Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 652: debated on Friday 11 January 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you or your good offices have been informed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that she might make a statement to this House this morning. I understand from numerous reports in the newspapers that the Secretary of State is giving a speech this morning—it is being trailed in the media—to confirm that the very unpopular two-child limit in universal credit for children who are older than 24 months is due to be scrapped, and that the managed migration of claimants to universal credit will slow down. Given that we are sitting today and there are many Members here on both sides of the Chamber, this would be an opportune and, in fact, appropriate moment for the Secretary of State to come to the House. Do you know whether that is going to happen?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. The short answer is that I have not been informed of any intention on the part of the Secretary of State to deliver an oral statement to the House today. I have just been advised from the Table that there is to be a written ministerial statement today. However, as the hon. Lady, who is a keen student of parliamentary procedure, will know from her own experience, the proffering of a written ministerial statement does not preclude the possibility of oral exchanges. While such exchanges do not seem set to take place today, there is every possibility that they can and will take place on a subsequent day, and the hon. Lady can look forward to that possibility with eager anticipation.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I heard the Secretary of State speaking on the radio this morning about these issues. Is it not discourteous that she spoke on the radio before coming to this House to announce a change of Government policy?

I did not hear the interview. There has been considerable focus this week on Parliament and how matters should be handled. Let me say, for the avoidance of doubt, in terms so clear as to brook of no misunderstanding, that if a change in Government policy is to be announced, especially on a major matter that has been the subject of considerable controversy, it is proper for that announcement of a change first to be made to the House. A statement, of course, is a form of speech, but it is then customarily followed by substantial interrogation. If somebody can make a speech outside the House, it is perfectly open to that person to make a statement in the House. Respect for the House, and in particular for the Chamber, is a matter of the highest importance as far as I am concerned, and it should be so far as all Governments are concerned.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Select Committee on Work and Pensions has today published a report calling for this exact change of policy. The Secretary of State has given multiple interviews this morning, well before any written statement has been put before the House. What measures does the House have to hold the Secretary of State to account for a clear breach of how such an announcement should be made? It looks very much like a Government attempt to remove negative headlines in order to get some positive press coverage.

Nothing can be done immediately. There is, as far as I can see, no scope for bringing the Secretary of State to the Chamber today, unless she were to offer to come later in our proceedings. That request could be entertained, but otherwise I think the hon. Gentleman will have to content himself with the likely prospect of exchanges early next week.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It seems to be an all too regular occurrence that announcements by this Government are made outside this House. Of course, it is open to hon. Members to seek your permission to ask an urgent question when such announcements are not made to the House. When considering such a request, would your office take into account the fact that the Government have not offered hon. Members an opportunity to ask oral questions, even though the issue might not be deemed urgent having been dealt with in a written statement a couple of days earlier?

I am extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Gentleman for gently advising me on these matters. The short answer is yes, it certainly would be taken into account. The Clerk of the House has just swivelled around to say to me that he thinks my record on this subject is pretty clear. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, who is also a keen student of parliamentary procedure, is this: context is all. The context of the situation is of the highest importance. The fact that there might have been some days’ coverage of the issue—in some people’s minds rendering a parliamentary treatment less urgent—is not the only consideration. The question is: was the House informed? Does the House wish to air the issue? Is there an appetite to question the Minister? The Speaker takes all those considerations into account, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need feel any anxiety on that front.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on how I can best explain to my constituents why we are here for a sixth day of debate, when we were meant to have a vote in early December—on 11 December—on a deal that has largely not changed since. It is now 11 January, and there are 77 days to go until exit day, so I seek advice from you on how we can solicit a vote today, so that we can get on with rejecting this doomed deal and start looking at other options such as a people’s vote.

I am very sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady, but she inquires how a vote can be forced today, and the answer is that there is not scope to do so. The Business of the House motion was passed as amended on Wednesday, and if the hon. Lady can contain herself—I do understand her frustration and irritation on this matter—she should have an opportunity to vote on Tuesday. Meanwhile she can always communicate to her constituents, as I rather imagine that she will, that she was present and correct and in her place seeking to contribute today, and reminding the House of the sequence of events that has recently unfolded. I am sorry that I cannot offer any better prospect to the hon. Lady than votes on Tuesday, but I think that the rest is history.