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Points of Order

Volume 592: debated on Tuesday 3 February 2015

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order relates to question 16 on today’s Order Paper and implies no criticism at all of the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell). The question refers to prisoners who have “committed” suicide. Prisoners no longer commit suicide; nor does anyone else since the Suicide Act 1961. The word “commit” suggests a criminal offence and is a pejorative term that offends many of those who have lost family and friends to suicide. The Table Office could be instructed to be vigilant about the use of such terms. Perhaps the appropriate term could have been “died by their own hand” or “took their own life”, but the question certainly should not have used the word “commit”, which relates to a criminal offence.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for kindly giving me advance notice of it. She makes a good point on which I confess I had not previously reflected. The phrase used in the question, and I appreciate what she said about the hon. Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell), is not disorderly, but I will ask the Table Office to consider whether its practice should be changed for precisely the good reason she has just given to the House. I hope that that is helpful.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier in this question session, the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) heard me scoff as he spoke. I scoffed when he referred to the Daily Mail as the source of his research, not because I do not care about the issue of rape, which is an issue I raised on the BBC in a “Newsnight” programme when the hon. Gentleman was eight years old.

I think that the point of order raised by the hon. Lady stands on its own. She has made her point with force and alacrity and the reason for her scoff is well understood.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance in uncharted territory. We have not had a fixed-term Parliament before and visits to constituencies by Ministers become much more sensitive in this clear run-up to an election. I heard at 5.38 pm last Thursday that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions would visit Kirklees college in the heart of my constituency at 11 am the next day. If that was an official visit, it would have been a courtesy to tell me that he was coming so that I could perhaps have been there to welcome him. I understand that Colne Valley and Dewsbury are highly sensitive marginal seats nearby, but this was an official visit, presumably paid for by the taxpayer, in the run-up to an election that we know will be on 7 May. What is the status of such visits and should there not be the usual courtesy of telling a Member when a Minister is visiting their patch?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He asks what is the status of such an arrangement. The short answer is that it is a convention; it is not a requirement of parliamentary procedure or of our Standing Orders. That said, I think it is very much to be preferred that the convention should be observed, as it is for the most part by Members on both sides of the House. Notification, by definition, must take place before the visit, but in order to comply with the spirit of the convention, it seems to me reasonable that Members should have adequate notice of, in particular, official visits, so that if they wish to be present, they have the chance to be so. I do not in any way diminish the significance of the hon. Gentleman’s point or of what I just said when I note that the honouring of that arrangement has frequently been as much in the breach as in the observance, and that, I think, is regrettable. It is not a point applied to one side rather than the other.

I know that in the past, long before I was elected to the Chair, visits were made to institutions within my own constituency of which I did not have what I regarded as anything like adequate notice in order to be able to decide whether I wished to be present. I appeal to colleagues to be considerate and solicitous in these matters, because a colleague who does not observe the convention is not only doing the wrong thing, but wholly disabling himself or herself from subsequently complaining if the convention is not honoured when his or her own constituency is affected. I think that deals with the matter.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When the Justice Committee, as was mentioned earlier, held an appointment hearing for the chief inspector of probation, some information was not given to it, although the Cabinet Office guidelines did not require that to be done. Subsequently, the position changed quite significantly when the wife of Paul McDowell was promoted to a much more senior post in an organisation which had in the meantime obtained contracts for probation. I think it right to say by way of a point of order not only that in my view has Mr McDowell correctly resigned, but that I endorse what the Lord Chancellor has said about his integrity, I repeat what the Committee said about his suitability for the job and his abilities, and I dissociate myself from any attack on his integrity from any part of the House today.

What the right hon. Gentleman has said is interesting, both for its content and for the vantage point from which he speaks. Members will make their own assessment. I thank him for what he said, and we will leave it there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When, earlier, I raised the horrific killing of my constituent, Zac Evans, the entire Opposition Front-Bench team, with one honourable exception, were chuntering and laughing—indeed, one of them continues to chunter now. May I ask if it would be in order for one of their representatives to confirm that there was no intended disrespect in relation to an horrific act, widely decried in my constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he says and understand the extreme seriousness with which he treats that extremely serious occurrence. I hope he will understand if I say that I do not think we want to get into choreographed responses on matters of this kind. I think it should be taken as read that such a matter is extremely serious, and I do not myself imagine for one moment that any member of the Opposition Front Bench intended any discourtesy. The hon. Gentleman has underlined one important point: Members should be sensitive to the mood of the House and the nature of the matter being raised. It was and is a very serious matter and I thank the hon. Gentleman both for his question and for raising it in the seemly fashion he has just done. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) is chuntering from a sedentary position, although I note that on this occasion he has not said what he ordinarily says, which is, “It’s a disgrace!” and that itself is a notable change—

The hon. Gentleman says it is. If there are no further points of order, we come now to the ten-minute rule motion.