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Points of Order

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 23 March 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I should like your advice on a Select Committee report that was published only this morning, but which, I am afraid, relates specifically to some of the business that is before the House today.

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee has reported on an investigation into a complaint against HS2 Ltd that was upheld by the ombudsman, who fined HS2. The Committee received and published a large body of evidence that is highly critical of HS2 Ltd. Following its investigation, the Committee has declared that the

“culture of defensive communication and misinformation within”


“is not acceptable. Unless those responsible for delivering HS2 understand that first and foremost they serve the public, and take action to reflect this, then they will continue to be vulnerable to the criticism that they have disregard for members of the public who are impacted by”


The report was published only this morning, so it has obviously been impossible to table amendments to the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill, with which we shall be dealing later today, in respect of the report and that poor communication and disregard for people affected by HS2. Can you advise me, Mr Speaker, whether it would still be possible, in the House, to call for a separate debate on the report, and to look into the continuing disrespectful behaviour of HS2 Ltd and its management?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order, to which my response is twofold. First, as I am sure she will be aware—this will not satisfy her, but I say it as a matter of fact—the report to which she has referred is tagged to the Third Reading debate on the Bill. That is to say, it is highly germane to that debate.

Secondly, the right hon. Lady asked me whether she could call for, or seek by one means or another, a separate debate on the report. The answer is that most certainly she can seek such a debate, and she may well be successful in obtaining such a debate—I do not, at this point, know—but that, of course, will not assist her in terms of the business scheduled for today. The matters that are up for debate in the House today will naturally proceed, and must, in terms of good order, do so. Nevertheless, the right hon. Lady, who is a wily operator, has made her point in her own way, and it is clearly on the record. That seems to bring—

—a warm smile to the visage of the hon. Member for The Cotswolds, from whom we shall now hear.

Whose birthday, allegedly, it is. It is always useful to have a bit of information. I wish the hon. Member for The Cotswolds a happy birthday, and I look forward to hearing his point of order.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker —and thank you for your good wishes. As you will know, I very rarely make points of order in the House, but on this occasion I must seek your advice on how I might lobby the business managers about the inadequacy of the time that has been provided for the Report and Third Reading debates on the Bill today.

Millions of people up and down the line are affected by this large and highly complex project, and by the Bill. I do not think that three hours for Report and Third Reading is sufficient to give Members of Parliament an opportunity to make representations on this complex project on behalf of their constituents, let alone members of the Select Committee, some of whom—although not I—spent 160 working days sitting in the Select Committee. Some might give the House the benefit of their wisdom by suggesting how the hybrid Select Committee procedure could be improved.

First, let me acknowledge and pay tribute to the extremely unselfish and conscientious work that the hon. Gentleman and others did on the Committee, under the distinguished and stoical chairmanship of the hon. Member for Poole (Mr Syms). Secondly, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that if the Government Chief Whip was here, he would have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, but he is not, so he has not. That said, I feel sure that the thrust of it will be conveyed to the Chief Whip ere long.

Of course I will come to the right hon. Lady, and will treat her with the very greatest respect.

As Members know, and as others attending to our proceedings need to be aware, these are not matters for the Chair. Members are ventilating their very real sense of grievance and unhappiness, but these are matters for the business managers to determine. They make their own judgments. People operate—if I can put it in this way—at their own level in regard to what they judge to be the proper treatment of business and of the thoughts on these matters of Members, including minorities of Members. Those are not judgments that I can second-guess. We all have our own views, but I think that I should properly leave it there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that I, too, rarely make a point of order in the House.

I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for understanding the frustration that we feel, as Members representing the affected constituencies. The fact is that, given that roughly 50 amendments have been tabled, if we were to put our amendments to the vote in the time available—one hour for the first group and two hours for the second—there would be no time for us even to discuss them.

A great deal of work, and a great deal of excellent assistance from the Clerks, has gone into creating amendments that I believe would ameliorate the consequences of the Bill. Will you use your good offices, Mr Speaker? When you speak to the Lord Speaker, will you draw her attention to the fact that, although amendments were tabled, we had very little opportunity to debate them and press them to a vote?

That was an extremely well chosen and thoughtful point of order. I acknowledge that, as the right hon. Lady said, she very rarely raises points of order; her seriousness of purpose is, I think, respected in all parts of the House.

I will indeed convey that sentiment to the Lord Speaker. I think that the unhappiness is well known. It is a matter of fact that, among those affected, there will be very real consternation about this. That the individuals affected are a minority of the electorate is not in doubt, but they will be very unhappy about it, and that is not something that should be blithely dismissed by the Executive branch of our political system.

There will be those who think, “All that you do is get the business through and that is all that matters”, and who are quite hard-headed and perhaps even a bit cynical, but people ought to have regard to the views and interests of minorities. They might, on a particular issue, one day be in that position themselves; they will then want the very protection that the right hon. Members for Meriden and for Chesham and Amersham, and the hon. Member for The Cotswolds, are seeking. I will certainly relay the concern to the Lord Speaker.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was always my understanding that if one wished to add one’s name to amendments, as long as one did it the day before the day on which the Order Paper was to be published, that was sufficient. So I was a little surprised, on reading today’s Order Paper, to see that, despite the personal visit that I made yesterday to the Private Bill Office—no one suggested to me that I was too late to add my signature to a number of the amendments—my name does not appear at all. I wondered whether that was a matter on which you could shed any light, Mr Speaker.

We have been extremely well served, as always, by our Clerks, who do their business with great commitment and prowess, and I have just been advised on this matter. That advice is that I will cause the matter to be investigated. The truth is that, off the top of my head, I have absolutely no idea why the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s name has not been added to those amendments. One would assume that in the ordinary course of events it would be, so I am rather taken aback. His understanding of the normal practice is, as usual, quite correct. Let us have the matter looked into, but I hope that it will be trumpeted to the good people of the Beaconsfield constituency that he sought to have his name added to the amendments, and the work in progress is that he may yet succeed in that mission.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope that I am not trying your patience, or that of the House, too much by raising a further point of order. I want your advice on this matter for the benefit not only of those in the House but of the people outside who watch these proceedings. It might be of interest to know that when the Channel Tunnel Bill went through the House in 1987, its Report stage was not guillotined and lasted from 7 pm until 1.50 am. Only after that did its Third Reading debate begin. Mr Speaker, could you confirm that, according to the timetable motion on the Order Paper, if any Member chose to press an amendment in the first or second group to a vote, that vote would eat into the time allowed for Members to debate these matters? Our constituents are not going to understand why Members do not press these amendments to the vote, but the Government have engineered this so that if we do so, we will have no time to debate the Bill. There might be Members present who wish to have their amendments voted on, but if they press their amendments to a vote, they will rob Members on both sides of the House who are affected by the Bill of the opportunity to speak. As you have pointed out, Mr Speaker, this affects only a very small minority because both the main parties in the House are being whipped to vote for the Bill.

The right hon. Lady’s interpretation is correct. I always think that it is important for our proceedings to be intelligible to people beyond this place, so let it be stated on the record that these exchanges have not eaten into the time available for debate at all. They have obliged the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is about to present his ten-minute rule Bill, to wait patiently before being able to speak to it, but they have not in any way detracted from or taken time out of the debate on the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill. I am afraid that the right hon. Lady is correct to say that if Members seek a Division on a particular amendment, that will eat away at the remaining time available for debate. A lot of people will feel that that is a regrettable state of affairs, to put it mildly. I note what she has said about the precedent of the Channel Tunnel Bill. The Secretary of State is not in his place, although he might very well be here for Third Reading. As far as I am aware, he is a person of robust constitution and perfectly capable of staying in the Chamber for an appreciable period to debate matters of important public policy. I have never had any reason to suppose that his conscientious Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State—[Interruption.] His Minister of State, indeed. No discourtesy was intended to the hon. Gentleman. I have never had reason to suppose that the Minister of State was incapable of strenuous parliamentary endeavour over an extended period.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I should like to point out that last night’s Business of the House motion was not objected to. On the matter of Members having had their say on the Bill, the Select Committee sat for 160 days, which was more than 700 hours. It heard 1,600 petitions, and 21 Members of this House appeared before it a total of 36 times. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) herself attended three times, for a total of two hours and 10 minutes.

That is a matter of indisputable fact, and I thank the Minister of State for taking the opportunity to make that point. So far as last night is concerned, it is also a matter of fact that the motion was not objected to. The Business of the House motion appertaining to this matter was of course objected to on Monday evening by the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. Had it been objected to last night, there would have been a requirement for a debate today on Members’ concerns, which would have eaten into the available time. The absence of an objection last night and the fact that I have just mentioned are obviously causally linked.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker, and to the courteous contribution from the Dispatch Box by the Minister of State, I would like to confirm that I did object to the sittings motion, but in discussions with the business managers I was informed that if I objected on the second night, the matter would have come back today and eaten into our debating time. That would of course have been completely self-defeating. I think the point was made on the first day when the objection was made, and the Minister should really understand the procedure in that sense.

The right hon. Lady has put the matter fairly and squarely on the record. I am always happy to hear points of order and to do my best to respond to them, but I think it is fair to say that for now we have exhausted that terrain. We should move on to the ever-patient right hon. Member for North Norfolk.