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Points of Order

Volume 585: debated on Monday 8 September 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Over the weekend, my surgeries were picketed by an individual in dispute with the Courts Service. I recognise the right to protest, but the use of a loud-hailer made it almost impossible to hold a conversation with those visiting my surgeries. The protest also extended to my home and, more worryingly, those of my patient and generous neighbours, which resulted in multiple calls being made to the police throughout Saturday and Sunday. The protester made it clear to my neighbours that unless I succeeded, as their MP, in changing the law to his liking, he would mount a sustained campaign against them. These threats caused great distress. Protest is one thing, but it is intolerable to try to coerce an MP to act in a particular way under the threat of his neighbours and constituents being harassed, disrupted and distressed. To paraphrase a US President—I think it was Truman or Roosevelt—“Your right to throw a punch ends where the nose of another constituent begins.”

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and his courtesy in tipping me off yesterday about his desire to raise it. I think the whole House will have been shocked to hear the hon. Gentleman’s account of the distress and disruption to which he, his family and his neighbours have been subjected. Let me, perhaps—I hope on behalf of the House—make the situation clear beyond doubt: however strongly any individual feels about a particular cause or campaign, each and every Member of this House has a right to go about his or her legitimate business without intimidation or harassment, or fear thereof. Moreover, it is quite unacceptable for any individual to threaten continuing such harassment if the Member fails to seek to bring about the particular change in the law that that member of the public seeks. That simply will not do. I think I can say that the whole House will be behind the hon. Gentleman on this matter, and I hope he will be good enough to keep me informed of the developing circumstances. We wish him, his family and his neighbours well.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I remind the House that in 2009 we had an intense debate on the security of Members’ home addresses, in which the then Labour Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), rightly said that MPs must be able to do their jobs without fear or favour and without having to look fearfully over their shoulders. What disturbs me, from what little I know about this incident, is that the police appear reluctant to intervene. If that is so, is it not absolutely disgraceful?

I cannot comment on that because I do not know whether it is true or not. I think I had better reserve judgment on that point—

Order. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and I will have known each other for 30 years next month, and I say in all courtesy to him that when first he proposed, in the interest of all colleagues, to bring about a change in the law on the subject of home addresses, I do not mind admitting that I did not think his chances of securing such a change were very good. I should have known better than to predict failure, however, because his mission was successful. I have a feeling that the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) wants to get in again.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I just make it perfectly clear that the Hertfordshire constabulary has been simply wonderful in its dealings with me? I wholly accept the first part of the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), but Hertfordshire constabulary has been absolutely brilliant. It has supported me and my neighbours, and I have nothing but admiration for it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you received notice of an imminent Government statement on new devolution legislation or other plans for Scotland? If there is no statement, would it be correct to conclude, given that the UK Government are currently in strict purdah, that there is no substance to what is being proposed outside this Chamber?

If I did not know the hon. Gentleman as well as I do, and if I were not inclined to regard him as a straight dealer—which, through my natural generosity of spirit, I am—I would think that he was seeking to inveigle me into some sort of partisan debate, perhaps relating to an upcoming plebiscite. But of course I cannot believe that he would attempt to do any such thing. To seek to dragoon the impartial Chair into such a partisan debate would be quite improper, and I cannot believe that he would seek to do anything that could be described as quite improper. We will leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was very pleased with the way in which you gave us the sad news about the death of Jim Dobbin at the start of today’s proceedings. I treasure a photo of him outside this building campaigning for the end of nuclear weapons in this country. However, something seems to be missing here. When a Member dies in office, tributes have to be paid through interventions in debates on completely different subjects or through a brief statement by you, Mr Speaker. Could there not be a proper facility for paying appropriate tributes to people we have worked with who have been good friends and to whom we wish to pay due regard?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am very open to that proposition, although it would not be right for me to seek to impose a new arrangement. I have, however, sought to update and humanise the procedure. When I first took office, I was told that the proper practice was to report the fact of a death very baldly and rather coldly. When I suggested that I should perhaps utter a couple of sentences of tribute to the Member, I was told, “Oh no, Mr Speaker, that is not the way it is done. That is not appropriate.” I am afraid I decided that it was appropriate, and that we should move on and invest these matters with some humanity. I do not know whether there is a feeling in the House that we should have a short, dedicated session in such circumstances, but I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman’s point of order will quickly be brought to the attention of the Procedure Committee, whose Chair was here only a few moments ago. Let that conversation begin. I will happily be guided by the House, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order.