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Points of Order

Volume 626: debated on Monday 3 July 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You would have heard earlier the Home Secretary and Home Office Ministers stating, in response to questions about reductions in police numbers in specific forces, that police funding has increased in real terms. It is the case that overall funding has been protected since 2015, but I would argue that it is misleading to suggest that that is relevant to numbers of police officers on the ground when it is in fact due to increases in funding for specific issues such as cybercrime and child sexual exploitation. As a result, some forces have not seen a single increase in resources since 2015. Only today, the chief constable of West Midlands police said that the Government need to offer real-terms protection and that policing is getting smaller and smaller. Will you advise me on how I may correct the record?

It is a pleasure to seek to advise the hon. Lady, in so far as it could in any way be said that she requires my advice. Let me begin by saying to her that she is an individual both sophisticated and wily. Notwithstanding what she regards as effectively—whether by intention or not—misleading statements, it is apparent from the very terms of her point of order that she, unsurprisingly, has not been hoodwinked in any way. She is on to the matter. She is seized of the issues. She is unpersuaded by the rhetorical blandishments of people opposite her.

I know that the hon. Lady is ferociously bright, but I am sure she will not suppose that others are automatically in every case less so, and therefore incapable of comprehending and seeing their way through the thickets in the way that she has so successfully done. In short, I say to her that these are matters of debate, and she has used the ruse—I use the word “ruse” advisedly—of an attempted but utterly bogus point of order to highlight her grave concern about this important matter. In that mission, she has been successful, for she has aired it and she has persuaded me to respond in terms.

We will leave it there for today but, knowing the hon. Lady as I do, I daresay that she will be at it again with vigour and ingenuity ere long.

Gosh! I just referred to the intelligence of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh), and we now have no less a figure than a QC on her feet.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your assistance as to how I might put the record straight regarding an exchange that I had with the Prime Minister last week about the requirement for European Union citizens resident in the United Kingdom to have comprehensive sickness insurance. On Monday 26 June during the Prime Minister’s statement on the European Council, I raised the concern of my Lithuanian constituent who, despite having been resident in Scotland for more than five years, is unable to claim permanent residency because she does not have comprehensive sickness insurance. The Prime Minister’s answer gave the impression that her Government could do nothing about the predicament of such EU nationals in the UK until the UK leaves the EU, because comprehensive sickness insurance is a requirement in EU law. I fear that this inadvertently gave a misleading impression, and I am afraid that the matter was compounded by the Minister for Immigration repeating the same assertion in an answer to me earlier this afternoon.

While it is correct that comprehensive sickness insurance is a requirement of European Union law, there are steps that the Government could take immediately to state that access to the NHS in the UK satisfies that requirement. That is not just my view: it was the unanimous recommendation of the cross-party Exiting the European Union Committee in the last Parliament at paragraph 73 of its second report. I am sure that the Prime Minister is aware of the Committee’s recommendation and would, like me, not wish the record to stand uncorrected.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for her point of order and for her courtesy in giving me advance notice of its gist. What I would say to her is that I am not psychic and therefore cannot say for sure what was, or was not, in the mind of the Prime Minister at the time she answered the hon. and learned Lady’s question. Whether the Prime Minister did know, as the hon. and learned Lady clearly does, the contents of paragraph 73 of the Exiting the European Union Committee’s second report of Session 2016-17 entitled “The Government’s Negotiating Objectives”, I do not know. The Prime Minister might have been aware of the said paragraph at that time, in which case she has a quite extraordinarily compendious memory and power of recall when answering questions. It is possible, to be fair, that the Prime Minister might not have been immediately conscious of that particular paragraph. What I think it is fair to say is that the Prime Minister was endeavouring to provide a succinct reply. In that mission she was successful—her answer to the hon. and learned Lady consisted of 34 words.

I have no reason to suppose that the Prime Minister was seeking deliberately to mislead the hon. and learned Lady, or indeed the House. That causes me to say to the hon. and learned Lady, in thanking her for raising this matter, that differences of interpretation are not infrequent occurrences in the Chamber of the House of Commons, a point with which I suspect she will concur. I have no doubt that she will want to return to this issue and I therefore have a little advice for her. “Erskine May”, with which the hon. and learned Lady is immensely familiar—I am referring of course to the 24th edition, as I feel sure she knows, and, as I feel equally sure she knows, to page 358—states:

“The purpose of a question is to obtain information or press for action”.

In this case I think that the hon. and learned Lady is seeking to press for action rather than simply to obtain information. This I think she has achieved, at least in so far as Ministers on the Treasury Bench have now heard what she has had to say. They may or may not take initiatives as a result. If they do, I hope they satisfy her; if they do not, I feel sure the hon. and learned Lady will require no further encouragement from the Chair to raise this matter on subsequent occasions.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware of my interest in the estimates process. I was terribly excited to see estimates on the agenda for this week, but tomorrow estimates will be decided without debate. I understand that this is because the Liaison Committee is not in place, and it therefore cannot put forward reports for debate. On the following day, supply and appropriation will be on the agenda, but that will also be decided without debate. Being particularly keen, I went to the Vote Office to see if I could get some papers on the estimates, but I understand that no papers will be available until after we have taken tomorrow night’s motion—that was what I was told in the Vote Office just now. I understand the circumstances that mean there are no debates right now—I get that. However, my concern about the lack of information is one that I think the House should consider.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I was not aware of that matter. I feel modestly confident in suggesting that the estimates themselves will doubtless be available but, off the top of my head, I do not know how accessible they will be to the hon. Lady. Certainly the estimates—the figures—should be available. Whether there is other and better, more satisfactory, more discursive, more informative material available by way of commentary or assessment relating to those estimates, I do not know. If no material is available, the hon. Lady has identified quite a serious point. Rather than flannel and suggest to her that I have a comprehensive answer to that concern, I would say that I will make inquiries to Ministers in the relevant Department. If the position is as she describes, I will see whether anything can be done to offer her satisfaction before she is called upon to vote.

If there are no further points of order and Members’ palates have, at least for now, been satisfied, I suggest that the Clerk will now proceed to read the Orders of the Day.