Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 2:19 pm on 20th July 2022.

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Photo of Anna McMorrin Anna McMorrin Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:19 pm, 20th July 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I draw your attention to the fact that the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng has, at just a couple of hours’ notice, today notified the Environmental Audit Committee that both he and his officials are withdrawing from today’s critically important evidence session on North sea oil and gas transition, which was due to start at 3.20 this afternoon. This was done without explanation or apology. Madam Deputy Speaker, do you agree that this shows extreme discourtesy to the House and a complete disregard for scrutiny?

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 having given me notice of her intention to make a point of order. I am most concerned about the point that she raises. It is indeed, as she suggests, a discourtesy to the Committee, and therefore to the House, for a senior Minister to withdraw from an advertised session to give evidence on an important matter. Mr Speaker has repeatedly said that it is extremely important that Ministers give evidence to Committees in a timely way. That is a perfectly reasonable rule or convention of this place, and I trust that the Committee will note the displeasure of the Chair and that the Secretary of State will hopefully, through his colleagues on the Treasury Bench, realise that he has been discourteous and in the first instance apologise and, secondly, appear before the Committee as soon as possible.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, on 19 May, when responding to a question from Dr Huq, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport claimed that the Channel 4 reality series “Tower Block of Commons” deceived the viewing public using actors rather than real tower block residents. She said:

“They were not really living in a flat—they were not real. They were actually actors.”

Indeed, she claimed that a number of the participants had confessed this to her at a subsequent dinner in the House of Commons. It is a serious charge, not least since the Secretary of State currently holds the fate of Channel 4 in her hands.

Channel 4 has now investigated and interviewed the production company and all the participants who dined with the Secretary of State, who said that the conversation she cited never happened. Channel 4 has released a detailed report rebutting the Secretary of State’s claim. The Select Committee Chair, Julian Knight, wrote urgently to the Secretary of State, offering her the opportunity to withdraw her claim, but she has refused to do so. Misleading the Select Committee is obviously a serious matter, so can I ask for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, about what I and other Members can now do, given the impending recess and the Secretary of State’s possible impending flight to another place?

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. First, I caution him to be very careful when he says in this place that a Member has misled anyone in the course of their duties in this House, before a Committee or in the Chamber. If any misleading has been done, it will of course have been inadvertent, and I would be grateful if in the first instance he would acknowledge that any misleading would be inadvertent.

Photo of John Nicolson John Nicolson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The Secretary of State has a reputation for extreme probity, so I am sure that is the case.

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. That is probably as good as I am going to get. He will appreciate that it is not for the Chair to assess whether evidence given to a Committee is accurate, but I understand why he wants to raise the point before the House today. If the Committee concludes that information has been given that is not in fact accurate, it will be up to the Committee to decide how to pursue the matter and possibly construct another evidence session. I thank the hon. Gentleman for drawing this important matter to the attention of the House.

Photo of Alexander Stafford Alexander Stafford Conservative, Rother Valley

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Rother Valley Labour party has this week been running paid-for Facebook attack adverts featuring images of my wife and my two children, one of whom is seven months old and one of whom is 27 months old. Images of my young family have also been circulated online in an attack post by a Rotherham Labour councillor. Like many MPs in this place, my family and I have faced death threats and threats of violence, and the circulation of images on attack posts, including by Rother Valley Labour members who I had to block previously for harassment, puts the lives of my family at further risk.

I have written to the leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer, asking him to suspend the Labour party members involved and to formally investigate the individuals responsible. What further guidance can you offer, Madam Deputy Speaker, to political parties and journalists on the unauthorised usage of pictures of MPs’ young children and families?

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 having given me notice of his point of order.

This is an appalling situation. Regardless of political party persuasion, everyone present in the Chamber will share my serious concern about the situation that the hon. Gentleman has described. I will be careful about what I say, and I urge him to be careful about what he says, because this is really a matter of security, and we do not discuss security matters on the Floor of the House. I hope that he is in contact with the parliamentary security team about it. If he would care to contact me privately, I will make sure that the case is taken up by the parliamentary security team.

I cannot be too strong in making the point from the Chair—Mr Speaker has said this many times—that we all deplore any attempts to attack the families of those of us who are engaged in politics. That is bad enough when those families are grown up and able to defend themselves, but it is nothing less than appalling when the family concerned are very small children. The hon. Gentleman and his family have my sympathy, but also my attention. Let us take this matter forward and make sure that the parliamentary security authorities can deal with it.

Photo of Jane Stevenson Jane Stevenson Conservative, Wolverhampton North East

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, I was horrified to hear of the experiences of my hon. Friend Alexander Stafford, but I want to raise other cases of abuse. I feel that these attack ads are deliberately formulated to stoke up anger and contempt for Members on the Government Benches. I have received a death threat on the back of Labour’s attack ads, as has my hon. Friend Stuart Anderson, although he is not able to say so himself. His children were threatened on the back of these ads. These attack ads have consequences. The consequences of our actions should be on us, and I would be grateful for your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how we should deal with these things.

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 further point of order. Again, I am appalled and have every sympathy with her and indeed with Stuart Anderson, who I appreciate because of his Government position cannot raise this matter on the Floor of the House on his own behalf. The hon. Lady is speaking both for herself and for him.

This is an appalling state of affairs, and once again I will say what I said to Alexander Stafford a few months ago: it is a matter to be dealt with by the parliamentary security team, who will take it very seriously. Again, if the hon. Members have not had a timely response from the parliamentary security team, although I am sure they will, I ask them to please come privately to me and I will take the matter up on their behalf. It is appalling that deliberate attacks are made on the young families of Members of Parliament. It directly undermines our democratic system and the freedom that our democracy protects.

Photo of Sara Britcliffe Sara Britcliffe Conservative, Hyndburn

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. What my hon. Friend Alexander Stafford has had to go through is disgusting. My thoughts are with his family; it must be an awful situation to be in. Sadly, I have seen this kind of abuse from my local Labour party in Hyndburn; there have been a series of events in which people have tried to undermine me and my confidence, including through these misleading attack ads, which show our faces. It got to a point where, for a time, I did not feel comfortable going back to my constituency, and feared for my safety. All I am trying to do is represent the people of Hyndburn and Haslingden. As a young woman, I want people to come into politics, but I worry that, when they witness this constant abuse, and personal attacks on Members of Parliament, it pushes them away. I seek advice on how we can improve this culture, call this behaviour out, and call it what it is: unacceptable.

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. The behaviour that she describes is indeed unacceptable. She asks for my advice; I will give the same advice that I gave other hon. Members a few minutes ago. The Parliamentary Security Department is a most efficient and hard-working organisation. I am constantly in touch with it on behalf of Members, as is Mr Speaker. I meet the Director of Security regularly, and get updates on matters that affect Members. We take these matters very seriously indeed, and it is simply not acceptable that the hon. Lady feels unsafe going to her constituency. It is very important that these matters are dealt with, not only for the sake of Members of this House, their families and friends, but for the protection of the democracy for which we all work, and through which we defend freedom in this country. I hope that the hon. Lady will bring the exact details to me privately, because the exact details should not be discussed on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Conservative, Heywood and Middleton

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. What my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe says is all too familiar and depressing. I have had my own experience with Labour party attack ads, but that is not the issue that I want to raise in this point of order.

On Monday, in the debate on confidence in the Government, Chris Bryant—I have notified him of this, and he has acknowledged the notification—mentioned my sexuality, and told me that I should be ashamed to support the Government. The Chair ruled that that was in order, and I accept that. However, all too predictably, the next morning, my inbox was full of the vilest, most threatening and homophobic abuse possible. It specifically referenced the hon. Gentleman and support for what he said. This is not my first experience of senior Members of the Labour party dishing out abuse, and of my having to live with the consequences. Madam Deputy Speaker, may I seek your guidance on how we ensure that Members are mindful of the consequences of the language that they use in the Chamber, and how it may affect other Members?

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. It is appalling that—[Interruption.] We will not have an exchange while I am answering a point of order. It is unacceptable and extremely concerning that the hon. Gentleman has had death threats; it is a dreadful situation. As I said in answer to other points of order, the parliamentary security team will take this matter very seriously. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is saying that the incident was sparked by something that an Opposition Member said about him in the House; I was present when that happened, so I can say to him what Mr Speaker has said on many occasions, and what the other Madam Deputy Speaker said at the time: “Erskine May” makes it clear, and we all know, that good temper and moderation are the characteristics of parliamentary debate. All Members should employ good temper and moderation at all times, no matter how strongly they feel about the matter under debate. If the hon. Gentleman continues to have difficulties, I hope that he will come directly to me privately, so that the parliamentary security team can look at the problem.