Monday 29th January 2024

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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18:04
Simon Clarke Portrait Sir Simon Clarke (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Con)
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On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Parliamentary privilege is one of the most important and sensitive rights that we in this House exercise, and it is one that we need to do so with the utmost care. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) has, as we have heard during the course of this afternoon’s statement, made allegations of “industrial-scale corruption”. They are in Hansard on 20 April 2023. These are allegations that he took great care not to repeat outside this House, because he knew full well that that would expose him to legal action. What processes exist, now that the report has comprehensively established that the allegations were untrue, to require the hon. Member to return to this House and correct the record? I believe it fundamentally undermines the entire principle of parliamentary privilege if the words we use in this House, under that ancient right, can be used lightly, or indeed maliciously, for political ends.

Robert Goodwill Portrait Sir Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con)
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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Parliamentary privilege is exactly what it says on the can: it is a privilege that must be used wisely, not recklessly or for political means. Will Mr Speaker review the use of parliamentary privilege in this case, where there could be, I suspect, a degree of political motivation to make allegations which, as my right hon. Friend said, were not repeated outside the House? What further guidance might colleagues be given in light of this situation?

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Rosie Winterton)
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I thank the right hon. Gentlemen for their points of order. First of all, I should say that the Chair is not responsible for what Members say in the Chamber, or whether they choose to correct it, unless a speech is against the rules of the House. We do not accuse others of malicious remarks. I think the best thing I can do is remind Members of what Mr Speaker said at the beginning of this Session, which I feel will answer the points they have raised. He said:

“The House asserts its privilege of freedom of speech…It is there to ensure that our constituents can be represented by us without fear or favour. It is an obligation upon us all to exercise that privilege with responsibility…The Speaker does not have the power to police the accuracy of Members’ contributions, including those of Ministers. It is therefore incumbent on Members to be accurate in what they say in this House, but if a Member is inaccurate by mistake, they should correct that mistake as soon as possible.”—[Official Report, 7 November 2023; Vol. 740, c. 2.]

That is what Mr Speaker said earlier in the Session about this very issue.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wanted to ask you to confirm that Members are still entitled to speak out on matters that they believe are correct. Is it in order for Conservative Members to continue to raise issues about an individual Member when they know that they are not here and are not capable of attending because of illness?

Rosie Winterton Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
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To the first point, I think what I said clarifies the position. I think I made it clear at the beginning of the statement that I would hope that Members who refer to another hon. Member would apprise them of the fact that they are going to do so. I notice that Sir Robert Goodwill made a point of saying that. I assume that others have done so, too. Obviously, if an hon. Member cannot be here, it does not mean that they can never be referred to, as long as they have been given adequate notice. I hope that that is helpful.