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Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 12:06 pm on 25th February 2016.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 12:06 pm, 25th February 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your assistance in relation to a matter that is of some concern to me. It has been brought to my attention that on Monday, outwith my presence and without notifying me in advance, Alberto Costa raised what he described as a point of order, during which he said that I had misled the House. I should make it clear that, notwithstanding his conduct, I have afforded him the courtesy of notifying him that I would be raising this point of order today.

On Monday afternoon I asked the Prime Minister what provision he would make in a British sovereignty Bill to recognise that the principle of the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle that has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law. In the last part of my question I quoted directly the words of a distinguished and now deceased Scottish judge, Lord President Cooper, in the well-known Session case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate in 1953. The judge’s comments were obiter dicta—that is to say, an expression of opinion not essential to the decision—and therefore not legally binding as a precedent. However, they were an expression of his learned opinion and have been given due weight in the years since. Other distinguished Scottish jurists hold that view. As recently as 2005, in litigation concerning the Hunting Act 2004, Jackson v. Attorney General, Lord Hope of Craighead said in the House of Lords that parliamentary sovereignty is an English principle that Dicey derived from Coke and Blackstone.

It is perfectly in order for the hon. Member for South Leicestershire to disagree with me, particularly if he can vouch his position, but it is not in order for him to say that I have misled the House, especially when I had taken trouble to use my words carefully and was quoting a well-known dictum from Scots law. As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, it is a matter of particular concern to me, given my professional background, that I should not be represented as having misled the House. I am keen to have your assistance in how the record might be put straight.

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

I am extremely grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for notice of her point of order, of which, as she has informed the House, she has notified Alberto Costa. By the way, for the avoidance of doubt, I have to decide what is and is not in order; that is simply the constitutional position. I confirm that Members should indeed inform a colleague of an intention to refer to him or her. The point of order raised on Monday by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire was—I think I can so describe it—moderately orderly in form, although, as I noted, it was not orderly in content, and for one quite simple and straightforward reason: it was not a point of order. As a mere politics graduate, I do not intend to adjudicate between two learned Members—I know that the hon. and learned Lady is a distinguished QC—on obiter dicta by senior judicial figures, or to give a view from the Chair on Dicey. The hon. and learned Lady has made her point with characteristic force and eloquence. Might I suggest that we leave it there?

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Scottish National Party, Dundee West

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order regarding rules of behaviour and courtesies in this House. During Prime Minister’s questions yesterday—at a time when junior doctors are looking at yet another strike in England, and when Scotland may be dragged out of the EU unwillingly or unfairly, based on polls there on the Brexit—we had a spat between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition about a mother’s opinions on behaviour and dress codes, yet SNP Members have been told off for clapping in the House. I raise the issue because we have had a huge number of complaints in the form of emails and phone calls from our constituencies. I wanted to ask for your advice on what the rules of behaviour should be and how they should be implemented, and also on whether the Prime Minister should give the House a full and proper apology for his conduct?

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

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. There is an important distinction here between the content of what is said and the way in which, more widely, hon. and right hon. Members behave. In respect of the first, might I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that it would not be right, or in any way favoured by the House, if the Chair, as a matter of regular course, were to try to intervene to prevent Members from expressing their own views with such examples, or references to people outside the House or to members of their families, as they think fit? I should not get involved in that, and the House would not want me to do so.

However, in respect of the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order—that is to say, on the overall notion of good behaviour—perhaps I can just repeat what I have many times said: the public expect us, or would want us at any rate, to conduct our arguments robustly and, doubtless, with passion, but with respect for the fact that different opinions exist. Loud heckling and organised barracking are widely deprecated outside this House. The notion that there is something clever about it, and that it is all very good fun, seems to me to be completely perverse, and I would very politely say, with no reference to any particular hon. Member, that perhaps all hon. Members, before indulging in noisy heckling, barracking or ad hominem abuse, should ask themselves this: would I be content for my behaviour to be seen and heard by my constituents? It is our constituents that we are here to serve. The point is so blindingly obvious that only a very clever and sophisticated person could fail to see it.

Perhaps we can leave the matter there for today, but I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I rather suspect that the flurry of emails that he might have received about conduct will not be an isolated case— I get quite a lot in my own office.