Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 10:41 pm on 9th September 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Labour/Co-operative, Cardiff South and Penarth 10:41 pm, 9th September 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption.] I have become aware in the past few hours that the Government are already seeking to circumvent the terms of the motion that the House agreed earlier about the release of documents relating to Prorogation and Operation Yellowhammer. Mr Speaker, would you be able to advise us how we can find out how those papers can be laid in this period? There are a number of ways in which the Government can do so, including the publication of Command Papers and release on websites. Given that the House passed the motion with a majority, the Government should release the information.

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 hon. Gentleman. I am sorry that one or two people, in response to the hon. Gentleman rising, yelled, “Yawn.” I wonder whether people observing our proceedings think that that is a proper way for one colleague to show respect for another. It is not a matter of “yawn”—it is a matter of serious issues being raised, and responsibility being incumbent on the Chair in this case to seek to respond. It is not “yawn”—it is serious politics.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a legitimate matter. The simple answer is that the Government must comply with the Humble Address passed by the House. That is the reality of the matter. A debate has happened, a decision has been made, and it is incumbent on the Government to comply manifestly with what has been decided, the spirit, purpose and content of which are entirely clear. [Interruption.] This is not about game playing and machination—it is about doing what Parliament wants, which is what most people would expect their elected Parliament to do. [Interruption.] I do not require any help from someone chuntering from a sedentary position in evident disregard for the procedures of the House and the purport of the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry.

Under Standing Order No. 158, on the presentation of Command Papers, if papers are commanded by Her Majesty to be presented to the House at any time during the existence of a Parliament, which includes periods of Prorogation, although not of Dissolution, delivery of such papers to the Votes and Proceedings Office shall be deemed for all purposes a presentation of them to the House. At least to me, at this point, that seems clear, and I hope that it is not beyond the considerable intellectual capacities of some members of the Government.

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was wondering whether you might be able to assist. Under the civil service code of conduct for Government special advisers who are Government employees paid for by the taxpayer, a special adviser may not undertake work for a political party during office hours. They should also not use official resources for party political activity. Based on widespread reports, it appears that the Prime Minister’s chief special adviser, Mr Dominic Cummings, almost certainly has undertaken work for the Conservative party while carrying out his duties. With that in mind, I submitted a freedom of information request—[Interruption.]

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

Order. It is a perfectly reasonable inquiry. Whether it is something upon which I can adjudicate remains to be seen, but I will only know that if I hear it, and the hyena noises render it rather more difficult for it to be heard. The hon. Gentleman will persist, I hope, with his point of order.

Photo of Chuka Umunna Chuka Umunna Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

With that in mind, I submitted a freedom of information request to the Cabinet Secretary on 13 August asking for details of Government special advisers and, in particular, who they were employed by and whether they were paid out of the public purse. In the case of Mr Cummings, I asked whether, if he is not paid by public funds, he has security access to Downing Street and is treated in the same way as a special adviser paid out of public funds.

Mr Speaker, this is an incredibly important matter of public interest, particularly given that we are about to prorogue and potentially thereafter enter an election period. The Cabinet Office, when we had points of order earlier, replied saying that it would not provide a response to my freedom of information request, which is due tomorrow, until December. That is clearly unsatisfactory. I tried to raise it earlier with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but he refused to take any interventions. Given that we are about to prorogue for five weeks, what would you advise we do to ensure that public funds are not being misspent and used for Conservative party purposes in this way?

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 sorry, but I have to resort to my usual advice to quizzical Members in these circumstances: persist, persist, persist. Write, seek a meeting, and press again and again and again in pursuit of a response to an entirely legitimate question. Do not take no for an answer.

It is a very long time since I was a special adviser. In those days the rules were extremely strict, and what the hon. Gentleman says resonates with me entirely. I have no reason to suppose the rules have changed. I cannot possibly say what is or is not done by way of conduct on the part of particular individuals now, but that it is a legitimate matter of public interest, rather than something simply to be treated as the subject of cheap badinage and ribaldry, is entirely obvious to me. The hon. Gentleman has a fair inquiry. He should pursue it and not put up with those who sneer and smirk, and think it is all a sort of jolly wheeze and a game, and that it does not matter a damn. It does matter a damn, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will pursue it. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope he is suitable emboldened and fortified in pursuit of his efforts.