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Points of Order

Volume 614: debated on Thursday 15 September 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A consultation document has been published in the last 10 minutes—I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for going to the Vote Office to get it for me—on the closure of the major court in my constituency along with Camberwell magistrates court, also in London. There has been no written ministerial statement and no other notice. Such things are often published late in the day on the day that the House rises. The court serves 600,000 people in London and was told only in June that extra capacity was needed. There should be an opportunity to raise such important local issues. By the time the House sits again, more than half of the consultation period will be over. Should not Ministers deal with Members on a more courteous basis?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry is yes. It would be courteous if such announcements were made at an earlier point, not shortly before the House ceases to sit with minimal opportunity in parliamentary terms for the hon. Gentleman to explore the matter. I suggest that he uses his remaining time today to look at the options for asking parliamentary questions or for seeking a debate on this important matter. He would have every prospect of securing such a debate, and although it would be at a later point than he would wish, I guess it would be better than nothing.

I hope that Ministers will take account of what the hon. Gentleman said, because this concern can be felt by Members on both sides of the House. It is not clever when Ministers behave in this way. If it is done without malice or forethought, it is simply thoughtless. If it is done on the basis of knowing that it will disadvantage or inconvenience a Member, it is rank, inconsiderate and disrespectful not merely to the Member but, at least as importantly, to his or her constituents.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that this House has repeatedly discussed the impact of the Government’s planned cuts to supported housing—most recently during an Opposition day debate called for by my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and me on 20 July. The Government pledged to look again at plans to cap local housing allowance and at the 1% housing benefit cut, which would also affect supported housing.

Today, the Government have announced by written statement that they intend to defer the decision on the LHA cap until 2019, but will be going ahead with the cut to supported housing providers from next April. Is it not an affront to this House and to all Members who have expressed concern about the Government’s plans for a Minister not to come to this place with an oral statement? Instead, they yet again sneak out an announcement the day before the start of recess. Is it not also an insult to tens of thousands of vulnerable people? Women who have suffered domestic violence, older people, disabled people, the homeless, former offenders, veterans and young people leaving care are yet again being plunged into uncertainty and insecurity.

I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on how Members on both sides of the House can hold the Government and their Executive to account and question Ministers on proposals in person and in detail.

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s point of order. I entirely understand her disappointment and irritation. I hope that it will be possible when we return from the conference recess for the matter to be explored on the Floor of the House—there are a number of possibilities in that regard.

It is of course a matter of judgment for the Government as to whether a ministerial statement should be made orally or in writing. Although I understand her view that the matter merited an oral statement, I will mention en passant that there were two oral statements today as well as business questions. I have no way of knowing what exchanges took place within the Government, but it is by no means unknown for a Minister to want or, at any rate, to be prepared to make an oral statement but to be prevented from doing so because of competing priorities. I have no idea whether that was the case in this instance.

I simply say in response to the hon. Lady’s request for guidance that she can pursue the matter at the next Work and Pensions oral questions on Monday 17 October. I absolutely appreciate that that is a considerable time away, but it is one possibility. There are other forms of questioning that can take place in the course of the day, as she knows, and it is open to the Opposition to choose this matter for a debate on a future Opposition day. I am sure that she will find a way to pursue the matter and, insofar as it is proper, the Chair will be her friend in that process. Meanwhile, she has at least put her concern and extreme dissatisfaction on the record.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for the remarks you just made to the House. Were you given any indication that Ministers were considering an oral statement on the consequences of their cuts to the housing benefit of many thousands of vulnerable people in supported housing? The written statement raises more questions than it answers. The policy is delayed, but the cuts will go ahead. There is no figure on the new funding pledged, yet the Budget scored the so-called savings at £990 million. The new fund that has been promised is similar to the Supporting People programme, which has been cut almost in half since 2010.

The first announcement was smuggled out in the small print of the autumn statement. Today’s announcement is buried in the small print of a long written ministerial statement. What help can you give the House to ensure that Ministers are properly held to account for their decisions?

If there has been no opportunity to explore the matter in the Chamber before the recess, we return in October and there would be an early opportunity at that point. I have already referenced one of those opportunities, which is already provided for in the known timetable of oral questions. But if it is felt strongly by a Member, or possibly by a number of Members, that the matter warrants more thorough scrutiny than a couple of questions at monthly questions would allow, I would certainly be open to that possibility. The right hon. Gentleman asks me whether I had had any indication that Ministers had been planning to make an oral statement on this matter, and I must answer by saying no, I have received no such indication. In fairness, it is not unreasonable for me to observe that absence of evidence does not constitute evidence of absence.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last Wednesday, in a Westminster Hall debate on the proposed cruise terminal at Enderby Wharf on the Thames, I stated that Barratt Homes was the developer and could help—this was in column 197. Mr Tim Collins of Barratt has clarified that although Barratt is the residential developer, Morgan Stanley is responsible for the decision not to provide shoreside fixed electrical power for visiting cruise ships. I apologise to Barratt, I have written to Morgan Stanley and I am grateful for the opportunity to set the record straight, Mr Speaker.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. He has set the record straight, doing so pithily and the with the courtesy for which he is renowned in all parts of the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may be aware that in July the person who is now the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that on 9 September—last Friday—the Prime Minister would

“trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners.”

Bearing in mind that there was no statement on 9 September, do you think that such a statement should be facilitated, so that he could come to the House to set out what progress has been made on those trade deals—perhaps he could list the countries with which they have been initiated—and say whether he could deliver on the timescale that he had promised? He said that they would be completed within the next 12 to 24 months.

I am not sure that there is any mechanism for securing satisfaction for the right hon. Gentleman today. It may be that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), whom he has in mind—the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union—would be enthusiastic beyond words about the possibility of appearing before the House, and engaging with, hearing from and responding to the right hon. Gentleman. However, I think the Backbench Business Committee, under whose auspices two debates are about to take place, may take a different view. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is an eager and assiduous Member of Parliament, but I think it unlikely that he will spend all of the conference recess reflecting on this matter—it would be a bit sad if he were to do so. If he comes back in October and remains similarly vexed and anxious for clarity, I hope he will use the mechanisms available to him. I think we had better leave it there for now, as we have had a considerable feast of points of order today.

Bill Presented

Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Jeremy Hunt, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Greg Clark, Mr Philip Dunne and Nicola Blackwood, presented a Bill to make provision in connection with controlling the cost of health service medicines and other medical supplies; to make provision in connection with the provision of pricing and other information by those manufacturing, distributing or supplying those medicines and supplies, and other related products, and the disclosure of that information; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 10 October, and to be printed (Bill 72) with explanatory notes (Bill 72-EN).