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Points of Order

Volume 607: debated on Monday 21 March 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions leaves the Chamber, may I point out that he said in his statement that the Government will not be seeking future savings from the welfare budget? However, Treasury sources were apparently briefing to The Sun newspaper during his statement that that is not what he means, and that he means that there are no “planned” increases in the cuts to the welfare budget in this Parliament. Can he tell us which it is?

The hon. Gentleman has raised his concern under the guise, or within the clothing, of an attempted point of order, but as he knows—his puckish grin merely testifies to his awareness of this—that is not a matter for the Chair. If he is beseeching the Secretary of State to come in on that point of order, he is entitled so to beseech. The Secretary of State can do so if he wishes, but he is under no obligation.

The Secretary of State is leaving it there, which he is perfectly entitled to do. I thank him for his statement and his responses to questions.

I will come to the right hon. Lady in a moment. I am saving her up—it will be worth waiting for, I feel sure.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. If indeed the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has been put in an impossible position by the Treasury and may have unintentionally used misleading language in the House, would the way to clear that up be for the Chancellor to come to the House and make a full statement in which people can ask questions, rather than simply closing the very end of a debate?

I say to the right hon. Lady and the House only that I have no knowledge, or way of possessing knowledge, about what is or is not being briefed to a particular newspaper at a given time. To meet her concern head on, the Chancellor will be in the House tomorrow. I understand that he is winding up the debate, but it is customary for a Minister who is winding up a debate to attend most of it, so there will be ample opportunity for colleagues to air their concerns. I hope she will understand if I say that I prefer not to entertain hypothetical situations. I always thought that Lord Whitelaw was very sound when he said that on the whole he preferred not to cross bridges until he came to them.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions says that he wants to listen to disabled people. There is a case in the Supreme Court at the moment. Paul and Sue Rutherford, who are constituents of the Secretary of State, won an exemption from the bedroom tax in the High Court, and that case is now in the Supreme Court. If the Secretary of State wants to listen to disabled people, perhaps he could listen to his own constituents and stop fighting tooth and nail against that exemption.

I wish gently, although not too gently, to reprove the hon. Lady. The shadow Secretary of State made at least a half-hearted attempt to conceal his political observation within the guise of a point of order. There was really no such attempted disguise on the part of the hon. Lady. Her point may or may not have been valid, and it might well relate to a case that is sub judice, but whatever else may be said of it, it is not a matter for the Chair. We will leave it there for today. She has got her point on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are well known for defending the rights of Back Benchers. In the light of a motion on the Order Paper today, I need your advice about defending the rights of a very small group of Back Benchers. Both Opposition and Government Members are being whipped against this group of Back Benchers, who are the small group representing the interests of the constituencies lying along the High Speed 2 route. The HS2 Bill, which has some 417 pages, has taken six years to come to fruition, yet the Government have seen fit to table a motion providing only two hours on Report and one hour for Third Reading, which is only half a day’s debate. If Members wish to have their amendments voted on, it will be almost impossible to have any reasonable debate.

The amendments tabled cover tunnelling, the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty, an adjudicator to help people who fall foul of the construction process and of subcontractors, speed limitations, compensation for local authorities, environmental provisions and safeguards, and compensation and local issues relating to constituents of Labour and Conservative Members and those of many other Members. Several MPs who are affected have expressed dismay to me, and people are despairing at having such a short time to look at these important issues.

What can we do? At the moment, there is no point even in voting against the business of the House motion because Members of both parties are being whipped against it. People looking at the House will think that the process of democracy is dead when MPs defending their constituents’ interests cannot even get a whole day on a £56 billion white elephant.

I thank the right hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. Her concerns about the Bill are well known. She referred to constituencies on the line of route and I mention, purely in passing, that my own constituency situation is well known to the right hon. Lady and many other Members throughout the House. She has referenced the motion that the Government have tabled. That business of the House motion, item 2 on today’s Order Paper, allocates time to the remaining stages, and she has complained about what she regards as the total inadequacy of that time. As she also knows, because she has been in the House for almost 24 years, I am afraid that such motions are not the preserve of the Chair: there is absolutely nothing that the Chair can do on that matter. It is up to the House whether to agree to the motion.

However, for the benefit of the right hon. Lady and those beyond the Chamber interested in these matters, I would simply add that if the motion is reached after 10 pm, it cannot be debated and can be agreed tonight only if there is no objection. I am not a seer—the right hon. Lady knows that I cannot be sure how events will play out—but given the time now and the fact that we are about to hear two Front-Bench speeches and that some dozens of colleagues wish to give the House the benefit of their views on the Budget, it seems at least highly probable that the motion will not be reached until after 10 o’clock. Knowing the indefatigability of the right hon. Lady, I feel sure that she will be in her place at the point the motion is reached, and she will know what she thinks she should do.

Beyond that, the right hon. Lady should have a chat with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, and deploy her combination of intellect and charm to try to secure an improvement in the position.

There is really nothing further to that point of order, but because it is the right hon. Lady, I feel I must take it.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for that piece of information. Unfortunately, I have already deployed my intellect and charm. They have failed to work on the Secretary of State for Transport. Hence my appeal to the Chair in this instance.

In that case, I can advise the right hon. Lady and anybody else who feels as she does only as I have just done. It is not for me to tell the House how to vote. I would not dream of doing so; that would be most improper. All I am doing is saying to the right hon. Lady that that is the position procedurally. She will go into the situation with open eyes if she wants to be in the Chamber close to and beyond 10 o’clock. She knows that what I am telling her is not opinion, but based on sound procedural advice. I think we had better leave it there. I suggest that the Clerk now proceeds to read the Orders of the Day.