Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 5:21 pm on 20th June 2022.

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Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:21 pm, 20th June 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Ahead of last week’s debate considering these strikes, I sought counsel from the Standards Commissioner about the declaration of Member’s financial interests. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that many members of the Labour party have a relationship with the trade unions that we are incredibly proud of, including with the RMT. The advice that I received from the Standards Commissioner ahead of that debate, and therefore ahead of today, stated under the requirements for declaration:

“Members are required, subject to the paragraphs below, to declare any financial interests which satisfy the test of relevance, including:

a) past financial interests (normally limited to those active within the last twelve months)”.

It is my recollection that the general election was two and a half years ago, so can you advise, Madam Deputy Speaker, on whether a declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests should keep being raised two and a half years after it has been made?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for her very reasonable point of order. There has been some confusion as to what is required. She read out advice and rules from the Standards Committee. I believe what she said is absolutely correct, and it is useful for the House to hear that.

I cannot judge here and now, without having had a while to look at all the circumstances, exactly what any individual hon. Member should do when they have received in the past, are receiving, or might receive in the future, any financial help. There is, however, a very simple principle that transparency and honesty is always best. I know the hon. Lady will agree with me on that, and if any Member has doubt as to whether or not they should disclose anything about their own financial situation, I suggest that they think about what is the honourable thing to do, and what is the transparent and reasonable thing to do, rather than ask exactly where the line would come were it to be challenged in a court of law or a committee. If we all stick to principles, rather than the exact black and white of the rules, we are likely to have a Parliament that works best. I honestly think that the vast majority of Members act honourably in this respect. Does that answer the hon. Lady’s question?

Photo of Wendy Chamberlain Wendy Chamberlain Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Wales), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Members may be aware that early editions of Saturday’s Times included a story regarding the conduct of the Prime Minister when he was Foreign Secretary. The piece alleged that the Prime Minister attempted to appoint the then Carrie Symonds, now Carrie Johnson, as his chief of staff—a taxpayer-funded role paying a significant salary—at a time when their relationship was not public.

I have particular concerns regarding the disappearance of the story from The Times. A Downing Street spokesperson has confirmed that they did contact The Times and asked it to retract the story, and it has been alleged that the Prime Minister attempted to take out an injunction. Following the resignation last week of the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, there is now no mechanism by which any investigation under the ministerial code can be undertaken into the Prime Minister’s conduct, other than at the behest of the Prime Minister himself. While the ministerial code remains a matter for Government, Members will remain concerned by the standards and conduct of those in Downing Street. Can you advise, Madam Deputy Speaker, on ways in which Members of Parliament such as I might be able to make assessments of the Prime Minister’s conduct in relation to standards following the adviser’s resignation?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and, of course, it is not a point of order for the Chair. I understand that she is using the device of a point of order to raise on the Floor of the House a matter that she thinks is of political interest. My understanding is that this was an article in a newspaper, and one can believe or not what one reads in a newspaper. If she is concerned, as she said she is, about allegations that might have a bearing on matters to be considered by the Standards Committee, she should raise the matter with the Standards Committee.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. An investigation by tonight’s BBC “Panorama” programme appears to show that social media companies are still directing vulnerable young people to content that promotes the carrying of knives. The programme reveals this one and a half years after my constituent, 13-year-old Oliver Stephens, was brutally murdered in a Reading park in a knife attack that was linked to social media. To make matters worse, the “Panorama” investigation, I believe, shows that young people who are opposed to knife crime, and who have stated that they are opposed to it and concerned by it, are sent damaging content about knives. This is utterly appalling. Our whole community is shocked, deeply upset and angry at the behaviour of these companies, and this is happening at the very time that the Online Safety Bill is being debated in this House. Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make this point of order. I wonder whether you could direct me as to how I can raise this with Ministers.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for having given me notice of his intention to raise it. First, may I say what a terrible tragedy it was that young Olly Stephens, aged only 13, was murdered in this dreadful way? No one must ever diminish such a dreadful occurrence. However, I am afraid that as I said to Wendy Chamberlain, this is not a matter for the Chair, although I understand the hon. Gentleman’s desire to use the device of a point of order to raise the matter on the Floor of the House. It will undoubtedly come to public attention if, as he has described, the programme is to be shown on television this evening.

I say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, as he points out himself, the Online Safety Bill is currently going through the House and therefore there is an opportunity for him to raise the matter then. Secondly, he might wish to apply for an Adjournment debate or something of that kind to have a proper discussion about a very serious matter on the Floor of the House.