Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 1:22 pm on 4 July 2023.

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Photo of Dawn Butler Dawn Butler Labour, Brent Central 1:22, 4 July 2023

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My dad, God rest his soul, said to me that there are not many levers to tackle injustices, but boycotting is one of them. That is why I could not vote for the Government’s Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill yesterday, which Ministers and lawyers have said would likely place the United Kingdom in breach of international law obligations. Alicia Kearns—I have informed her that I will be mentioning her—said in an intervention on the Minister:

The Foreign Office’s own legal advice states that the Bill could breach UNSC 2334. How am I being told repeatedly from the Dispatch Box that that is not the case, when that is what Government lawyers are saying themselves?”

She said,

“please do not repeat that this does not change anything when the Government lawyers themselves say it does.”—[Official Report, 3 July 2023;
Vol. 735, c. 656.]

Conservative Members seem to have been informed that the Bill could breach international law, while Government Ministers state the opposite. I am minded to believe the hon. Lady, but could you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on what I can do to ensure that the Government place all their legal advice in the Library, so that we can all have a read and discover who is telling the truth?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. No, the Chair does not have the power—nor has it ever in the whole of our constitutional development—to require the Government to place any document in the Library, and certainly not legal advice. The hon. Lady, who is well versed in these matters, has rightly used the opportunity of a point of order to put her opinion on the record, and I am sure that it will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. As I say, she is well versed in these matters, and she will know it has been the long-standing practice of Governments of every political persuasion not to publish their legal advice. That is the normal course, and I certainly have no power from the Chair to compel the Government to do otherwise.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last week in Justice questions, the Justice Secretary conflated the conviction rate and the charging rate for sex offenders and alleged rapists in the UK. Every day 300 women will be raped, and only three of those rapes will end in a charge. What can the House do to emphasise to Ministers that conflating the conviction rate with the charging rate in the courts is a basic error? The Secretary of State should know better and not repeat the sloppy practice of mixing up the two, especially on the very sensitive question of rape convictions.

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

As Mr Speaker and the Deputy Speakers have said many times from this Chair, the interpretation of statistics is not a matter for the Chair. One person looks at statistics and comes to one conclusion, while someone else looks at those statistics and comes to a different conclusion. The hon. Lady has made her point well and I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard it.