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Points of Order

Volume 608: debated on Monday 11 April 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, I am a new Member. When I arrived, I was told of the strict convention, which I have always sought to observe, regarding visiting other Members’ constituencies on parliamentary business. I was therefore surprised to learn that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport had made a ministerial visit to my constituency without any official notice to me. It was particularly disappointing because I have repeatedly raised the issue of broadband roll-out, particularly in the rural parts of my constituency, and would have welcomed the opportunity to introduce him to some of the local businesses that have been adversely affected.

What remedy is available for a Back Bencher in such circumstances? Is there any way in which I can convey through your office, Mr Speaker, that I would be happy to arrange for the Secretary of State to make a more informative visit? On this occasion, he may wish to revisit and address the issue at hand directly.

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her courtesy in giving me notice of it. She is right that there is a firm convention that Ministers should give advance notice to hon. Members if they plan to visit the constituency of those Members on official, as opposed to purely private or personal, business. Indeed, the requirement is spelled out in the ministerial code. The apparent failure to do so on this occasion is regrettable. If it be so, it is regrettable to me, too, because I know the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I have known him for 25 years and have always regarded him as a person of the utmost courtesy. This appears to be something of a lapse.

In terms of remedy, the hon. Lady asked whether it can be conveyed to the Secretary of State that she would be happy to arrange what she considers to be a prospective, more informative visit. She has been most effective in putting that point on the record. The Chair cannot facilitate such a visit, and it is not for me to say whether it will take place, but I am sure that the offer has been heard on the Treasury Bench and will be winging its way within seconds to the Secretary of State.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have noticed that a former Member of this House, Dr Bob Spink, has described himself on a number of occasions, both in print and on his website, as a former Minister. I have checked with parliamentary colleagues who served with him at the time and with the House of Commons Library, but they have been unable to confirm it. Mr Speaker, do you have any remedy or sanction if a former Member of the House inaccurately or deceivingly describes himself as a former Minister?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is no. I of course remember the good doctor, but he certainly was not a Government Minister. I am not aware of what he may or may not have said beyond what the hon. Gentleman has just reported to the House, but whether someone has or has not been a Minister of the Crown is a matter of public record. It is indeed a matter of fact—incontrovertible fact, one way or the other. If someone has wrongly claimed to be a Government Minister, that is curious. I have, however, to say that it is not a matter for the Chair to seek to resolve, notwithstanding the eagerness of the hon. Gentleman that it should be.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 29 February, I raised a point of order about clarity in answers that I received from Ministers about meetings between the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority. Subsequently, the Procedure Committee wrote to the Chancellor directing him to ensure that clear, proper answers were provided to me by his Department. I am still trying to get to the bottom of the matter and seek your guidance on this topic again in the light of further correspondence.

Unlike the obfuscation of the Treasury, the FCA at least confirms on its website that it does meet Treasury Ministers on a regular basis. A freedom of information request was sent to the FCA seeking information on the matters discussed at those meetings. It was essentially a request to the FCA as an independent body for information that the Treasury has refused to provide. Not once, but twice has the FCA come back asking for additional time to consider the request. It has now confirmed that it is consulting the Treasury before responding.

This week, the FCA is examining issues raised by the Panama leaks. Mr Speaker, can you guide me on how we can have confidence in its ability to do so independently of Government when it seemingly cannot answer my simple questions without authorisation from 11 Downing Street?

Well, it is certainly a very rum business altogether. I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of this point of order. I mean it when I say that I understand her frustration that she is not securing clear answers to her questions. The handling of freedom of information requests by the FCA, or indeed any other public body, is not a matter for the Chair of this House to determine. However, she has made her concern explicitly clear on the record, and it will no doubt have been heard on the Treasury Bench. Indeed, I was going to say that there is an illustrious representative of Her Majesty’s Treasury on the Front Bench, but there is a veritable troika of the characters. There they sit, the three of them. I can therefore say with certainty that they have heard her grievance.

My overall advice to the hon. Lady—I hope that she will not take this in the wrong spirit as it is meant to be helpful—is to be persistent. If the hon. Lady does not secure the answers that she wants, she should keep asking questions and, in the very best and most proper sense of the term, make an absolutely parliamentary nuisance of herself. In the end, it may well be felt that it is not worth the candle so far as those resisting her inquiries thus far are concerned. She should stick at it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have just had a debate about the leaflet that the Government are putting out. We were told about “facts”, and I said that the amount of legislation that comes from the European Union in Brussels was not included in there. I cited a figure of about 60%, to which the Minister for Europe responded, “No, no, it is about 13% to 14%.” I had been given that answer by the Prime Minister in March and I subsequently went to the Library to ask Vaughne Miller what the actual amount of legislation from Europe was. I asked:

“Can we still rely upon the figure quoted (from a 2010 research paper…)?”

The answer I received was:

“The 13%-15% figure…only covers EU Directives and Decisions. It does not include EU Regulations, which are numerous but implemented directly, without further UK measures. EU Directives are the detailed EU laws which require further implementation measures in the UK (almost always by S.I. but occasionally by an Act of Parliament).

I updated the 2010 paper in January 2015”.

The UK’s implementation had grown. She went on to mention a formula that she had used and then said:

“I have only calculated this figure up to 2013, but as you see, it raises the percentage to an average of 59%”.

I believe that by repeating this low figure of 13% to 15% an absolute misleading of the House, perhaps inadvertently, is taking place. That is not a figure that can be accurately relied on and if the Government are to put such figures out there, they should use the most up-to-date information, commissioned by the House, by our respected expert in the House, who said 59%. What can we do to correct that error, which the Minister has repeated after the Prime Minister gave me that figure in March? It is not to be relied on and the British public should not rely on it.

I say two things to the hon. Lady. First, as she well knows, she has found her own salvation through the ingenious use of the point of order procedure. Secondly—this is not uncommon in this place—I do not think she will seek to contradict me, and neither will anyone else, when I say that in raising her point of order she was vastly more interested in what she had to say to me and to the House than in anything I might have to say to her.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. More than a year ago, Lord Maude of Horsham, the then Minister for the Cabinet Office, signed a contract on behalf of the Crown Estate with Air Products to take the electricity from two innovative energy-from-waste plants being built in my constituency. This was to save taxpayers some £84 million a year. Sadly, the company announced last week that it had failed to get the new technology working and planned to walk away from Teesside, at the cost of hundreds of jobs and leaving the plants incomplete. Are you aware of any plans by Ministers to make a statement to the House about the ramifications of this failure, about what will happen with the Government’s contract and about what Ministers are doing to help seek a new developer who could take over the plants and secure the jobs?

No, but it is only Monday and there are other days in the parliamentary week. I have a feeling that the hon. Gentleman will be waiting all agog to see whether his curiosity is satisfied. Forgive me, I can add nothing beyond that at this stage, although he has put his point on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is there any way in which I can, within the rules of order, bring to the attention of the House the fact that as of a few moments ago 207,444 people had signed a petition demanding that the Government stop spending our money on biased campaigning to keep Britain inside the European Union? That figure is already almost certainly out of date, given the rate at which signatures are being added. Out of all the thousands of petitions on Parliament’s e-petitions website it is the fifth most signed one that is still open for signature. It would be helpful to get those facts, rather than that opinion, on the record in some way.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether there was a way in which he could bring this important matter to the attention of the House—there is, and he has found it. He has demonstrated that with his characteristic eloquence.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to your decision to allow the emergency debate on steel tomorrow, I wonder whether, to clarify this for me, you could explain how the rest of the business of the day will operate, particularly in respect of the Backbench Business Committee debate on contaminated blood and support for the people who have received contaminated blood. I am concerned because lots of people are travelling from all around the country to come to that debate and I just want to be reassured that it will take place tomorrow and will not be put to another day.

It is a very fair inquiry and I had thought about this earlier in the day. The short answer is that, subject to any discussions that might take place between the usual channels, of which at this stage I am unaware, the debate of particular interest to the hon. Lady will follow the Standing Order No. 24 debate. Moreover, my understanding is that there is protected time of three hours for that debate on contaminated blood. I absolutely appreciate the importance of the point the hon. Lady makes about people travelling specially to the House for a debate that they had anticipated and had reason to expect would take place, and unless some strange decision is made, which I do not know about and do not expect, their expectation should be satisfied. That is on the record and I sincerely hope no other plan is afoot. I hope that is clear.

If we have exhausted that appetite for points of order, we can proceed, at 7.56 pm, to the main business of the House.