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Points of Order

Volume 481: debated on Monday 27 October 2008

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I take you back to the start of the Session, when you correctly reminded Members about their obligations in relation to the new parliamentary boundaries? You told us:

“Those boundaries do not change until the next election, so we must obey the convention of not involving ourselves with another Member’s constituency until that time.” —[Official Report, 6 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 2.]

I seek your advice. The neighbouring Labour MP, the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush (Mr. Slaughter), has written to the Department for Communities and Local Government seeking the calling in of a planning application in my constituency. I was not informed of that involvement in my constituency.

Further, may I ask you whether it was proper for a Minister to write to that Member about the planning application—indeed, announcing that it was to be called in? That seems to me to be entirely contrary to the advice that you gave the House at the start of the Session.

We all have to obey the conventions of the House and we have to remember that, while this is a parliamentary boundary proposal, it is up to the electorate as to whether we are returned as Members of Parliament after the general election. We are presuming too much when we say that we are going to be the Member of Parliament for somewhere.

First, I will deal with the question of the Minister. If a Member of Parliament writes in good faith to a Minister, or a Minister receives in good faith a letter from a Member of Parliament saying, “This is my constituency,” the Minister concerned could easily make a mistake and reply in good faith.

I do not want these disputes coming up in points of order. Everyone knows what a constituency boundary looks like. They get a map and look around it. They must say, “This is within my boundary or without.” I would add that, sometimes, there are circumstances in which an hon. Member could ask about a matter that is outwith his or her constituency. That could happen. The question could be about a hospital. In my own case, there might be a hospital in the city of Glasgow that is outwith my constituency, but I could ask a question about facilities, although health is a devolved matter.

I want to assist proceedings, but I do not want this dispute to go on.

Order. Mr. Slaughter, you will understand that you have a boundary and you have a map. I tell you this: older Members of Parliament like me are very territorial. We do not like anybody getting our constituencies. You will need to be become territorial and stay within your constituency boundary.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am most grateful for that guidance. For the avoidance of doubt, the issue that has been raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) affects my current and my prospective constituency to a great degree. It is simply a matter of regret that he and the Conservative council did not oppose this overdevelopment.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I must point out that the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd’s Bush has been writing about the matter to individuals in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham. For it simply to be suggested that he has involved himself—[Interruption.] I am a recipient of the correspondence. It is an involvement that goes beyond that.

Order. I am going to stop the hon. and learned Gentleman. I have told two hon. Members to get their act together and keep it out of this Chamber. The last thing I want is a Front Bencher making things awkward for the Speaker.

No. Have you, Mr. Speaker, received any indication that a ministerial statement might be made today? Ever since early this morning, well before the House started sitting, there have been reports on the news wires that the Secretary of State for Transport is to allocate £20 million to some local authorities to entice them to use electric vehicles. The report went on to say, “And he will be making a statement later.” One wonders to whom he is making the statement, because it appears that there is no provision for an oral statement to be made today.

Is not this something that you deplore, and that the House should rightly deplore, particularly as today we are dealing with transport business? The Secretary of State is on the Treasury Bench. All he has to do is walk a few feet to the Dispatch Box and tell us what this is all about.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that the Government have made a commitment to publish an impact assessment spelling out the costs, benefits and alternatives of any major measure, piece of legislation or change in policy before introducing it, so that the House can debate it in a fully informed manner.

Last week the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change announced in the House that he was raising the target for reducing carbon emissions from 60 per cent. to 80 per cent.—a one third increase. If that results in a corresponding increase in costs, it will increase the costs of the programme by some £70 billion. However, when I wrote to the Secretary of State asking him whether he intended to publish an impact assessment and if so, when, I received the reply that the Government did intend to publish such an assessment, but not until after Royal Assent. That means that tomorrow, if things do not change, the House will discuss a measure not knowing to the nearest £70 billion what it will cost, or the corresponding change in benefits. I believe that that is an insult to the House and to our tax-paying constituents. Have you any powers, Mr. Speaker, either to require the Secretary of State to rush forward an impact assessment so that we know what we are debating, or to delay tomorrow’s debate until an assessment has been published so that we can debate it in a well-informed manner?

The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to give me some notice of his question. I have no powers to require such an assessment to be produced, but his comments will have been heard by Ministers.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I think that the immigration Minister, who is no longer present, may have inadvertently misled the House just now when he told my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) that he had written to my hon. Friend in great detail explaining why someone on a United Nations list of al-Qaeda terrorists had been given indefinite leave to remain. I have seen the letter, and apart from an apology for the long delay, there is no detail whatsoever.

I am not responsible for ministerial replies, and I do not expect the hon. Lady to read the letter out during a point of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful if you would tell me whether you have power to review the point of topical debates. Last Thursday’s debate, which was on the important subject of work and skills, was attended by only one Labour Back Bencher throughout. It is clear that Labour Back Benchers see no point in such debates.

Those are matters for the Leader of the House, and the hon. Gentleman may wish to raise the issue with her. However, topical debates are usually very well attended. Back Benchers on both sides of the House usually want to speak in them, and have pleaded with me to ask Front Benchers to try to curtail opening speeches.