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Points of Order

Volume 604: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Treasury questions, the Chancellor said that the shadow Chancellor had lost his marbles, which I feel was unparliamentary. This comment comes in the week when the Government have been exposed as leaving mental health services underfunded. I just wanted to put it on the record that this comment goes to the heart of their callous attitude towards vulnerable people.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I did not make the immediate judgment that the Chancellor’s remark was unparliamentary. I think it was intended in a jocular spirit, although, of course, we all have to weigh our words carefully in this place and think of the possible implications of the language chosen. I stand by the judgment I made, but equally she has taken the opportunity to make her own point and to make a wider point about an important public policy issue in the process. I thank her for putting her comments on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have certified that the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 relate to England only and are subject to double-majority voting. Thousands of English students study at Bangor University and are constituents of mine. Can you advise me on how I might fully represent their views in the Lobbies?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and his characteristic courtesy in notifying me in advance of its thrust. He asks how he can represent the interests of his constituents in relation to the education regulations before the House. This gives me the opportunity to explain the situation. Although I have certified the instrument as relating exclusively to England, the prayer to annul it requires a majority both of all Members and of Members representing English constituencies, so he is perfectly entitled to vote on it. The test that the Standing Order sets is that every provision of the instrument relates exclusively to England and is within devolved legislative competence. I am satisfied that the instrument meets that test. In forming my judgment, I am guided by advice from Speaker’s Counsel and from the Public Bill Office. Our exchange is now on the record and will, I hope, be useful to him in such exchanges or communications as take place.

I am not sure whether this will be further to that point of order, but I shall discover whether that is so, courtesy of the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson).

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I fully accept your interpretation of this matter, Mr Speaker, which is right and proper. My further point of order is about the opportunities available to Members who believe that they have an interest in Wales to make representations to you prior to your certification. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian C. Lucas) will point out, there are implications concerning the impact of budgets on communities such as ours. For example, I have only just learned in the last few moments, prior to entering the Chamber this morning, of your certification on this particular matter, and I am interested for future reference in what process is in place for us to make those representations. Self-evidently, we Members with Welsh seats believe that we have a constituency interest in this matter.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order, but if my memory serves me correctly, I announced my decision on this matter on 6 January. There has therefore been a period of no fewer than 12 days in which it was open to right hon. and hon. Members to make representations. Moreover, in relation not, I concede, to instruments, but to Bills, the House will be conscious or will start to become conscious that it is my frequent practice to make a provisional certification, which is subject to review during the passage of the piece of legislation, depending on the sequence of events. If, during such periods, Members feel that their point of view has not been heard and that if I heard it I might reach a different judgment, they should take the opportunity to make that known.

The right hon. Gentleman looked rather sceptical when I said that a judgment had been made about this matter several days ago, but I emphasise that there is no intention at all to deny Members the opportunity to make representations. Indeed, it is rather the contrary. I would also very politely point out to the right hon. Gentleman and the House that this procedure is one that the House has decided I should operate. I am seeking to operate it to the best of my ability and extremely fairly. It is not, however, the Speaker’s procedure; it is a judgment that the House has made, and I am making the best job of it that I can. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman is intimating from a sedentary position that his facial expressions were those not of scepticism, but of gratitude. I am grateful to him for that helpful clarification—as an expectant nation will also be, I am sure.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am particularly grateful that you pointed out that this appalling procedure is not your procedure, but one that, unfortunately, the House authorised you to implement, and one subject to Standing Orders, which you are, of course, acting upon.

I think the difficulty is that the notification and notice are very late for those of us, such as me, who have constituents in Glyndwr University who are directly affected by this measure. In a spirit of being helpful, I would like to point out that the Procedure Committee, of which I am a member, is undertaking an inquiry into this appalling procedure and will be reporting on it. May I suggest that those who are motivated, such as my very good hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who actually attended Glyndwr university and can vote today in a way that other MPs from Wales cannot, should make representations to the Procedure Committee?

First, I must emphasise that all Members can vote on this matter today. The hon. Gentleman can vote on it; I do not want him to develop—it would be sad and worrying if he did—a persecution complex. I would not want him to feel that he is excluded. The hon. Gentleman says that he is making his point of order by way of being helpful, and I cannot think I would doubt that for a moment; I do not think he ever intends anything other than to be helpful to me, to the House, to the nation and, of course, to his constituents. He certainly can vote on the matter.

The House will have been struck by the hon. Gentleman’s use of his adjective in relation to the procedure. I, of course, did not make any evaluation of the procedure. I simply made the factual point that it is not something introduced by the Speaker; it is something that the House has said the Speaker shall do. I am the servant of the House, and I am doing it to the best of my ability. The hon. Gentleman has made his own assessment of the procedure and he is, of course, as he has pointed out using other words, a distinguished ornament of the Procedure Committee. Members who wish to make representations to that Committee and to its illustrious Chairman, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), should, of course, do so. That opportunity has been helpfully advertised.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a separate matter, I was astonished on Friday lunchtime to be told by a constituent that the Prime Minister was visiting the wonderful Makkah mosque in my constituency on Monday morning. Having followed that up, I received an e-mail at 4.57 saying that that was the case, but those sending it refused to tell me where the visit was—even though I had already told them that I knew! Only on Monday morning was I finally told where the visit was going to be, given that I was not told in the first place.

Apart from the “Keystone Cops” attitude to national security, given that a sitting Member of Parliament was not told about a visit that constituents did find out about, I ask your advice on parliamentary protocol, Mr Speaker. On this occasion, I did not have the opportunity either to liaise with the wonderful Makkah mosque, which does marvellous work on integration, or to speak to the Prime Minister’s Office to give him my thoughts and advice on the work the mosque does before his visit.

I rather imagine that the Prime Minister thinks of little else in the course of planning his day than of the merits of receiving, in such terms as the hon. Gentleman thinks fit and at such length as is necessary, the hon. Gentleman’s advice. It occurs to me off the top of my head that it would have been open to representatives of the mosque to notify the hon. Gentleman in a timely way.

On the matter of the protocol whereby Members should be notified of visits, I would say that it is best for colleagues to interpret their responsibility in this matter broadly. That is to say—I do not refer to any particular case—that rather than taking a narrow view and thinking that notification would take place at a very late stage, it is better to notify a colleague well in advance of an intention to visit his or her constituency. My own personal view is that where we are dealing with colleagues who are right hon. and hon. Members, it is a courtesy to give more information rather than less. I hope that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman and to the House. These sorts of matters tend to arise from time to time.