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Points of Order

Volume 622: debated on Monday 6 March 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A constituent contacted me last week to tell me that a friend of his had been prevented from entering the House because he was wearing a “Free Palestine” badge. After discussion with the security staff, he removed the badge and was allowed access to Parliament, only to come across a large exhibition that featured one poster that was about Zionist diplomacy. We all respect the important work that the security staff do in keeping us safe, and we are hugely grateful to them, but I wonder whether you could give some guidance on the wearing of small badges, because my constituent is a bit confused by the situation his friend encountered.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. I think that it is fair to say—I say this en passant—that the presence of the poster, to which he elliptically eluded a moment ago, is irrelevant for the purpose of his point of order, because I think that it formed part of an historical exhibition. I am sure that an historical exhibition would be of great interest, possibly to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, but almost certainly to the hon. Gentleman.

So far as the point of order is concerned, what I would say is as follows. Under what are now long-standing instructions, members of the public wishing to visit the House are not supposed to display clothing with slogans or badges that might cause controversy. Of necessity, that has to be interpreted case by case by individual members of staff, and they might get the balance wrong. For my own part—I have not been encouraged to say this, but I am entitled to say it and I intend to say it—it seems to me that we should err on the side of caution and, where possible, of non-intervention in these matters, rather than on the side of being too prescriptive or officious. I sense that that is probably the wish of the House.

I will of course convey the hon. Gentleman’s concern, which has been expressed with his usual restraint and courtesy, to the Serjeant at Arms. I hope that, in turn, the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I gently suggest to him, as I have been encouraged to do, that he could have sought such a meeting himself, rather than bringing the matter to the Chamber, but he has done so, and he has done so with fairness, and I hope that I have responded accordingly.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice on the timely response of the Home Office to MPs’ offices. I made representations to the Home Office on 18 January on behalf of my constituent Iryna O’Reilly, who had been informed by the Home Office at the end of October 2016 that she would be notified by the end of the year of whether her spousal visa had been successful. At the beginning of last week, despite numerous phone calls from my office, neither she nor I had heard from the Home Office. As a consequence of those delays, she lost the job that had been held open for her since the beginning of this year. As you know, Mr Speaker, Government Departments are meant to respond to MPs in a timely manner. Please will you advise me on how we can ensure that the Home Office is held to account on this matter and that this situation never happens again?

It is a point of order. I have no direct responsibility in relation to such a matter, but I do understand the serious concern that the hon. Lady feels. I have often made the point that responses to parliamentary questions should be both timely and substantive. However, I think it is fair to say that the same principle applies to ministerial responses to colleagues who write letters to Ministers; responses should be timely and, preferably, substantive. When, for some reason, which Members can probably fathom for themselves, it is not possible for a Minister to give a substantive response at that point, my human sense—leaving aside my role as Speaker—is that a void is always undesirable. There is nothing more infuriating than hearing absolutely nothing and finding that one’s follow-up letters, emails or telephone calls are simply ignored. It is deeply dissatisfying and, frankly, somewhat discourteous. I hope that this situation does not arise again. I would only gently say, in the direction of Ministers, that I have come to know the hon. Lady over the past few years, and she is a very persistent parliamentarian and campaigner, so if people think that she will go away, that is an extraordinarily misguided view. There is not the slightest prospect of that happening. The hon. Lady will keep burrowing away on behalf of her constituents until she receives a response, and rightly so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My constituent, Michael Gibson, was alarmed last week when he looked on the website of the Boundary Commission for England, and could not find evidence of the petition that he had supported, calling for one Member of Parliament for the Heysham, Morecambe and Lancaster area. It further transpires that the data had, in error, been added to a petition in opposition to such a seat. I am grateful for the fact that the Boundary Commission has today informed me that it is now correcting that error. Would you advise me, Mr Speaker, how I could make other Members of the House aware of the situation, because they might like to check their local areas to see whether any data have been entered incorrectly in other parts of the country?

Although I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, my advice is that, if she feels strongly that other Members may have been similarly misrepresented, or that their constituents may have been misrepresented or disadvantaged, she could usefully—colleagues may not appreciate my suggesting this—email her colleagues in order to advise them of the risk. That would certainly be a public service discharge of duty on her part for which they may, or may not, be grateful.

So far as the hon. Lady is concerned, may I sympathise? Clearly the error was an innocent one, but it was peculiarly unfortunate, as it had the effect of very fundamentally misleading quite significant numbers of the hon. Lady’s constituents, who were doubtless very irritated. She has now had to help to put the record straight, but she has the benefit both of the Boundary Commission’s intended correction and of my recognition to her, in the form of this exchange, that she is an innocent party in these matters who has been inadvertently disadvantaged but, none the less, disadvantaged. I hope the matter can be clarified for the benefit of all her constituents sooner, rather than later.