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Points of Order

Volume 621: debated on Wednesday 22 February 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your guidance on a matter that is hampering my ability to represent my constituents? Other hon. Members may also be suffering from this creeping issue. About a year ago, I had a problem with North Wales police when contacting them on behalf of a constituent. The force refused to deal with me unless I provided written permission from the constituent that I was able to talk to them on his behalf. I pointed out at the time that I had not plucked his name from the electoral register; he had come to see me and had asked me to take on his case. I then had a similar problem with my local hospital, the Countess of Chester, which refused to converse with me about constituents without prior approval. Again, I pointed out that the constituents would have come to see me and that I have a big enough case load without making up cases on behalf of constituents who may or may not exist.

Earlier this week, Ministers in the Department for Work and Pensions circulated a letter about universal credit—my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) raised this at DWP questions—that, again, required hon. Members to provide written consent from a constituent so that Ministers are able to discuss the constituent’s personal issues with their Member of Parliament. Sir, can you give me some guidance as to whether it is absolutely necessary for hon. Members, every single time we seek to make representations to a public authority on behalf of a constituent, to get that constituent’s written permission? That will add a great burden of admin to our already heavy workload. Or might you be able to say from the Chair that, if we are raising a case, it is because it has been raised with us by a constituent who is desperate for our support and that further administrative burden is most unwelcome?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for advance notice of his point of order, which it is reasonable to assume will be of real concern to Members on both sides of the House. I observe in passing that a similar concern was raised at oral questions to the Department for Work and Pensions on Monday.

What I will say to the hon. Gentleman is this: I will ensure—and I have consulted—that the matter is investigated. I undertake to report back to the House. It is a fundamental constitutional principle that Members of Parliament should be able to act on behalf of their constituents, and there is specific legislation, passed in 2002, to ensure that Members are not unreasonably constrained from doing so by data protection provisions. That does seem to me to be clear, and I am reinforced in that view not only by professional advice but by the healthy nodding of the Leader of the House’s head.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Media reports suggest that the Treasury and the Department for Communities and Local Government have sent some MPs constituency-level data on the impact of the Government’s business rates policy. It appears that that information has not been placed in the public domain or made equally available to all Members of Parliament. I understand today that the House of Commons Library has requested those data but, as of just before Prime Minister’s Question Time, the Department for Communities and Local Government, to which I have given advance notice of this point of order, has simply said that it is looking into it.

Are you aware of any reason why official data not in the public domain may be selectively released in this way? That action appears to breach protocols on impartiality, objectivity and integrity in the UK Statistics Authority’s code of practice for official statistics, as well as the ministerial code. Can you advise me as to what could be done to clear up the confusion and ensure that these, and all official data released, are in future published in line with national statistics protocols so that all MPs can equally scrutinise the likely effect of Government policy on our constituencies?

I thank the hon. Lady for giving notice of her intended point of order. I would certainly be concerned if it were true that Members on one side of the House have been given preferential access to Government statistics by a Government Department. I am not saying that that is so, and I do not know it to be. If it were, it would be a matter of concern.

At this stage, it is not for me to judge whether, if it had occurred, it would itself constitute a breach of the protocols or the code that the hon. Lady mentions. However, she has made her concern clear, and it has been heard by Ministers—I think I can safely say that because a Minister from the relevant Department, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones), is on the Treasury Bench.

I feel sure that the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) will find opportunities to pursue this matter, perhaps even later today in the local government finance debate, in dealing with which Ministers from the Department will be present on the Treasury Bench.

If the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State wishes to attend to the matter now, that would be most helpful.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I can confirm that we will be providing the information that the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) has requested.

Thank you. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that additional comment.

Bill presented

Vehicle Technology and Aviation

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Secretary Chris Grayling, supported by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Amber Rudd, Secretary Elizabeth Truss, Secretary Greg Clark and Secretary David Mundell, presented a Bill to make provision about automated vehicles, electric vehicles, vehicle testing and civil aviation; to create an offence of shining or directing a laser at a vehicle; and to make provision about fees for courses offered as an alternative to prosecution for road traffic offences.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 143) with explanatory notes (Bill 143-EN).