Points of Order

Industrial Strategy – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 27th November 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Defence Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that I raised a point of order on 23 October about the fact that the new National Security Adviser, Mark Sedwill, had declined to give evidence to the Select Committee on Defence about the ongoing capability review, saying that that was a matter for the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. Mr Speaker, you will have seen from Defence questions—others may have seen this from a major article in The Daily Telegraph today—how crucial the capability review is for defence, even though Mark Sedwill said in his letter declining to come to the Defence Committee:

“Because the main decisions on defence were taken during the 2015 SDSR, this review is not defence-focused.”

I beg to differ. Given that the then National Security Adviser, Kim Darroch, and his deputy, Julian Miller, gave oral evidence to the Defence Committee on 11 September 2013, what powers does the Committee have to instruct relevant witnesses to appear before us when both the substance of the matter and the precedent are in favour of our wishing to take evidence from a witness such as the National Security Adviser?

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

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, of the detailed content of which I had no advance knowledge. However, I make no complaint about that whatsoever.

I listened carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said, and I would respond as follows. First, in my judgment, it is not principally for Mr Sedwill to be the judge of which Committee has competence—I use the term “competence” in the technical sense—in respect of this matter, or indeed to conclude that only one Committee is involved. That is a matter about which other people will have a view, not least parliamentarians. I would very politely suggest to the National Security Adviser that he should be sensitive to the views of senior colleagues.

Secondly, it is a matter of established fact—not least testified to by the exchanges at Defence questions this afternoon—that questions relating to the subject matter that the right hon. Gentleman describes are in order. If such questions were not in order, they would not have been accepted as oral questions by the Table Office, but they were in order, and therefore so were supplementaries appertaining to those tabled questions. That therefore gives the matters a relevance that the National Security Adviser, with the very greatest of respect, is in no position to deny. Thirdly, I would say it is a well-established principle that if a Select Committee requests that a witness gives evidence, in almost every case that potential witness accedes to that request.

Finally, I simply say to the right hon. Gentleman—I do not know whether it is relevant in this case—that I know of an instance in which a potential witness indicated that he did not believe he had much to say that would add to the deliberations of the Committee in question. However, he was advised that, whether or not he thought that what he had to say would greatly assist the deliberations of the Committee, the Committee nevertheless wished to see him. It might even have been the case that Committee members wanted to say things to him, almost irrespective of whether he wanted to say things to them.

All in all, I therefore think there is a compelling case on this matter. There are powers available to Committees to report a refusal to appear to the House, and thereafter the matter can be escalated. I very politely suggest that it would be highly undesirable for such a procedure to be needed in this case.

In the light of all those considerations, I hope the right hon. Gentleman’s efforts to secure the attendance of the National Security Adviser will now bear fruit. Moreover, I have known the right hon. Gentleman for 34 years as of last month, and while I am sure that the National Security Adviser is an extremely formidable fellow, I would say to him, through the right hon. Gentleman and through the medium of the House, “Give up the unequal struggle and just appear.”

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on correcting the record. I gave a speech in the Budget debate on Thursday in which I stated that the Foxhill housing development in my constituency delivers no change in the number of homes for social rent. However, I misspoke; the fact is there will be a loss of 99 homes for social rent. I also seek your advice on how to receive confirmation from the Government that reducing the number of homes for social rent in Bath, or in any city, is in line with Government policy, as it appears in a letter I received from the Minister for Housing and Planning on 2 November 2017?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice that she planned to raise this matter. As she concluded her effort to do so, there was, if I may say so, a puckish grin on her face, as I think her attempts on this occasion have been mildly cheeky—I put it no more strongly than that.

The hon. Lady said that she wanted to put the record straight. In so far as she was seeking to do so, she has now done so, and it is there for the people of Bath and the organs of popular dissemination in Bath, namely the media, to see that she has done so. Colleagues will have noticed her prodigious efforts to do so.

On the matter of seeking either my advice or a ministerial confirmation, I have to say that this seems to me to be more a point of argument than a point of order for the Chair. However, I can advise her that a number of avenues are open to her if she wishes to press the Government on this matter. My particular advice to the hon. Lady, who is a new Member and an exceptionally assiduous one, is that she should toddle the very short distance from the Chamber to the Table Office, where she can seek the advice of the officials therein on which of those possible avenues might be thought to be the most profitable.

Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I, too, would like to seek your advice. On 23 November, the Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities misled the House in her response to my hon. Friend Gerard Killen. She referred to a joint report by the Runnymede Trust and the Women’s Budget Group, “Intersecting Inequalities: the impact of austerity on BME women in the UK”, but it does in fact take into account the impact of the national living wage, and of spending cuts to services such as childcare. The Minister also cited the Institute for Fiscal Studies, but its quote came from a report that it had produced in 2011 and does not refer to the WBG and Runnymede Trust report. How can I establish whether the Minister was deliberately misleading the House, or if she just does not know the damage of the Budget to women, particularly black, Asian and minority ethnic women?

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

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for that. I blame myself, because I was so in thrall to the eloquence of her flow, and the flow of her eloquence, that I did not interrupt as quickly as I should have done to say that she certainly should not—and I have to believe would not—accuse a Minister of deliberately misleading the House. She can accuse a Minister of inadvertently misleading the House, but no more than that.

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

The hon. Lady nods in acquiescence to my point and I will leave that matter there.

The hon. Lady is obviously dissatisfied and she has put her dissatisfaction on record—indeed, she has done so for a second time as, if I remember rightly, she had a go on Thursday at topical questions and received a similar answer. The hon. Lady is nothing if not consistent and persistent. I also say to her that what Ministers and others say in the House is a matter for them; it is not for me to act as the corrective to Ministers who might be thought to make a mistake, and nor am I a policeman in such matters. The hon. Lady’s dissatisfaction will have been noted by those on the Treasury Bench and I am sure she will find other parliamentary avenues to pursue this matter—there is nothing to stop her doing so over and over and over again, although I suspect that she will require no encouragement from me to do so.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Labour/Co-operative, Nottingham East

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may have noticed that in the past half hour the Department for Exiting the European Union has finally given in following the resolution of this House of Commons that insisted that the 58 Brexit impact assessments—the Government call them “sectoral analyses”—should be published to the Brexit Committee. This is an overdue moment, but I seek your guidance, because these sectoral analyses cover many, many areas of interest to all Members of the House, whatever Committees they serve on. With no disrespect to members of the Brexit Committee, I wonder what you could do—perhaps make representations to the Chair of the Brexit Committee or to the Government, or to both—to ensure that all those sectoral analyses can be published and made available to all hon. Members. We are talking about aerospace, agriculture, the automotive sector, chemicals, construction, defence, the creative sector, financial services, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, tourism and manufacturing. These are issues that the whole country deserves to know about.

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

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As he says, publication to the Select Committee has taken place today. I had anticipated that it would, because obviously conversations about this matter took place between the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and the Chair of the Brexit Committee, Hilary Benn, and conversations took place that included me. I had expected that the analyses would be released no later than today and am pleased that that has happened.

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the extent of the interest in the matters covered by the sectoral analyses. My response is to say to him that publication is to the Committee and the matter is in the hands of the Committee. It is perfectly open to the hon. Gentleman —and, indeed, to other Members similarly interested—to approach the Chair of the Select Committee and to seek disclosure. I must emphasise, however, that at this stage it is very much a matter for the Chair of the Committee, although an approach to him is in no way improper—indeed, not least on the back of this point of order, it is very much to be expected. The right hon. Member for Leeds Central is a very experienced Member of this House, as well as an unfailingly courteous one, and I rather doubt that he would be surprised to be so approached.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union)

Mr Speaker, you are clearly someone with great experience of the procedures in this House. Do you feel that there would be a public interest defence if the Chair of the Select Committee decided to make the information available to Members of the House generally so that we could all access the reports?

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

I am slightly taken aback by the right hon. Gentleman’s inquiry. My response is that the need for a public interest defence, as he put it, would not arise because publication would be covered by parliamentary privilege. In the event of disclosure and there being a disagreement about the wisdom of that disclosure between Members, between the Executive and the legislature, or between the Executive and parts of the legislature, there could indeed be argument, and the Chair of the Committee or his colleagues—or both—could be open to criticism, but no need for a public interest defence would arise. I hope that that is helpful to colleagues.