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Points of Order

Volume 648: debated on Wednesday 31 October 2018

I am sure that hon. Members leaving the Chamber are doing so quickly and quietly so that the rest of us can attend to the point of order from the hon. Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire).

In helping my constituent C to push the Child Maintenance Service to pursue the well-off but self-employed father of her two young children, I tabled a written parliamentary question about the difference in maintenance recovery between self-employed and employed absent parents. The Department told me that it held the data but that it was too expensive to provide. What guidance can you give me, Mr Speaker, on how I can push past this brick wall in pursuit of feckless dads failing to pay their maintenance and letting down their children?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. My answer, off the top of my head, is twofold. Traditionally, the member of the Government who has felt a particular responsibility to chase answers from Ministers if they are not forthcoming, or to seek a substantive answer if it has not been provided, has been the Leader of the House. That has been the tradition over a very long period. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has approached the Leader of the House, but she is on the Treasury Bench and will have heard her point of order. It manifestly and incontrovertibly is the responsibility of Ministers to answer questions. I must advise the hon. Lady that there are circumstances in which it can genuinely and credibly be claimed that the provision of an answer would be disproportionately expensive, although that sounds rather unlikely in this case, given that the material is retained. She might seek to enlist the assistance of the Leader of the House. Alternatively, I would advise her to write to the extremely distinguished Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), who may well wish to assist her in the way he has assisted Members across the House pretty much throughout his tenure as the distinguished Chair of the Committee. I hope that that is helpful.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a sensitive issue, and I hope that I phrase it correctly. We are all alert to the scourge of drugs in our towns and cities. I think the House would agree that if the sins of the father or the mother cannot be visited upon the sons, the same is true in reverse, but there is a case, as you will be aware, Mr Speaker, currently alive in the media involving a passholder in this place—and being a passholder is an honour, not a right—who has been found guilty of a drugs-related crime. In preserving what I hope all quarters of the House would agree is an important aspiration—namely, public confidence in this place and in those people who carry passes—what role do the Commission and other House authorities have with regards to Members of this place and those to whom they issue passes?

I am immensely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, though I am mildly disappointed that he did not furnish me with advance notice either of his intention to raise it or—better still—an indication as to its content. I say in all courtesy to him—I have known him for 30 years and he is a very decent chap—that it has absolutely nothing to do with the House of Commons Commission; it is a matter for me. I am very clear about that. If that matter is brought to my attention, ideally privately, I will discharge my responsibilities on the subject. I hope that my bona fides in such matters over a long period are unarguable. I hope that he feels satisfied that he has raised the point. I will deal with it sensibly.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has come to my attention that this week is Living Wage Week, but it was not raised this morning in Prime Minister’s questions. Can you advise me how I can further highlight the question of Whitehall cleaners and their massive pay disparity? They serve the House of Commons as well as anyone else.

I do not think they serve the House of Commons. I do not want to engage in a Second Reading-style debate with the hon. Lady—

Yes, they may well serve Ministers, who are Members of the House of Commons, but they do not serve the House of Commons as an institution. The hon. Lady has achieved her objective in raising this issue. I will just say, not least for the benefit of Members who came into this place in 2017—and I say it with considerable pride—that this House is a living wage employer, as it should be. I was determined that it should secure its accreditation from the Living Wage Foundation. Absolutely everybody who works here should be paid at least the London living wage. If there are examples of people working within the Government service who are not receiving that remuneration, that is a matter of considerable concern, but that concern will have been heard by a Treasury Minister on the Treasury Bench. I can advise further the hon. Lady that if she feels that it has been inadequately aired in this Chamber and she wants a debate on the matter, she might find she is successful.

I hope that the point of order appetite has been satisfied, at least for today, and on the assumption that it has, perhaps we can move on.