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Points of Order

Volume 489: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Healthcare Commission has today produced a report about Stafford hospital that is very damning about standards of care there. Although the report was embargoed until tomorrow, all the reporting is happening today, which shows how widespread the interest in the subject is and its seriousness. Have you received any intimation yet that the Secretary of State for Health will come to the House to make an oral statement about the situation at the hospital?

It is a very worrying time for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. It is not a matter for the Chair, as he might understand, but the Secretary of State concerned will have heard his comments today in the Chamber.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My constituents in Stone are also gravely affected by the Healthcare Commission report. Do you not agree that it is right that the Secretary of State should come to the House? I tabled a question asking him whether he will come to the House to make a statement and to explain the situation, in view of the fact that the Healthcare Commission has said that the hospital has been very badly let down and that there have been appalling standards in the hospital?

I have a hospital in my constituency, which, of course, is devolved now, but I would be very worried indeed if such a report came about on that hospital. Thank God, that has not happened. The hon. Gentleman will understand my position. I can only say that the Secretary of State will have heard his words and those of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney).

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should say that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) is aware that I have sought to raise this point of order on behalf of a number of Members, and in the long-term interests of all of us in the House.

Mr. Speaker, you will be aware that you and successive Speakers have underlined the fact that MPs who take up local casework and local issues outside their constituencies break a very clear convention by which the House operates, but the Conservative party appears to be trying to get round the convention by appointing so-called shadow Ministers for groups of constituencies that they do not represent, on the basis that that somehow legitimises what they are doing. For example, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, operating as the shadow of the fictional Minister for Cornwall, is as a matter of course taking up local casework. I can supply your office with numerous examples. For instance, this month, while sorting out a local problem for a local arts organisation, I discovered that the shadow of the fictional Minister had also presumed to act on its behalf. In every case, the activity undertaken by him as the shadow of the imaginary Minister for Cornwall mirrors work of local MPs and is clearly done for party political purposes. He is using membership of this place to raise constituency issues as though he were, in effect, a shadow local Member of Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman refuses to deny allegations that he claims his travel costs for that party politicking from Commons allowances designed to support genuine shadow ministerial visits and that he uses his parliamentary office to support that party political activity. My question is simple: is that acceptable under the conventions governing us, and if so, should all the parties now feel free to appoint Members of Parliament as shadow Ministers for constituencies, so that they can act on local issues for party political advantage, and go over the heads of the local MP?

I must answer the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) before anyone else comes in. I understand that he forewarned the Member whom he complains about, who is here in the Chamber. I only wish that Members would not interfere in other constituencies. I also wish that these disputes were not brought to me, but as this dispute has been brought to me, I say this: I do not expect any hon. Member of this House to take up cases other than those in their own constituency. It is wrong. Each individual Member of Parliament jealously guards the fact that their constituency, its boundary and all those within it are there to be looked after by them. I am a constituency MP in my own right, and I would not like it if someone took up cases in my constituency. I am not telling anybody off; I am just saying that everybody in this country has a constituency MP, and they should go to that constituency MP. If someone comes to a Member of Parliament in another constituency, the case should be forwarded to the local MP. That is clear, and it is common sense. If the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) has nothing to say, I think that we should stop the matter there. I think that I have said enough.