POINT OF ORDER – SYRIA – 18 June 2013

Mr Peter Hain: On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following the Foreign Secretary’s reply to my question earlier on British arms to Syria, may I seek your advice on how what is clearly a cross-party concern to have a vote on a substantive motion in the House prior to any action being authorised can be facilitated, certainly before the recess, which is barely a month away? Would it not be a disappointment if the House had to be brought back from the recess? Could an Opposition motion be tabled which could get cross-party support, including among the leading signatories, and be debated in Opposition time? Would that be in order?

Mr Speaker: There are a number of parliamentary opportunities potentially open to the right hon. Gentleman and others. First, there is the vehicle of the debates that take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. That would be one opportunity. Secondly, it is open to the Opposition to use an Opposition day and to proceed with the matter in that way, either with an exclusively Opposition-signed motion or a motion signed more widely. I must say I have the sense that the Government are hinting that they would not dream of executing a policy decision of the kind that is being considered without first seeking a debate in the House and a vote on a substantive motion. That would obviously be the democratic course. I think it is the democratic course on a substantive motion that the Government have in mind. I am not sure that there was any other idea ever in their mind, but I feel sure that if it was in their mind, it was speedily expunged as undemocratic and inappropriate.

Dr Julian Lewis: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there any way within the rules of order that I can place on the record that the Foreign Secretary was nodding vigorously during your remarks?

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has done that. He and others will take that as an explicit commitment by the Foreign Secretary that there will be no implementation of such a decision without the prior assent in the form of a vote on a substantive motion in this House of Commons. I think we are now clear. Happiness is now universal in the Chamber – well, almost universal.

Ms Gisela Stuart: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we could complete that happiness. When the Foreign Secretary answered my earlier question, which was further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), as he sat down he was heard by Members on the Opposition Benches to have audibly said, “Yes.” If we could record that in Hansard, that would be very helpful, even though it was said from a sedentary position.

Mr Speaker: I think I will command universal assent when I say that the Hansard writers are expert, professional public servants of unimpeachable integrity who would not be bettered in any part of the United Kingdom in any professional capacity. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Good. We are agreed on that.