Points of Order

Counter-Daesh Update – in the House of Commons at 2:46 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate 2:46 pm, 3rd July 2019

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, in referencing the conflict in Yemen, the Leader of the Opposition stated:

UK weapons have been used in indiscriminate attacks on civilians in which over 200,000 people have been killed”.—[Official Report, 26 June 2019;
Vol. 662, c. 653.]

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Saudi coalition and the action that it has taken in Yemen, the latest UN figure for casualties killed by military action is in the order of 10,000. There is academic research saying that the figure may be five times as high as that, but that relates to the numbers killed in the whole conflict by both sides. To say that the United Kingdom has been involved in killing 200,000 people is an absolute and total inaccuracy and not a proper reflection of the complexity of the conflict.

The Leader of the Opposition’s office has been approached by journalists about correcting the record, but they were told that he has no intention of doing so. They then came to me and asked me to try raise the issue. I have notified the Leader of the Opposition’s office and, by coincidence, the Leader of the Opposition himself in a meeting literally just before coming into the Chamber. Would you say, Madam Deputy Speaker, that an inaccuracy of that scale involving the United Kingdom was something that would merit correcting on the record?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his intention to raise this point of order and, in particular, for confirming that he has correctly, and in accordance with procedure, informed the Leader of the Opposition of his intention to raise this matter on the Floor of the House. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the accuracy or otherwise of words spoken at the Dispatch Box, and more generally in the Chamber, by any right hon. or hon. Member is not a matter for the Chair. However, it is of course a matter of concern for the whole House that anything said in this Chamber should be accurate. The hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity to draw the attention of the entire House and, indeed, the Opposition Front Bench to the matter, and I am sure that his concerns will have been noted.

Photo of Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I suggest that Members read “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” about the importance of the comma? The problem with the spoken word is that the comma is not always reflected in the written word. I would suggest that, in this situation, the Leader of the Opposition was referring to the deaths in the overall conflict, which some academics have put at almost 200,000. We should understand that in the wider context of a war in which hundreds of thousands of people have either been killed or are starving.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his elucidation, and I do not make light of this very serious matter. We are talking about the loss of a great many lives, and I am sure it will be appreciated that this is an extremely serious matter that has now been fully aired on the Floor of the House.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his advice on that excellent book, “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” I do not know how it will come out in Hansard, but there is a significant difference, as he says, between “eats shoots and leaves” and “eats, shoots and leaves.” He makes a very good point, which I am sure the whole House will take on board.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 10 May, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to raise my grave concerns about her Department’s investigation and recording of claimant deaths and how those deaths might be associated with the DWP.

I raised concerns that, under the Secretary of State’s predecessors, coroners’ letters and peer reviews were not sent to Dr Paul Litchfield, the independent expert who reviewed the work capability assessment in 2013. I also asked for information on deaths after claimants were found fit for work following a work capability assessment, and on deaths since 2015 after a personal independence payment award was reduced or refused.

I received a reply from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work today, nearly two months later. He said

“the Department does not hold any information” on the 2010 to 2014 peer review due to

“the length of time since the reviews were carried out, factors such as document retention policies, organisational changes and staff turnover”.

We are talking about the circumstances of people’s deaths some five years ago. To tell me that these documents cannot be found smacks, at least, of incompetence and, at worst, of a cover-up.

I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how to ensure that the Government make sure that the Department for Work and Pensions, first, keeps proper records and reports back to the House on the outcome of an investigation into these missing documents and, secondly, heeds my call for an independent inquiry into all deaths linked to the Government’s social security reforms.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice that she intended to raise such an important point of order. [Interruption.] I hope I can have some silence from the Government side of the House. The hon. Lady raises an extremely important matter and, again, one literally of life and death.

The hon. Lady knows this is not a matter on which I can give advice or any ruling from the Chair, but she has used the vehicle of a point of order to make sure that the Treasury Bench is aware of the issue, which I am sure will be drawn to the attention of the appropriate Minister. I would hope that any Minister with responsibility for these matters will wish to take steps to ensure that what she has asked for is properly fulfilled. If that does not occur, the proper advice I can give her is that she should seek the advice of the Table Office as to other ways in which she can bring this matter once again to the Floor of the House.

Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My constituent Lizanne Zietsman is a wife, a businesswoman, an employer and a valued and respected community member on the Isle of Arran. She has been ordered by the Home Office to leave the UK by 12 July. I have taken up this most urgent matter with the immigration service and the Minister for Immigration. To further highlight this case, I have tabled an early-day motion and will present a petition to Parliament to show the strength of feeling on the matter.

Given the urgency of this case, Madam Deputy Speaker, can you advise on what other avenues are open to me to do all I can to have this appalling decision reversed and to prevent Lizanne from having to leave her husband, her business and her community in nine days’ time?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. Once again, she is well aware that I cannot give her an answer on the substantive point she raises, as it is not a matter of responsibility for the Chair, but it is the responsibility of the Chair to make sure that the Floor of the House is properly used to draw any such serious matter to the attention of the appropriate Minister.

I am sure the hon. Lady, having taken the opportunity to raise this matter on the Floor of the House—[Interruption.] Forgive me, but my voice is not working very well today, and I would be really grateful if the Government Whips would not speak in a loud voice while I am trying to address the House. I appreciate that it is very unusual for the occupant of the Chair not to be properly heard, but perhaps just a little bit of courtesy would be appropriate.

Patricia Gibson raises a very important point, and I am sure it will be conveyed to the appropriate Minister, and that the Minister will take appropriate action.

Photo of Kate Osamor Kate Osamor Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Home Office decision makers use the country policy and information note “Nigeria: Trafficking of women” when handling particular types of sensitive protection and human rights claims. This policy is used to form a base of information on the UK’s analysis of Nigeria. However, under the heading “Assessment” on page 1, I was horrified to read what I can only call offensive, belligerent and totally disrespectful guidance:

“trafficked women who return from Europe, wealthy from prostitution, enjoy high social-economic status and in general are not subject to negative social attitudes on return. They are often held in high regard because they have improved income prospects.”

This guidance has caused offence and dismay.

Madam Deputy Speaker, can you advise me: first, on how the policy can be corrected; secondly, on how we can ensure Home Office decision makers use a more respectful policy in handling protection and human rights claims; and, finally, on how the House can receive an apology from the Home Secretary for overseeing a Department policy that has caused so much offence to those trafficked women?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The hon. Lady raises a matter that is, in the true sense of the word, shocking, if that is indeed the guidance, but it is not for the Chair to pronounce upon the veracity, or otherwise, of documents published by Government Departments.

As I said a few moments ago, it is the responsibility of the Chair to make sure that, when a Member wishes to draw a matter of such importance to the attention of a Minister, they should have the opportunity to do so. I hope the hon. Lady will benefit from having had the opportunity to raise her point of order this afternoon. I have every confidence that the appropriate Minister will pay attention to what she has said. Let us hope that steps will be taken to rectify the situation.

I apologise to the House for my inaudibility.