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Points of Order

Volume 528: debated on Monday 23 May 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wrote to you over the weekend about a number of security breaches in the House, particularly the theft of laptops from right hon. and hon. Members. I had my laptop and iPad, which I had only just worked out how to use, stolen last Thursday. Since inquiring in Norman Shaw North and with other of its residents, I have been told that a number of laptops have been taken from there. Indeed, just this moment my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) told me that her laptop and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) were stolen recently from the courtyard next to your accommodation in Speaker’s House. I have discussed the matter with colleagues, and they have suggested a number of measures. Either we should set up our own neighbourhood watch in Norman Shaw North, or perhaps when you meet President Obama on Wednesday you could ask him to leave some of the 200 security officers he is bringing with him. On a serious note, in our view it is bad practice that in a building such as this, which has protection from the outside, these thefts are ongoing and getting worse. I seek your advice on what we can do about this serious matter, Mr Speaker.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and for his unsolicited advice, of which, as always, I am appreciative. I commiserate with him on his personal loss, and I extend those commiserations to the hon. Members for Darlington (Mrs Chapman) and for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), and other right hon. and hon. Members similarly deprived. It is an extremely serious matter. The right hon. Gentleman will know that we do not discuss security on the Floor of the House. However, it is incumbent on me, which is why I welcome this opportunity, to make it clear that the matter is being investigated—I hope comprehensively—and certainly I can testify to him that it is being investigated as a matter of urgency. When those investigations have been completed, I hope they will prove profitable.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This House makes the law and this House should comply with it. Given some of the remarks that were made during the urgent question—remarks that, on reflection, will probably be seen as incautious—may I have your reassurance that, irrespective of the setting up of the Committee, this House will have sufficient time to discuss the problems associated with injunctions before the summer recess?

This is of course a matter for the House itself. I welcome the hon. Lady’s point of order. As she will know—because she was present for the statement—the Attorney-General has announced that a Joint Committee of both Houses is to be set up. There will naturally be a chance to debate the terms of reference of that Joint Committee in due course. I think I made it clear that I strongly deprecate the abuse of parliamentary privilege to flout an order or score a particular point.

On the substance of the right and opportunity of Members of Parliament to express their views on this extremely important matter, I am pleased to reassure the hon. Lady and the House that there will be opportunities in the ordinary course of events for Members to express their views on these matters, both in relation to the terms of reference and more widely. There are opportunities to debate matters in Government time, Opposition time and Backbench Business Committee time, and through the mechanism of Adjournment debates. I say to the hon. Lady and the House that there is no injunction, super or otherwise, preventing any right hon. or hon. Member from pursuing those avenues. It is important, however, that we recognise the need to temper our privilege with responsibility.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to delay the House with this point of order, but it arises from the answer to Question 1 in Education questions today which was given to me by the Secretary of State for Education. We have been waiting for some time for a response to the inquiry report of the previous Select Committee—the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families—on the training of teachers. There has never been a response, even though other inquiry reports that took place under the previous Government have been responded to since the general election. We are used to a system in this House whereby the Department concerned responds line by line to the Select Committee’s recommendations. The Secretary of State told me that this document—“The Importance of Teaching”, the White Paper that came out in November—was an answer, but there is no reference to that fact in this document, and it is not—

Order. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I think he has said enough to make it clear to me that this is not a matter on which I can rule; rather, it is—however disagreeable as far as he is concerned—a matter for the Select Committee on Education, should it wish to address the matter further. I think we shall have to leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there any way in which you can discuss with Ministers the quality of replies being sent to Members? I recently wrote to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on an important matter affecting my constituency, and received a reply from the public engagement and recognition unit, rather than from the Minister. It was signed “The correspondence team”—

Not even Mrs Adams, no. Another reply, from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, began: “Dear Mr Marsden”. I am very fond of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Mr Marsden), but I do not usually take on his correspondence. Is there anything that you can do to ensure that Members get proper replies from Ministers?

I am responsible, at least in part, for the timeliness of replies—I do my best to assist Members in that regard—and also for their courtesy. However, so far as their quality is concerned, I feel that I must tell the hon. Lady that she holds out for me a set of powers that I do not possess and a range of abilities to which someone of my modest capacities cannot reasonably aspire.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Thursday, you generously granted an urgent question on the Government’s decision not to ban wild animals from circuses. During that discussion, the House was entertained—I think that is the right word—by the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs telling us that such a ban could involve a breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 and of the European Union services directive. At the time, I asked the Minister to place that legal advice in the House of Commons Library, but, sadly, it has not yet received it. I have, however, been to the Library myself and looked at the Department’s impact assessment of the regulation of wild animals in travelling circuses. Point No. 81, on page 15, states:

“There are no human rights issues raised by these proposals.”

Following on from that, I found on a comment on a blog entitled “What a circus” which states that

“there are of course valid reasons for exceptions to the rules and restrictions allowed”

under the EU services directive, and that EU

“Commission officials are standing ready to discuss the matter”.

May we have further clarification from Ministers on this matter?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. Some people might think that she is trying to continue the debate that took place on Thursday, although I am not making any such suggestion myself. She did have that urgent question on the subject last week, and, as the House will know, that urgent question was granted by me. I feel sure that there will be other opportunities for her and others to discuss the matter. I would say to her today that this is not a procedural matter on which I can rule, but what she has very explicitly said will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and, very likely, in the relevant departmental office as well.

I imagine that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) thinks that our proceedings would be incomplete without a point of order from him.

I am most grateful to you, Mr Speaker. Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), will you clarify whether members of the Press Gallery who were following the proceedings this afternoon are covered by the same privilege that we are, when they are reporting the exchanges between hon. Members?

The answer to that is yes.

Bill Presented

Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Theresa May, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Kenneth Clarke, Danny Alexander and James Brokenshire, presented a Bill to abolish control orders and make provision for the imposition of terrorism prevention and investigation measures.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 193) with explanatory notes (Bill 193-EN).