May I associate myself and Liberal Democrat colleagues with the tributes paid to Sir Gerald Kaufman and express our condolences to his family?
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. I am concerned that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and, indeed, the Prime Minister may have inadvertently misled the House in relation to claims that they have made about the changes to the personal independence payment. I have checked the Government’s response to the PIP consultation dated 13 December 2012, sections 6.13 and 6.14 of which make it clear that the Government were going to award points to those whose mobility was impaired by their mental health. How can I set the record straight to make it clear that the policy change to restrict PIP is a wholly unacceptable policy change for which this Conservative Government are solely responsible?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the warmth and courtesy of his remarks in respect of the late Sir Gerald Kaufman.
The right hon. Gentleman raises an important matter, but it is a matter of debate. I would say two things to him. First, as he will probably have noticed, this matter was treated of by the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) and others yesterday, although that does not preclude further consideration of it today. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman is a wily old hand in this House, and he knows that by raising the matter in this way on the Floor of the House in front of Members on the Treasury Bench, he has found his own salvation. I cannot help but think that on this occasion he is more interested, as I often observe, in what he has to say to me than in anything I have to say to him.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you give guidance to the House? Is it not more appropriate that these matters are raised in departmental questions, and is it not a fact that no Liberal Democrat was present during Work and Pensions questions?
It is better for these matters to be raised in the relevant Question Time session. The hon. Gentleman is well seized of that age-old principle of campaigning, namely quantity, persistence and, above all, repetition. I think my short-term memory serves me well. His observation about the absence of members of a particular political party was made the other day, but he has opportunistically seized his chance to repeat it this afternoon. He has made his own point in his own inimitable way.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I thank you for responding to my point of order yesterday, which had the immediate effect of securing answers to overdue parliamentary questions from the Department for Communities and Local Government? One question that was due for answer last Friday has still not been answered and you, Mr Speaker, may think that it is very exacting. It asked the Secretary of State when he intends to respond to the letter from the mayor of Christchurch. I cannot understand why we cannot get an answer to that question and I hope that this point of order will embarrass the Department into giving an immediate response.
As I advised the hon. Gentleman yesterday, it is the normal expectation that responses from Ministers to written parliamentary questions are both timely and substantive. Moreover, I suggested to the hon. Gentleman that there was a growing spectre of potential embarrassment for Ministers from the relevant Department, the Department for Communities and Local Government—namely, if they did not respond speedily to his question, he might feel inclined to raise points of order over and over and over again about the matter. That would be gravely embarrassing to Ministers and I was sure that they would not want that to happen.
Ministers will have heard, or will hear very soon, of the hon. Gentleman’s perfectly reasonable question last week and of his point of order about it today and I am sure that they will not want the embarrassment of his coming back to the Floor and raising further points of order about the non-answer. The hon. Gentleman is starting to copy the tactic that has long been followed by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick) and that was followed regularly by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton, the late Sir Gerald Kaufman, of raising in the form of either a further written question or a point of order the fact of a non-answer. That is gravely embarrassing and I feel sure that Ministers will not want it to continue for any length of time. I know the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope)—I have known him for 30 years—and he is a very persistent fellow.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I be the first to take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), who is from a part of the country I know well from when I lived in Cumbria?
I was fortunate, Mr Speaker, to be selected for the 90-minute debate this morning in Westminster Hall on Iran’s influence in the middle east, but I was unfortunate in taking the Northern line from my Hendon constituency to the Houses of Parliament. The Northern line was suspended, meaning that I and many of my constituents were unable to get here. First, on that basis, may I ask whether a mechanism can be introduced so that if a Member is physically prevented from attending a debate or any other business of the House, someone else can take their place? Secondly, will you look favourably on having an Adjournment debate or another Westminster Hall debate on this issue before the festival of Nowruz on 21 March?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and, first, thank him for his courteous tribute to the new Member for Copeland, which will be warmly received and appreciated by her and a great many other colleagues to boot.
Secondly, I am sure that the delay on the Northern line, which is not an uncommon phenomenon—a fact of which I am well aware, hailing from that part of the world myself—was not deliberately contrived to disadvantage the hon. Gentleman in pursuit of his Adjournment debate, but it is nevertheless a very considerable inconvenience.
Thirdly, I would say to him that hard cases make bad law and I am cautious about the idea—I hope that he will forgive me—that on the basis of his bad experience a new rule should suddenly be introduced. That is something that the Procedure Committee could consider and I would be advised by the House, but I would be reluctant to make any precipitate judgment in his favour on that point.
Fourthly and finally, seeing as the hon. Gentleman raises his concern with me, I would simply say that the track record shows that on the very rare occasions—two spring to mind, but I will not name the Members for obvious reasons—on which Members unavoidably missed their Adjournment debates, their applications for another such debate soon in substitution were met favourably. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said and recognise the importance and urgency of the matter. Perhaps we can leave it there for now.