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Points of Order

Volume 582: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, of which I have given notice to the hon. Member for Corby (Andy Sawford). Yesterday the hon. Gentleman made a point of order about a meeting that took place in my constituency that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government attended. He did not have the courtesy to inform me in advance of his intention. He complained that the meeting held at Rushden Lakes in my constituency had pre-empted the Department’s proper announcement re the planning application. He implied that Wellingborough councillor Tom Pursglove—the excellent Conservative parliamentary candidate for Corby—and I knew in advance of the planning decision and planned the event days in advance. The truth of the matter is that neither I nor Tom Pursglove knew in advance of the official announcement. It is also untrue that the Secretary of State’s visit was a ministerial visit; it was in fact a Conservative party event that he attended without any officials. It is also simply untrue that this event had been planned in advance. Could you advise me, Sir, as to whether there is any requirement for hon. Members to notify other hon. Members about party events that are happening wholly within their constituencies?

Let me begin by thanking the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, of which, with characteristic courtesy, he gave me notice. Yesterday’s point of order and my response did not address the issue of notification of visits to other Members’ constituencies. The conventions on that matter are clear. Any Member intending to visit another Member’s constituency on official business should give notice of their plans to the constituency Member. What I would like to say at this stage to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, is that I think that the House has probably heard enough about this matter. I say that in no pejorative spirit but in a factual sense, especially as there is an Adjournment debate on it this evening. Of that fact, of course, the hon. Gentleman is himself keenly aware, for the debate is his. We will leave it there for the time being.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I rise to seek your advice. The House is obviously privileged to be the subject of a documentary, which is being filmed at present, but I am sure no one would wish to breach the integrity of a ballot that is currently taking place for the position of Chair of the Health Committee. May I seek your advice to ensure that the integrity of what should be a secret ballot will not be compromised?

We will come to the separate point of order in a moment. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her courtesy.

I thank the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Miss McIntosh) for her point of order and for giving my office advance notice of it. I can reassure her and the House that there can be no question of the integrity of the ballot being compromised in any way. The fact of the documentary is well known. Those undertaking it have been told explicitly that they must not interfere with the running of the ballot or in any way put at risk the secrecy of the ballots being cast. [Interruption.] Order. I can also assure the hon. Lady that the film crew will not—I repeat, will not—be allowed to see any more of the actual process of counting than can be seen by Members. I can also tell the House that I plan to announce the result shortly after 4 o’clock, after the conclusion of any Division on the first Opposition day motion.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. On a separate matter, I wonder whether you could help us. There is a feeling among Members that the TV cameras are going perhaps too far, too fast. There is a rumour going around that they will be coming into the voting Lobbies while we are actually voting. I would suggest that you might be able to put our minds at rest and tell us that that is not going to happen.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Some of us are strongly supportive of Michael Cockerell and his film crew going around the House. The public out there get the wrong impression from seeing things such as Prime Minister’s Question Time, and people such as me strongly support the fact that Michael Cockerell is getting into the voting Lobbies and elsewhere and that he will demonstrate to the world that we do a good job here. Let us see them in the voting Lobbies and elsewhere.

I am grateful to hon. Members for the points of order they have raised. What I would like to say to the House is this: the fact of the documentary being granted permission is well known. That decision was made some time ago on the basis of deliberations by the Administration Committee. That is a well-established fact and I make no secret of the fact that I support wholeheartedly that decision. I think that Members would accept that it would be invidious for the Chair, on anything of a regular basis, to be expected to comment on particular requests. Suffice it to say that I am in regular touch, of course, with representatives of both sides of the House at the highest level, as the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton would expect, and, of course, with the Chair of the Administration Committee. Each request should, I think, be treated on its merits.

I have heard of one request that is apparently to be winging its way towards me, to which neither the hon. Lady nor any other Member has referred today, which I would regard as wholly intrusive, unfair to Members and unacceptable. If such a request to interfere with the private space of Members when they are relaxing, enjoying themselves and consuming food or drink in the Tea Room is made, those making the request will be disappointed. [Hon. Members: “What is wrong with it?”] What is wrong with it? I do not think that an hon. Member consuming a cup of tea and beans on toast should be subjected to a film crew.

Before I take a point of order from the hon. Gentleman, to whom I always listen with the greatest respect, I should record for posterity that the Secretary of State for Education, either deliberately and sincerely, or ironically and teasingly—I leave hon. Members to judge—said “Three cheers for the Speaker”. He is on the record.

The right hon. Gentleman says it was sincerely. It is on the record and I shall treasure it.

The hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) always seeks to behave in an orderly manner and with respect to precedent and the rulings of the Chair, so I therefore assume that he is not raising a point of order on the same matter.

I do venture, Mr Speaker, to raise a point of order on the same matter, because I was unclear as to your answer to my hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Heather Wheeler). Whether the remarks of the Secretary of State for Education will now be part of the national curriculum may be another matter, but I think it is pertinent to this House whether cameras will be allowed into the Division Lobby. Often, extremely private conversations take place in the Division Lobby—[Hon. Members: “Plotting!”] Indeed, plotting takes place in both Lobbies. I think that an important constitutional issue is at stake. In the Lobby, right hon. and hon. Members confer, often on sensitive matters, and in my humble opinion it would be quite improper for those conversations to be recorded.

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I will reflect carefully on it. I simply invite him—he is a keen reader at all times—to study Hansard tomorrow. If thereafter he wishes to come back to me or to the House, I think he will require no encouragement. We will leave it there for today.

Order. I am always most courteous to the hon. Gentleman as, to be fair, is he to me and to the House, but I think I have indulged him sufficiently for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Some of the exchanges we have just heard remind me of the controversy over whether the House should be televised. I voted in favour of that, and I am glad we did that. Some of the reservations expressed today were not really justified.

I thank the hon. Gentleman and I think I will leave it there. In passing, however, I note and congratulate him on what is now 39 years’ service in the House. I think I am right about that—four years from ’66 to ’70, and 35 years since ’79—so unless my arithmetic is flawed, he has only one more year to get to 40.