Speaker’s Statement

– in the House of Commons at 12:33 pm on 23 November 2022.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee 12:33, 23 November 2022

On 20 October, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published a special report on answers given to it by Ms Dorries when she was Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. John Nicolson subsequently wrote to me asking for precedence for a complaint of a breach of privilege, as was his right. I declined to do so since the bar for such a complaint is high. The House should take action only when essential in order to provide reasonable protection for the House, its Members or its officers from improper obstruction. I note that the Committee itself, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, has said:

“Had Ms Dorries remained Secretary of State, driving a policy of selling the channel, we may have sought a referral to the Privileges Committee but, as her claims have not inhibited the work of the Committee and she no longer has a position of power over the future of Channel 4, we are, instead, publishing this Report to enable the House, and its Members, to draw their own conclusions.”

So I considered it appropriate to respect the Committee’s assessment of the situation.

Correspondence on matters of privilege is private. Indeed, I go to great lengths to ensure that Members can write to me in confidence on any matter, knowing that their communication will remain private. I expect the same courtesy with my replies. The hon. Member has seen fit to give a partial and biased account of my letter on Twitter, and I await his apology. I gave the hon. Member notice that I would be raising this matter at this time, but I do stress that it is not the way we should be doing business in this House.

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

As you have just explained, Mr Speaker, the DCMS Committee, on which I sit, published a unanimous cross-party report about the testimony given to us by Ms Dorries, and there is now considerable public interest in what should happen next. I want to put on record that I deplore social media pile-ons against you, or indeed anyone else—I have been on the receiving end of them, and they are exceedingly unpleasant. But could I ask for guidance on what I and other Members should tell our constituents about integrity in politics in this context? If someone misleads a Committee, what should happen next?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to that, hon. Members of this House have certain strict duties on them. First, there is a duty to uphold the institutions of this House. Clearly, in breaching the confidentiality of the Speaker’s private correspondence, John Nicolson has knowingly broken that rule. If that was an apology, it was not sufficient for that alone, frankly.

We also have a duty to tell the truth. In the hon. Gentleman’s public pronouncements, he implicitly criticised you, Mr Speaker, for not referring the Secretary of State to the Privileges Committee, but you were simply following the convention of agreeing with the Select Committee, of which he is a member. When the Committee decided not to refer, there was no minority report from him. There was not even a vote against from him; it was a unanimous vote. What he was trying to do was blame you, through his partial release of the letter, and lead the public to believe that somehow you made this decision against the wishes of the Committee.

The rules of this House do not allow me to assert whether I view the misleading of the public as deliberate, so the House can make its own judgment on that, but this miserable half-apology was completely inadequate for this breach.