I did not hear the offending expression to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers. There is a certain amount of gesticulation now from a sedentary position both from him and from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). The written record will tell us all, and I am happy to await it. The hon. Gentleman, who came into the House in 1992, knows—not least from his smile—that what he has just said does not amount to a point of order.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? As I understand it, there are 112 Members who are also members of the Unite union. When we are discussing matters that relate directly to the conduct of that trade union and hon. Members who are members of it seek to take part in that discussion, should they declare their membership of that union at the time of their participation in the debate?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Thursday 11 March, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families visited my constituency without notifying me. He visited a local primary school where he made comments of a highly political nature to the local press. He then went canvassing for his party and, as a school visit is within the subject matter of his portfolio, I am given to understand that that may be in contravention of section 10.9 of the ministerial code. I seek your guidance on this matter.
Certainly, if it was an official visit, the Minister in question should have given notice of the intention to visit the constituency. This is the first I have heard of this particular case. However, at this relatively febrile time, perhaps I may simply reiterate the overriding point that there is a long-established courtesy in this place that when one Member visits another Member’s constituency on public business—as opposed to a private visit—the Member visiting has a duty to notify, suitably far in advance, the Member whose constituency he or she is visiting. I hope that that courtesy will be observed across the House. On the whole it is a respected and valued courtesy and we should uphold it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have raised a lot of points of order over the past 20 years, and I do not think that any of them have been in order, but I hope that I will be successful this time. Last Thursday a statement was made in the House of Lords by the Secretary of State for Transport. It was 40 minutes before that statement was made here. I went to the Table Office to get a copy of that statement after the Secretary of State had sat down, but I was told that it would not be available until it had been made in this place. I then went to the House of Lords and got a copy of the statement. Surely that cannot be right, and surely it cannot happen again in future.
It would give me great pleasure if I were able to satisfy the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), but I fear that I cannot. I entirely understand why he and others might have been frustrated by this; however, it results from the simple fact that the Secretary of State—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) should be quiet when I am ruling on the point of order that has been raised. What happened arises from the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport is a Member of the other place, and although there are arguments about accountability to this place and so on, that is the situation.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not have any disagreement with that; in fact, I have advocated that the Secretary of State should come to this Chamber. However, statements should be made available to Members of this House after the Secretary of State has sat down, because they are available to noble Lords and the general public.
Those Members are in another House. I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but it is not clear to me that an immediate resolution of the issue is available. However, I will reflect, as I always reflect on what he has to say, and if I have anything further to report, either to him or to the House, he and the House will be the first to learn of it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some moments ago you rebuked me—I think unfairly, but I stand by your ruling. However, after my question there was a pause, whereupon I saw the Minister of State—he appeared to prompt you, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that was not the case, because of course you can rebuke me in your own right—
Order. Let me deal with this point of order very clearly and conclusively. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman will sit and listen to the response and not gesticulate while I am offering that response. I saw no sign whatsoever, from any Member on the Treasury Bench, and for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that I would be prompted—in this House, from the Chair—by another Member to make a comment or response is quite wrong, and it is also an unacceptable observation on his part. Let me very politely suggest to the hon. Gentleman, whose behaviour was untoward, that it would be sensible and rational of him simply to accept the rebuke, to call it a day and to move on. That is the end of the matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week I raised a point of order about two unanswered questions to the Department for Work and Pensions. Since your kind intervention on my behalf, one of those two questions has been answered. The other is now five weeks overdue, and it concerns the administration of jobseeker’s allowance up and down the country, an important matter for a great many of our constituents. The question number is 316962, and I repeat: it is five weeks late. Could I please ask you, Sir, for your kind intervention a second time to get the Department to do what it should have originally done within five days?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, of which, as he knows, I had no advance notice whatever. He has taken the opportunity to air—and very properly to air—his concern about the excessive tardiness of ministerial replies. I feel sure that his point of order will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench, and I hope that, as a result, a reply will come to him extremely quickly. I hope that it will not be necessary for him to raise his point of order again. I simply say to Members on the Treasury Bench, including the Deputy Leader of the House, that these matters must be taken seriously by Ministers. Indeed, it looks to me as though the Deputy Leader of the House would like to say something, and I think that the House would welcome that.
Just to be clear, I have said on a number of occasions, as has my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, that we will take representations from Members and put them to Departments, and I think I said that last Thursday at business questions. I am happy to do that for any Member who has similar issues, and will do so now if the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) wants to give me the details.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill, which was tabled as Government business yesterday, is not on the Order Paper at all today. Can you assure me, Mr. Speaker, that it will be tabled again tomorrow? We want Government time in which to debate the remaining stages of the Bill, and to vote on it.
Unfortunately I cannot reassure the hon. Lady, for the simple reason that—although I understand the background to, and concern about, this matter—the tabling of Bills is not a matter for the Chair. I think that she will have to have discussions with people other than me. She indicates from a sedentary position that she has already done so, but I know of her dedication and persistence, and I think that they may be required in this case.
Council Tax Benefit (Change of Name) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mr. Paul Burstow, supported by Mr. David Heath, presented a Bill to change the name of Council Tax Benefit to Council Tax Rebate; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 26 March, and to be printed (Bill 88).