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Points of Order

Volume 635: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2018

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Following two similar points of order made last week by my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford South (Mike Gapes) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Gareth Snell), I am sorry to have to make this point of order but I am beginning to fear that this pattern of failure is not an accident.

Last Friday, the following Members of Parliament came to my constituency: the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Mr Clarke), the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis). I was notified only of the visit of the Secretary of State, and that was after 8 pm the previous night. I received no notification from the other two hon. Members. What is more, I was not invited to a departmental, non-political event at Teesport in my constituency, whereas the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who has neither a port nor the River Tees in his constituency, was. I can only presume that it was because he is a Conservative MP. The same situation arose last year with a visit from the Prime Minister and the Minister responsible for the northern powerhouse.

Can you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, as to whether this is an appropriate politicisation of a departmental visit and a breach of parliamentary protocol, and may I also seek your clarification on the fact that having a directly elected Mayor in a region does not mean that Ministers can circumvent Members of Parliament when visiting or engaging with constituents in an area? It is deeply disrespectful to the people I represent, who should have their voices heard at events in their backyard. It is also disrespectful to this place to seek to cut out parliamentarians to boost the profile of elected mayors of the same party as those other Members.

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order and understand that she has notified the Members concerned of her intention to raise it. There is certainly a strong convention that Ministers should give advance notice to hon. Members if they plan to visit their constituency on official business. Indeed, this requirement is spelled out in the ministerial code. I understand that notice was given by the Secretary of State, as she said, but rather late in the day, and she does not think that that was reasonable. She also indicates that notice was not given that another Minister would be attending, which was perhaps an oversight on the part of the Department.

I can confirm that the convention to give notice applies equally to Back-Bench Members. All Members should give advance notice to other hon. Members if they plan to visit their constituency on official business. It is, quite frankly, in everybody’s interest that this convention is upheld.

The hon. Lady asks me whether the fact that a Government Back Bencher was apparently invited to the event when she was not represents an inappropriate politicisation of a departmental visit and a breach of parliamentary protocol. It is not a matter of parliamentary protocol, but a matter for Government. However it strikes me as unsatisfactory, and rather curious, not to invite all local Members to an event that is intended to be non-political, as the hon. Lady indicates this one was.

The hon. Lady also asked me to clarify that the existence of a directly elected Mayor does not mean that Ministers can circumvent local Members of Parliament when visiting constituencies. I can certainly confirm that the existence of an elected Mayor has no bearing on the matter and the usual exemptions apply. I am sure that the point of order has been heard on the Treasury Bench, and I hope that it will be conveyed to the Secretary of State and the Minister.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was not aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) would raise that point of order, so I had not mentioned to the right hon. Member, to whom I will not refer by name, that I would respond to it. However, I found out last night that a Member of the Cabinet visited my constituency this week and certainly did not inform me or my office of that visit.

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which I might ask you to address again, Madam Deputy Speaker. What she described is apparently becoming something of a habit—a commonplace occurrence. Can you advise whether there are mechanisms, through the Chair or other procedures of the House, whereby we might monitor where these affronteries are taking place, so that we can quantify them and see whether a pattern is indeed emerging that needs to be quashed?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said about the fact that it is in everybody’s interest that the existing conventions are upheld, and I reiterate that. On being notified of other possible breaches of the convention, it is up to individual Departments to make sure that they follow the conventions. If individual Members wish to draw to the attention of either the Speaker or Government Ministers that they are not sticking to the convention, it is absolutely up to Members to do that.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm whether the same convention applies to members of the shadow Front-Bench team? I have had experiences that relate to this in exactly the same way, when I have not received due notification.

The convention applies to all Members. It is important that shadow Ministers inform Members when visiting their constituents, so the answer is yes.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think I saw the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Stephen Morgan) down on my Island during Cowes Week last year, sitting in a VIP tent, so I presume that he was there in part because of his role as a Member of Parliament. He is a member of the Labour party, so it would be good if all sides respected the rules. Because we are terribly laid-back and chilled on the Island, I did not mention it, but I suppose that I could have made a drama out of it if I had wished.

We have to be sensible about this. Obviously, people will pay private visits to other people’s constituencies. That is quite different from official visits or visits by Ministers.