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Points of Order

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2022

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Northern Ireland Office questions, the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood) made the extremely incendiary allegation that British troops went to his constituency in the ’70s with the express purpose of murdering the people who lived in Derry. We all have a responsibility in this place for the language we use. Legacy is extremely difficult to deal with. What guidance can you give me, Mr Speaker, so that when a Member repeatedly makes such claims—to generate whatever online presence he may have—that are clearly incendiary to people across the House and across the country, we can put a stop to that behaviour and behave in this place with the dignity that our offices demand?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. These are very sensitive issues and, as I set out in my opening remarks ahead of Northern Ireland questions, Members should exercise caution in referring to historical troubles-related deaths. In this case, the details of the case and the names of those involved have not been referred to and nothing disorderly has occurred, but Members’ views are now on the record. May I take this opportunity to remind the House that good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary language? Perhaps we can learn from this point of order.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you will know, during the evacuation from Afghanistan many hon. Members were concerned about constituents who had loved ones stuck in Afghanistan. One issue that arose was how it came to be that Pen Farthing and Nowzad were allowed to evacuate animals while there were still people stuck in Afghanistan.

The Prime Minister said on 26 August that he had “no influence” on that particular case and nor would it be right. On 7 December, he was asked “Did you intervene to get Pen Farthing’s animals out?” He said, “No, that is complete nonsense.” And the Downing Street spokesperson said, “Neither the Prime Minister nor Mrs Johnson was involved.“ Yet today, as I think you are aware, Mr Speaker, the Foreign Affairs Committee has published a letter from Lord Goldsmith’s office saying,

“the PM has just authorised their staff and animals to be evacuated”.

How can I get to the bottom of who is telling the truth?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Members will know how much correspondence we had on this. In the light of what is happening at the moment, people are very interested in the discrepancies between what the Prime Minister says to journalists versus what is revealed in this House. I seek your advice on how we can ensure that such discrepancies are clarified to Members of Parliament.

I thank both hon. Members for giving me notice of this point of order. Ministers themselves are responsible for their answers at the Dispatch Box. However, they are encouraged to correct, as quickly as possible, inadvertently incorrect statements made to the House, if such a mistake has occurred. We know the Treasury Bench will have heard this and, if what has been stated is correct, I would expect them to come to the House to put it right.

I know that for both Members this will not be the end, and quite rightly they will use their best endeavours and the different resources available within the House to ensure this is looked into. I presume the Foreign Affairs Committee may wish to do so, too.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you and the House have been concerned about major Government announcements being leaked to the press. With the Sue Gray report, we think, about to be given to the Prime Minister, have you had assurances that the first that people will know about the report will be when this House has a statement? If the report is delivered on Thursday evening, will you ensure that there is a statement on Friday? The House is sitting on Friday to consider private Members’ Bills, and a statement might encourage more people to turn up.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. I have not been given notice of the date or time of any statement. However, the Treasury Bench will have heard his point of order. As I have said repeatedly, I expect all statements to be made first to this House to allow Members to question Ministers properly. As we know, the Prime Minister has promised to make a statement.

I would expect that Members will be able to see the report, and I would hope time will be given for them to digest it. I have not had any indication of when it will be coming, but I will work with the House to ensure that Members are aware of that statement. Hopefully, good notice will be given, but I am more than happy to suspend the sitting and leave it until later tonight if the report arrives. I am happy to work with the Leader of the House to ensure that the House is treated correctly, fairly and in the right manner. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that conversations between my office, the Leader of the House’s office and Downing Street are taking place in order to do the right thing by this House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your direction in relation to the point of order from the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer). Like him and others in this House, the DUP is deeply concerned by allegations made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Colum Eastwood), alleging that paratroopers left here to go and murder. However, he totally ignores the issue that at the same time 50 years ago two police officers were murdered by the IRA, which set out to do that. How can I make sure that there is balance in the comments in this House?

I think you just did and, as balance goes, you far outweigh any other Member in all your contributions. However, you did name the constituency and the Member, so I presume that you gave notice to that Member.

When Members name a particular person or mention a constituency, please ensure that they are given notice. It is unfair if they do not know that they will be mentioned. You have been here long enough, and I am sure that you would like to speak to the relevant Member privately.