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Points of Order

Volume 687: debated on Monday 11 January 2021

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster indicated in a television interview at the weekend that the problems at our ports are going to get worse before they get better. The protocol, which my party warned about repeatedly and consistently since its inception, has caused problems, with food supplies not reaching supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland from Great Britain. If the problems are going to get worse, as hauliers have indicated that they are in the next few days, has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster indicated his intention to come before the House to spell out what he intends to do either to invoke article 16 or to take decisive action that will ensure the seamless and unfettered distribution of food from GB to the shelves of supermarkets in Northern Ireland?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for having given me notice of his intention to raise this matter. The direct answer to his question, as far as the Chair is concerned, is that Mr Speaker has not been given any notice of any intention of the Minister to make a statement tomorrow, although there are of course other ways in which the hon. Gentleman can try to require the presence of the Minister here in the Chamber to answer his point.

Under these unusual arrangements, I will take a point of order from Hilary Benn.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union will cease to exist in five days’ time. On 10 December I wrote to the Leader of the House to ask for more time to allow us to complete our work so that we could scrutinise the trade and co-operation agreement that was eventually reached with the EU on Christmas eve. The Leader of the House replied on 6 January to decline the request. I then wrote to him the following day to ask him to reconsider in the light of the fact that we have asked Lord Frost and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to give evidence to the Select Committee on the agreement, but neither of them is available this week.

This means that the Committee that was set up specifically to examine matters relating to the negotiations on the future relationship with the European Union will now be prevented from taking evidence from the person who negotiated the agreement and from reporting fully to the House on its implications. As this is, to put it mildly, highly unsatisfactory, has the Leader of the House given any indication to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, that he intends to change his mind and move a Standing Order accordingly so that we can take evidence from Lord Frost and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. In answer to his specific question, I can confirm, he will be disappointed to know, that Mr Speaker has not had any representations such as he describes from the Leader of the House on that matter. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman’s consternation at the situation as regards the Committee that he chaired. The fact is that the order establishing the Committee on 16 January last year had effect for 12 months, and therefore, in the absence of any further decision of the House, the Committee’s activities will indeed cease this week. I am sure that hon. Members will want to join me in thanking the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Committee for their work as it, clearly sadly in his eyes, draws to an end.

Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman points out, it is important for the effective functioning of Select Committees that Ministers and officials respond constructively to reasonable requests for them to give evidence. I am sure that Ministers will have heard the points made by the right hon. Gentleman and that they will respond appropriately to future requests from any Select Committee examining the implications of the UK’s trade and co-operation agreement with the EU and other aspects of the ongoing relationship between the UK and the EU. But I do appreciate that what I have been able to say is of no comfort whatsoever to the right hon. Gentleman.

I would normally have a short suspension of the House at this point, but having taken points of order, I observe that the personnel in the Chamber have already changed, and therefore we will waste no further time, as we are certainly up against the clock in the next important debate.