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Points of Order

Volume 671: debated on Monday 3 February 2020

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am seeking your advice on an urgent and important matter. This afternoon, accredited lobby journalists based here in the House of Commons were denied access to an important briefing with David Frost, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser on post-Brexit trade plans. David Frost is a civil servant and therefore his briefing on the most prominent issue of the day is supposed to be neutral and not political. The issue of post-Brexit trade plans is one of great public concern, and access to a high-level briefing should not be hand-picked by Government and political advisers. The exclusion of some publications led to every major national broadcaster and newspaper walking out.

I know that all Members of this House will agree that lobby journalists’ access to Government is vital for a functioning and healthy democracy, and this latest deterioration in relations between the Government and the lobby is deeply concerning. Members are also aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, of your commitment to improving the culture in this place, and pass-holding lobby journalists are part of our community. Therefore, what advice can you offer me as to how Members might be able to formally raise this issue with the Government and ensure that this does not become commonplace?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice that she wished to raise it. Of course I agree with her, as everyone will, that accredited lobby journalists are indeed part of our parliamentary community and so of course must be, should be and normally are treated with respect—and, indeed, within the behaviour code that we all apply, or should apply, to each other. The responsibilities of the Chair do not extend to the specific matter that she raises, so I can give no further answer, but I am quite sure that she will find a way of bringing her concerns to the attention of the Government in some other way. If she has any difficulty in doing so, she should please ask for further advice and I will be happy to help.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may be aware that, earlier this afternoon, the Foreign Secretary was not able to answer a question I put to him about which Minister will be leading the negotiations with the European Union on our future relationship. In those circumstances, to whom are Members of this House meant to direct written or oral questions about the state of those negotiations when we do not currently know who is in charge?

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman’s concern. Of course, if he submits questions to the Table Office, they will be passed on to a Minister who can answer them. I appreciate that he would like to know who it is. I am quite sure that that information will become obvious in due course, but if he finds that a question he has submitted has been ignored in any way, I am sure he will let the Speaker’s Office know, because that would not be appropriate.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You may have read this weekend that notices were placed in a tower block in my constituency referring to “Brexit day” and suggesting that non-English speakers are no longer welcome here and have

“infected this once great island.”

How can we as a House make it clear that that appalling, racist sentiment does not reflect the views of this country, whatever our arrangements after Brexit? How can I, as the Member for Norwich South, make it clear that my constituents and I abhor and reject that racist statement? Finally, how can we ensure that the laws against hate speech are enforced not just in letter but in spirit?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The situation he describes is truly appalling, and I am certain that every Member of this House will agree with him that such behaviour is totally unacceptable. It is against the law, and it is against the rules of common decency and neighbourly behaviour. There is not much that I can do about it from the Chair, except to say that the House will show that it is in total agreement with what he says, so that the message goes out from here that such behaviour is unacceptable.