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Points of Order

Volume 617: debated on Wednesday 16 November 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On two occasions during Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister suggested that the Scottish National party campaigned during the independence referendum to leave the European Union single market. That is untrue. We campaigned to remain in the EU, including the single market. That is not a matter of speculation or debate; it is a matter of fact. What powers do you have, Mr Speaker, to ensure that no one in this House, including the Prime Minister, can mislead the House, however inadvertently, when the facts are clear?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, both for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I have heard what he has said and my response is as follows: it is the responsibility of each and every Member of the House faithfully to communicate what he or she regards as facts and to take responsibility for their own statements. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I do not think that it is right for me to be drawn into the matter any further. I understand entirely what he has said. I think that I also understand the Prime Minister’s position in relation to Scotland’s status within the United Kingdom and what the alternative to that status might entail. Therefore, notwithstanding the hon. Gentleman’s insistence that the matter is a straightforward one of facts, as with many things the situation lends itself to a number of different interpretations. If any Minister, including the Prime Minister, thinks that she has erred and needs to correct the record, it is incumbent on the Member to do so. Meanwhile, the hon. Gentleman can go about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step, in the safe knowledge that he has articulated his concerns and that they are on the record, both for the people of Scotland and for the world to see.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today’s calendar of business shows no Government business for Monday 21 November. Rumour has it that it will be the Higher Education and Research Bill and the Clerks have been told that the amendment deadline is tonight. Members are gifted, but they are not psychic. Can you do anything, Mr Speaker, to clarify what is clearly an unsatisfactory situation?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Members are gifted, but, as he rightly observes, they are not psychic. However, I hope that he will not take great umbrage if I remind the House and communicate to the world the fact that he does at least have the advantage of being a noted philosopher. That may aid him in seeking to decipher matters, or it may not avail him. We shall see.

I had not heard bruited what apparently has winged its way to the hon. Gentleman about the likely business for next Monday. Admittedly, I had not inquired about that business. It may be so. In general terms, it is clearly desirable for the House to have the maximum possible notice of upcoming business. It is, in all likelihood, going to fall to the Leader of the House at business questions on Thursday to specify Monday’s business.

What I will say to the hon. Gentleman in respect of the point about the deadline for amendments is this: I, from the Chair, always seek, within such powers as I have, to facilitate the House. If the House ends up being disadvantaged by lack of notice, it is open to the Chair to consider, exceptionally, manuscript amendments. I make the point and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is a sagacious and perceptive fellow, will have got it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you advise me on how it would be in order to put on the record the widespread anger felt in Torbay at the theft over the weekend of poppy boxes belonging to the Torquay branch of the Royal British Legion? While thousands attended remembrance services, some light-fingered thieves stole boxes that had been positioned in a number of shops in the centre of Torquay. It is the actions of the thousands of people who supported the appeal, the hundreds of people who helped to with the collection and the people who diligently run the Torbay poppy appeal that should be remembered, not the actions of a handful of thieves.

That is not a point of order, as the barely concealed grin of the hon. Gentleman in raising the matter eloquently testifies. Nevertheless, what I will say to the hon. Gentleman, who is certainly a quick learner in the House, because he entered only last year, is that, as he knows, he has now found his own salvation. I have a feeling that his clarification in the Chamber may well communicate itself, or be communicated, to media outlets across Torbay and possible elsewhere.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Prime Minister alluded to a written ministerial statement to be published later today on the fate of hundreds of UK citizens—in other words, on whether or not the Chagos islanders will finally be granted their right to return. That written statement has yet to make an appearance, but the Government’s decision has been reported all over the morning papers, and apparently that decision is to maintain the 40-year injustice. Is it in order for us to read about Government policy in the papers before it has been reported to this House? What opportunities are available to us to question Ministers on such disappointing decisions?

The short answer is that it is up to the Government to decide whether the matter warrants an oral statement or a written statement, and that is not for the Chair to judge. What I will say to the hon. Gentleman, however, is that it is highly undesirable for there to be a significant time lag between public disclosure and parliamentary opportunity. He will know that other business has so far occupied us today. But that is true of today. The written statement that he legitimately anticipates has not yet been made. Doubtless it will be, and that may well lead Members to want to raise the matter in coming days, particularly if there has been no substantial parliamentary discussion of it beyond the brief exchange at Prime Minister’s questions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be ready to explore what utensils are available to him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you able to give me any advice regarding incidents in my constituency? I have been contacted by a number of my constituents regarding letters that they have received from the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) about the Boundary Commission’s proposals. Some of my constituents have been left confused, given the subject matter, believing that their MP has already changed under boundary changes. Given that the hon. Gentleman gave me no notice of his activities in my constituency, may I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, and for notifying me in advance of her intention to raise it. Moreover, I gather that she did notify the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris), who is in his place. He can hear what I have to say, and we can judge whether it requires any further comment today.

What I will say to the hon. Lady is that this is not a point of order relating to conduct in the Chamber. That said, as Members who have been here for a long time know, the Speaker will always encourage Members to observe the usual courtesies in informing others if they intend to visit, for political purposes, other colleagues’ constituencies, and they should do so in a timely way. I think the point about visiting is also applicable to communication with another Member’s constituents. The truth of the matter is that, especially in the run-up to potential boundary changes, there have often been, if I may put it this way—I do not mean this disobligingly—spats of this kind. It is much better if such spats are avoided, and the whole House and all its Members benefit if these courtesies are observed.

If the hon. Gentleman particularly wants to say anything—I am not sure that the nation needs to hear it—as I have heard from the hon. Lady, I am happy briefly to hear him as well.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The nation may not want to hear this, but my constituents will do. I have not written to the hon. Lady’s constituents by name or used parliamentary paper, resources or a portcullis emblem. I also did not deliver any of the letters personally, as I was away on parliamentary business out of the country at the time. I have therefore not breached any protocol. As far as the views that have been expressed are concerned, they are the views of my constituents and I am representing them as their Member of Parliament. Their responses to the letter concur with the opinion of both sides, which is that we should keep Morecambe and Lancaster separate.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his response. I note what he says about not using parliamentary notepaper and so on. We are certainly most grateful for that, because that would have been very wrong. I thank him for being characteristically up-front.

What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, for the benefit of all Members, is that we have to take responsibility for conduct in our name by our staff or volunteers who are, or might reasonably be thought to be, acting on our behalf. Beyond that, I have no wish to intrude into this matter, and I hope that people of good will who represent neighbouring constituencies and who are doing their honest best can try to observe these courtesies. I have a sense that that is what the public would expect of us, or—let me put it this way—that that is what the public would like to be able to expect of us.

Mr Turner, your chuntering from a sedentary position, “Say sorry!” does at least represent a welcome change from your usual sedentary utterance, which several times a week, as you know, tends to be: “Shocking! It is a disgrace.” That does not render it any more orderly, however. We will leave the matter there for now, and I thank colleagues for what they have said.

Bills Presented

Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 50)

Secretary Priti Patel, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr David Gauke, Rory Stewart and James Wharton, presented a Bill to amend the amount of the limit in section 15 of the Commonwealth Development Corporation Act 1999 on the Government’s financial assistance.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 93) with explanatory notes (Bill 93-EN).

Clean Air Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Geraint Davies presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to set, measure, enforce and report on air quality targets; to require that vehicle emissions targets and testing reflect on-road driving conditions; to make it an offence to remove permanently devices that reduce vehicle emissions; to provide powers for local authorities to establish low diesel emissions zones and pedestrian-only areas; to restrict the use of diesel vehicles in urban areas; to make provision about the promotion of electric and hydrogen powered vehicles and for the development of sustainable public, private and commercial transport by road, rail, air and sea; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 December, and to be printed (Bill 94).