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Points of order

Volume 744: debated on Wednesday 31 January 2024

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the start of Prime Minister’s questions, the Speaker reminded the House about the use of language. The debate on Gaza is getting far more emotive, and the language used has been questionable in one or two cases, as I am sure you are aware, Madam Deputy Speaker. One of the SNP Members asked a question about Gaza and, after the question was answered, a member of the SNP—I cannot identify them—accused the Prime Minister of being Pontius Pilate, which we on these Benches heard very clearly. That kind of language is extremely unpleasant because, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, Pontius Pilate washed his hands and handed Jesus over to a murderous death. That is not what the Prime Minister is doing. He has an impeccable record on this topic, and is leading with great courage and conviction in a war in Gaza that is, indeed, highly emotive.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just for the record, I seek your guidance on how to make it very clear that it was not a member of the SNP who said any such thing—I can be absolutely certain about that. I think Members might want to be very clear about which parties are saying things before making such accusations. How can I put that on the record, Madam Deputy Speaker?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I will come to the other points of order in a moment. I appreciate the point of order made by the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). I can say only this: Mr Speaker strives throughout Prime Minister’s questions to keep order in this House, but it has become fashionable to make unnecessary noise during the half hour when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are on the Front Benches. Generally, this House is well behaved, as it is at the moment, and takes its duties, responsibilities and public image seriously.

It is very sad if somebody did make the comment that the hon. Member for South Dorset has described. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Owen Thompson) that if a remark was made about Pontius Pilate, it was not made by an SNP Member, but actually, as far as the Chair is concerned, I do not care who made such a remark. It is wrong to try to whip up bad feeling in this House or anywhere else about the tragedy unfolding in Israel and Palestine. I urge all hon. Members, who have different points of view on this emotive subject, to be very careful about what they say in public and in private, but especially in this Chamber.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to think I am an honourable Gentleman, and if indeed I got it wrong, I withdraw the point that the comment was made by an SNP Member. It came from that part of the House, but if it was not an SNP Member, I withdraw that point.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for withdrawing that accusation, because it lets us at least take that part out of this specific issue. It may be that somebody made that comment, but I really do not care what they said or how they said it. They should not be saying anything at all while seated when someone else is asking a question or the Prime Minister is answering it. Everyone in this House ought to bear in mind that what is said and done in here has a much wider audience, and we ought to be setting an example of being reasonable and careful in the way that we use words and phrases, and never being inflammatory.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point of order also relates to Israel and Gaza. ITV News recently broadcast a video showing the killing of an unarmed civilian in Gaza who was waving a white flag—the international symbol of peace. It is not the first time unarmed people have been killed in Gaza while raising white flags; in fact, three Israeli hostages were brutally killed while topless and waving a white flag. This is deeply concerning to me, as I am sure it is to many people in this House. An Israel Defence Forces commander has indicated that the IDF was responsible, saying,

“There are mistakes, it is war.”

This incident could potentially constitute a war crime. How can we ensure that the Government come to this House to assure us that this incident will be properly investigated and that UK-supplied weapons were not used, and to set out the steps being taken to ensure that Israel follows the ruling from the International Court of Justice?

I have listened carefully to the hon. Lady, and the point she makes is not a point of order for the Chair—not at all. She is making a very serious point about a tragic incident among many thousands of tragic incidents that have occurred over the past few months, but it is not a point of order for the Chair.

The hon. Lady is raising a point that she wants to raise with Ministers. The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), was recently at the Dispatch Box making a statement on Gaza, and I anticipate it is very likely that a Foreign Office Minister or a Minister from the Ministry of Defence will be here again within a few days to make a further statement. If not, Opposition Front Benchers and others have been most assiduous in asking urgent questions to ensure that Ministers come to the House to answer these important questions.

The hon. Lady is not asking a question that I can deal with from the Chair; she is asking a question that she wants to ask of a Minister. If she wants to ask a question of a Minister, there are various ways she can do that: she can put down an urgent question; she can ask for an Adjournment debate; she can speak to Members on her own Front Bench about having an extended debate in Opposition time—I will not list them all. There are many, many ways in which the hon. Lady can do that, but I cannot answer her question from the Chair. It is not a point of order.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have on two previous occasions asked the Leader of the House to correct the record after she told this House on 11 January that people in England pay

“lower tax than people in Scotland and we have managed…a balanced budget”.—[Official Report, 11 January 2024; Vol. 743, c. 455-456.]

At Prime Minister’s questions today, the Prime Minister incorrectly referred to people in Scotland paying higher taxes than people in England. I have notified the Prime Minister that I would be referring to him. The House of Commons Library, via the Office for Budget Responsibility, has confirmed that the statements made by the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister are both untrue. The majority of people in Scotland pay lower taxes—including council tax—than people in England. No UK Government have delivered a balanced budget since 2000-2001, and the current UK Government pay the equivalent of £300 million a day in debt interest, while the Scottish Government must, by law, balance their budget every year.

Given that hon. Members must correct inadvertent errors at the earliest opportunity, Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek your guidance and advice as to how to ensure that the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister do indeed correct the record, and your advice as to what measures can be taken if hon. Members repeat factually incorrect information in this place and appear to—

Order. I thank the hon. Lady. Once again, I appreciate that Members want to use the opportunity of a point of order to make the point that they want to make, but there is a big difference between—[Interruption.] Do not shout while I am speaking. There is a difference between a point of order on procedure in this House and a matter of opinion in the interpretation of statistics. There are also—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Lady just be quiet and allow me to answer her question?

There are inevitably differences of opinion on the interpretation of statistics. There are also, as the hon. Lady says, facts, as opposed to opinions. If facts are stated wrongly in this House, they should be corrected. However, it is not for the Chair to make a judgment as to who correctly interprets the facts put before the House. That is why we have debates and questions. We are not meant to come here and all agree with one another. That is why we have this Chamber, where proper debates can take place.

If the hon. Lady is saying that facts were stated wrongly, I am quite sure that a Minister will take the first opportunity to correct those facts. I think, perhaps, the Leader of the House will take that opportunity right now.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would be very happy to. This is obviously a matter of great concern and urgency to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson)—she would normally raise it at business questions tomorrow. I am quite sure this has nothing to do with the fact that the former First Minister is in front of the covid inquiry today. [Interruption.] There is nothing like a good old—[Interruption.]

Order. What on earth do you think you are doing? The hon. Lady raised a point. The Leader of the House is answering an aspect of that point. It is not a moment when shouting should occur.

To get to the substance of the point, I understand that the hon. Lady mentions a House of Commons Library paper that she is relying on to do this. That particular Library paper is using a figure from the Scottish Budget in 2022, which is out of date. As she will know, income tax out turns are not going to be reported for many more months, so she cannot make that assertion. What I have done in my responses at business questions to detailed points on taxation is to give the House direct salary levels and the taxes that people are paying north and south of the border. Whatever our views and political disagreements, I take my responsibilities to this House extremely seriously.

Let me make it clear once again that there is a difference between points of order on procedure and matters for debate. That is why we have debates. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran will raise her points in debate on many occasions over the next few weeks, as indeed will the hon. Member for Brent Central (Dawn Butler), who made the previous point of order. That is what debates are for and it is not for the Chair to make those decisions.