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Points of Order

Volume 569: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2013

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the second time in as many weeks, I have had the privilege of asking the Prime Minister a question. On both occasions, however, he did not address the question that I asked in any way whatever. Instead, he answered the question that he thought he was going to be asked. The question I asked him today was about agency workers, but he did not even mention agency workers in his response. How do we go about getting answers from the Prime Minister to the questions that we are asking him?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He will know that it is a long-standing practice in the House that considerable latitude is afforded to the Prime Minister of the day to decide in what way to respond to a question. If the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with an answer—and it is apparent to me that that is so—he has the resources of the Order Paper and the guidance of the Table Office available to him to enable him to pursue the matter until he receives a substantive response to his inquiry. The opportunity therefore exists for written questions, correspondence and other means to extract the information or views that he seeks. I have given the hon. Gentleman a very particular response because I recognise how strongly he feels, but it would not be right for the Chair to interpose himself between a Minister and the hon. Gentleman in circumstances of this kind. I hope that that is helpful. I know that he is a terrier, and that he will pursue his concerns with his usual indefatigability. [Interruption.] The Whip on duty has just said that the hon. Gentleman is a big terrier. He certainly has a big heart, that is for sure.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order relating to the right of Members of the House to have access to Ministers and, in particular, to Ministers at the Home Office. This relates in particular to two cases, whose correspondence I have here. I originally wrote to the Home Office about the first case on 9 July, saying that it was urgent and that I needed a speedy reply. It involved a religious organisation, the Al-Raza Foundation, in my constituency, which had an indispensable need for a religious worker to join it for an event beginning on 1 November. The matter has not been resolved in the interim, despite my repeated attempts to contact the Home Office and, in particular, the Minister for Immigration, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). That organisation is registered by the Home Office as a sponsor, but its activities have been wrecked by the failure of the Home Office to respond since 9 July.

The second case involves a constituent of mine who has been in Copenhagen and who has had problems with his passport. He has visited the British embassy there daily, but has received no help. He is now homeless in Copenhagen. During his family’s most recent visit to see me, his brother was in tears over his predicament. I wrote to the Home Office about the case a month ago, saying that it was urgent, but it has not even bothered to respond. I warned it yesterday that if I did not get a result by today, I would raise the matter with you, Mr Speaker. As a result of that, I got a completely useless telephone call from a member of the Minister for Immigration’s staff, saying that they would let me know as soon as possible. I do not object to the Home Office treating me like dirt, but I will not have my constituents treated like dirt by a Home Secretary who is, as it happens, the least responsive and courteous Home Secretary I have known in my 43 years in the House of Commons.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I say in no facetious spirit but in all solemnity that, having known him throughout my 16 years in the House, I am surprised when Ministers do not judge it prudent simply to respond courteously to him in the first instance, not only because it is the right thing to do but because failure to do so will almost certainly result in a veritable Exocet of protest being lobbed in their direction by the right hon. Gentleman. That appears to have happened now, and I rather imagine that it will continue to do so.

There are two points here. The first is the question of courteous responses to Members, to which I attach a premium. It would help if Ministers on the Treasury Bench would commit to providing the timely, substantive and courteous responses to hon. and right hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber. That is what they ought to do, and I trust that the Leader of the House will ensure that they are up to the mark.

The second point relates to the question of particular immigration cases. I recognise that there has long been great pressure on the immigration system, under successive Governments, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot comment on how long it might take to resolve a particular case, however needy it might be. However, courtesy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of replies are to be expected from Ministers in relation to correspondence, just as they are rightly expected from Ministers in relation to parliamentary questions. I trust that that message will have been heard, and that it will now be heeded.