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Points of Order

Volume 709: debated on Wednesday 2 March 2022

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the first of two points of order that I hope to raise today. On Monday, the Government published a newly signed free trade agreement between the UK and New Zealand, and briefed the press about it before sharing the agreement with my International Trade Committee, despite assurances from the Secretary of State for International Trade and her Department that this would not happen. My Committee has also sought clarity from the Secretary of State about key aspects of the scrutiny timeline to ensure that we and this House have time to meaningfully consider the FTA before its ratification—without response, nearly a month after we set her a deadline.

I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that ensuring parliamentary scrutiny of a free trade agreement that the Government sign is of the utmost importance. I am deeply concerned by the cavalier approach that the Government seem to be taking in this regard, and so is the equivalent Committee in the House of Lords. The Government’s attitude directly impacts on my Committee’s ability to conduct the scrutiny it has been appointed to do by this House under Standing Orders, and by extension, this shows a discourtesy to this House as a result. Can you please advise me on how to ensure that the Government uphold their commitments to parliamentary scrutiny, particularly in regard to free trade agreements in the future?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the point of order. The Minister is willing to respond immediately.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for this chance to respond. The hon. Gentleman knows—as I have given evidence to his Committee in the short time I have been a Minister, and the Secretary of State for International Trade has given two evidence sessions with a further evidence session coming up, along with our first and second permanent secretaries and the director general for trade negotiations appearing before the hon. Gentleman’s Committee and the Public Accounts Committee last month, and also private briefings with his Committee and the New Zealand chief negotiator during negotiations—that we are completely committed to sharing documents with his Committee before publication where we are able to. We laid the free trade agreement before Parliament as soon as possible after it was signed and sent copies to his Committee shortly after signature. We also laid a written ministerial statement, again on the day, and sent a “Dear colleague” letter the day prior. No discourtesy is intended: we take scrutiny of these trade agreements very seriously. I will be happy to follow up with the hon. Gentleman’s Committee to give further reassurances.

I want to keep things going but we shall first listen to what the Chair of the Select Committee has to say.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There has been no detail of the sought scrutiny timeline and the Committee and its staff—and up in the House of Lords there is the same feeling—are very disappointed with the Department for International Trade. When can we have the scrutiny timeline, please?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman knows, as I gave evidence to his Committee, that we are determined not only that we have a good and very clear scrutiny timeline, but that there is a decent amount of time for Trade and Agriculture Commission recommendations and so forth and for this House, including his Committee and also the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, to examine them. I will be happy to make sure the Secretary of State follows up with the hon. Gentleman’s Committee.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Taking into account how hard our security officers in this place work, may I ask for your clarification on the following matter? Last night while voting I had a long-standing meeting with a member of the public. He sought access to the parliamentary estate to meet me but was not allowed access via Cromwell Green because of apparent covid regulations even though I was under the impression they had ceased. A number of colleagues have told me since that they have also had members of the public held at the entrance of the parliamentary estate, and also in the current inclement weather. Can you confirm, Mr Speaker, that the regulations have changed and members of the public can access the estate when we have prior arranged meetings?

I have just been told about this and will certainly look into it. I will be speaking with the Serjeant at Arms later, who just made a note of it as we were speaking.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Russians describe the Ukrainians as neo-Nazis, yet yesterday we learned that the Babyn Yar holocaust memorial was bombed by Russia. Clearly this has caused significant upset among the Jewish community of Ukraine and around the world. Will you consider sending commiserations and messages of sympathy to the Jewish community of Ukraine on behalf of Parliament?

I will be more than happy to do so; we of course have our solidarity book as well, and I ask all Members to make sure they sign it, along with staff of the House and anyone who comes on to the estate.

On an unconnected point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday the Home Secretary came here with her latest version of how to get people from Ukraine to the United Kingdom, but it is simply not working at the moment. My constituent Derek MacLeod has family in the countryside on the Polish-Ukrainian border; visas are needed but they cannot get to a place to get visas. This system is not delivering. If it does not deliver and we cannot get people out as was indicated yesterday by the Home Secretary, can we get the Home Secretary back to this Chamber to update and clarify and give us a working system to get people out of Ukraine?

Obviously, what I cannot do is continue the debate on the issue. I am sure Members on the Government Benches will have picked up the hon. Gentleman’s remarks.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. During that same statement, the Home Secretary appeared to call into question the trustworthiness of Opposition Members to be briefed on security matters. Is it in order for her to undermine hon. Members in that way?

I do know that the Opposition have been briefed, and I will be briefed again later today. Members of Parliament are trustworthy—that is why they are hon. Members—and I would expect information to be shared in an appropriate manner.

Bill Presented

Benefit Cap (Report on Abolition) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

David Linden presented a Bill to report to Parliament on the likely effects of the abolition of the benefit cap, including on levels of absolute and relative poverty, poor mental health, food bank use, borrowing of money from friends and family, evictions from homes and problem debt, and on different groups including women, lone parents and people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 264).