“It is not in order to refer to persons in the galleries”.
This is a very old tradition of the House that goes back to clearing the Galleries by saying, “I spy strangers.” The ruling has been strictly enforced in our time, but in recent years lots of Members have referred to people in the Gallery. It was particularly nice the other day when my hon. Friend Marsha De Cordova referred to her mother in the Gallery as she paid tribute to her during her maiden speech. The Prime Minister referred to people in the Gallery today, and sometimes we refer to international guests. Is not now the time to completely and utterly get rid of this rather silly and old-fashioned rule?
The hon. Gentleman is, not for the first time, spot on. The prohibition on reference to those attending our proceedings—let me say it candidly—no longer applies. It dates back to a time when the act of noticing such attendance led to the Galleries being cleared, since public attendance was not, in formal terms, allowed for at all. For some time, I have not sought to enforce the rule, nor—to the best of my knowledge and understanding—has it been enforced in Westminster Hall. I hope that Members are adapting gently to this new regime. Reference to visitors must be brief and directly related to proceedings. Such references should not be phrased so as to be in any way intimidating or to seek to influence debate. The House’s guidance, including “Erskine May”, will be gradually updated to reflect this change. I hope that is helpful.
I know that other Members have a desire to raise points of order. I would rather not take further points of order now. We ordinarily take points of order after statements and I see no good reason to change that practice today. I took this particular point of order because I thought it best that I should be here in the Chair, and Chris Bryant was here. I am about to leave and the Chairman of Ways and Means will chair the pensions statement, towards the end of which I will return. Members who are poised and perched, ready to raise their points of order on other matters, can do so at that time.