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Points of Order

Volume 603: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2015

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am starting to panic. You will recall that on 2 December the Prime Minister, in response to a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), the leader of the Liberal Democrats, said:

“I am very happy to look at that issue again”—

the issue being the 3,000 unaccompanied children—

“to see whether Britain can do more to fulfil our moral responsibilities.”—[Official Report, 2 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 339.]

The Prime Minister has been silent on the matter ever since. Can you, Mr Speaker, clarify whether the rules of the House require, when matters of moral responsibility are in play, the Prime Minister to return to this Chamber urgently to set out how he intends to fulfil those moral responsibilities?

The matter that the right hon. Gentleman raises is certainly important, but I am bound to tell him that it is treated of neither in “Erskine May”, which, of course, is the bible of parliamentary precedent and procedure, nor in Standing Orders. Therefore, although it may seem imperative in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, in that of his leader that the Prime Minister should return to the House to satisfy them on this matter before the Christmas recess, there is no procedural imperative to that effect.

The right hon. Gentleman mutters “Shame” from a sedentary position, and I feel sure that it is a matter to which he will return, quite possibly before the Christmas recess. We shall wait to see.

I think we shall have a change of party for a moment, but we will return to the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is my first point of order, just in time for Christmas. On a very serious point, it has come to my attention recently that the Department for Work and Pensions plans to operate “business as usual”, as it did for the first time last year, in the run-up to Christmas. That basically means that people will be sanctioned up until and on Christmas eve. How can I hold the Secretary of State to account on this matter and have it dealt with, hopefully positively, so that we do not have a Scrooge-like approach in the run-up to Christmas?

I think the hon. Lady has just done it, although there is one further parliamentary day. Of course, the scheduled debates for tomorrow are what they are and I am not at all sure that either of them would facilitate her in that respect, but there are other opportunities on every parliamentary day and she will have to use her ingenuity, which is not inconsiderable, to see if she can refer to the matter again and extract some sort of ministerial response in the Chamber.

I think the hon. Member for Leeds North West is going to think he is always left until last if I do not call him now. Members do develop persecution complexes from time to time. We will come to the hon. Gentleman, who is a hardy fellow and will not mind waiting.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last question at today’s Department for International Development Question Time was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock). It concerned a very serious matter regarding reports that two men from Malawi—Cuthbert Kulemela and Kelvin Gonani—have been arrested in the capital city for having consensual sex together. Essentially, it appears that they have been arrested for being gay. This is probably as much of an issue for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as it is for DFID, so I am glad that there are FCO Ministers present. I hope the Government will respond in the same way as the Secretary of State for International Development did by condemning the action.

My point of order is that the question asked by my hon. Friend could barely be heard because of the noise that always rises in the prelude to Prime Minister’s questions. What advice can you give to Members, Mr Speaker, about noise levels during Question Time, and what opportunities are there for us to ask the Government to look at rotating the questions and when they are heard?

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The news that he reports on a very serious matter is, frankly, horrifying—it is absolutely horrifying news indeed. Of course, there is a direct locus for the Secretary of State and the Department for International Development in view of our continuing commitment to Malawi, with which country I know the hon. Gentleman, from his personal experience, is intensely familiar, so, I think probably on behalf of the House, I can empathise with what he has said.

The noise at Question Time is very disturbing. I do often say to the House that we are dealing with extremely important matters. In some cases they are important matters not only from our point of view, but to people elsewhere in the world who are in very much more vulnerable situations than we are, so common courtesy would dictate that there should be a civilised atmosphere and that questions and answers should be heard. The hon. Gentleman knows, to be fair, that it is ordinarily not a calculated insult; it is that colleagues are very excited and animated about the upcoming Prime Minister’s questions and are engaging in often protracted and noisy private conversations. I can only exhort colleagues to remember their responsibilities to each other and to people whose concerns we are discussing.

More widely, the hon. Gentleman makes quite an important point about possible rotation. There is no procedural bar to rotation. If there is a significant body of Members who feel that it is wrong that one Department should have to occupy that very difficult slot for an extended period, they can make representations—I am trying to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman; I cannot solve the problem overnight—to the Leader of the House and, indeed, if I may say so, to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who is, in my experience, unfailingly helpful to, and courteous in his dealings with, Members of the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not at all mind waiting to seek your advice or to share some very good news. I know that you will be delighted, as will the House, with today’s news that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has approved the drug Vimizim for sufferers of Morquio disease. That is life-changing news for the 88 people and their families, and it is the result of a large campaign.

I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, because this is a hugely important matter that has exercised considerable time and a number of questions in this House. Given that there will be no pre-recess Adjournment debate tomorrow, and given the very limited time available for a statement from the Department of Health—which would be very welcome, particularly because it is such good news—I seek your advice on how the issue might be raised in the time remaining to us, considering not only its importance, but the importance of the ultra-rare diseases that have not received this news, such as tuberous sclerosis and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

There are two points in response to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. First, I am absolutely delighted to hear that excellent news. Although the hon. Gentleman was too modest to draw direct attention to his own work on the subject, I think Members across the whole House know just how indefatigable he has been in his efforts on behalf of those very vulnerable people, so I would like to congratulate him and other Members on their persistence. It is absolutely magnificent news. We are here to serve other people and this is a very good example of where that has been done, not least due to the prodigious efforts of Back Benchers such as himself and a number of his colleagues.

Secondly, there is every opportunity for statements to be made tomorrow. Ministers will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. Whether a Minister wishes to come to announce and elaborate on the good news, and potentially to answer queries about other categories of people who might also be helped, I do not know. The hon. Gentleman also knows that, whether or not a statement is offered, there is an opportunity for Members to submit urgent questions. The hon. Gentleman has done it many times himself, sometimes with success. I cannot possibly give a commitment in advance, because we do not deal with the matter in that way. One thing the hon. Gentleman knows is that if he does not extract a commitment by a Minister to make an oral statement tomorrow and he chooses to submit an urgent question, I will see that question and read it in full, and it will be considered and adjudicated on at the morning meeting at 8.45 am tomorrow. I hope that that is helpful to him and, indeed, to other Members of the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In that context, have you received any indication from the Government that a Minister intends to make a statement tomorrow about the outcome of their consultation on cutting the solar feed-in tariff, which I understand they will announce tomorrow. This is a matter of huge public and industrial concern, with 37,000 jobs—87% of the jobs in the solar industry—at risk if the Government do not change their proposals. It would be completely unacceptable for this announcement to be sneaked out on the last sitting Thursday before Christmas when, with a one-line Whip, many Members will not be in Parliament. I hope that you will take up that matter with the Government on our behalf.

I am not aware of any intention on the part of a Minister to make a statement on that subject tomorrow, although I must say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is extremely experienced in the House, that the fact that I am not aware of any such intention at this point is itself unexceptional. There is no particular reason why I would have been notified. I have not been notified, but that does not mean that the Government are not planning to make a statement. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, that is little comfort to him. There might be an oral statement or there might not be. It is perfectly possible that there might be a written statement, which I suspect would satisfy him even less.

I cannot do anything about the point we have reached in the timetable. Tomorrow is the last day and some Members may not be present. That is unfortunate, but I can do nothing about it. However, just as I said to the hon. Member for Leeds North West that there is the opportunity of an urgent question for him and for other Members on matters of concern to them, it is perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman to submit an urgent question. I simply inform colleagues that on a Thursday such applications must be in by 8.15 am. I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman are both eager beavers and early birds.

If there are no further points of order—the appetite has been satisfied, at least for today—we come now to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) has been so patiently waiting.