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Points of Order

Volume 645: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2018

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I believe that yesterday Mr Speaker received an email from a law firm, Trowers & Hamlins, which represents Octagon Overseas Ltd and Mr John Christodoulou in enforcement action against leaseholders at Canary Riverside in my constituency. The law firm asked for my Adjournment debate scheduled for later today—“First tier tribunals, section 24 powers and enforcement on freeholders”—not to take place, claiming that the debate will be subject to sub judice rules. I have no intention of raising any sub judice matter. My debate is about the weaknesses in the rules concerning both first-tier tribunals and the section 24 powers of the court in general.

Mr Deputy Speaker, can you first confirm that my debate will go ahead, despite the attempted gagging email? Secondly, will you agree such efforts to direct you and Mr Speaker to stifle debates and to prevent MPs from raising matters of concern for their constituents are heavy-handed and wholly inappropriate?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter. It may be helpful if I first make it clear that the House’s sub judice resolution is not an externally-imposed rule, but a self-denying ordinance by which the House has agreed to limit its freedom of speech by avoiding references in debate to cases that are active before the UK courts. Certain exemptions apply and the resolution is subject always to the discretion of the Chair. It is not always practicable for the Chair or those who advise us to identify all cases that might come up in debate, or to ascertain in a timely way what the current status of those cases is. It can be quite helpful to be alerted to such cases, and there is nothing wrong with outside parties writing to draw our attention to potential sub judice concerns.

In response to the hon. Gentleman’s questions, I can confirm that his Adjournment debate will go ahead today. I am grateful for his assurance that he has no intention of raising any matter that is sub judice. I would not characterise the letter that Mr Speaker received yesterday as “wholly inappropriate”, though I agree that the final paragraph was ill conceived in arguing that it was imperative that the debate should not go ahead. I hope that this response is satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman.

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for your response to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick).

If I speak in the Adjournment debate, I shall be referring to something with discretion, which I hope will not invite the Chair to intervene.

Can we ask for the Procedure Committee to decide whether any letter of that kind should always be sent to the Member of Parliament involved, as well as to the Speaker, so that the Member of Parliament knows what is going on behind the scenes? Can it also be clarified that this applies to courts of first instance, and does not normally apply to appeal courts, which are thought not to be influenced by what happens in Parliament?

First, I know that the hon. Gentleman always uses discretion—I would expect nothing else from such a senior Member. Regarding the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, I would like to refer to colleagues and come back to him.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have reason to believe that the Government are intending to make a very substantial announcement about changing their policy on privatised probation services soon after the House rises for summer recess. This announcement is expected to involve handing over tens of millions of pounds more in yet another bail-out for these private probation companies, in response to a damning Justice Committee report that described the privatised probation system as “a mess”. I seek your advice, Mr Deputy Speaker, about what may be done to ensure that when the Government are responding to a damning Select Committee report with a controversial change in policy involving perhaps tens of millions of pounds of additional public money being spent, they make their announcement in a timely manner and in this Parliament, with all the scrutiny that that entails, rather than in the pages of the newspapers when the House is not sitting.

I can understand the concerns of the shadow Secretary of State for Justice about this happening at the last minute. As we know, court closures have been announced today, including the court in my constituency. This announcement has also come on the last day before the summer recess, so I do understand the hon. Gentleman’s point and have some sympathy with him.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter. I agree that it is unsatisfactory if the Government make major policy announcements when the House is in recess, since those announcements cannot be subject to immediate parliamentary scrutiny. Departments should not plan to do this, but I appreciate that it is sometimes inevitable and that it may, on occasions, be necessary for the Government to announce matters when the House is not sitting.

I note from the number of written statements listed on today’s Order Paper—21 in total—that Departments do attempt to avoid this, but making a host of last-minute announcements on the day before the recess is, of course, quite unhelpful to all Members affected on both sides of the House and the people they represent.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have given advance notice of this both to Mr Speaker and the Secretary of State for Defence.

When I arrived home last Thursday evening, I saw on the television screen that the Secretary of State for Defence had been filmed in the Govan shipyards in my constituency. I have not yet received notification from the Secretary of State that he was planning to visit the Glasgow South West constituency. Surely a member of the Cabinet should adhere to the parliamentary protocols of this House. Is there a way that the Executive could be notified of the parliamentary protocols when they, in their positions as Ministers, are visiting the constituencies of other hon. Members?

You are absolutely right—it is a well-established convention that we do tell each other when we are visiting Members’ constituencies. I think that the Secretary of State for Defence is a very courteous gentleman, and I would like to think that this is an oversight. The matter is certainly on the record. I am sure that the Secretary of State will reflect on this when it is mentioned to him and drop the hon. Gentleman a note. I would say to all Members that it is discourteous not to let others know about visits. I do not care which side of the House it comes from; we should do the right things by this House and the right things by each other.