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Points of Order

Volume 726: debated on Tuesday 17 January 2023

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier, you rightly agreed to a Standing Order No. 24 application for an emergency debate, which the House has agreed to hold today. I fear, however, that it may be a bit of an empty debate, because the statement of reasons why the Government have made the section 35 order—which is unprecedented and has never happened in the history of this House—has not been given to Members and will not be laid in the Library until later this afternoon. May I seek your guidance on whether the Standing Order No. 24 debate should be postponed until the statement has been published and we have had time to digest the reasons?

We laid the order at 12.34 pm, with the statement of reasons. The House authorities have to clear it before they publish it, and they will not do that until 5 pm. However, Mr Speaker has given me dispensation to publish the statement of reasons on the website. We are doing that now. It is also being emailed to the hon. Members for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) and for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn).

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just questioned the Secretary of State for more than an hour and he repeatedly mentioned the statement of reasons, which we have not yet seen. I am now told that I am going receive the statement of reasons. I think it would be wise for the House to be suspended so that we can all consider those reasons in full prior to the debate, because they will be of intrinsic value to us all.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I remain to be convinced whether the Secretary of State understands the effect of a gender recognition certificate, but surely it is now apparent that he does not understand the concept of parliamentary accountability. For as long as I have been in this House, if the House were to be made aware of a Government document or publication of any sort, it would be placed in the House of Commons Library. It was not sent by email to individual named members. Surely all Members of this United Kingdom Parliament have an interest in knowing the Government position. There is no good reason for this unprecedented departure from previous processes.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This has been an absolute and utter mess. The Secretary of State was not forced to come to the House to answer an urgent question. He came voluntarily. It has been central to the Government’s case that the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament conflicts with the Equality Act 2010. There is a statement of reasons as to why that is the case, but Members could not question him on it because he had not provided it. Now, he says that he will supply it through email.

Further to the point of order by the leader of the Scottish National party, may I insist that you, Mr Speaker, give us an opportunity to adjourn to that we can consider the statement properly? Then, we can come back and question the Secretary of State, who has to be at the Dispatch Box for the next debate, on the statements of reasons and why the UK Government have invoked a section 35 order against the legislation.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I noticed that the Secretary of State said during his statement that he had not brought the statement of reasons and that he did not want to bore us with it. That was an extraordinary thing to say, given the gravity of the situation and the subject matter. I wonder whether he has now changed his mind and does not think it is something that is tedious and boring for us to deal with but realises that this is a serious and important piece of dialogue that we should have had from him in advance of this sitting. Are you able to give us any guidance, Mr Speaker, on how everyone who wanted to respond to the statement but did not have the information might be able to contribute to the debate in full possession of the information?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you advise the House on whether there is any precedent for a situation where a Secretary of State turns up at the Dispatch Box without the accompanying information necessary to advise and guide the discussion and debate in a question session? In my experience here since I was elected, that seems to be the way that things are supposed to be done. Is this shambolic behaviour from the Secretary of State for Scotland precedented or unprecedented?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to Mr Deputy Speaker for trying to intervene during the question session. However, this is important, because the statement of reasons is clearly a critical factor in the discussion. We were not able to question the Secretary of State on it after the statement, which he brought to the House. We are going to have a debate, which is encouraging and welcome, but most of us will not have had the chance to see the statement of reasons before it starts. Can you advise us, Mr Speaker, on what further opportunities Members will have beyond this Standing Order No. 24 debate to question the Secretary of State in detail on the statement of reasons, when the Government eventually get around to publishing it?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We had over an hour of questions after a voluntary statement from the Secretary of State. He kept referring to the statement of reasons but would not divulge any information. He also kept referring to the Minister for Women and Equalities and said that she would be able to answer all the questions. Did the Government at any point discuss who was the most appropriate person to make the statement, so that Members could question the Government properly and ask somebody who actually had some knowledge and could answer questions?

In an ideal world, yes, it would be easier. The statement of reasons is now live, and it should have been emailed to certain Members to ensure that they can see it. [Interruption.] Do not shake your head just yet—please check; that would be helpful. We could argue that the Secretary of State has set it out for over an hour and answered the questions. I want to ensure that this debate goes ahead. We could have put it off until tomorrow. Quite rightly, Members wanted it today, which is important, so I am going to go ahead. It is not the best way to start the debate, but I ask Members to check, because I am assured that the document is available online for Members to see.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have many skills at my disposal, but the ability to speak while also looking at the Government’s statement of reasons is certainly not one of them. It is entirely unfair for me as an elected Member of this House to partake in a debate—which you have kindly granted, and I appreciate that—without being in full possession of the facts. That is not my fault. That is the fault of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who is not just undermining Scotland’s devolution; he is undermining this place, and that is of serious consequence to you, I imagine.

This is not the end; this is the beginning. There will be lots of opportunities for this to further be discussed. I want to make sure that this debate starts, and it is important that you lay out the facts. Hopefully during this time, you will have been starting to read the statement of reasons. I want to deal with the point of order from Amy Callaghan, who has quite rightly been waiting. I wanted to separate the two issues, because I believe it is an important point.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on what options are open to correct the record after the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis), who is no longer in his place, spread misinformation in his question when he said that people in this House and in Holyrood are inciting violence on the issue of the GRR Bill.

That is a matter of opinion, but I really do recommend that Members are very careful in the language they use. It is important that we show tolerance and, more importantly, that we show respect to each other. Nothing should inflame the tensions that will already be running high. I thank the hon. Member for raising that point with me. I say to all Members: please, think long and hard before you speak, because messages that you give in this House can be reflected in a way that I do not wish to see.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a relatively trivial point of order compared with the previous ones. Nevertheless, it relates to the procedures in this House. You were in the Chair during topical questions today, and you will have heard the Minister for Energy and Climate seemingly criticise me for not having given prior notice of the topical question that I chose to ask. I had it originally in mind to ask a different question, but because that question had already been answered, I thought it would be perfectly reasonable to choose another topical subject. I was disappointed that my right hon. Friend did not know the answer, because a lot of evidence has come out recently that there was a fifteenfold increase in the number of household fires caused by solar panels in 2022, and I am surprised that the Minister did not know anything about it.

If the Minister does not want to respond, I will answer it for him. Of course, you can ask any question. That is the whole idea of topicals—to keep the Minister alive and on his feet. It is not for me to apologise when a Minister cannot answer. Let us leave it at that.

Is it on something I have already ruled? If so, I want to make progress, but if it is completely different, I will make a judgment in a second.

It is a different question. Given that we are going into this debate without having seen the statement of reasons, will you give us a measure of flexibility by still allowing us to speak if we need to nip out to get a copy, even if we miss a few seconds of the debate?

I am sure we could bring copies in for you—in fact, I see that Mr Hosie is already doing due diligence in delivering them, and quite rightly too.