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Points of Order

Volume 658: debated on Monday 8 April 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any indication of whether any Minister from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is planning to come to the House to make a statement about the seven new members of its Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group who have been appointed? News of the appointment tumbled out on the Twitter account of Lord Bourne, the faith Minister. There is widespread disappointment that only one of those people is a woman, bringing the total to two out of 11. However, one particular individual, Karim Sacoor, was filmed and photographed in the 2015 general election aggressively manhandling me for having the temerity to go up and speak to the then Mayor of London, now the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). I am usually overjoyed at the success of my constituents on the national stage, and I understand the rough and tumble of politics, but is it really appropriate to appoint an individual who thinks it is okay to push and shove Muslim women to a body that wants to tackle Islamophobia? Can you advise me how to make my disappointment known to those on the Treasury Bench?

First, I think the hon. Lady has found her own salvation in that respect, because she has registered her discontent very eloquently, and it will be in the Official Report. Before I respond further, and I do not need to respond very much, might I just as a precaution establish, although I am reasonably confident of the answer, that there are no active criminal proceedings in the matter to which she refers?

Very good.

I am most grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me advance notice of her intended, and dare I say attempted, point of order. She does refer to a disturbing matter, but I have to say that it is not a matter of parliamentary procedure on which I can give a ruling. She has, as I have just said, put her concerns on the record. They will have been heard on the Treasury Bench and, indeed, they will doubtless soon be heard by the wider public. The Clerks in the Table Office will also be able to advise the hon. Lady on any further options she might have if she wishes further to pursue the matter. On the question of the appropriateness of the appointment, I would not presume to comment.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Was the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport able to advise you in advance of tabling his White Paper today of how he intends to give territorial effect to it, given that it requires the support of the legislative Assembly in Northern Ireland if we need any law enforcement activities or educational procedures associated with it? The National Crime Agency was clearly delayed in its operation in Northern Ireland for the same reason. We are now potentially going to see the very good provisions that have been outlined today delayed in their operation in Northern Ireland. Can you let Ministers know that it is no longer appropriate for them to table measures that will have effect in Northern Ireland when there is no power to give them effect there? Can we resolve this issue urgently?

What I would say to the hon. Gentleman, to whom I am grateful for his point of order, is that I have been somewhat blindsided on the matter, in that I was not aware of his intention to raise it, about which I make no complaint—it is obviously a matter of earnest preoccupation to him. However, what I mean is that I have not had the chance to take advice, and I am not sure what the appropriate response would be.

What I would say off the top of my head is that, in light of the very genuine concern the hon. Gentleman has expressed, I should have thought that it would be fitting and potentially helpful if the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport were to speak to the hon. Gentleman about this matter and, dare I say, perhaps also to consult the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds), who leads his party in this place, in the hope of brokering a solution, which will bring a smile to the face of the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 26 March, I submitted two written questions to the Department for Work and Pensions relating to the number of universal credit work capability decisions that have been appealed and are therefore subject to a tribunal or indeed a court order, asking the Department to respond within 21 days. In addition, I requested the number of “statement of reason” requests pertaining to limited capability that have not been delivered—they have a statutory limit of 14 days.

To both questions, I received the following answer:

“the information requested is not readily available and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost”.

These delays have a huge impact on constituents in East Lothian who are awaiting—indeed, some have been stranded for months awaiting—an important appeal date. The Department’s response is worrying, because it suggests that this information is not easily available, when the Department is in breach of a court order or indeed statute. I therefore seek your advice on what I can do next. Surely it does not require a Member of Parliament to issue a freedom of information request against a Department to get this essential and, I must say, judicial answer.

The hon. Gentleman might not think it desirable to have to resort to such a device in order to extract the information he seeks, but I was rather imagining, when he said it surely would not be necessary to submit a freedom of information request, that he might have added—almost in New Forest West style—“is it?”, because the answer is that it may be necessary for the hon. Gentleman to adopt that approach. Short of that, what I say to him is that he will find that the Clerks of the Table Office can advise on follow-up questions to probe how much information is actually available. He may find—I cannot say he will—that if he tables a similar inquiry, and probes, he might get more information than has been provided to date.

Secondly, I would say to the hon. Gentleman that any hon. or right hon. Member of this place can approach the Procedure Committee—chaired with great distinction by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker)—if that Member is not satisfied with the Department’s performance in answering parliamentary questions. Thirdly, there are other avenues that a Member can explore for bringing a matter to the Floor of the House, either here, through questioning or debate, or indeed in Westminster Hall.

My last suggestion to the hon. Gentleman, who always has a most amiable manner in his dealings with colleagues, is that he might want to approach the Minister for a direct chat, in the hope that a peaceful resolution of this matter can be achieved. But knowing the hon. Gentleman as I do, I know that his amiability should not be mistaken for weakness or a reluctance to stick to his guns. I feel sure that he will stick to his guns, and the sooner that that is recognised by the people from whom he seeks information, so much the better.