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Points of Order

Volume 645: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government have said, in a more than usually bovine announcement, that they intend to adjourn the House on Thursday. You are the guardian of the rights of Back Benchers. This decision will bring opprobrium on the whole House. There is important Back-Bench business on Monday and Tuesday and questions on local government and health and social care. What advice can you give the Leader of the House to rescind this idiotic and bad new announcement?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who expresses himself with his characteristic clarity but—if I may say so—uncharacteristic force, which the House will have noted. Needless to say, I take what he said and the passion he feels about the matter—as someone who has served in the House without interruption for 35 years—extremely seriously. Standing Order No. 25 provides that motions for the Adjournment of the House for a specified period and moved by a Minister are put forthwith—that is to say, without debate. It would have been possible for the Government to table a Business of the House motion overriding the Standing Order, but they have not done so.

If a Minister moves motion 13 on the Order Paper this evening, the Chair will be obliged to put the question without debate. If the Chair’s opinion on the voices is challenged, a Division would be deferred until tomorrow. As ever, it would be up to Members whether to vote for or against the proposition. Salvation lies in Members’ hands.

I add, merely by way of information and in the name of transparency, that no indication of this intention on the part of the Government was communicated to me in advance. I am not complaining about that; I simply want to make it clear to people who might think, “Oh, the Speaker must have been aware of and in on this”, that that was not and is not the case.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You may be aware, and colleagues certainly will, that a strong rumour is going round to the effect that the Government will not move motion 13 this evening. Surely it would be courteous for the Government to indicate now whether it is their intention to move the motion or that they have responded to the concerns expressed and will withdraw it. Why can we not know that now, rather than it being left until later?

I tend to take the view that clarity and the resolution of uncertainty are always desirable. I do not know whether a decision on the matter has been made. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that if a decision has been made, it should be communicated to the House first, rather than to the media. If a decision has not been made, it is very much to be hoped that it soon will be.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Thursday, during the Backbench debate on forced adoption, I got some facts wrong in the story of my constituent, Ms Jean Robertson Molloy. She was in fact living in New Zealand in 1963, not the United Kingdom, when she became pregnant and went to live in Australia. There she had a baby daughter which she reluctantly gave up for adoption, following advice and pressure from others. Can you advise on how I may set the record straight?

The hon. Gentleman has achieved his own salvation. He has courteously and properly done so. He has put the facts on the record, and I thank him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On your advice about a deferred Division, is there any clarity on when the result would be announced?

It would be announced as soon as possible after the conclusion of the vote. It is reasonable to suppose, if there were a deferred Division tomorrow and on the assumption that the ballot closed at 2 pm, that we would have an announcement of the result pretty shortly thereafter. I must emphasise that we do not yet know whether there will be such a deferred Division, but a result would be declared shortly thereafter. If the hon. Gentleman is worried that by 4, 5 or 6 o’clock tomorrow he still would not know the answer, his brow need no longer be furrowed on that account.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The Government are currently engaged in the most important set of negotiations in this country’s peacetime. It seems to me extraordinary that they should want to bring Parliament into disrepute by sending us scuttling back to our constituencies and suspending our deliberations several days early. You have explained that this is something that they can properly propose and that should that motion be opposed this evening, there would be a vote. Is there any way that we can secure a debate so that we, as Members of Parliament, can consider properly whether this is a measure that we would want to support?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Off the top of my head, I am not aware that there is a means by which to secure a debate, other than Members deciding that they regard consideration of the matter as an emergency. If they regard it as a matter of emergency, there is a means by which people can seek to bring such a matter to the attention of the House using the Standing Order with which the hon. Gentleman, who is both knowledgeable and perspicacious, will himself be closely familiar. I offer no guarantee that it would be regarded as an emergency matter, but he very specifically asked whether there were any other means by which to secure a debate. That is the only one, given the time constraints and the proximity to recess, that occurs to me. There is always scope for urgent questions, but that is not the same as having a debate. I hope that that is as helpful an answer as the facts allow me to provide.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I received a reply from the Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), to parliamentary question 156404, which confirmed that an automatic insulin pump could be considered an aid in relation to the awarding of points for personal independence payments. However, when I raised the Minister’s answer with Atos, the independent assessment service, Barrie McKillop, the Atos clinical director, stated that its stance is correct. He said:

“as it stands, I feel that you have been given an incorrect response by DWP”.

Mr Speaker, there appears to be a discrepancy between what the Minister is saying and the response from the organisation responsible for implementing the policy. The question of who is correct could have serious implications for a constituent of mine, who I believe is being unfairly denied access to PIP. Who actually has the final say on what the policy is in practice?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. All Members of this House, including Ministers, are responsible for the veracity of what they say in and to it. Insofar as the hon. Gentleman is concerned that he should have redress in respect of this matter, it seems to me there are, in the approach to the recess, only two avenues open to him. One is for him to table a written question. He will be aware of his entitlement to put named day questions, that is to say questions that receive a more urgent response. The other option is for him to seek to persuade me that the matter warrants an urgent question on the Floor of the House between now and when the House goes into recess, in which he would have an opportunity directly to engage with a departmental Minister on this matter.

On a point of order of which I gave you notice some hours ago, Mr Speaker. In 1975, Short money was introduced for Opposition parties to carry out their parliamentary duties. In 2006, a change was made and representative money was introduced for Members of those parties who do not take their seats in this House and therefore do not partake in the work of this House. I understand that one particular party, namely Sinn Féin, has claimed over £1 million since that date to provide them with expenses for a job they patently do not do. Mr Speaker, I wonder what your view on that is and whether you could advise me on how that may be challenged.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I do not think it is a point of order. It has to be said that that does not put the hon. Gentleman in a particularly exclusive category, as most attempted points of order are in fact more attempted than points, if I may say so. What I would say to him by way of response, and I appreciate the sincerity with which he raises the issue as a former Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, is as follows. Money akin to Short money, representative money, is paid to Opposition parties represented by Members who have chosen not to take their seats in respect of costs incurred exclusively in relation to the party’s representative business. That was, as I suspect the hon. Gentleman knows, decided by the House in November 2005. I had no role in that matter, other than as a Member of the House. I had no greater role than anyone else. As the Speaker, I have no role in changing that arrangement or, alternatively, upholding it. It is the property, if I may say so, of the House. If the hon. Gentleman has concerns about the administration of this arrangement, or about the fact of payment or particular payments, he should direct his concerns to the Accounting Officer of the House who, as I am sure Members will know, is also the Clerk of the House. I well understand the hon. Gentleman’s unhappiness on this matter, but he should communicate with the Accounting Officer about it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following on from the point raised by the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) on the recess, this is meant to be the UK Parliament but it slavishly follows the English school holidays in its recesses. Do you know of any people so cruel in all of Europe, Mr Speaker, who keep their children in school until the middle of July, a month after midsummer? Indeed, should we not follow the Scottish example and have earlier recesses? I think the temperature in July is affecting Government minds.

That is a debatable matter, but the point of view the hon. Gentleman expresses is one that he is known to adhere to and which he loses few opportunities to express, as the cheeky smile on his face readily testifies he knows.

If there are no further points of order and the appetite has been satisfied at least for now, we will come to the 10-minute rule motion for which the hon. Member for Clacton (Giles Watling) has been so patiently waiting. I hope and anticipate a thespian performance by the hon. Gentleman.