Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 2:42 pm on 9th March 2022.

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Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 2:42 pm, 9th March 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have two points of order, and it may be that you will be good enough to hear one or both of them. The first pertains to how we treat Members of the House of Lords, and I ask this in genuine good faith. There are Members of the House of Lords who may have engaged in ethically questionable practices in relation to work, lobbying or otherwise, for the Russian state or its proxies, formal and informal. We are not—perhaps for good reason, perhaps not—allowed to name those Members of the House of Lords during a debate on, for example, lawfare, lobbying or enabling, and to do so requires some kind of special motion.

In addition, Lords can take leave of absence, which can be open ended. They are allowed to use the Lords facilities and even stationery. They cannot vote, but they then do not have to register their outside interests. That strikes me as being contrary to natural justice and democratic transparency, because we cannot name important players that may be influencing politics, or working for Russian proxies, formally or informally. I would like a ruling from the Chair as to what we can do to enable their participation in a potentially very important part of our national debate.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that, for a change, actually is a point of order, and I can give him an answer from the Chair. If the situation were as he describes, and it were not possible to question the conduct of a Member of the House of Lords in this place, that would indeed be contrary to our usual democratic practices. [Interruption.]—I would be grateful if Anthony Mangnall perhaps listened. If that were the case, it would be contrary to our usual democratic practices, but that is not the case, and the hon. Gentleman has been slightly misinformed.

It is improper and contrary to our rules to raise in a general debate or question, and without notice, the conduct of a Member of either this House or the other place. However, it is perfectly proper for the hon. Gentleman to put down a motion before the House, so that the House and the person in question has notice of his, or any Member’s, intention to raise those matters, and of the matters to be raised. That motion would then come before the House. Let me give him an example. An early-day motion is a motion before the House, so if he were to submit an early-day motion, that would be a motion before this House and he could raise questions on it. There are other ways of putting down a substantive motion. For example, he could go to the Backbench Business Committee and ask for time in the Chamber to debate the conduct of a Member of the House of Lords, if it were on a motion before the House.

I very much regret that people now do not understand such matters. I do not blame the hon. Gentleman, who is assiduous in his duties, but many Members do not understand what the procedures of this House are, and they do not understand what an early-day motion is. They think it is something to be brought forward by a pressure group, and they get hundreds of signatures, as if that made any difference. An early-day motion is a way of putting a motion before this House, thus giving notice to anyone affected by or interested in it, of the fact that it is a motion before the House. The hon. Gentleman can, of course, get further advice on that from the Table Office, and I am sure the Clerks would be happy to help him draft any motion.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am so grateful for that. My worry with the Backbench Business Committee is that it can take a month or two to get a debate, although one could perhaps persuade it of a greater need. An early-day motion—correct me if I am wrong, Madam Deputy Speaker; I have never used early-day motions simply because I think they are PR vehicles—does not result in a debate in the House. We need a debate in the House on these matters, in part because it is covered by privilege, and the importance of using that in the public interest.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

Again, this practice has fallen into desuetude, and it is most unfortunate that Members who have not been in the House for a long time—since the days when things were done properly—do not realise that one way matters used to be raised before the House is that a Member would table an early-day motion. When the Leader of the House answered the business question, once a week, a Member would come into the Chamber and say, “Is the Leader of the House aware of early-day motion No. 236 in my name and that of 50 other Members, and will he provide time for a debate on that issue? It is extremely important for the following reason.” That way, the matter would be properly raised on the Floor of the House.

It is possible for the hon. Gentleman to do that, and the Table Office will give him advice. If it turns out that he has to wait two months, he should come and see me and we will work out another way of doing it. It is essential that matters of urgency and importance, and topical importance, can be raised on the Floor of this House. It is only because people do not have the proper advice on procedure that that is not being done properly. It is not because any Standing Order or rule of this House prohibits proper debate.

Photo of Mark Pritchard Mark Pritchard Conservative, The Wrekin

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for dashing into the Chamber—I was chairing a Delegated Legislation Committee. This morning, families awaiting the Ockenden independent maternity review into baby deaths in Shropshire, which was expected to be published on 22 March, were informed that, due to a number of unspecified “parliamentary processes”, the review would be delayed. As you can imagine, that is causing my constituents significant concern and added anxiety. What advice can you give me to ensure that this important review is published as quickly as possible?

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which he gave notice of his intention to raise, but not long ago. I have not had the opportunity to inquire and cannot answer his question about what the parliamentary processes are to which he refers. I can well understand his concern and his constituents’ concern that this extremely important matter should not be delayed longer than is necessary. I suggest that perhaps he ought to speak to the Clerk of the Journals, who could advise him about the parliamentary processes and, if necessary, how they can be speeded up. We all appreciate the importance of this matter coming before the House as soon as possible.

Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Since the debate on lawfare and the debates on Ukraine last week, a number of lawyers have written what I consider to be intimidatory letters to national newspapers, including the Daily Mail. If I understand the letter correctly, one firm, Harbottle and Lewis, has specifically implied that reporting outside the House of our words in debates in Parliament can be “unlawful and seriously defamatory”. That is relating to statements made by me in the House and the good Lord Rooker, if I may name his excellent work. Madam Deputy Speaker, would you like to say anything about that? It seems that we are dealing with an aggressive culture in the law of trying to intimidate not only members of the free press, but now Members of Parliament.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which, again, is a point of order. I have no objection to him raising two proper points of order within a few minutes of one another—it is all the spurious points of order to which we object. I recall very well the lawfare debate to which he refers; indeed, Mr Davis, who brought the debate to the Chamber, has miraculously appeared at the Bar of the House just as this matter is quite properly being raised. My recollection is that it was an important and powerful debate and that few people were present to hear and pay attention to it. It has since become all the more urgent and topical. The hon. Gentleman is right to raise it as a point of order.

In technical terms, the point of order that he raises is a matter of interpretation of parliamentary privilege and of when it applies, how it applies and who applies it, which is too complicated to answer immediately. I once again refer him to the Clerk of the Journals. If he and the right hon. Gentleman wish to discuss the matter further, I am quite sure that my office and Mr Speaker’s office would be happy to discuss it with him. It is quite refreshing to have two points of order that are points of order. I thank him for them.