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Points of Order

Volume 655: debated on Tuesday 5 March 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) is currently on maternity leave. She has served with great distinction as a member of the Select Committee on Health and as a spokesperson who is nationally recognised for her work on mental health. I am deeply concerned to hear that the Labour party has been seeking names to replace and oust her from her position on the Select Committee. Surely this is unacceptable and sends entirely the wrong message about how we value maternity leave in this place. I am very relieved that none of her former colleagues was prepared to be nominated in that way. May I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on that point and on the wider point that Select Committees are surely at their best when Members can leave their narrow party politics at the door rather than being a tool of the Whips Office?

If it is, as I believe it to be, on the same matter, I will hear the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) and then I will respond to the two of them.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. May I support the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), the Chair of the Health Committee? Members of this House have previously left their parties and become independent or changed party, and I understand from the House of Commons Library that they have remained on Select Committees, only coming off them if they expressed a wish to do so. That is clearly not the case here. May I seek your ruling on the fact that there is no precedent for political parties to seek to remove Members whom the House has said should remain on their Select Committees for the duration of the Parliament?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) and the right hon. Member for Enfield North for those points of order. On the very last point, and this is not in any sense a criticism, from my recollection there are precedents. The truth of the matter is that there are precedents for a lot of things in this place and that does not necessarily mean that such a course of action is right. I say that without prejudice to what colleagues might judge to be the merits of the right hon. Lady’s point of order as a whole. She has flagged up a very important issue. The points of order were raised, at least in part, to elicit a response, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady and the right hon. Lady for giving me notice of them. Procedurally, the position is certainly clear in my mind and I hope I can make sure that it is clear in everyone else’s.

Changes in membership of Select Committees are made by this House on debatable and amendable motions. For almost all Select Committees, such motions are moved on behalf of the Selection Committee by its Chair or another member of it. Under Standing Order No. 121, any Member intending to propose that a Member be discharged from a Select Committee shall endeavour to give notice to the Member whom he or she proposes should be discharged from the Committee. In the first instance, I refer the hon. Lady and the right hon. Lady to the hon. Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin), namely, the Chair of the Selection Committee. I am not aware of any current plan to remove somebody from such a Committee, and I would not necessarily be aware if there were such a plan. Procedurally, what I have said is, I think, accurate and in so far as it contains advice, it is the fairest advice I can offer. I hope that is helpful to colleagues.

I think there was another point of order.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions published a written statement outlining changes to social security, health and disability. By my calculations there are no fewer than nine announcements that will have a significant impact on hundreds and thousands of ill and disabled people, including, to name a few, changes to the personal independence payment assessment for pensioners; the introduction of a new integrated assessment framework for employment and support allowance, universal credit and PIP; seeking to extend contracts on the delivery of the then work capability assessment; yet another review of the Government’s manifesto commitments to get more disabled people into work, with little or no mention of improvements to the Access to Work scheme; a small-scale test into conditionality and sanctions; and commissioning yet more research into the understanding of the needs of disabled people.

Mr Speaker, the written statement is vague on detail and raises significant questions. It is vital that Members are given the opportunity to question the Secretary of State about the changes. Will you please advise me on how best we can ensure that the Secretary of State comes to this House and answers questions from Members?

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her intention to raise this matter. She asks me specifically how to ensure that the Secretary of State will address the House on it. The short answer is that, apart from departmental questions and in the absence of an Opposition day facility to probe the matter, the absence of which at present is a matter understood by Members across the House, the recourse would have to be either through an urgent question, conceivably an emergency debate or a debate to take place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee. Beyond that, really only an end-of-day Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall would allow the matter to be aired. Those are the options.

On the procedural question the hon. Lady raises, I have to tell her—unfortunately from her point of view, but it is something I do have to say from time to time—that it is under our procedures for Ministers to decide whether a statement is delivered in writing or orally in this Chamber and whether such statements, rather as with the granting of urgent questions when the Government decide who to field, are delivered by the relevant Secretary of State or by another dare I say it?—more junior Minister.

The hon. Lady has made clear that she finds it unsatisfactory in the case she describes. Those avenues are open to her if she wishes to pursue the matter, as I think she clearly does. My advice to her would be that she discuss this matter with colleagues in her shadow ministerial team. She might consider undertaking the short journey to the Table Office, where further advice will be available to her if she seeks it. I hope that that is helpful to her. I do understand that some of these matters will be very pressing, not just as far as she is concerned but as far as many colleagues are concerned, and there should be an opportunity to air them in the Chamber.

If there are no further points of order—I am grateful to the hon. Lady for hers—I will momentarily call Mr Alan Brown 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 hon. Gentleman has up to three minutes in which to make such an application.