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Points of Order

Volume 638: debated on Monday 26 March 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier today, the shadow Work and Pensions Minister, the hon. Member for Wirral West (Margaret Greenwood), said that Channel 4’s FactCheck supported the Labour party’s claim that over a million of our constituents’ children would, as a result of universal credit, no longer receive their free school meals. In fact, FactCheck said:

“This is not a case of the government taking free school meals from a million children who are currently receiving them.”

It also confirmed that

“no one who currently gets free school meals as part of the early rollout of Universal Credit will lose their entitlement once the rollout is complete.”

Given the number of those who may have been concerned by the Opposition’s claim, may I seek your help in correcting the shadow Minister’s comments and reassuring families across the country?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and the characteristically courteous and measured tones in which he put it. This is quite important constitutionally, so I hope that he will understand if I say that it is not for me to provide help in setting the record straight, other than in the strictly technical sense that I seek to facilitate colleagues who wish to point out important facts and to place them on the record.

I cannot recall off the top of my head whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place at, I think, business questions, when there was a substantial exchange on the matter of the obligation of a Member not to take clips from the Chamber and report them in a way that was not representative of the truth, and I gave a ruling on that matter. There was a follow-up point of order from the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), who quoted one point of view and proceeded to say that it was wrong and that therefore some protection against that was required. I made the point that the advancing of one proposition that was then roundly countered by another was what was known as the stuff of politics, and I do not think that it is for the Chair to seek to intercede.

However, in so far as the hon. Gentleman was seeking help, may I very politely suggest to him that he has found his own salvation? He has put the matter on the record, and he may wish to communicate his words today not only to news outlets in his Gloucester constituency, but conceivably nationwide.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that early-day motion 937 has sat on the Order Paper as a prayer against the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, which end the NHS bursary for a number of nursing courses. Wednesday of this week is the last praying day, and the Opposition may by convention call for a debate and vote on the Floor of the House. However, for three successive weeks, the Leader of the House has failed to answer questions from the shadow Leader of the House as to whether she will fulfil that obligation. In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley East (Stephanie Peacock), the Leader of the House said that she would give the matter

“consideration and see what more can be done.”—[Official Report, 22 March 2018; Vol. 638, c. 408.]

The shadow Leader of the House made a similar point of order late last Thursday in the presence of the Leader of the House, but again we got no answer.

As things stand, the other place will have a vote, but the elected House will be denied one. I therefore ask you, Mr Speaker, to confirm our understanding that we have taken the necessary measures to secure a vote under the conventions of this House. Have you received any indication that the matter will come to the Floor of the House this week? If not, will you confirm that it would be in order for the Government to provide time after the recess for a binding motion from a Minister, so that we can have a meaningful vote? Finally, are there any further steps that my hon. Friends and I can take to secure a debate and a vote on the legislation before it is too late?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. With reference to her inquiry as to whether it would be possible, post recess, to table a binding motion, I would want to reflect on that. I say to her that of course it is always open to a Government to withdraw a particular statutory instrument while wishing to preserve the intention to give effect to the policy contained therein, and to table another statutory instrument. That is absolutely not beyond the wit of humankind or the capacity of parliamentary draftspeople. However, that is not a matter for me.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me advance notice of her serious point of order. Beyond that, I say that whether and when an Opposition prayer is scheduled for debate has traditionally been seen as a matter for negotiation between the usual channels. For the benefit of those attending our proceedings who are not Members of the House, that of course means the Government Whips Office and the Opposition Whips Office. It is not a matter for the Chair. If the debate is not scheduled until the statutory praying time has expired, it is customary to replace the prayer with a motion to revoke. Passing a motion to revoke does not have direct statutory effect in the way that a prayer would do. It would be for the Government to decide on their subsequent action. I understand the hon. Lady’s annoyance about this matter. She has made her concern clear and placed it on the record. I suggest that she will have to take the matter forward in discussion with Ministers.

Beyond that, I want to say this. As will be evident to colleagues, many of these matters are proceeded with ordinarily on the basis not of statute, or even necessarily of a requirement of Standing Orders, but of convention and precedent. Those conventions and precedents are important to the collegiate operation of this House. They should not be tampered with or disregarded lightly. It is not desirable for the Chair to be constantly brought into exchanges of this kind, but I very much hope that people of good will on both sides in important positions in the House will reflect on this and, in a very finely balanced House, do what is procedurally right and what they would want, if roles were reversed, to be done to or by them. I hope that is fair and clear.

If there are no further points of order, I call the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) to make an application for leave to propose a debate on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration under the terms of Standing Order No. 24. The right hon. Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.