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Points of Order

Volume 660: debated on Tuesday 21 May 2019

I think I was going to hear a point of order from Mr Blomfield and then I will come to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your advice on an urgent matter. One of my constituents is a Zimbabwean national, an asylum seeker, who had an outstanding claim and who, on arrival at Vulcan House immigration centre in Sheffield for a routine interview, was met by officials of the Zimbabwean Government. The immigration rules make it clear that the Home Office should not take steps for the removal of an individual from the UK while a fresh claim is being made as it obviously puts her at greater risk of persecution by the Zimbabwean Government about which there is great concern.

I wrote to the Immigration Minister about this issue on 27 February, seeking an urgent response. Despite repeated emails and calls to the MPs’ correspondence unit, I have not received any response and the latest update was simply that my letter was passed to a director for consideration two months after I sent it on 25 April. This matter has become urgent because my constituent has now been told that her claim has been denied and that she must leave the UK. It appears to me that the Home Office has acted in contravention of the immigration rules.

I would be grateful for your advice, Mr Speaker, on how I can progress this matter urgently with the Minister for Immigration, as my representations to her have been directed to the correspondence unit, and my representations to the correspondence unit have yielded nothing. I would also welcome your advice on how I can be reassured that my constituent will not be removed from the UK until the matter is resolved.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it.

The hon. Gentleman raises both a general concern about the Home Office’s response to urgent correspondence from Members of Parliament and a specific matter about the possible removal from the UK of his constituent. On the latter point, which is clearly of great importance to his constituent, I hope that what he says has been heard on the Treasury Bench and will be conveyed to the relevant Minister without delay. Traditionally, the Leader of the House under successive Governments—I hope that this continues to be the case, and I have no reason to think otherwise—has accepted some responsibility for chasing Ministers where replies are tardy or, in terms of content, insubstantial—that is to say holding. I very much hope that that will continue to be the case and that the matter will be pursued. There is a responsibility on Ministers, timeously and substantively, to respond both to questions from hon. and right hon. Members and to correspondence from them. Simply to hive the matter off and to subcontract responsibility to some outside agency is not the right way to proceed in terms of courtesy to colleagues who are, after all, the elected representatives of their constituents. On the general point, which will be of concern to Back Benchers across the House, I underline that it is unsatisfactory if there are not prompt and substantive responses. That does need to change.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Apologies that I could not give you advance notice, but this matter has only just come to my attention. Apparently the Prime Minister is going to make a speech at 4 o’clock this afternoon about what is in the withdrawal agreement Bill—announcing new Government policy. It has always been a convention of this House that new Government policy should be announced via a statement on the Floor of the House before it is announced to the media. Mr Speaker, have you been advised whether the Government are going to make a statement today?

I have received no notification of that. As the hon. Gentleman and others will be aware, I have been attending to my duties in the Chair since the start of business at 11.30 am, so I am not aware of this matter. [Interruption.] In fact, I have just had an indication that the Prime Minister may deliver a speech, but I am certainly not aware of any intention to make a statement to this House. Knowing what a fastidious and indefatigable parliamentarian the hon. Gentleman is, I rather imagine that he will not let his concern rest at this point; I fully expect that he will pursue the matter. There may be a statement from the Prime Minister in due course. Members may seek to catch my eye at Prime Minister’s questions tomorrow, and I am sure that there will be full opportunities for proper scrutiny of this and other matters. I hope that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to your own stricture during yesterday’s Defence questions, could you assist us further on the position of Northern Ireland veterans? As I understand it, we are due a written statement later today from the Defence Secretary on the position of veterans of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we still have no statement from the Northern Ireland Secretary in respect of those Northern Ireland veterans whose future is now very uncertain, as they do not know whether or not they are likely to be arrested, charged and prosecuted in respect of allegations made during the troubles in Northern Ireland. Surely the Northern Ireland Secretary should not be hiding from the House, but should be coming forward and making her announcement in the proper way.

As the right hon. Gentleman says, I did offer some strictures—as he puts it—to the House yesterday. My impression was that those strictures were not unwelcome, particularly as far as Back-Bench Members were concerned. At this point, I am not aware of any intention on the part of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to come to the Chamber to deliver an oral statement on the matter. However, the right hon. Gentleman, who speaks with very considerable experience and authority in this place, has made his concern clear. That concern was also articulated in the most unmistakable terms by a number of Members yesterday. There must be an opportunity for Members to question and probe the Secretary of State on this matter. If, therefore, an oral statement is not forthcoming, there are other tried and tested means of securing the presence of a Minister in the Chamber. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not require a tutorial from me on that matter, and that sooner or later somebody will take advantage of that opportunity—probably sooner, rather than later.