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Points of Order

Volume 447: debated on Thursday 8 June 2006

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your help in your role as protector of Members’ rights against the abuse of their privileges by the Executive. It was my understanding that when Ministers and other Members visited another Member’s constituency, they wrote to them beforehand to explain the purpose of the visit. Yesterday, the Prime Minister visited Frimley Park hospital in my constituency without giving me any notice of his visit. Earlier this week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister with responsibility for veterans visited the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), again without giving advance notice. It seems to me an abuse of the House when Ministers visit constituencies for party political and propagandist purposes without giving due notice, thereby denying Members the right to raise issues of pressing concern to their constituents such as the future of Frimley Park hospital and its upper gastro-intestinal unit. As you well know, Mr. Speaker, that is a matter of deep concern to me and to my constituents, and I would have loved to have the chance to ask the Prime Minister why his Department of Health was closing a world-beating centre. I was denied that opportunity by the arrogance of the Executive.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman should have notification when another Member visits his constituency, but that does not give him the right to question any Minister solely because they are in the constituency. I must say, in defence of the departments of both the Chancellor and the Prime Minister, that they are very conscientious about notifying hon. Members. I know that from my own experience, but I will bring the matter to the Prime Minister’s attention and see what is happening in his office.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the issuance of oral ministerial statements on Opposition days, page 358 of the copy of “Erskine May” in the Library states:

“Prior notice to the Speaker is necessary, but neither his permission nor the leave of the House is required. The Speaker”—

your good self, Sir—

“has, however, indicated that he would prefer it if oral ministerial statements were not made on Opposition days.”

In my brief time as a Member of the House, I think that an oral ministerial statement has been made on almost every Opposition day, including yesterday, which held up the very important debate on tax credits. I seek your guidance, Sir.

It is normal for Ministers not to make statements on Supply days, but there are occasions when that is not the case. The hon. Gentleman will know that when a Minister seeks to make a statement I have no power to reject that statement. Of course the House has a dilemma: we must consider the importance of the Supply day, but Opposition Members in particular are very keen for Ministers to come to the House to make statements. So we have that difficulty as well.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During his response to my question, the Leader of the House invited me to visit his constituency. As I am a new Member, could you advise me how I could go about organising that?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many hon. Members have been concerned to see the draft Coroners Bill. During business questions, the Leader of the House suggested that it might be before the House currently. It was my understanding that it would soon come before the House, but I do not know whether he can clarify that. I was expecting it early next week.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The matter will be before the House in one form, because the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs will question witnesses on Tuesday on that Bill, having expected it to be available some time ago. We now know that it will not be available until Monday, and we may have to find some way to tell the witnesses whom we want to question what it contains. That is not a satisfactory way to proceed, particularly when the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs is offering to provide a completely alternative system of scrutiny in which she chooses the witnesses and the people who carry out the scrutiny.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I just tell the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), who is the Opposition spokesman, and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that I take note of what they say? I understand that the plan is for the Bill to be introduced very shortly indeed, but I will raise the House’s concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and hope that we can find a quick resolution of the matter.

Meanwhile, may I tell the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr. Walker), who wants to come to my constituency, that all Tories are welcome in Blackburn, because there are so few whom anyone ever sees?