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Points of Order

Volume 495: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have learned overnight that two of the UK’s three shipyards may close in the years ahead. Given that that would cause thousands of job losses on the Clyde or at Portsmouth, have you heard from Ministers in the Ministry of Defence whether it is going to make a statement to this House or leave the Chamber without telling Members of Parliament what the future holds for shipyard workers in this country?

I fear that is not a point of order, but I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for placing his views firmly on the record. The answer to his question is that I have not had any indication from a Minister of an intention to make a statement, but, as I said, he has taken his opportunity to place his concerns on the record.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The previous Prime Minister, Tony Blair, would regularly meet Back Benchers from both sides of the House. Why does not the current Prime Minister extend the same courtesy to us?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for me to raise the fact that the real threat to the future of the shipyards on the Clyde is the separation of Scotland from the United Kingdom?

That is a debating point but not a point of order, as the hon. Gentleman perfectly well knows.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. Do you think it appropriate and acceptable that the major decision to renationalise the east coast main line should have been announced on the media this morning, and that this House will not have the opportunity to question the Secretary of State directly? Indeed, we will not even be the first to hear the statement. Do you think that that shows calculated disdain for the authority of this House?

Order. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) has raised a point of order, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) will want to hear the reply.

My understanding is that there is to be a statement at 7 o’clock this evening. As to the choice of Ministers to head Departments and the particular House of Parliament in which they sit, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that is not a matter for me.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it right that a political party should misuse an unfounded allegation about shipyards, when the company and the Ministry of Defence refute the allegations that are being made? It always seems to happen—every six months, people use those allegations for their own political purposes.

Something tells me that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to entice me into a political debate, and I must resist his blandishments. That is not a point of order.

Further to the earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. It cannot be right for a major statement on the future of our railways to be made by a Secretary of State who is absent from this House. I was grateful for your advice last week, and I have written to the Procedure Committee. However, would not it be far preferable for such statements to be made to this House? Is it not a nonsensical convention that the statement has to be made in the House of Lords first? Should it not be made at 12.30 in this House, rather than waiting for the Lords to assemble further up the Corridor?

The hon. Gentleman is largely repeating what has already been said. I note his point, but I do not think that there is anything on which I can rule at this time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We were told in a debate in Westminster Hall this morning about rail services that the Minister was not in a position to answer questions about what has happened to the National Express franchise because of the statement to be made in the House of Lords, which would be repeated in the House of Commons. Is there any reason for delaying that statement until 7 o’clock tonight? I presume that it will be made in the House of Lords at 3.30 and could be made much earlier in the Commons.

We have programmed business to consider, so when the right hon. Gentleman asks whether there is any particular reason for not making the statement now, I have given him that reason. Hon. Members may like or dislike it, but that is the reason.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week, you promised the House that you would rebuke Ministers if they made announcements outside before making them in the House. On the “Today” programme this morning, I heard Lord Adonis announcing the nationalisation of the east coast railway a good 11 or 12 hours before the House will be told about it. What, Sir, can you do about that?

My understanding is that the Secretary of State was commenting on commercial announcements that had already been made, so I am not sure whether the burden of the hon. Gentleman’s charge can be sustained.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families visited a school in my constituency yesterday without informing me. I went anyway and was met by an abusive and unprofessional civil servant called Belshan Izzet, who told me that the constituency Member of Parliament had been informed of the visit—that was a lie—and that neither I nor the leader of the council nor one of the governors were allowed in during the prime ministerial visit. That is disgraceful behaviour by a civil servant. How can we ensure that it is not repeated and that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families abide by the conventions and courtesies of the House, which you set?

The hon. Gentleman is a regular user of the device of the point of order, which he is perfectly entitled to use. Of course, the normal courtesies should be observed, be it by Back Benchers or members of the Government. Members who go into other Members’ constituencies should give prior notification. They do not have to ask permission, but they should inform. However, I say in all candour and courtesy to the hon. Gentleman that it would be a bad precedent if Members started naming civil servants on the Floor of the House. I do not like it and I hope that we will not have a repetition of it.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Ministers appear routinely to visit hon. Members’ constituencies without informing them, and your predecessor spoke out as strongly as you have today, asking them to observe the courtesies. However, they are not observing them, so what action can be taken to ensure that they do so in future?

The hon. Gentleman, as is perhaps his wont, asks a hypothetical question and engages in some star-gazing. The convention of notification must be observed. In the event of a pattern of its not being observed, I would not let the matter rest there.

Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), Mr. Speaker. You said that you thought that the Minister on the “Today” programme did not refer specifically to the action to be taken about the company. I listened to the programme, and he made it clear and explicit that the Government would take over the responsibilities for that company. It seems to me that he went beyond what was acceptable in an interview and made a statement on air. I do not wish to be pedantic, but that may give you cause to think a little more about your response to the Government.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. He had the advantage of hearing the interview and I confess that I did not. What he has put to me is reasonable. I do not know whether the line was crossed, but the fairest thing that I can say on the strength of the right hon. Gentleman’s comments is that I will look into the matter and come back about it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week I spoke to the Fabian Society in Chiswick and Sheffield, and I would like to apologise for not informing the hon. Members whose constituencies I was in. However, senior Conservatives regularly come to my constituency and do not tell me, although I do not worry about that, because every time they appear, the Tory vote goes down.

I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who is continuing the debate, although I am not sure that he is doing so by a point of order.

I hope that we are going to make some progress, as we have a great deal of business to consider, but the proceedings would not be complete without a point of order from Mr. Peter Bone.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A number of clauses of the Parliamentary Standards Bill were left undebated in Committee yesterday. I have listened to your pronouncements on transparency and the power of Back Benchers to cross-examine the Executive, but what happened yesterday was wholly unacceptable. I therefore wonder what advice you could give a Back Bencher to determine this matter.

There will be further opportunity to debate some of those matters on Report. I have seen the sheer weight of amendments to the Bill and I am not insensitive to the point that there is a need for substantial time to debate them. However, at this stage I can say to the hon. Gentleman only that everything has been done in a perfectly orderly way, and in any event, Rome was not built in a day.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect to the Parliamentary Standards Bill this afternoon, could you give us some guidance as to how you will approach the question of amendments that may be moved on Report, given that, as you have said, very weighty questions arise—for example, on new clauses 7 and 8, which may not be reached, because new clauses are taken at the beginning on Report—and could you therefore also say whether you would be kind enough to consider those questions before Report?

I will consider those questions when I am aware of all the amendments that are before us, but it would be unwise and precipitate for me to do so at this stage. If there are no further points of order, we can move on.

Bill Presented

Sustainable Energy (Local Plans) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Alan Simpson, supported by Mr. John Gummer, Mr. Gordon Prentice, Andrew Stunell, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Andrew Dismore, David Howarth, Mark Durkan, Andrew George, Mr. David Drew, Bob Russell and Steve Webb, presented a Bill to promote energy efficiency; to require specified bodies to publish sustainable energy plans; to make provision for the transfer of functions to principal councils; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 125).