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Points of Order

Volume 709: debated on Tuesday 1 March 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your assistance, because Mr Speaker has generously granted me the end of day Adjournment debate tomorrow on the effectiveness of the Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979. In anticipation of that debate, I tabled a series of named day questions. As of today, seven of those have been outstanding for more than one week and one of them, which names the 1979 Act, has been outstanding for more than six weeks. That seriously inhibits my ability to properly hold the Government to account, because I need answers to those questions before the debate begins. What can you do to ensure that the Department of Health and Social Care delivers?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. What I can do is repeat yet again what Mr Speaker has said so often from this Chair, which is that when Members submit questions, they ought to be answered on time. There is simply no excuse for them not to be answered. I repeat most emphatically what Mr Speaker has said many times before, as indeed have all his predecessors and mine, which is that it is simply not acceptable that Departments, which have hundreds and hundreds of civil servants to do that job, do not answer the questions of Members of Parliament.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful that the Home Secretary has stayed in her place. This is not to have a go at her but to make a suggestion. Parliamentary privilege is there for an important reason, which is that we can speak without fear or favour. Often, it is there so that we can speak without fear.

I note that the European Union has been able to sanction some oligarchs faster than we have, not because of any lack of will in the UK but because it uses a particular mechanism called non-legislative acts that attracts a degree of privilege. For example, when it says that Alisher Usmanov has been sanctioned, and puts a little paragraph about why, it does not have to fear what may then happen in the courts. In the UK, however, Ministers understandably want to ensure that everything is watertight and that things are done properly, but they are also nervous that the way we do it means that they might be open to legal challenge, which would obviously be disastrous and very expensive.

I wonder whether there is a means of using parliamentary privilege to help the Government to do that more swiftly. If necessary, I would be happy to sit in permanent session in Westminster Hall with Ministers sending names and we will read them out, or they could be submitted as answers to a permanent daily parliamentary written question to a Minister to ask, “Who are you sanctioning today?”. Can the Clerk of the House and Mr Speaker have a conversation with Ministers in the Home Office and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office as quickly as possible to see whether there is a way for Parliament to help the Government do it more swiftly?

I genuinely thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which may even genuinely be a point of order for the Chair, because it is about the operation of parliamentary privilege and concerns matters that take place in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman has set out his thesis clearly and I observe that the Home Secretary has paid careful attention to what he has said.

The Home Secretary is nodding her assent to what I am saying. It is also clear that all hon. Members in this House and in Parliament want to achieve what the hon. Gentleman has described as a course of action. Indeed, the Home Secretary reiterated that this afternoon. I think even the Clerks might be nodding. I hope that now the matter is on the record, it can be taken forward in the most appropriate manner. I am sure that anything that Mr Speaker or his office, or his Deputies, can do to help will be done.

Bill Presented

Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Priti Patel, supported by the Prime Minister, Secretary Dominic Raab, Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Elizabeth Truss, Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, Damian Hinds and Paul Scully, presented a Bill to set up a register of overseas entities and their beneficial owners and require overseas entities who own land to register in certain circumstances; to make provision about unexplained wealth orders; and to make provision about sanctions.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 262).