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Points of Order

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 28 April 2022

There are quite a few points of order. Of course, I must start, rightly, with the Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am happy to come first and last, because I have a second one on column 799 from yesterday about the Electoral Commission.

My first one is about Prorogation and a written statement that the Government said that they will make about the future of broadcasting. I checked three minutes ago and it has not been received in the Table Office. Can written statements still be made during Prorogation or is there some way to ensure that the Government get the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to put that statement into the hands of Members of Parliament before Prorogation? My subsidiary question is that the Member Hub website goes down at Prorogation, which is where most MPs would expect to find the statement, so how will we get it?

At present, the Department has issued a press notice to give its take on what is in the statement. In column 798 yesterday, I asked whether we could have an oral statement. The Government have not complied with that and they have not complied with their intention to publish a written statement. Mr Speaker, I would be grateful if you could guide the House and the Department on how we can now proceed.

I was surprised that nobody put in for an urgent question this morning on this issue following the news today, just as a way of having a holding platform. I am disappointed, but I want to think about my answer and would prefer to try to offer a way forward when the hon. Gentleman comes back with his final point of order at the end.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, and on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who has now miraculously appeared. Yesterday during Prime Minister’s questions the Prime Minister responded to the High Court ruling that found the Government broke the law in discharging patients to care homes without testing them for covid first in 2020, saying that

“the thing we did not know in particular was that covid could be transmitted asymptomatically”.—[Official Report, 27 April 2022; Vol. 712, c. 762.]

I am afraid that I believe the Prime Minister may have inadvertently misled the House, because on 28 January 2020 advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies—I have checked—on asymptomatic transmission included that

“early indications imply some is occurring.”

On 24 February The Lancet—again I have checked—published a paper which stated that

“infected individuals can be infectious before they become symptomatic”,

and on 13 March the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, told the “Today” programme that

“it’s quite likely that there is some degree of symptomatic transmission.”

Yet it was not until 15 April that the Government guidance was changed to require patients to be tested before being discharged to care homes. That appears to us to contradict what the Prime Minister said yesterday. I am sure that is inadvertent, but can you, Mr Speaker, advise me on how we can best ensure the Prime Minister returns to the House and corrects the record?

I thank the hon. Lady for giving notice of her point of order. As has often been said before, it is vital that statements made in the House are accurate; however, the Chair is not responsible for the contents of a Minister’s speech. What I would say is that I am sure nobody would want to leave an inaccuracy, and I would have thought they would wish to correct the record so that it is not left in abeyance. I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Member’s point of order and a correction will be forthcoming if one is needed; I would think it is better for the House to have accurate information, so let’s see what we can do.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, in evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology, the chair of the Government’s Social Mobility Commission said that

“physics isn’t something that girls tend to fancy. They don’t want to do it, they don’t like it…I just think they don’t like it. There’s a lot of hard maths…The research generally…just says that’s a natural thing”.

She said she was

“certainly not out there campaigning”

for more girls to do physics, adding:

“I don’t mind that there’s only 16%”.

That contradicts the lived experience of many girls and women who love maths, such as myself, and research from many organisations and institutions such as the Institute of Physics, the all-party group on diversity and inclusion in science, technology, engineering and maths, which I chair, and, most importantly, the Government’s own stated policy on encouraging girls in STEM. Can you, Mr Speaker, advise me: given that we are proroguing today I cannot lay any written questions, so how can I ascertain whether the Government have changed their policy on encouraging girls into STEM?

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. On the very last day of a Session she has very few options, as she notes, but I am sure her words will not go unnoticed and, once again, those on the Treasury Bench will be listening and I hope it can be taken on board, and I am sure some communication can be made to her.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As we are short of time in this Session, can we put it on the record that physics is something that girls tend to fancy, that they do want to do it, that they do like it, that they enjoy and excel at the maths in it and that the House supports their options?

That is obviously not a point of order, but it is certainly a point well made. My daughter, who is a physics teacher, would be proud.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before we prorogue, is there some way in which I can get Ministers to pass my sincere thanks to the Secretary of State for Transport for grasping the issue of saving High Wycombe driving test centre for, I think, the second time in a year? Further to that, may we confer to the Driving and Vehicle Standards Agency that driving instructors in Wycombe stand ready and are brimming with ideas and enthusiasm to help it in getting done what the Secretary of State would like: to find a permanent place for that test centre?

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given Prorogation, can you advise me on how I might raise the urgent matter of the fifth successive Care Quality Commission warning notice for mental health services in my constituency and beyond in Norfolk and Suffolk? Those failings, driven by cuts and successive failures of leadership, have led to deaths, suffering and tragedy for more than a decade. How can I make it clear to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care that enough is enough and that he must take direct control of this failing service, provide it with emergency funding and rebuild it from the bottom up with its patients and hard-working and dedicated staff?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. It is not a procedural matter requiring an immediate ruling from the Chair. The Table Office can advise hon. Members on how to raise matters that are of great concern to their constituents. The hon. Member made his point forcefully, and I am sure that people will have heard a clear message.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As a relatively new Member of the House with just 20 years’ experience, may I ask you to give me some procedural advice? Is there any procedure by which I can inform the House that my constituent Luke Symons, who was incarcerated for five years in Sanaa in Yemen and whose case I have raised many times on the Floor of the House, was released this week and is back, safe and well with his wife and child in my constituency? Further, is there any mechanism by which I can put on the record my thanks to all Members of the House who over the years have expressed support for Luke and his family, as well as to his grandfather Bob Cummings, who campaigned tirelessly for his release?

Once again, the hon. Member has achieved his objective—it is certainly on the record—and the whole House supports the release of his constituent.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You and hon. Members will know that, yesterday, the Government of the Russian Federation sanctioned a number of Members of this House—including yourself—but the list also included individuals who are no longer Members of the House. May I suggest that you write to your counterpart in the Russian state Duma to give them a list of current Members of Parliament? Some of us would very much like to have the badge of honour of being sanctioned by the Russian state.

It is a very interesting idea. I think I ought to write to the Speaker and explain that while they there may not have the same democratic feel that we have, our Members are elected, and some have been missed off a list that some feel is a badge of honour. None more so than the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who, after all the hard work he has done, was really uptight that he had not achieved what others had been granted without any effort whatsoever. I thank the hon. Member for that point.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. You are always most kind, and I appreciate it.

Over the last few weeks, Members have put in a number of questions. We know that those questions will fall if they have not been answered. In the last few days, I have asked questions on Ukraine and health—issues of critical importance to my constituents. How can Members ensure we get the answers to the questions we have asked but which have not yet been responded to? Do we submit them again, or do we remind Departments of the importance of those questions and seek a response?

First, I thank the hon. Member for his contribution over this Session. It has been greater than everybody else’s. As ever, he is quite right to raise this important point today. I take on board what he has said, and I thank him for it.

Sir Peter, shall we deal with your earlier point of order first? It is very interesting. Yes, we can have a written statement up to Prorogation—that is still possible. There is another possibility, but I think it would be totally unfair to the Whip if I were to grant an urgent question now on the basis of what you have asked. [Hon. Members: “Go on!”]

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I put it to you that the House should have an urgent opportunity to debate the missing written statement or oral statement on the future of broadcasting, which was referred to yesterday by a Minister, when the House was assured there would be a statement? The question was raised whether it could be oral or written. We have had neither. May I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that this matter should be put before the House as a matter of urgency?

I appeal to the Government Front Bench to see if we can find the written statement so it can be available for Members. I have a lot of sympathy for such a point, especially when it is from the Father of the House. It matters when any Back Bencher raises such a matter, but the Father of the House makes a very serious point: promises were made and they have not been carried out. It would be unfair to grant an emergency urgency question—I would not want to do that—but I believe there is still time for people to come forward with an oral statement. It would certainly be very helpful if the written statement could be found, wherever it is lost and whatever we have to do to find it. Someone ought to be scurrying around to try to find it. The Government have until 12.20 pm. So, who knows, it may be at the Dispatch Box, or it may be that we find the missing statement that could be circulating somewhere.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. If it is convenient to the House, I withdraw my previous motion to you.

The point I want to raise now involves your role, Mr Speaker, in connection with the Electoral Commission, and it follows the point of order I raised yesterday in column 799 of the Official Report. We know that matters of election spending, and reporting that spending, can be complicated, as illustrated in the Thanet case when the Court of Appeal unanimously said it was not legal to report an expense both nationally and locally. The Supreme Court shortly afterwards decided unanimously that the Court of Appeal was wrong. If distinguished Court of Appeal judges can be wrong, so can others.

The reason I raise this point is that the Labour party has done two things, one to which I do not object, which is filling the pages of the Worthing Herald to encourage people to vote Labour. That is my local newspaper, and we are very grateful for that. I am not sure how much good it will do the Labour party to show that it has more money than sense.

The point that does matter is the issue I raised yesterday, whereby a letter from the leader of the Labour party to a named elector at a specified address asked them to vote Labour on 5 May. I have had informal discussions with the Electoral Commission. I do not want to go into the details of those discussions, because they were informal. One view is that this is national spending. In court, I think that would be challenged because there are no national elections on 5 May, only local elections.

The second view is that the only candidate for whom an elector could vote in that ward would be the Labour candidate. The question then arises of how that expense will be accounted for in the return. It might be a national return, except that there are not national returns for local elections, or the local agent for the candidate could include it, even as a nominal sum, in their own return. Were that to be challenged, if the return was thought to be inaccurate or incomplete, a complaint would then need to be made to the police. A complaint is not made to the Electoral Commission; it is made to the police.

The House will now rise until after the local elections. The police would not be involved in a formal complaint until after the electoral expenses return had been made, 30 or 35 days after election day. How would the police be put on notice to check nationally—which is where the spending is supposed to be—and locally, where I believe it should be recorded, at least as a nominal expense, so that they could preserve the evidence if there was a challenge at the end of the process? I know that this would need to be determined by a court, but the issue of where the evidence would come from and the necessity of the police to be alert has to be dealt with now.

We had questions to the Electoral Commission representative earlier, so it might have been possible to mention that then, but the Father of the House raises a very important issue. Mail is sent to named individuals by different leaders and all parties, so this is about not just one, but many parties. It is not a matter for the Chair, but I take seriously the consequences, implications and possible rulings that would come on the back of this.

The Father of the House said that he contacted the Electoral Commission. I am sure that it will come forward with its view and opinion, and quite rightly, this could end up being a judicial matter. I will also put this on the record during my meeting with the Electoral Commission, but I stress that leaders of all parties send out direct correspondence by name. I can guarantee that the signatures will not be handwritten, because they are a national way of corresponding.

We will leave it at that for today. I know that the Father of the House would not want me to be drawn on something that is not actually a matter for the Chair, but I take seriously the implications that could follow, depending on what the decision would be.

We still have chance for a statement—who knows? However, I suspend the sitting, and shortly before the sitting is resumed, I shall cause the Division bells to be sounded to indicate that the House is back.

Sitting suspended (Order, 26 April).