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Points of Order

Volume 651: debated on Wednesday 12 December 2018

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The wait is over. A few days ago, a senior Labour Member of Parliament addressed a public meeting in my constituency relating to the relocation of a post office—a very sensitive public matter. I will not name the MP in question, but I would like your guidance please, Sir, on the correct procedure for Members in terms of when they should or should not show the courtesy of letting a sitting Member of Parliament know.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The answer is straightforward: it is a long-standing convention in this House that a Member visiting the constituency of another Member in a political or public capacity should notify the Member whose constituency is to be visited. If the visit is of a purely private character, for example, going to lunch or dinner at somebody’s house in that Member’s constituency, the obligation does not apply. I am bound to say to him, and I am sorry that he is obviously highly dissatisfied about this, that this is a recurrent complaint from Members on both sides of the House and I hope that, in the interests of the House as a whole, Members on both sides would honour the convention. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) says from a sedentary position, “Who was it?”. Well, the hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) has not named the Member. I think that he is focused on the principle rather than the personality. It seems to me that the principle applies regardless of who the personality is. However, if the hon. Member for Bolsover is particularly keen to know the identity of the person concerned, he can always have a cup of tea with the hon. Gentleman, although he may think that that is a step too far.

I am saving up the Front Bench. It would be a pity to squander the hon. Gentleman at too early a stage of our proceedings.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may remember that an independent report into the allegations of sexual harassment, abuse of power and bullying at UNAids, which Britain currently chairs, has recently been published calling for the resignation of the current executive director. Can you think of any way in which it would be possible to elicit a statement from the Secretary of State for International Development, whose responsibility this is, on what she and the Government are doing to effect the resignation of the said executive director?

The hon. Gentleman could seek an Adjournment debate on the matter. There are other routes open to him and I think that he knows that. I cannot offer any promise to him but, if he were able to demonstrate that it was a matter of urgency, it could be aired on the Floor of the House. Sometimes, when I am asked by a disappointed or, dare I say it, a mildly frustrated Member who has not been able to air the matter of concern to him or her, my advice tends to be: persist, persist, persist. Just because a Member is unsuccessful the first time round, it does not automatically follow that the Member will continue to fail.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have raised this matter with you and the Clerks, and I understand that measures are being taken to address this issue, but I want to raise with you the concern that there are hundreds of young people here today campaigning for a people’s vote from the For Our Future’s Sake organisation and Our Future Our Choice. They have been in the House to meet MPs over the past few weeks and have had very constructive discussions. They are not protesters. They are not here to cause disruption; they are here to speak to their elected representatives. Can you ensure that they are being allowed in to meet MPs and to use the Committee Rooms that they have booked with Members and that this does not happen in the future? It sends out a very bad message if, for whatever untoward reasons, young people coming to express their democratic rights are prevented from accessing Central Lobby and speaking to their Members.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to do so. My reply is a nuanced one that I hope is fair in the circumstances, and those circumstances include the fact that I have been in the Chair and not able to view the circumstances directly, so I am reluctant to rush to judgment.

What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is as follows. If constituents have meetings with their Members, they should of course be given ready access to those Members and should also be permitted to get to a Committee Room with maximum expedition. Security and logistical concerns may mean that larger groups are filtered through Central Lobby in batches so that they can obtain the relevant green card. However, I will investigate the circumstances of what happened this morning more fully and write to him when I have full information.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman, whose point of order is very reasonable, will understand if I say two things. First, I share his insistence on ready access and his passion for the idea of public engagement—in particular, the idea that young people who want to get into this place and communicate with Members, and register their views, should have the opportunity to do so. It is not for nothing that I have chaired the UK Youth Parliament for the past 10 years here, and not for nothing that I have gone to the UK Youth Parliament’s annual conference every year for the past 10 years. That is not just because I enjoy talking to them, though I readily admit that I do, but also because I enjoy hearing from them. That, I think, is important.

The second point I would make, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept in the spirit in which it is intended, is that I know that our staff are utterly dedicated and conscientious, and I would not want to criticise those staff unless there were a very compelling reason to do so.

I take on board what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I will look into it and get back to him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is customary for the local government finance settlement to be announced to Parliament in early December. Indeed, Ministers had pencilled it in for 6 December. Last week, in a written statement, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government deferred the statement until after the “protected period”, by which I assume he meant the expected meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement, which of course should have been last night.

Have you, Sir, had any indication from the Government as to when they expect to bring the statement before the House, as given the late change to this week’s business, it could have been made by now? I am not asking you to speculate on rumour and uncertainty, with the Government perhaps wanting to collapse business next week. However, this is crucially important, notwithstanding the psychodrama unfolding on the Government Benches, because our councils are now entering the council tax-setting cycle and need to have certainty about their budgets and their council tax requirements, including the police precept, ahead of the bills being sent out in March.

I say to the hon. Gentleman, in all candour and conviviality, that no one could accuse him of excluding from his attempted point of order any point that might to any degree, in any way, at any time be judged to be material. That is my polite way of saying that his point of order is supremely comprehensive.

My answer to the hon. Gentleman is twofold. First, the business question is the obvious opportunity for this matter to be aired and, as he is sitting next to the shadow Leader of the House, he can attempt to add it to the list of important matters that she will feel inclined to raise at the business question tomorrow.

Secondly, although I obviously have absolutely no way of knowing whether the contents of the prospective statement are likely to be finalised any time soon, if they are finalised soon, there is no shortage of time for this matter to be aired either tomorrow or, indeed, next week. The hon. Gentleman is dextrous in his use of parliamentary mechanisms to secure the attention of the House. We will leave it there for now.

If there are no further points of order—if the appetite has been satisfied—we come now to the ten-minute rule motion for which the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) has been so patiently waiting.