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Points of Order

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 9 December 2020

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point of order naturally draws on comments that the Minister for the Armed Forces made in his statement to highlight the importance of reservists. Over the past several months, I have been very encouraged by the strength of feeling in the Chair that Parliament has primacy, and that it is important that when announcements are made, we hear them first and have the opportunity to probe and challenge them. In the Select Committee on Defence yesterday, we spent two hours interrogating the Ministry of Defence’s accounts, but no mention was made of the announcement that appeared in The Daily Telegraph today that 2,700 Royal Navy reservists would be stood down for four months, in order to penny-pinch. That decision has been described as “short-sighted”, and it is ill-judged. Could you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker—I am grateful that the Secretary of State for Defence has remained in the Chamber—how parliamentarians who believe in the reservists and believe that we need to explore the matter further can best get an appropriate opportunity to do so?

Order. I will take the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) first and then come to the right hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood).

I thank the hon. Member for Belfast East for his point of order and for giving me notice that he intended to raise it. I will repeat what Mr Speaker has said many times from the Chair: if an announcement is to be made by a Department or a Minister, it must be made first in this Chamber. Any announcement must be made to Parliament. If there was an article in The Daily Telegraph or any other medium, I cannot comment on its veracity; that is not a matter for the Chair. However, it most certainly is a matter for the Chair if an announcement has indeed been made by other means than to this House and in this Chamber.

I think that there has been a slight element of confusion, Madam Deputy Speaker. The management of the three services—the Navy, the Army and the Air Force—is obviously a matter for the chiefs of staff. As they manage their services, throughout the year they make thousands of decisions about activity, deployments, training and so on. This is not a matter on which a single statement would have been made by any Government. I think the hon. Member for Belfast East (Gavin Robinson) was referring to a newspaper article, but there are hundreds of announcements on a weekly basis. I think that that is where the point that he refers to comes from.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for responding to the point of order. I take it from what he says that he is undertaking that if any notable announcement is to be made by him or his Department, it will be made first in this Chamber and to this House.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to you for allowing a little latitude on this important issue. I am also grateful for the Secretary of State’s clarification, because there are concerns that the size of our reserves will be reduced and that, just as concerning, their training hours will also be reduced at this critical time. It would be helpful if he came forward with more information and at least quashed the stories and rumours that are going around, because they do damage to the reputation and morale of those in the armed forces.

I allowed the Chairman of the Defence Committee his moment, but he knows and we all know that it is not a point of order. He has made his point to the Secretary of State and I am sure that there will be other opportunities to explore the matter further.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am very grateful for your indulgence, as I speak as one of the reservists in question. I just want to point out that it is deeply demoralising for members of the armed forces if they are not told about this in advance but learn about it from the pages of The Daily Telegraph, excellent though The Daily Telegraph is. Can I seek your advice on whether you feel that that is appropriate?

No, the right hon. Gentleman cannot seek my advice, because it is not my business to decide whether it is appropriate. However, given his position in this House I have allowed him to make his point, and I believe that it has been heard and paid attention to by the Secretary of State and the Minister.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your helpful advice on getting a response from the Home Secretary to 17 constituents for whom I have made representations. I have been chasing and chasing for a reply. Some of these constituents have been waiting for years, most for many months, and all have life-changing issues that affect their whole family. Surely it is the duty of the Home Secretary to respond to letters from Members of Parliament?

Once again, I will repeat from the Chair what Mr Speaker has said on many occasions: it is indeed the duty of every Minister to respond to letters and questions from Members of this House. I know that, as constituency MPs, we are all finding it very difficult to get responses to our inquiries on behalf of our constituents within a reasonable time. It is noted that the Home Office is possibly not giving the Home Secretary and her Ministers the support that they need at a time such as this to answer our inquiries on time. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising this point of order and I merely repeat what Mr Speaker has said many times, but I do hope that not only Ministers but those who are employed and trusted to support Ministers would please pay attention to this situation.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like some guidance on the question of the content of the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill, which we are about to discuss, relating to the question of taxation and, on the basis of a statement made yesterday by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the removal of the clauses—the “notwithstanding” clauses—that would otherwise have appeared. They remain part of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, from which they have not been removed. I am putting down amendments to reinsert the “notwithstanding” clauses on Report, and I would be grateful if, first, you could note that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and, secondly, you could provide some guidance.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Is it about the timing by which he can submit amendments for Report? Obviously, the amendments for the Committee stage are already submitted and we will very soon be debating them. We will come to Report tomorrow. Is he asking me by what time he can submit amendments for tomorrow?

I am most grateful to you for the way you put that, Madam Deputy Speaker. First, I want to be clear that I am going to do it, and, secondly, I would like to know by what time I need to put my amendments down. With all this virtual stuff, it is quite difficult to know.

It is indeed difficult to know. I decided yesterday to have the deadline today at 12 o’clock. I am not quite certain exactly at this moment what the deadline will be for tomorrow, but I have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am asking the Clerk to note and to pass on to the appropriate offices that he wishes to submit amendments. Thank you.

There was to be another point of order, but the hon. Gentleman concerned has left the Chamber.