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Points of Order

Volume 635: debated on Monday 5 February 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During business questions last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House about the “eye-watering” interest rates charged by rent-to-own firms. In response, she said that the Financial Conduct Authority

“has capped the interest rates that such companies are allowed to charge”—[Official Report, 1 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1002.]

Unfortunately, no such cap has yet been placed on these interest rates. I thought that I would aid the Leader of the House by clarifying the point for the record.

Well, the hon. Gentleman has achieved his objective. Moreover, he may feel gratified that the Leader of the House is in her place. She is under no obligation to say anything, but she is welcome to do so if she wishes.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me prior notice of his point of order. It was a genuine mistake on my part, for which I apologise to the House, and my officials will be setting the record straight.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to receive your guidance. I have been seeking meetings with Transport Ministers regarding a possible Flockton bypass and the services delivered by TransPennine trains. I secured a meeting with the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) before the reshuffle, but the Department has been unable thus far to honour that commitment.

I learned that the Secretary of State was in Kirklees last Friday. I asked on a number of occasions via his office to meet him, but I was refused and told that he would meet only Conservative members and activists. Those members have since indicated on social media that they discussed the very two issues I wished to discuss with the Secretary of State. I now understand that members of the public were also present at those meetings—something for which there is photographic evidence.

I have sought to raise the issues I mentioned with the Secretary of State for months, as the MP elected by the constituency. Can you please advise whether Ministers in this House should be prepared to meet Members on issues relating to their constituencies?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for her courtesy in giving me advance notice that she wished to raise this issue.

What I would say—and it is very commonplace for me to get points of order of this type—is that I understand her concern to achieve a meeting with Ministers on a matter which is of importance to her constituents. Clearly, she had that prior commitment. It is customary, but not to be guaranteed, that a commitment by a Minister will tend to be honoured by his or her successor. While I would hope that Ministers would be even-handed in their response to Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House, I have nevertheless to say to the hon. Lady that it is not for me to tell Ministers whom they should meet; it is for an incoming Minister to decide whether to continue with a meeting arranged by his or her predecessor.

If a Minister goes to an area and is principally concerned to have what would be called a political meeting with members of his or her party, that may be exceptionally irritating to a Member who is not a member of that party, but it is not, of itself, illegitimate. There is no bar on Ministers undertaking party political activity alongside their ministerial duties.

All that said, I think that this place works best when there is a basic courtesy and respect from one Member to another. The hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who was previously the serving Minister, has always struck me as a most courteous fellow, but, looking at the Treasury Bench, I have known the Secretary of State for at least two decades, and we have always enjoyed very cordial relations—he is a most courteous chap. As for the hon. Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), well, I think my cup runneth over—the hon. Gentleman is personable to a fault. I cannot understand why neither of them is willing to meet the hon. Lady—I would have thought that they would think it a most worthwhile enterprise.

It looks as though an explanation is in the offing, because the Secretary of State is perched like a panther ready to pounce. Let us hear from the fella.

Mr Speaker, as you know, I am regularly around this House. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities for the hon. Lady to tap me on the shoulder and say, “Would it be possible to have a meeting? There has been a reshuffle.” I would be delighted to organise a meeting with the Department. However, what I cannot offer her is a commitment that, when I attend a meeting with Conservative councillors in a constituency, I will invite the Member from the neighbouring constituency at the same time. I am afraid that that issue is completely separate, but I am very happy to ensure that she has a meeting with Ministers.

If I may say so—it may not please everybody—that seems to me to be a reasonable compromise, because what the hon. Lady really wants is to meet the Secretary of State. She may be interested in what the Secretary of State has to say to her, but I think she is, in particular, extremely interested in what she has to say to him. If they get a meeting, it does not matter that it is not in Dewsbury or a neighbouring constituency; it is a meeting about the matters of substance, and that should be the source of much merriment for all concerned.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not having given you prior notice, but pursuant to the comments that have just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff), you will recall that I raised a similar point of order last week about the Secretary of State attending my constituency, not giving me prior notice and then meeting Conservative colleagues. If it becomes a pattern of regular behaviour that a Minister on ministerial duties seeks to meet only Conservative councillors and fails to give proper notice, how might we remedy that in the House to prevent embarrassment for the Minister should he accidentally do that in the future?

Well, I suppose Members can keep raising tedious points of order about the matter, which may disincentivise Ministers from behaving in this way. I say to the hon. Gentleman that I am not defending it or saying that I think it particularly desirable, but I think this phenomenon of Ministers meeting only with members of their own party on a visit is what I would call “seasonal”. It tends to apply in the run-up to local and by-elections, so it may be that a meeting at another time of the year would be easier to arrange.

I think that we will probably have to leave it there. We seem to have excited a member of the public, who is standing in the Gallery. We normally discourage that, but I am very grateful to him. On the whole it is best not to stand in the Gallery, but nevertheless, sir, thank you for attending our proceedings. [Interruption.] Yes, maybe he was going to raise a point of order—I do not know. If we have exhausted the appetite for points of order at least for today, we shall proceed. I thank the Secretary of State and other colleagues.