Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 621: debated on Monday 6 February 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, is it in order for the Prime Minister to refer to a Member of this House not by her own name, but by the name of her husband? Secondly, for the record, I have never been a lady, and it will take a great deal more than being married to a knight of the realm to make me one.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not in any way intend to be disorderly in this House, and if the hon. Lady is concerned about the reference that I made to her, of course I will apologise for that. I have to say to her, though, that for the last 36 years I have been referred to by my husband’s name. [Interruption.]

Order. No sedentary shrieking from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is required. I have the matter in hand. Two points, very simply: first of all, I thank the Prime Minister for what she has just said. Secondly, in so far as there is any uncertainty on this matter, let me dispel that uncertainty. I do so from my own knowledge and on the professional advice of the Clerk. We refer in this Chamber to Members by their constituencies or, if they have a title—for example, shadow Minister—by their title. To refer to them by another name is not the right thing to do. But the Prime Minister has said what she has said, and I thank her for that. We will leave this matter there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. With great respect to your statement at the beginning of our proceedings, on behalf of the Commission, that the dress and composition of the Clerks sitting in this House should change forthwith after the recess, may I urge you to reconsider this and to consider whether the whole House ought to have an opportunity to address the matter before it is enacted?

Order. I will come to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) in a moment. First of all, in answer to the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), let me say this. There are two elements to the announcement that I made at the start of proceedings. First, I referred to an extension of the range of people working within the Department of Chamber and Committee Services who should have the opportunity to serve at the Table in the Chamber. That constitutes an extension. In 2012, I introduced, with the agreement and co-operation of the Clerks’ department, a scheme that would give young and rising Clerks, who might otherwise have had to wait several years to serve at the Table, the opportunity to do so, being mentored in the process. So the first point I want to make to the hon. Gentleman—I do not know whether he will agree with it, but I hope that it will contribute to the quality of the debate—is that I am merely extending a scheme that was introduced some years ago, which has done no harm to the House; which has not been objected to, to my knowledge, by any Member of the House, including the hon. Gentleman; and which has, in fact, been beneficial.

Secondly, on the matter of wigs, with which I think the hon. Gentleman is, at least in part, preoccupied, I say this to him. If he believes that the time of the House, either in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall, would be well spent by discussing this matter, he knows the avenues that are open to him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown). I was taken by surprise by your statement, which had the appearance—I hope that you will not misunderstand me—of an executive order. I was slightly surprised by that, for I had discussed the matter with the Clerk, who had done me the enormous courtesy of asking my view. I had declared informally that I thought that it was sensible to continue, because this is the High Court of Parliament, and I do think that the Clerks, dressed as they are, add to the dignity of the House. Some of us are not always capable of enhancing that, but the Clerks do so.

I have just read the letter from the Clerk of the House to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, in which he writes:

“Wigs have been worn by the Clerks at the Table for several centuries”.

So why change? The Clerk of the House states that some people take the view

“that the image they convey to those watching proceedings live or on television is of quaintness and of a chilling and antique formality”.

No constituent in Aldershot has ever expressed that view to me, and I think it would be appropriate, at some point, that we should discuss this rather than having an executive order.

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the hon. Member for The Cotswolds not just for raising their concerns, which they are perfectly entitled to do, but for their courtesy in giving me advance notice of their intention to do so.

I say, with courtesy and on advice, to the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)—and this is relevant to any response to the hon. Member for The Cotswolds—that this is a matter that can properly be decided by the Speaker. I thought it proper to consult my colleagues on the House of Commons Commission, the strategic governing body of the House, and I must tell both hon. Gentlemen that the House of Commons Commission agreed without objection to the two changes: the extension of those who serve at the Table and the removal of wigs.

Beyond that, I would say to the hon. Member for Aldershot—I tease him a tad here—that my understanding from one who has considerable knowledge and expertise in these matters is that, although certainly during the past couple of hundred years it has been the norm for Clerks serving at the Table to wear wigs, if he goes back some several centuries, which is normally an enjoyable sport to the hon. Gentleman, he will find that in fact Clerks did not wear wigs.

The final point I make to the hon. Member for Aldershot is that it was not an executive order; it was a request from the Clerks themselves, to which I and the members of the House of Commons Commission agreed. People are entitled to their views about it, but the idea that this was something I dreamed up and sought to impose against the will of the Clerks is 100% wrong. The hon. Gentleman might give the Clerk of the House some credit. The Clerk is open to constructive reform, and he has been the champion of it in this case.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you noted the deep concern expressed by Members from both sides of the House—the 170 who have signed early-day motion 890, and those who do not sign EDMs but have made their views known publicly during the past week—regarding offering the honour of a speech to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall or, indeed, elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster? Will you tell us what approaches have been made to you, what discussions have taken place with the relevant authorities—the keyholders—for such an approach to go ahead, and whether there are any ways in which those of us who have deep concerns about President Trump’s comments can make that known to the responsible authorities?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I will say this: an address by a foreign leader to both Houses of Parliament is not an automatic right; it is an earned honour. Moreover, there are many precedents for state visits to take place in our country that do not include an address to both Houses of Parliament. That is the first point.

The second point is that in relation to Westminster Hall, there are three keyholders—the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Speaker of the House of the Lords and the Lord Great Chamberlain. Ordinarily, we are able to work by consensus, and the Hall would be used for a purpose, such as an address or another purpose, by agreement of the three keyholders.

I must say to the hon. Gentleman, to all who have signed his early-day motion and to others with strong views about this matter on either side of the argument that before the imposition of the migrant ban, I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall, but after the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump, I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall.

So far as the Royal Gallery is concerned—again, I operate on advice—I perhaps do not have as strong a say in that matter. It is in a different part of the building, although customarily an invitation to a visiting leader to deliver an address there would be issued in the names of the two Speakers. I would not wish to issue an invitation to President Trump to speak in the Royal Gallery.

I conclude by saying to the hon. Gentleman that we value our relationship with the United States. If a state visit takes place, that is way beyond and above the pay grade of the Speaker. However, as far as this place is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism, and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons. [Applause.]

No, we should not have clapping in the Chamber, but sometimes it is easier to let it go than to make a huge fuss about it.