On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will stay in the Chamber for this point of order. I think that you will agree that we had the most heated and emotional Prime Minister’s questions of the Session this afternoon. The emotion might carry us all along, but there are lines that you insist we must not cross. It has been reported by those who were present, by people watching at home and by the press that the Foreign Secretary, in response to a question asked by my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson, twice shouted the words “stupid woman”. I know the Foreign Secretary to be a man who has done great good in his job, and I would hope that, if this report is true, he is already regretting those comments. Would it be appropriate, Mr Speaker, for you to give him an opportunity now to apologise, to ensure that his reputation and that of this place is not damaged by such behaviour?
I note the hon. Lady’s point of order. The Foreign Secretary is present, and he is entitled to respond if he wishes to do so, but he is not obliged to do so.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I mutter many things in this House; others shout them rather louder than I do. I mutter many things under my breath, but I never intend any offence to any other hon. Member.
I note what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I thank him for it. We will leave that there for today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In spite of your valiant and heroic efforts to improve the conduct in the Chamber and the standing of Parliament outside this place, we hit a new low today. Prime Minister’s Question Time was an unedifying spectacle of distortion, evasion and obfuscation. May I again suggest that you hold a seminar, especially for the Prime Minister, in order to explain the precise meaning of the words “question” and “answer”, and the need for a link between the two?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Today, it will suffice for me to say that I thought it was a very unedifying spectacle. It was as noisy as, if not more noisy than, I have ever known it. I ask right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, as I have done many times over the years, to give some thought to the way in which our proceedings are regarded by the people outside this House whose support we seek and whom we are here to represent. Frankly, the behaviour of a very large number of people was poor, as the hon. Gentleman has indicated. Rather than dwelling on it further today, let us aspire, and take steps at all levels, to ensure that it improves in subsequent weeks. That is a responsibility of every right hon. and hon. Member, from the person most recently arrived to the longest serving Member, and from those who serve in a Back-Bench capacity to those who serve at the highest level, either in government or in opposition.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have given the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland notice that I will be raising this point of order. Earlier today in Northern Ireland questions, I raised an issue about what she would be doing as a result of the outrageous and scandalous decision last night of the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland. That decision is causing enormous pain and tension to rise in north Belfast and across the Province, and there is the potential for severe trouble on our streets. In replying to my question, the Secretary of State did not address the point about her powers in relation to an application by the Chief Constable. I have to say, Mr Speaker, that in my view that was deliberately deceptive. It was absolutely outrageous, and it will not go down well with the people back home. The Secretary of State has a responsibility to do something about the outrageous decisions of the Parades Commission in Northern Ireland—
Order. I thank the right hon. Gentleman. It is only with great hesitation that I interrupt him, because he is a senior and respected Member of the House. However, while giving expression to his views, he must not use the words “deliberately deceptive”. He must not use those words. He is a man of great intelligence and vocabulary, and I must ask him to use an alternative formulation—or, at any rate, to withdraw those words.
The Secretary of State is here, and I will wait to see whether she wants to say anything, then make a judgment on the matter—
Order. No, no; I cannot have a conditional withdrawal from the right hon. Gentleman. It is open to the Secretary of State to come to the Dispatch Box if she so wishes, and I will afford her that opportunity, but those words must be considered in their own terms. I am not cavilling at anything else that the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I must ask him to withdraw those words. It is very clear that they are disorderly, and I must ask him to withdraw them and to use alternative words—or to use no alternative words but still to withdraw them.
Mr Speaker, the situation in Northern Ireland today is extremely difficult and tense, and I have to say that people are very concerned about what might happen. For the Secretary of State to spend an entire Question Time without referring to her powers in this matter is unforgiveable, and it cannot be glossed over.
Order. I do not seek to gloss over anything, and I am sure that the Secretary of State does not, but I must say to the hon. Gentleman with great courtesy that he has now twice failed to withdraw the words that were disorderly, which I have most courteously asked him to withdraw. I must warn the right hon.
Gentleman—it pains me to do this—that if he persists in his refusal to comply with my order to withdraw, I shall be compelled to name him, which I do not wish to do. I please ask the right hon. Gentleman, who has made his point, to which the Secretary of State will have an opportunity to reply if she wishes, simply to take back those particular words. I am not asking him to withdraw his whole contribution; he must withdraw the words “deliberately deceptive”. It is not appropriate to accuse any Member of this House of seeking deliberately to deceive or mislead it. The right hon. Gentleman will please withdraw those words now.
Mr Speaker, I have yet to hear any explanation from the Secretary of State as to why that glaring omission was made in relation to these important matters. I feel that on a matter of such import and importance, I am reluctantly not able to comply on this occasion. I stand over what I said, and I have to say that the people of Northern Ireland are in a very serious position indeed. The Secretary of State needs to do something to intervene in this matter, and she needs to do it quickly.
I made it clear, and I hope the House will accept that it was appropriate to do so, but I cannot engage in negotiation with colleagues whereby they agree to withdraw something if someone else does or does not do something. Therefore, very regretfully, after a display, I hope, of some patience and the proffering to the right hon. Gentleman of a number of opportunities to make good, I am forced to act.
I am happy to do so. I fully appreciate the strength of feeling of Mr Dodds, given the involvement of his constituency in the events of the forthcoming weekend. He will appreciate from the conversation that he and I had this morning that any powers I have to intervene to review the decision of the Parades Commission are triggered only as a result of an application by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, and I have not received such an application. If I did so, I would of course consider the exercise of my powers with the greatest care.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State.
The hon. Gentleman is certainly a man of integrity, so I am happy to hear his point and judge whether it is legitimate to continue with it.
Given what has happened and in light of the Secretary of State’s response, I wondered whether, within the context of the next 48 hours, she will ensure that the extreme frustration that has been exhibited today—I do not in any way challenge your ruling, Mr Speaker—is not played out on the streets of Belfast and Northern Ireland on Friday. We must maintain the rule of law and respect the integrity of all those involved in talks so that we can try to dissolve and devolve the position in Northern Ireland to a problem-solving exercise in which violence is avoided and people respect each other’s rights.
This is a very sensitive week leading up to
If the point of order appetite has now been satisfied, perhaps we can proceed with the presentation of a Bill.