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Points of Order

Volume 591: debated on Monday 26 January 2015

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that the Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee last week tabled an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill based on the Committee’s findings but ahead of their publication. Obviously we are all aware that it is a clear breach of Select Committee rules to leak a report in advance of publication, and I make no suggestion that that has been done here. However, I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, as to whether amending a Bill in such a way as to reveal key parts of a report prior to its publication is in order, and whether you could remind the House of the duty of Select Committee Chairs to ensure that they do not give an impression that inquiries are being rushed through in order to make political points.

I will offer a response, but if the hon. Lady who chairs the Committee wishes to come in on the back of the point of order, she is at liberty to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is important for the House to understand that the Select Committee was simply operating in such a way as to ensure that our report was helpful in terms of the legislation coming forward—the Infrastructure Bill that we shall be dealing with later today. What perhaps needs to happen, following on from your ruling on this, Mr Speaker, is consideration of what rules and guidance there can be in order that those of us on the Liaison Committee can make absolutely sure that we do not, as it were, miss the bus. There is no point in having important recommendations coming forward when legislation is being rushed through in this place, and it is then too late to have the informed debate that this House of Commons absolutely has to have.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Precisely because the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) courteously gave me notice both of his intention to raise the point or order and its thrust, I have, unsurprisingly, a prepared response. The House can make its own assessment of this situation, but I confess that my own reading of it was analogous to that of the hon. Lady. I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this matter, but let me just say this for the record. It is certainly unusual for a Select Committee to release information about the conclusions of its report prior to publication, and to do so would normally be considered a discourtesy to the House, though not a contempt given that the report had been formally reported to the House. However, in this case I understand that the Committee considered that it was helpful for the House to have notice of the relevance of its report, which was published this morning, to the amendment, which was required to be tabled last week. Therefore no harm has been done by it. I think the House will be grateful to both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Transport Committee for the work they have done on matters relevant to the Infrastructure Bill, although of course I note in passing, non-evaluatively, that it does not follow that all Members will necessarily agree entirely with their conclusions. We will leave it there for now.

Yes, directly, Mr Speaker. You made reference to two Select Committee reports, one from the Environmental Audit Committee and one from the Transport Committee, directly relevant to this Bill. May I also draw the House’s attention to the fact that my Energy and Climate Change Committee has reported twice in detail on the specific issue of shale gas and fracking?

I was not aware of that, though far be it from me to dispute the assiduity of the hon. Gentleman. It was of course open to him and his Committee to have put that on the Order Paper. For whatever reason, it did not, but the hon. Gentleman, in prime time and with some alacrity, has now sought to remedy that deficiency.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Early in this very important anniversary year of Magna Carta, in which we celebrate the work of this parliamentary democracy, we still have time to pay attention to the many children who will come here to learn about this place and its history. When I was chair of the then Education and Skills Committee, we found that our wonderful free museums in London were largely attended by people from London and people who were rather better off. Can we make sure that this year that less privileged children get the chance to come here, and that we have people from the north of England as well as London and the south?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order, but the short answer is that we already have a scheme, which is effectively a grant scheme or subsidy mechanism, that makes it less burdensome for school groups from areas of the country either a considerable distance from London or characterised by disadvantage to come here. That is already in place, and should we continue with such a scheme and perhaps even redouble our efforts in 2015—I think we should—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is always young at heart, will be enthusiastic about the scope of the education centre when it is opened in the late spring or early summer. That centre, which will be a state-of-the-art facility charting the journey to rights and representation, will allow us to double the number of young people coming through this place. There are people on both sides of the House who strongly supported this, and it is something we can all unite in welcoming.

I am not sure there is anything further to say, but the hon. Gentleman has been here for 35 years and I have a feeling that if I do not let him come in, he will be badgering me for another 35 years.

I certainly will, Mr Speaker; I have every intention in that direction. Could the subsidy, help and support that Members of Parliament get be circulated again to them, because many I talk to are not aware of the scheme?

I do not think we will circulate the subsidy, but we will circulate awareness of the fact of it. I hope that meets the needs of the case. I know what the hon. Gentleman is driving at, and I think the House appreciates his purpose.

On a separate matter, I hope, I call Helen Jones.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last weekend it was revealed that the general secretary of a party that is represented in this House had compared the NHS to Nazi Germany. That remark not only plumbs unfathomable depths of ignorance but, at a time when we are commemorating the holocaust and celebrating the dedicated team that aided the recovery of Pauline Cafferkey, is also morally repugnant. Can you advise whether there is any way for this House to express its disapprobation of those comments and its support for our many dedicated NHS staff, who deserve better from people who seek to be public representatives?

The hon. Lady is a very experienced Member of this House and I think she has already served her cause; I suspect that what she said will be echoed by Members on both sides of the House. I am not sure it is a matter for the Chair. The only thing I would say is that Nazism is one of the most evil phenomena in our history, and the holocaust a despicable crime. People in whatever party should be very careful not to bandy about terms of abuse in contexts which most sensible people would think completely inappropriate. I think both sides of the House will agree on that. Perhaps we can now make some progress. I thank the hon. Lady for what she said.