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Points of Order

Volume 613: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Reports have come in that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), who is standing for the leadership of my party, has had her constituency windows broken, and the police have confirmed that such an incident has taken place. Can we take this opportunity to deplore such hooliganism and thuggery, whoever commits it and whichever party is involved? It is totally unacceptable, and one hopes that the police will apprehend the culprit as quickly as possible.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It is not strictly in any procedural sense a matter for the Chair, but it is in one respect because, in common with all colleagues, the Chair believes in democracy and the peaceful exchange of opinion. We are a pluralist society, and if people think that they will get their way through violence, threats and intimidation, they will soon find themselves wrong. If I may say so, no one is more suited to making that point than someone who has served as a democratic parliamentarian for as long as the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Unfortunately, for all sorts of reasons, I was not able to be here for business questions last Thursday, so later I had to read Hansard, which I scoured for announcements regarding next week’s business, particularly for next Monday. On Saturday, I gather that the Prime Minister announced—not to the House or even in this country, but in Poland—that next Monday we will be debating the renewal of Trident. I make no judgment about how people should vote on that, but why has the House still not been formally told that that will be our business next week? Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence had the perfect opportunity to make that clear to the House, had he wanted to. On today’s Order Paper, a motion tabled by the Leader of the House states:

“That, at the sitting on Monday 18 July, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister relating to the UK’s nuclear deterrent not later than 10.00pm”.

That is a kind of sub-announcement that we will debate the issue next Monday, but we have still had no sign of what the motion will be, whether it will be amendable, and under what terms that debate will be held. Surely it would be more courteous to the House to have a proper supplementary business statement that lays out next Monday’s business.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He has the advantage of being right on both counts.

A junior Government Whip chunters from a sedentary position that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is not right always, but the same could be said of junior Government Whips. On this matter, however, the hon. Gentleman is right in both respects: motion 5 on today’s Order Paper is posited on the assumption that there will be a debate on Monday 18 July on the UK’s nuclear deterrent; and this debate has not been notified to the House, other than via a passing reference to it yesterday by the Secretary of State for Defence in the course of the statement on the recent NATO summit. I make no complaint about what the Prime Minister might have been thinking or what he intended, or if he was caused or tempted to comment elsewhere—I am not focusing on that point. What I am focusing on is that if there is to be a change of business, there should be a supplementary business statement. That is the way we do our work in this place.

If I may say so, the usual channels, whatever their opinions on the merit of the issue, really ought to be aware of that point, which is blindingly obvious and brooks no contradiction—it is very, very, very straightforward. We cannot get into a situation in this place in which we do business in a disorderly fashion. The procedures of this House are for the protection of this House and all Members ought to take that very seriously. They certainly ought to be aware of the significance of that and some sort of remedial training is required for those who are not.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Ministry of Defence released a press release—this is therefore not just a glancing reference by the Secretary of State—stating that there would be a motion, but the House has certainly not been informed. Indeed, the motion is about not renewal, but the principle of continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence, which in my view seems to be a different issue.

Well, I confess I do not know what press offices get up to in these matters, but suffice it to say that ultimately the Secretary of State in a Department is always everywhere and for everything responsible in that Department. We probably should not dwell on this further, but let us try to learn from it for the future.

I am in a benign and generous mood, so I will allow a further point of order from the hon. Member for Rhondda.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. The point, surely, is that, as things stand, unless the Leader of the House gives a clear statement to the House, Thursday morning will be the first time we will know for certain what next Monday’s business will be, by which time it will be impossible for us to table amendments to the motion that will be taken on Monday, unless you are going to be very generous about the tabling of manuscript amendments and so on. Surely, when we are considering the defence of our nation, it is ludicrous for the Government to indulge in such shenanigans?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is twofold. First, it would be better if there were a supplementary business statement. I would have thought that the terms in which I have answered him make that so clear that the point needs simply to waft from the scholarly cranium of the junior Whip on duty to the powers that be in the relevant Government Department. Secondly, in the absence of any such supplementary business statement, which I really would regard as a considerable discourtesy to the House, the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members can be assured that it will be possible to table amendments on Thursday. I have not thought about the precise chronology of events, but if it is necessary for me to allow manuscript amendments, because of circumstances not of the hon. Gentleman’s devising, they certainly will be allowed, subject only to those amendments, in terms of content, being orderly. I think the Whip has got the message.

I hope it is a point of order and not the sort of thing that the hon. Gentleman used to chunter when he was heckling me 30 years ago at the University of Essex student union.

Whether or not it is a point of order is for you to judge, Mr Speaker. On a happier note, I would like to thank you and the Officers of the House for enabling us to display in the Jubilee Room today a range of products manufactured in the black country, which as you know, Mr Speaker, is the greatest place in the world. If you have five minutes in your busy schedule to visit the Jubilee Room, you will see parts manufactured for Bugatti, Lamborghini and Ferrari, and the Olympic torch, which was also made in the black country. If that is not enough of an attraction, there is also some beer that was brewed in Dudley North. All Members are very welcome.

The hon. Gentleman must speak for himself.

I very much appreciate what the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) has just said. If it is possible for me to pop in, I will try to do so, although I am not sure what the hours of this event are.

I will do what I can, and I encourage other Members to do likewise.

We come now to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) has been so patiently waiting.