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Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 3rd May 2011.

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Photo of Alison Seabeck Alison Seabeck Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government) 4:39 pm, 3rd May 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your ruling and advice on whether the Minister for Housing and Local Government has breached purdah rules. Part 6 of the most recent Cabinet Office rules state that Government announcements should not be made in an election period, yet two days before elections the media and the Department for Communities and Local Government website confirm that he has made an announcement on self-build housing today. Is it not more appropriate for such announcements to be made on the Floor of the House outside the purdah period? Should not the Minister be required to come to the House to apologise or to explain, or perhaps to do both?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Lady both for her point of order and for advance notice of it. I have not been told of any intention on the part of any Minister, including the Minister to whom she referred, to make a statement. She has put her views on the record and can find other ways of pursuing this. I note in particular what she said about the code of conduct, and my response is that the question of purdah, and of statements not being made during a period of purdah, does not apply to or flow from any rule of the House. That is to say that there may be a ministerial procedure on this matter—the hon. Lady is welcome to pursue her line of questioning in relation to that—but there has, in short, been no breach of order. Her point will, however, have been heard, including by the Leader of the House.

Photo of Ann Clwyd Ann Clwyd Labour, Cynon Valley

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that half the Cabinet are not supposed to be talking to the other half, but I hope that Foreign Office Ministers are talking to one another. I say that because the answer given to me by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Alistair Burt on the case of Bradley Manning is misleading.

I have raised this issue on several occasions. I raised it with the Foreign Secretary on 16 March and again during business questions on 17 March. I raised it once more during an Adjournment debate on 4 April, when I was told that

“a senior official in our embassy in Washington called on the US State Department on 29 March” to discuss Private Manning’s terrible situation in prison. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Bellingham went on to say:

“the right hon. Lady's understanding of the British Nationality Act 1981 is accurate. Any person born outside the UK after 1 January 1983 whose mother is a UK citizen by birth is British by descent.”

He continued by saying that Mr Manning’s family had not made a “direct request” for help,

“but obviously, if it comes to consular assistance of any kind, we will look at that request as and when one is made.”—[Hansard, 4 April 2011; Vol. 526, c. 873-74.]

Such a request was made to the Foreign Secretary on 11 April by Bradley Manning’s mother, who said that she now understands that

“according to British law, Bradley qualifies as a British national.”

She continued:

“I visited Bradley at the end of February…I was very distressed by seeing Bradley” in the condition he is in—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady, who is a very experienced Member of the House. I know that she would not accuse any Minister of wilfully misleading the House; I am sure that she meant to say that she thought that the Minister was inadvertently misleading the House. She will understand, and the House will appreciate, that we cannot continue Foreign Office questions now. However, as the Minister, who is among the most courteous of Ministers in the House, is on the Bench ready and waiting with bated breath to respond, he should do so.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I am very grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me some extra time. Nothing that the right hon. Lady has said is wrong in any way. Her concerns were conveyed to the State Department by an official of the Government, but the crucial point is that although I can well understand her concern and what Bradley Manning’s mother may have done, we are not able to respond to that, as any request for assistance has to come from the individual. I can only stress what I have said to the right hon. Lady, which is that Bradley Manning’s lawyers are aware of the UK Government’s position and they are also aware of how to change it. That is the situation. I can help the right hon. Lady further only in private, rather than on the Floor of the House. I hope that is all right.