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Points of Order

Volume 566: debated on Thursday 11 July 2013

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that during the statement from the Health Secretary, considerable concern was expressed regarding the lack of notice given to Members of Parliament with hospitals and accident and emergency units in their constituencies that would be affected by that statement. Speaking personally, I was informed by my Whips Office just before 9 o’clock this morning that the statement was to be made. I had had no contact at that point from the Secretary of State.

The statement has major implications for Trafford General hospital in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green). She found out about the statement when I phoned her. She was on the train to Manchester and had to get off the train and get on to another train going back to London to be here in time. Fortunately, she caught your eye, Mr Speaker, and you allowed her to speak. You ruled earlier that nothing disorderly had happened, but surely something discourteous happens when such important decisions are announced without any notice being given to Members. I wondered whether you could give us any further advice.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which was put to me in the measured and courteous terms that are his hallmark. As he implies, there is a distinction between disorder and discourtesy. The Secretary of State was not guilty of disorderly conduct in any way. Ultimately, it is for Members of the House to judge whether there was a discourtesy. I did indicate in my response to an earlier point of order that there are ways of handling these matters. It is often the case that a Minister will seek to inform Members in advance at least of an intention to make a statement on a matter, even if the Minister is not in a position to guarantee it or indicate the precise date. These courtesies are important. Members must form their own assessment, but I hope that in the future we can operate, in respect of matters of this kind, in a way that commands general assent across the House. That, I think, would be helpful to all concerned. It is probably best if we leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At last week’s Work and Pensions questions I asked the Secretary of State about the increasing number of people accessing emergency food aid from the Liverpool central food bank in my constituency. I put it to him that one of the chief causes of the increase were delays in receiving social security support. In his reply, the Secretary of State told the House:

“The story that the cause is an increase in waits is not true”.

He also claimed that a director of the Trussell Trust, the UK’s biggest provider of food banks, had said that the real reason was

“The growth in volunteers and awareness about the fact you can get this help if you need it”.—[Official Report, 1 July 2013; Vol. 565, c. 604.]

The executive chairman of the Trussell Trust has since written to me to say that this is not correct. Further, figures released today by the Trussell Trust confirm that more people proportionately are being referred to food banks with benefit-related problems since the Government’s welfare reforms came into effect in April. Mr Speaker, can you please kindly outline by which means the record can now be corrected?

The hon. Lady, who is as perspicacious as any Member of the House, has identified the required method and she has deployed it. In that respect, she has found her own salvation. The concerns of the people in her constituency have been placed on the record. If a Minister judges that the content of an answer requires clarification, or indeed correction, it is incumbent on the Minister to provide it. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady has discharged her obligations. We will leave it there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I realise you are in a difficult situation when Ministers wish to make statements to the House, but could you advise that, where possible, Ministers should always inform Members whose constituency or constituencies will be affected by a Government statement so that they can at least be sure to be in the House and represent their constituents on those matters?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes, I think that that would be helpful. Obviously, where Ministers are making statements of national application it is not reasonable to expect anything of the sort, and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that. Where a statement affects a particular area of the country, and perhaps even a relatively small number of constituencies, or something a little greater than that but which has, if you like, a local or regional character to it, I should have thought that it would be regarded widely in the House as courteous to try to offer, if it is at all practicable, some indication in advance of the likelihood of the statement, because presumably the Minister would wish to be questioned on it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have noticed the intransigence of the Leader of the House over withdrawing the motion on Monday relating to the opt-out. As there is such anger across the House and in Select Committees, which have not been consulted, how late will he accept amendments to Monday’s motion? Many people want to resolve this situation by joint action to ensure that we are consulted properly on all 136 items to which we have to opt in or opt out.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am conscious of the displeasure that has been voiced in different parts of the House on both sides of the House, and by Select Committee Chairs from opposite sides of the House on this matter. The answer to the hon. Gentleman on the question of how late amendments can be tabled is that they should be tabled by tomorrow. It is, however, open to me to select—I offer no guarantee that I shall do so—a manuscript amendment as late as Monday. The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member of the House and he knows that the scheduling has now been made. That is absolutely not a matter for the Chair. The Government are absolutely within their rights so to have scheduled, but it will be possible for amendments to be considered, if necessary, even as late as Monday. I hope that is helpful both to the hon. Gentleman and to others in the House.

Further to the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), Mr Speaker, it will not have escaped your notice that this is the second week running that we have had a problem with individual Members not being given notice of statements that affect their constituencies. Last week, you made a number of comments about the statement on the reserve forces. A Territorial Army centre in my constituency will close as a result of the measures announced in that statement, but I was given no notice of it taking place. For how long do you feel that this discourtesy can continue?

I think I have made my attitude to recent matters clear, and I have tried to be helpful to the House. It is my responsibility to help Members to help themselves, and indeed to help each other. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that most hon. Members will be looking forward to an agreeable summer holiday and a bit of rest and recuperation, and to the prospect of returning in the autumn and operating in a way that safeguards their own interests and shows due respect to the interests of others. The hon. Gentleman is normally a cheery soul, and of an upbeat disposition, and he must hope that matters will improve in September.