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Points of Order

Volume 590: debated on Monday 5 January 2015

I shall come to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr Donohoe). I am saving him up, which is always enjoyable.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Today the Government tabled a written statement announcing a report on the important issue of supporting veterans in the criminal justice system. I am sure that you would have been as disappointed as I was, Mr Speaker, to see conclusions from the same report published more than two weeks ago in The Sunday Telegraph and numerous other media outlets. What is more, the report was released to the press just after the House had risen for the recess. It is hard to believe that it could not have been ready in time to be presented to Members before we broke up for Christmas. The Justice Secretary has form in this regard. On 14 September last year, just after we had risen for the recess, he announced in the press plans for a victims law, about which the House was not told until three weeks later.

May I ask you, Mr Speaker, whether it is in order for announcements on such important subjects to be released to the media before being presented to the House? If it is not, will you please use your good offices to ensure that the Justice Secretary notifies the House before making such important announcements in the future?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it.

As I understand the position, the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims today issued a written ministerial statement informing the House that the Ministry of Justice had published a report following a review of former members of the armed forces and the criminal justice system, along with the Government’s response, on 21 December. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is preferable for significant reports to be published while the House is sitting whenever that is possible. I appreciate that, in the case of a long recess, it may well be in the public interest to publish sooner—in this instance, sooner than today. Whether it was possible to publish before we broke up for the Christmas recess I cannot myself say for certain, although I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said about the sequence of events and releases to the media.

These are important matters which involve courtesies to Members of the House, of which I hope those on the Treasury Bench will wish to take note. The hon. Gentleman has put his concern on the record, and I hope that that concern is judged weighty by all in the House. We will leave it there for now.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At exactly 9.44 this morning, a member of my staff received an e-mail telling me that the First Minister would be in my constituency exactly 61 minutes later. I understood that there was a convention, certainly in this place, which ensured that if a Minister or another Member of Parliament was coming to my constituency, I would be given good notice of the fact. I also understood that there was a similar convention between us and the Scottish Parliament. I wonder, Mr Speaker, whether you could, at the very least, have a discussion with the Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament and try to reintroduce that convention. The First Minister’s predecessor used to provide perfectly adequate time for me to attend such events in my constituency.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I thought that he was on to an important point when he said that there was a convention “in this place”. It is my understanding that there is certainly a very strong convention in this place that if a Member is going to visit the constituency of another on official business, advance notification is offered. However, I fear that I am not aware of the veracity of the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, which concerned the existence of some sort of understanding between separate Parliaments.

The hon. Gentleman is nodding sagely. If there is such a convention which has generally been honoured, then there is no reason for it suddenly not to be honoured. I cannot deal with the First Minister at this stage. Whether there will be occasion to deal with her in the future, I have no idea—I have no idea whether there will be or not. If there has been a convention and it has been honoured, then it should continue to be honoured, and on a very serious note I do understand the sense of irritation the hon. Gentleman feels that what might be thought to be an expected courtesy has not been observed. That is regrettable. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) witters from a sedentary position that it has been honoured. I am afraid I regard what I have been told as an example of it not being honoured, but I am going to leave it there for today, and if the matter resurfaces, it will have to be dealt with in the appropriate way.