Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 602: debated on Monday 9 November 2015

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I may be wrong, but I am not aware of any Member of Parliament in this place who is transgender. I have no problem with that, but we have many women who came into the House at this election, and we do not have sufficient toilets in this place for female Members of Parliament. May I ask you to look very carefully at this and make sure that we have sufficient toilets for women, before we look at those for people who are not even here yet?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and, indeed, for her courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I mentioned a moment ago that I thought it was important that our proceedings and procedures should be intelligible. It might therefore be helpful if I explain what I think is the context of and the background to the inquiry by the hon. Lady—reports in the media about work that is being done by Professor Sarah Childs on steps that can be taken to make our Parliament a more gender-sensitive Parliament.

It is absolutely true that such work is being done. There are various dimensions to the work, and one part of it is looking at toilet facilities. If memory serves me correctly, that is the only reference to the issue in terms of sensitivity—nothing beyond that—but the scope is there for Professor Childs, supported by others, to look across the piece and come to a view as to what would be good for the House as a whole. I think it is right that we do not jump the gun, but let her do that work in the very studious and serious-minded way that somebody of her intelligence and background would do. I think she will be alerted to the very proper point of order that the hon. Lady has raised.

May I say to the hon. Lady that if she would like either to contact Professor Childs herself or to write to the House of Commons Commission or the Administration Committee, the very important point she has made will be taken fully on board? I do not want to get into the situation at this stage of prioritising this over that; let us look at it all, including her important point.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We learned today from the Chancellor that four Departments have agreed to swingeing cuts of 30% to their budgets—information that was released, no doubt, as part of his campaign to get the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to agree to cut his budget substantially. Is that not information that you would expect to hear first in this place?

When the autumn statement is delivered, the right hon. Gentleman and the House will receive what I suspect might be called an holistic view of the Government’s thinking and plans. As a matter of course, it would be better if specific details of individual agreements were first communicated to the House. It may well be that, because of the number of people involved in the discussions, things have filtered into the public domain in a way slightly less orderly than the right hon. Gentleman would favour. On the Richter scale of discourtesies to the House, this ranks pretty low, but I thank him nevertheless for drawing our attention to it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier today, the BBC reported in a major story that nine new prisons were to be built to replace Victorian jails. Unfortunately and to my horror, one of the prisons to be sold off was Wellingborough, which caused great concern to my constituents. There were two reasons why I thought the story might be doubtful. First, Wellingborough prison was built in 1960, which suggests that the Victorian era went on for longer than I thought. Secondly, only last week, the prisons Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), gave me an assurance that I would be the first to know if Wellingborough prison’s status was to change.

I am happy to say that Wellingborough prison is not being sold and the matter was completely misreported by the BBC. How on earth did the BBC make such a major mistake on an issue that affects my constituents considerably? How can I get it on the record that there has been sloppy journalism by the BBC?

As people will have noted, the hon. Gentleman is the source of his own salvation. He asks how he can set the record straight. With his usual pertinacity, he has just done that. Beyond that, his point of order reveals three things. First, he cares massively about prisons in Wellingborough. Secondly, he is a notable authority on the Victorian era. Thirdly, he does not like to miss an opportunity to put the boot into the BBC.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I raise a point of order that affects the rights of Back Benchers? On Friday, there were debates on two Bills. The first debate occupied three and a half hours. While every syllable in those speeches was, of course, in order, otherwise they would not have been allowed, some of the comments were peripheral to the subject and all the speeches would have been improved by abbreviation. It was an entirely non-controversial, unopposed Bill.

Sadly, the second Bill had only just over an hour allocated to it. It offered great advantages to patients and the health service, and was approved of by Members of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) moved the motion and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) gave a fine expert opinion on the benefits of the Bill. The only objection came from those on the Government Benches, who spoke on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry. Sadly, three attempts at a closure motion were turned down. Although I understand that the Chair does not give reasons for such decisions, one observer suggested that they were turned down because of time. What we have here is the power of Back Benchers coming up against the fact that big pharma and big sugar have a throat hold on this Government.

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, but nobody has a throat hold on the Chair. I know that he would not suggest that for a moment. I would never be remotely apprehensive about a big pharmaceutical company, other big institutions, big people or people who think that they are big. They are not bigger than the authority that resides in the Chair, whether I am in the Chair or one of my illustrious deputies is performing the duties.

I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. As new Members should know—if they do not know, they will come to discover it—he is the author of a well-thumbed tome entitled “How to be a Backbencher”. I am simply reminded that the Chair must always be zealously conscious of its duty to ensure the rights of Back Benchers as a whole. We will keep a beady eye on the length and relevance of speeches on such occasions, whether the hon. Gentleman is present or not.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your guidance and advice on an incident that took place last week in which I believe I, as a Member of Parliament, was prevented by the actions of public officials from undertaking my duties in supporting my constituents?

The incident took place at Manchester civil courts, where approximately 40 to 50 of my constituents were involved in a case. When I arrived at the security point I was told that I was not to be granted entry. I identified myself as a Member of Parliament. There was a stand-off for a while, and of course I assure you, Mr Speaker, that my manner was courteous, as always, and calm. After about five minutes, a manager came up, pointed his hand towards me and said, “You’re not coming in. I’m now telling you to leave, and the police have been called.” Obviously I had no desire to cause any trouble for Greater Manchester police, but I did have a desire to join my constituents to support them in the court case. I identified myself to the police inspector and had a quick chat with him, and then left.

I believe that the officials of the court, knowing that I was a Member of Parliament, denied me the opportunity to support my constituents. I seek your guidance, Sir, as to the best way in which I might progress the matter further.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. He has made clear, both in what he sent to me and in what he has articulated on the Floor of the House, his concern about the manner in which he was treated on Friday.

While I am always keen to defend Members’ ability to represent their constituents outside as well as inside the House, the question of whether a Member of Parliament should be given access to a court of law in support of constituents is not a matter for me. I say that simply as a matter of fact. Nor is the conduct of court officials a matter on which it would be appropriate for me to comment, having not been present and therefore privy to the circumstances.

That said, I make two other observations. First, the hon. Gentleman has made his point and put his concern on the record. I have a sense that colleagues who know that they could be in a similar position will empathise with him. From personal experience over the past six months, I can confirm that he has always been fastidious in his courtesy—courteous to a fault—in his dealings with the Chair.

Secondly, I think that sometimes people who are not quite conversant with the circumstances, or who perhaps lack directly comparable experience but are anxious to execute their duties in the most zealous way, err on the side of caution. That caution sometimes makes them think that it is easier to say no than to say yes. I was not there, and I make no criticism of any individual, but personally I am very sympathetic to the hon. Gentleman and think it is very regrettable that he has had to bring the matter to the House. I think we will have to leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Saturday there was announcement from Downing Street that everyone

“will be given a legal right to request”

a 10 megabits per second broadband connection. That is of immense importance to many businesses and people who are frustrated by current broadband coverage, yet no details were given about how that right is to be exercised, who will deliver it or who will fund it. Can you advise me of whether you have had notice of a written or oral statement on the subject, and whether government apparently by unaccountable press release is in order?

I say to the hon. Lady that the subject is not new. The adequacy or otherwise of superfast broadband access, in both urban and rural areas, has been extensively debated over a period. It seems to me that the distinction is between disclosing a basic intent and describing a detailed policy. Where the former is concerned, there is nothing particularly unusual about Ministers giving an indication of what they intend in speeches around the country, outside the House. If, however, the Government propose to roll out a specific policy that is different from that which has existed hitherto, the House should be the first to hear about that policy and have the opportunity to question the relevant Minister upon it.

I think we have reached the happy conclusion of points of order for today.