirm that there were no classified matters remaining. There ought not to be, because the report has already been carefully looked at by the Cabinet Office. That confirmation should have been received by today to enable publication before the House is dissolved, but I regret to say that it has not been. We thus have a Committee of Parliament waiting to lay before the House a report that comments directly on what has been perceived as a threat to our democratic processes. Parliament and the public ought to and must have access to this report in the light of the forthcoming election, and it is unacceptable for the Prime Minister to sit on it and deny them that information. I raise this as a point of order in the hope that the theme of your speakership—the championing of the role of Parliament in holding to account the Executive—might be, through this point of order, as successful today as it has been over the previous decade.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He knows that it is not strictly a point of order for adjudication by the Chair, although his articulate efforts to raise the matter are, in my mind, perfectly legitimate. What he has said will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench, and I understand that he seeks a response today. It is presumably of the essence and the utmost importance to him and his Committee that any such confirmatory response is at the very least received before Dissolution. I would hope that, as the Leader of the House is sitting on the Front Bench, we might make progress on this matter. It can potentially be expedited, and the Leader of the House might be willing to act as a messenger—or maybe more than a messenger—and we will have to see what the result is. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made his point today, and it is potentially open to him to raise it on Monday—even on Monday—or on Tuesday, but I hope that it will not be necessary for him to raise the matter again.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Time is of the essence. We have just heard about the matter, and there is some considerable concern among Opposition Members. Surely, a stronger message must go through the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister or a senior Cabinet Minister should put the matter right in the last few days of this Parliament.

I am sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, and I think it is fairly obvious to the Leader of the House that I am sympathetic to the concerns of the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). I am not myself privy to the rationale behind the absence of a confirmation. I do not know whether it is just an administrative matter because, to be fair, Prime Ministers have a very large volume of matters with which to deal, whether it is a transaction of business issue, or whether there is some substantive reason why the Prime Minister does not wish to provide the confirmatory response that the right hon. and learned Gentleman seeks. I cannot know which it is. It is not unreasonable for the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee to seek that confirmatory response in this Parliament or an explicit parliamentary explanation in the House as to the reason for its absence. That, I think, is fair.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a slightly unusual circumstance, so may I seek your clarification? Can you confirm that the report cannot be published without that confirmation from the Prime Minister, or is this just a matter of best practice?

I think that that is the case. Of course, the Intelligence and Security Committee is not a Select Committee; it is a Committee of Parliament, and therefore different arrangements apply to it. It is encouraging to see the right hon. Members for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan), who have some experience of the Committee and its responsibilities, nodding in assent.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for your response. The position is that for the report to be published, it must be laid before the House on a sitting day. As long as that happens, it can be published and will be made available to the public. If it were to be laid on a day when the House is not sitting—even before Dissolution—the Committee would not be able to publish it. Therefore, we were hoping that it could be laid and published on Monday. The anxiety relates to the apparent delay, for which we have not been provided an explanation, and that has led me to make my point of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a concern for all of us. There is the expertise here. This is a special Committee. What we do not understand is why this cannot be published on the authority of the House. Why can the Executive block this publication? Are they trying to hide something?

No, it is simply because the composition of the Committee and its modus operandi are determined in a manner different from those that apply to a Select Committee, which it is not. That is the factual answer. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration but I think the matter has now been fully ventilated. The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House has displayed exemplary patience, but I do not think we should test it further.