On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I happened to notice at business questions a few moments ago that 18 Members of the Scottish National party were present, with most standing, and that only 16 Members of the combined Labour and Conservative parties were present, including the Leader of the House. With your long experience of such matters, is there any procedural device that the SNP could employ to take advantage of our new-found numerical superiority?
No. However, I know that Members of the Scottish National party attend in large numbers principally because of the vast range of issues that they perfectly properly wish to raise on this occasion and secondly, doubtless because they enjoy my company.
I am coming to the hon. Lady—I am saving her up.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would appreciate your advice on how I can get the record corrected. I believe that the Leader of the House inadvertently misled the House by suggesting that the Defence Secretary’s announcement on the national shipbuilding strategy on Tuesday was always the Government’s plan. However, on four occasions, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), has told us that the national shipbuilding strategy would report by the autumn statement. There can be no doubt that the strategy has not been delivered to the House as promised.
Members are responsible for the veracity of what they say in the House, but I have a sense—I may be mistaken but I doubt that I am—that the hon. Gentleman on this occasion is less interested in what anybody else has to say to him, and rather more interested in what he has to say to them. He has made his point in his own way with his usual force and alacrity, and it is on the record. Doubtless it will be communicated ere long to large numbers of his constituents, which I imagine will cause him to go about his business with an additional glint in his eye and spring in his step that would otherwise perhaps have been lacking.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise that my point of order is so long, but I have to make it clear and use words carefully.
I seek your guidance on a matter of importance that affects my reputation and that has implications for other Members. Following my presentation of a petition on behalf of my constituents, there was confusion between the Department for Communities and Local Government and Walsall Council on whether it was a planning application call-in, despite the fact that the petition did not ask for a call-in, and that DCLG guidance makes it clear that a call-in must be expressly asked for.
It appears that the Minister for Housing and Planning has decided to treat petitions opposing planning applications as requests for call-in, and that he has instructed his staff to contact planning authorities but not Members in accordance with that decision. Walsall Council blamed me for its decision to delay consideration of the application, which it said was caused by the petition. The council was wrong as a matter of planning law.
The Minister’s policy, if that is what it is, to treat petitions as requests for call-in has not been communicated to Members or to the House, and appears to treat each request from Members arbitrarily and in a way that is inconsistent with procedures that are set out in a previous written statement, and that are helpfully described in the Library guidance. That has resulted in reputational damage to me by Walsall Council and DCLG. So far, only the head of the planning casework unit has apologised to me. The Minister has made up that policy in breach of his own guidelines. He has not communicated it to the House, so the Journal Office, on which Members rely for advice on petitions and which is extremely helpful, is unaware of it. I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand the hon. Lady’s point. I presented a petition, but in that case the Department contacted me first before deciding to call it in. In my case, the call-in was not automatic: the Department contacted me first.
The hon. Gentleman’s experience was obviously different from and, according to his own lights and probably those of the hon. Lady, preferable to hers. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order as well as for its substantive content. I appreciate her concern. She is of course right that the petitions procedure is quite separate from planning law. Furthermore, it is a matter of public record that the petition she presented on behalf of her constituents did not request that the application be called in.
In setting out the facts of the case today, the hon. Lady may well feel that she has achieved her objective of putting the record straight. Moreover, I have little doubt that her concerns about the process will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and that they will be conveyed to the relevant Minister. I hope that that is helpful.
Gender Identity (Protected Characteristic)
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mrs Maria Miller, supported by Jess Phillips, Mrs Flick Drummond and Ben Howlett, presented a Bill to make gender identity a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 in place of gender reassignment and to make associated provision for transgender and other persons; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 24 February, and to be printed (Bill 106).