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Points of Order

Volume 482: debated on Thursday 6 November 2008

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask you this question in your capacity as the guardian of the rights of Members of Parliament. I imagine that you feel as ashamed as I do that this House has not had a full debate on the economy during a time of serious difficulties in this country, both nationally and for all of us locally, with many of our constituents having a hard time. I know that you cannot insist on this, but could you do your very best to remind Ministers that it is the job of this House to hold them to account and to be informed on the great issues of the day? Such matters are debated in every forum in the country, but not in the House of Commons. That is a great shame.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that what he has done today, through his point of order, is to put the matter on the record. It will be noted by Ministers that they are accountable to this House and that they must come here on a regular basis.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek some clarification. I was keen to raise with my neighbour, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the dismaying news that the Tetley brewery in Leeds is to close. The issue is about beer, our great national drink, but I have received conflicting advice on whether beer comes under the remit of his Department. Can you clarify, Mr. Speaker, whether it is appropriate to raise an issue of huge importance to British beer—in terms of the product, rather than the industry—in that way, just as it would be to raise an issue of such importance for Scotch whisky or British wine, which are clearly important products, too? Indeed, should the Department not really be called the Department for Environment, Food, Rural Affairs and Drink or DEFRAD?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s fears, because although I am a teetotaller, I have a brewery and the whisky industry in my constituency, and I used to have the tobacco industry. What I can tell him is this. The industry that he talks about is a very good employer of labour and he as a local Member of Parliament must concern himself with the redundancies. I suggest that he applies for an Adjournment debate, puts down questions for other Departments and ensures that he lets the workers in that industry know that he is trying to be their voice here in Parliament.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) raised with the Leader of the House the propriety of Ministers’ notifying local MPs of visits. The Leader of the House quite correctly made it plain that, when a Minister goes to a constituency on ministerial business, he or she should notify the local Member. I understood her to suggest that Members of Parliament attending party functions were not under a duty to notify local Members. However, reaching back to when I first entered the House, my understanding is that whenever a Member goes to another Member’s constituency on anything other than private business, they ought to notify the local Member. Can you assist us on this?

A Minister going to another constituency on ministerial business has an obligation to notify the Member of Parliament concerned, and I do not expect the Member to receive that notification through an e-mail appearing in their system. That has been cropping up recently, but this should be done properly. However, I would say that a party activity is, in a sense, a private matter for a Minister. If a Minister is taking part in a party activity as a member of a political party, it is not necessary to inform the local Member of Parliament. We should not be over-sensitive when someone visits a constituency, but when they do so in their ministerial capacity, or when a Back Bencher goes to a constituency to carry out an official function such as an opening, they should notify the local Member of Parliament. I would not expect them to notify the Member about party activities.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are very good at wanting to protect the interests of Back Benchers, and I want to ask you to help us on a specific matter. My hon. Friends the Members for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid) and I expressly asked the Leader of the House for an undertaking that no statement on the future of the Post Office card account would be made outside the House by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions unless or until such a statement had been made here. There are strong rumours that a statement might be made tomorrow, which, according to normal convention, would be completely unacceptable. Will you make it as clear as you can that you expect the statement on the Post Office card account—a matter that colleagues in all parties have raised regularly and that affects all four countries in the United Kingdom—to be made here, and only here, first? In that way, the Secretary of State will be in no doubt that no statement, press release or leak can be made until he comes to the Dispatch Box to make the statement.

I cannot go into such a specific matter or give an instruction to a Minister. The House is not sitting tomorrow, but the rule is that the Minister concerned should come to the House as soon as possible. I cannot prevent a Minister from saying something to the press, just as I could not prevent the hon. Gentleman from doing so. All I can do is give a broad hint that this is a very serious matter that I have heard being raised at every opportunity on the Floor of the House, and Ministers must take note of the deep concern being expressed in every part of the House. However, I cannot issue an instruction along the lines that the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you provide some clarity on the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone) about visits to constituencies? Is it the case that, if a Member from another party visits a constituency for a party event, but then uses it for press or publicity purposes, notice should be given to the Member of Parliament for the constituency concerned? A whole string of Conservative Members of Parliament have been visiting part of my constituency that I am about to lose—it is going into Central Devon—but they have not had the courtesy to tell me of their visits. Perhaps people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.