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Points of Order

Volume 538: debated on Wednesday 18 January 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) to describe Dudley as ugly? Why should a place which boasts the UK’s first national geological nature reserve, a fantastic castle, a beautiful town centre which traces its roots back to mediaeval Britain, and the award-winning Black Country living museum be sneered at by somebody like him? Should he not come to Dudley and see these gems for himself? Would you like to come to Dudley, Mr Speaker, so that you can see how wrong he was?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman not only for the content of his point of order, but for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I remind him that a wise person said that there is no point in arguing about taste. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I am sure Dudley is beautiful to its own Member of Parliament. That the hon. Gentleman is a doughty and articulate exponent of that perceived beauty is no surprise to me, as this year marks 30 years since he and I first made each other’s acquaintance at the university of Essex. I am afraid that on the matter of the beauty or otherwise of Dudley, I have not yet had an opportunity to form my own judgment, but I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s prospective invitation and I would, of course, be inclined to accept it. I do not think expressions of aesthetic opinion fall within the rules of order unless those expressions of opinion concern another Member of the House.

I will come to the hon. Gentleman. I am saving him up. He is too precious. I do not want to waste him too early. I call Mr Chuka Umunna.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and on a point of order. You will be aware that excessive pay and rewards for failure in the City and in boardrooms round the country are a matter of huge public interest. The Government have let it be known that they will announce what they plan to do about the issue on Tuesday next week. Our strong view is that the Business Secretary should do so in an oral statement to the House. He is giving a speech to the Social Market Foundation at 12.30 pm on Tuesday, before the House sits. Can you advise the House whether you have been given notice that he intends to come first to the House on Monday to give an oral statement on what the Government are to do about the matter, and whether you would expect him to do so?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order, of the content of which I did not have advance notice. I would certainly expect that if a significant policy announcement is to be made, a statement in one form or another—there are different forms of statement, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware—would first be made to the House. I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand if I say that more widely than that I would be reluctant to go. I would want to observe how the Government conduct themselves and judge matters accordingly, but both the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House are aware of the premium that I attach not on my account, but on behalf of the House, to the House hearing and, preferably on very important matters, having the opportunity first to question Ministers. It is desirable that the House hears first, rather than audiences outside.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the areas of parliamentary life—the manners of this Chamber—that has improved in recent years is that it is now completely unacceptable for one Member to criticise another Member on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity or disability. The most under-represented group in this Parliament is the septuagenarians. Today we heard what I believe many of us thought was a gratuitous and entirely offensive insult to a greatly respected hon. Member, made entirely because of his age. Is it not right that ageist discriminatory remarks should be outlawed in the same way that other discriminatory remarks are?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not also the case that “Erskine May” makes it very clear that no Member of Parliament should criticise another and call them a name that relates to an animal? In those circumstances, is it not only right that the Prime Minister should come back to the House and apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner)?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not important that those of us of a certain age group should not be seen as the new persecuted minority?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have seen the grey hairs as well—on my head, of course. I seek your guidance on whether this Parliament and this House of Commons would be better with more or less humour.

I am always in favour of humour, but just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, humour is a matter of subjective judgment. Sometimes people are funny, sometimes they think they are funny, sometimes they think they are funny deliberately when they are not, sometimes they do not realise they are funny when they are. There are all sorts of different permutations. It would be unwise for me to offer a view as to the category into which the matter of current discussion happens to fall, but I have never had any doubt about the hon. Gentleman’s well-developed and furnished sense of humour.

I agree with the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) that septuagenarians should not become a persecuted minority. The hon. Gentleman is sometimes in a minority, and a principled minority, on a range of matters, and has been throughout his long parliamentary career. All I would say is that I do not think that the hon. Gentleman himself is persecuted, certainly not by me, and anybody trying to persecute the hon. Gentleman should frankly give up the unequal struggle, because that person will not get anywhere with the hon. Gentleman.

With regard to the point of order from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe), I think that I am right in saying that “Erskine May” no longer contains the prohibition to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I think that, certainly at one time or another, there has been a prohibition on, or presumption against, reference to an existing animal.

With regard to the point of order of the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn), it is very difficult for me to interpret the mindset of another hon. or right hon. Member, be that a newly arrived Member, or a very senior Member, or the most senior Member of the Government. Sometimes an observation might be made with reference to perhaps a past attitude, style or conduct, and I do not think that I want to get into the issue of what was said today. I might want to reflect on it. All I would say is that I share the hon. Gentleman’s absolute disapproval of sexism, racism, ageism and other forms of discrimination. The hon. Gentleman’s track record on that matter speaks for itself over a very long period.