Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 8th March 2022.

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Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Party Chair, Labour Party, Chair of Labour Policy Review, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities 1:47 pm, 8th March 2022

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In the past 24 hours, the Foreign Secretary has twice accused me of seeking to slow down the UK Government’s ability to sanction individuals during the passage of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018—once, before the Foreign Affairs Committee, and, again, this morning during departmental questions. She made similar accusations against my hon. Friend Chris Bryant before he corrected her and she was compelled to apologise for having got the facts wrong, gallantly blaming her staff for the quality of her notes.

The accusations that the Foreign Secretary made against me do not stand up to scrutiny—I am using parliamentary language here, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am particularly aggrieved by the Foreign Secretary’s suggestion that I, in her words,

“wanted changes to make it tougher for us to sanction oligarchs”.

At no point during the passage of that Act did I seek to slow down the Government’s ability to sanction individuals who posed a threat to the UK—quite the opposite. I was one of those who pushed for the inclusion of Magnitsky sanctions in the Act—sanctions against Russian oligarchs, which were then blocked by the Conservative Government who shut down the relevant Committee debate after half an hour to prevent the issue being put to a vote.

I welcome Conservative Ministers’ belated conversion to the importance of such measures, but not the Foreign Secretary’s attempt to rewrite history. The comments of mine to which she referred were explicitly about Ministers using so-called Henry VIII powers to amend primary legislation without parliamentary oversight, not what she has intimated.

Given these points, Mr Deputy Speaker, would it be in order for the Foreign Secretary to come to the House at the earliest opportunity and correct the record?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving notice of her point of order. As the Speaker and the team from the Chair have said, we are not responsible for the content of contributions made by Ministers. However, her point has been heard on the Government Benches and, if an error has been made in this instance, I hope the Foreign Secretary will seek to correct it as quickly as possible.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee of Privileges, Chair, Committee of Privileges

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was at the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday when the Foreign Secretary made those allegations. She alleged that I had said things in the Third Reading debate on 1 May 2018. I did not take part in the debate on Third Reading in 2018, although in fact I did speak on that day, and if I say so myself it was a particularly fine speech—[Interruption.] Nobody else is going to say it, so I might as well.

The serious point here is twofold. First, the Foreign Secretary came to the Select Committee determined to say those things and had clearly not checked the basic facts before she came to the meeting, which would suggest a degree of deliberate recklessness about what she was going to say. Secondly, she then prayed in aid a document that she said she had in front of her, which was some notes from officials that had apparently been incorrectly written out. You will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the convention in this House is that if a Minister prays a document in aid, they must provide it to the House. Can you ensure that the Foreign Secretary provides those notes? I am concerned that somewhere in the Foreign Office there is a file on me that is full of lies and inaccuracies.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the hon. Member for his point of order. I have no doubt whatsoever that the speech he gave was outstanding. However, as far as his other comments are concerned, the answer is the same: the Treasury Bench will have heard his comments and I hope that, if any errors have been made, the Foreign Secretary will correct them as quickly as possible.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Labour, City of Chester

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds talked in her point of order about the Foreign Secretary’s suggesting that she could not read her notes because her officials had not written them very clearly. In topical questions, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend Jessica Morden about who signed off a trade deal, the Foreign Secretary told the House that she did not know and that those deals were always signed off by officials.

Can you tell me, Mr Deputy Speaker, following the right hon. Lady’s comments today, whether the Government have made any attempt to bring forward a statement to explain a change in the policy of ministerial responsibility? If they have not, have they made any suggestion that officials will now come to this House and answer questions and that Ministers are not responsible for them? It sounds to me as though the Foreign Secretary is getting a bit of a track record here of blaming things on everybody but herself.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have been given no indication that any Minister will be making a statement today. Should that change, the House will be informed in the usual way.

Photo of Michael Fabricant Michael Fabricant Conservative, Lichfield

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that the House of Commons has just published a report by the independent expert panel on the conduct of Mr John Bercow. It says, in small part, that,

“21 separate allegations were proved and have been upheld. The House may feel that his conduct brought the high office of Speaker into disrepute.

This was behaviour which had no place in any workplace. Members of staff in the House should not be expected to have to tolerate it as part of everyday life.”

I concur. There were many people in this House, including me, who tried to raise this matter on several occasions when John Bercow was Speaker, but nothing was done. Not only has John Bercow been shown to be of a disreputable nature, but in some ways this House has been brought into disrepute. Will there be any occasion for the Leader of the House to come to the House and make a statement about this damning report about John Bercow, and to give us an opportunity to debate how on earth this terror of bullying could have lasted so long?

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Mr Bercow has been shown in this report to be a “serial bully” who displayed “undermining behaviour” towards the staff of this House. The report describes a catalogue of dreadful conduct that is clearly unacceptable, risks damaging the reputation of this House and must never be allowed to happen again.

I have a couple of questions. First, there are a number of records of Mr Bercow’s period in office throughout the building, which must be seen on a potentially daily basis by his victims. In light of this report and the need to set history in context, is there any intention on the part of Mr Speaker or the Speaker’s Office to put explanatory plaques alongside them—for example, next to Mr Bercow’s portrait in Speaker’s House?

Secondly, is it in order to ask whether the Leader of the Opposition is happy to tolerate such bullying behaviour within his party, or whether he intends to expel Mr Bercow from the Labour party?

Thirdly, what can we do to ensure that such behaviour does not happen in the future?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank both hon. Members for their points of order. Clearly, this puts the Chair in an invidious position. Regarding any plaques being erected or what will follow on from the report, I have not had an opportunity to read the report myself at this time, so I cannot comment on it. However, there will be a business statement on Thursday at the normal time, and I suggest both Members turn up for that and ask the Leader of the House directly what will now transpire following the publication of that report.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is in the light of the many questions today during the urgent question about the humanitarian sponsorship pathway that the Government have announced. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in response to a question from the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Lisa Nandy, said of that humanitarian sponsorship policy that,

“more details will be announced later today and later this week.”—[Official Report, 7 March 2022; Vol. 710, c. 17.]

I have checked on the departmental website and with the Vote Office, but there is no sign of any announcement being made yesterday as promised. Given the urgency and the questions raised today, what more can be done to hold the Secretary of State to account for the promise he made yesterday to this House?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the right hon. Lady for her point of order. As I said earlier, Ministers are responsible for the answers they give. However, after today’s proceedings, some of which I have chaired, I think Ministers will be in no doubt whatsoever of the urgent desire for more details of the sponsorship scheme and that it should be clarified as quickly as possible. I hope the Treasury Bench will have heard that.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On Thursday 3 March in a statement on the attack on Ukraine, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport answered my question on further support for the BBC World Service from her Department by saying that the World Service,

“is funded through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, not my Department”.—[Official Report, 3 March 2022; Vol. 709, c. 1205.]

I believe that in her response the Secretary of State may have inadvertently misled the House. The BBC World Service is chiefly funded by the UK licence fee, not by FCDO, although FCDO provides additional funding. Can you please advise on how I can have the record corrected, Mr Deputy Speaker, or whether it is possible to have a fresh response from the Secretary of State?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Again, I am grateful for advance notice of that point of order. The Chair is not responsible for the content of contributions made by Ministers, but I am sure the hon. Member’s point has been heard on the Government Benches. Mr Double is going to be incredibly busy passing back some of those messages to Ministers—he is doing it as we speak, so let us hope the new technology is working properly; I think I can see smoke coming from his mobile phone—so the messages will get through to the relevant Ministers. We must move on now, because we have two Opposition day debates and presentations of Bills.