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Points of Order

Volume 609: debated on Tuesday 3 May 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week there were a couple of understandable occasions when people in the Chamber —Members of Parliament—broke into applause. This can be quite awkward for some of us—Conservative Members and Opposition Members—who know about the conventions of the House, because we feel unable to join in the applause. Could you give guidance about what is the current practice? If you uphold the tradition that we do not have applause—although I do not wish to pre-empt your view on this—could you let it be known more generally to Members of the House of Commons whether we should break into applause, or not, on occasion?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and his great courtesy in raising it in the way that he did. The short answer is that it is the long-established convention of this House that we do not applaud. For what it is worth, to the best of my recollection, I have never myself done so. If he is asking me whether I would prefer it to remain that way, the short answer is that I would. I think that the convention that we do not applaud but register our approval in other ways is a valuable one. All I would say to the hon. Gentleman, who has raised his point in an extremely polite way, is that as far as the Chair is concerned, each situation has to be judged on its merits. I am very conscious that I am the servant of the House. If, spontaneously, a large group of Members bursts into applause, sometimes the most prudent approach is to let it take its course. However, I would much prefer it if it did not happen, unless the House consciously wills a change, and I am not aware that the House as a whole has done so. In that respect, I sense that the hon. Gentleman and I, not for the first time and hopefully not for the last, are on the same side.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. In fairness to the Members, usually newer Members, who occasionally do this, it is worth pointing out that it usually tends to happen on a particular, spontaneous, unusual occasion, and not routinely. If it did happen routinely, we would end up with organised cheering of the sort that we sometimes get on the more downmarket versions of talent shows on TV. That would not be the direction in which we would want to go.

That would be thoroughly undesirable. The more unusual, or even occasional, the better. For it to become the norm would, I think, be deprecated by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), deprecated by the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), and deprecated by the Chair. The hon. Member for Lichfield asked me to find a way of communicating more widely my view on this matter, and I hope I have just taken that opportunity. There is no slight directed at any individual, nor any adverse comment on any particular occasion, but usually our traditions are for a reason, and to find that we elide or morph into a new situation as a result of inactivity or happenstance is undesirable. If the House wants consciously to change things, then let it, but as far as I am concerned it has not yet done so. I hope that is helpful.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may be aware of a report published over the weekend by Citizens Advice indicating a 25% increase in the number of people coming forward with problems relating to pregnancy and maternity discrimination. This follows hot on the heels of a report shortly before the Easter recess from the Equality and Human Rights Commission indicating that three quarters of women have had negative experiences of work associated with pregnancy or maternity. I am very pleased to see the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, in the Chamber, because her Committee is conducting an important piece of research into this, and an inquiry. However, there has been no comment at all from Government Ministers and so far no indication that time will be made available in the Chamber to debate this important subject. Can you tell me, Mr Speaker, if Ministers have approached you indicating their intention to make a statement on the Citizens Advice report or on the EHRC report, with which the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was associated?

The answer to that is no. As far as I am aware, I have not been approached, certainly not directly, and I am not conscious of any document or missive circulating in my office on this matter. It occurs to me that Work and Pensions questions take place on Monday next week. That is by no means the only, or even necessarily the best, opportunity to raise the matter, but it is one such opportunity. If that does not suit the hon. Lady or other opportunities are sought, they may materialise. As far as the House as an employer is concerned, I am not aware that there is a problem, and I would be very concerned if there were. We must take steps to keep ourselves informed to satisfy ourselves that best practice, as well as the law, is followed.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You might have seen recent press reports that a police unit tasked with spying on alleged extremists intent on committing serious crimes has been wasting its time and, indeed, taxpayers’ money monitoring members of the Green party, including myself. Could you give me advice, Mr Speaker, on the best way to raise the matter so that we can get the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House on the methods of surveillance; the legal power supposedly used in order to justify that surveillance; and, most importantly, why citizens lawfully engaging in legitimate political activity have been targeted by the police in this way?

This is a rather disturbing matter. I do not know whether the hon. Lady is suggesting that there is any interference with her work as a Member of Parliament. If that were so, that would be an exceptionally serious matter, but it would be effectively a matter of privilege, about which, in conformity with convention, she should write to me and it would then be taken forward as appropriate.

Beyond that, I can only say that the matter in question is not one for me. It does sound a very bizarre situation. I find it very curious to think that the hon. Lady is being, or might be, subject to some sort of surveillance in relation to her activities as a Member of Parliament. I am not aware of that. I think that I have to advise her that she must find other means by which to air her concerns. If she will not take it amiss, I will simply say that, knowing both her intelligence and her indefatigability, there is no way that finding other means to air her concern will be beyond her very considerable capabilities. Perhaps we can leave it there for today, but if she needs to come back about the matter, which is potentially very serious, she should do so.

If there are no further points of order, we come now to the ten-minute rule motion—a further opportunity for a display of the intelligence and indefatigability of Caroline Lucas.