Skip to main content

Point of Order

Volume 582: debated on Tuesday 17 June 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise a point of which I have given notice to the planning Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles), and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Rushden Lakes is a retail and leisure development close to the towns of Irthlingborough and Raunds, which I represent. After a planning inspection concluded a year ago, we waited a long time for a decision by the Secretary of State when he called it in. Immediately as this Session of Parliament began, I tabled a written question to ask for the reasons for the delay and when the Secretary of State planned to announce the decision. On 11 June, I received a response from the planning Minister, dated 10 June, stating:

“The Department has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.”

I communicated this news, which indicated further delay, to my constituents.

The following morning, while I was in Parliament, I heard that the Secretary of State was on his way to east Northamptonshire. This clearly indicated a favourable decision and pre-empted the Department’s proper announcement. I further learned that journalists, local councillors from my constituency and others, including the Conservative parliamentary candidate for my constituency, had been invited to the event. Some had known about it for days, others perhaps for longer. The written answer dated 10 June then disappeared from the Parliament website and has been removed from TheyWorkForYou and other sources.

I am delighted that Rushden Lakes is going ahead, but I am disappointed by the way that I was misled and the discourtesy to my constituents, and concerned about the attempt to expunge this from the record. I would be grateful, Mr Speaker, for any advice you can give me on this matter.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. There are two issues: the answer to his written parliamentary question and the ministerial visit. On the first, I am not responsible for the content of answers, as a rule, but I remind the House, and particularly Government Front Benchers, of the words of the resolution of the House of 1997:

“Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to disclose information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest”.

On the second point, I think it is generally reasonable for any hon. Member to expect that a Minister would inform him or her whenever a matter affecting that Member’s constituency is likely to be the subject of an official announcement, especially if an hon. Member has shown a specific and recent interest in the matter. That must, of course, be a matter for the Minister’s judgment, but I would hope that Ministers would incline towards inclusiveness whenever possible. I am sure that if the Minister feels, on reflection, that the hon. Gentleman is owed an apology on any count, it will be forthcoming. I know that the Minister is both an honourable and a courteous man. Perhaps we can leave it there for now.