On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice? Last Monday, following the oral statement on rail timetabling, I asked the Transport Secretary whether he would refuse any request by Arriva Northern to extend the immensely disruptive two-week suspension of the Lakes line in Cumbria. He replied:
“I am not prepared to accept more than the current two weeks and…I have been clear to Arriva that doing this over the long term is simply unacceptable”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 642, c. 58.]
I was therefore horrified to learn on Friday that Arriva Northern had, in fact, extended the suspension by a further two weeks, to
The Transport Secretary told the House that he would do one thing, and he has gone and done the complete opposite. What can you do, Mr Speaker, to compel him to appear before the House and explain himself, and to ensure that commitments made by Ministers of the Crown in this House are actually fulfilled?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am not privy to the details of this matter, but my response to the hon. Gentleman, off the top of my head, is twofold.
If a Minister feels that he or she has been inaccurate in a statement to the House, it is incumbent upon, and open to, that Minister subsequently to correct the record. It may be that the Minister holds a view, and would offer an interpretation of the sequence of events, that differs from that of the hon. Gentleman. I do not, in all candour, know.
I would just add, without offering any judgment on the merits of the case—which it would not be right for me to do—that a less than 100% correlation between what is said at one time and what happens at another time is not entirely without precedent in our parliamentary history.
I feel that on this occasion—and he will take it in the right spirit—the hon. Gentleman was perhaps more interested in what he had to say to me than in anything that I might have to say to him, and he has been successful in his mission: it is on the record.
“The first duty of a member of Parliament is to do what he thinks in his faithful and disinterested judgement is right and necessary for the honour and safety of Great Britain. His second duty is to his constituents, of whom he is the representative but not the delegate.”
“ignore the will of the people at your peril.”
This is a threat, pure and simple, and an attempt to intimidate and threaten Members ahead of the votes on the Lords amendments today.
That paper is not the only protagonist. This gives licence to people to abuse and threaten Members of this House who exercise their judgment to do what they think is best for our country, as the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Dr Lee, has done in resigning this morning. Already on social media, a UKIP supporter has called for him to be hanged, and another individual has called for him to be hung, drawn and quartered; and you will know, Mr Speaker, that just last week a gentleman was given a nine-week suspended jail sentence for sending threatening emails to the right hon. Members for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, my hon. Friend Eleanor Smith, Heidi Allen and other Members. What advice, Mr Speaker, would you give to Members in the face of such abuse and threats?
My advice, in so far as it is ever required, is: do as your conscience dictates. That is what Members of Parliament on any side of any argument are not merely entitled, but perhaps constitutionally obliged, to do. The freedom of speech that we enjoy in this place was hard-won and by all Members of whatever hue will I am sure be jealously, and rightly jealously, guarded.
I must say en passant to the hon. Gentleman that until he held up that copy of that paper I had not seen the headline or report to which he referred; I am not in the habit of reading this sort of material and it is a matter of no interest or concern to me whatsoever. All that is of interest and concern to me is that hon. and right hon. Members do what they believe to be right by their constituents, by their conscience and by their country.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Do you share my concern that to my knowledge at least one hon. Member on these Benches will today and tomorrow not vote in accordance with their conscience because of threats to their personal safety, to members of their parliamentary staff and to members of their family? Do you take that as a very serious threat to the democracy of this place, and if you do would you expect a senior member of Her Majesty’s Government to come forward and make it clear that this will not be tolerated by any party against any Member of Parliament?
I can only repeat what I have said: Members must speak and vote as they think fit. No Member of this House, whatever opinion he or she holds, should be threatened because of it. No Member should be subject to threats, and any Member subject to threats of a kind—
In a moment I will of course come to the Leader of the House.
Any Member subject to threats of a kind that would be unlawful must take the appropriate action. As we know, there are lots of things that happen in politics whereby attempts to persuade people are made which are perfectly legitimate and in which neither the Chair, nor I suspect the Leader of the House or any other Member, would seek to involve himself or herself. If Anna Soubry is suggesting that illegality is involved, Members know what course of action to follow. I would hope, and am confident, that today’s and tomorrow’s debates will take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect, in which opinions sincerely held will be robustly articulated. But no one in this place under any circumstance should be under threat.
If the Leader of the House still feels that anything needs to be added, she is welcome to attempt to do so.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I should like to accept the invitation from my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry and to say on behalf of the Government that any threats of violence or intimidation are utterly unacceptable to the Government. The Government will absolutely uphold the right of every Member to do what they believe is the right thing to do.
I am most grateful to the Leader of the House. That is very clear, and it is on the record. I for one appreciate it and I rather imagine that it will be appreciated by other Members. If there are no further points of order—at any rate for now—we come to the ten-minute rule motion. [Interruption.] Order. I know that colleagues are eagerly anticipating the next business, but I am sure that they will want to accord a courteous hearing to Fiona Bruce as she presents her ten-minute rule Bill.