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Points of Order

Volume 662: debated on Monday 24 June 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last June, the Government pledged to make payments to people in receipt of severe disability premium who had lost out in transferring to universal credit, but a year later those payments have still not been made. They were part of regulations to the managed migration pilot, which is due to start in July. It will be July next week and the Government have failed to tell this House what is going to happen with either the pilot or the payments. Have you, Mr Speaker, had any indication of whether the Government intend to make a statement to clarify the situation? If not, could you advise on how I might secure such a statement?

I have certainly received no indication of any intention on the part of a Government Minister to make an oral statement in this Chamber. However, the consequence of the hon. Lady raising this point of order is that the Treasury Bench has been alerted to her concern. I would very much hope, in the spirit of courtesy, that the Government would give her advance notice of their intention to make such a statement. I hope that that is helpful.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may have been as surprised as I was to read in The Times today that the Government have paid £118,000 to a company called Big Ideas to get lots of apparent objections to the objections to the Victoria Tower Gardens being used for a national holocaust memorial and learning centre. Until the close of objections to Westminster City Council, the majority were against the proposal. Now that Big Ideas has been there, the numbers have gone up massively, apparently mostly in favour.

Will the Government please explain who made the decision to use public money to influence the apparent responses to a consultation on a planning application that the Government themselves have made? This is the first time I have ever heard of this happening. It deserves an explanation and perhaps the Minister can explain now.

The matter is certainly of compelling interest to the right hon. Gentleman—if he has been admitted to the Privy Council. If he has not, it can only be a matter of time. In that case, it is a matter not of compelling interest to the right hon. Gentleman, but of compelling interest to the hon. Gentleman. It is also of notable interest to a great many other people to boot. However, the attempted point of order—I use that term advisedly, as he will understand—does suffer from the notable disadvantage, which does not put it in a minority category, that it is many things but not a point of order. In other words, it is not a matter for the Chair; it is not for my adjudication.

In so far as the hon. Gentleman is referring to something that seems to resemble an organised campaign, I cannot say that that of itself is a great shock to me. However, his reference to the fact that there is public money involved is of course of great interest and does render the matter worthy of ministerial attention. It is quite open to a Minister now to respond and to seek to assuage the concerns of the hon. Gentleman, but I do not notice a Minister leaping to his feet with alacrity to do so. Indeed, it would be fair to say that the Leader of the House is seated comfortably in his perch on the Treasury Bench. Ah—he evinces a display of interest. Does the Leader of the House wish to comment? He is not obliged to do so, but we are always happy to hear his mellifluous tones.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend’s point is noted. I do not know the answers to his very specific questions with regard to the appointment of the Big Ideas group, but I will look into the matter and I will come back to him on it.

The matter had already been communicated to me earlier today by another means. If the hon. Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) is dissatisfied at the end of that exchange, he can always return to it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if you could give me some advice or perhaps commission, in your role as the Chair of the House, some training for Members on the issue of domestic violence. This weekend, I have been shocked and appalled at the rush of Members insisting on moving back the dial in this area to suggest that such matters are private family matters to be kept within the confines of walls. Now, I am certain that in almost any circumstance the people in this House do not believe that that is the case. However, I guess they had their priorities elsewhere when they went out to say it. That led to all the women’s charities in this country having to reissue a statement to assert that of course people should call the police; of course people should gather evidence where they can; and of course people should try to intervene. The message that came from this House—perhaps you could send a different message today, Mr Speaker—was that people should not try to help. Please, Mr Speaker, will you assert that domestic abuse is never just a domestic? It is never a personal family matter?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I know she will understand that it would not be right—and I would not choose or presume—to comment on any particular case, and I do not do so. Anything I say should not be interpreted as an attempted commentary on particular circumstances—[Interruption.]and nor should anything said by the hon. Lady. However, in so far as she asks me to confirm my understanding—and what I am sure will be the understanding of colleagues—that domestic violence or abuse is a matter of enormous and consuming public concern, and that it cannot be regarded as a purely private matter, I am very happy to confirm that from the Chair.

As the hon. Lady has raised an issue of concern and referenced training, I just say—I think this would probably be echoed by the Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House if she were in her place, which she is not expected to be at this time—that under the independent complaints and grievance scheme, as colleagues will know, there is an opportunity for people who have complaints to make of bullying, harassment or sexual harassment to do so. She will also be aware that as part of the House’s response to the issue that has arisen over the last 18 months or so, a programme of training, not merely for staff of the House but, very importantly, for Members, has been made available. That training is now being taken up by Members. I know that the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), undertook such training, and the staff of my office and I have been on that training, which I absolutely commend to all colleagues. It is very much in all our interests that we open ourselves to that training, counsel and advice. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Lady.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House heard your statement earlier on the recall petition from the constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire. This is still a fairly novel procedure, so I would be grateful if you gave us some guidance. Will you confirm that this vacancy stands to be treated in the same way as a vacancy created by any other means—that is, the death or resignation of a Member—and accordingly, whether you have received any indication from the Chief Whip of the Conservatives that he intends to move the by-election writ for this constituency soon? We are at a moment where the arithmetic of this House matters more than it has ever done, and where we hear Members in the governing party speaking openly about the possibility of proroguing Parliament to avoid it having its say in respect of a no-deal Brexit. It therefore seems that the people of Brecon and Radnorshire should have some protection to ensure that the current, rather well-tailored “Hunger Games” that we see going on in the Conservative party should not leave them unrepresented a second longer than they need to be.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter. The new edition of “Erskine May” states in paragraph 2.12:

“By convention, the motion”

—the motion to which reference is being made is that for the issuing of a warrant for a new writ—

“is moved by the whip of the party which last held the seat.”

I emphasise that that is the starting premise in these matters. I am confident that the right hon. Gentleman is aware both of that convention and of the recourse open to him if there is what he considers—indeed, others might agree—an unreasonable delay in the Government Chief Whip moving the motion. The timing of the by-election, after the House agrees to the relevant motion, is a matter for statute law and those empowered under the relevant statute. It is not something on which I can pronounce, but I hope that the two parts of the right hon. Gentleman’s concern have been at least adequately addressed by my initial response.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has just clarified that there will be no opportunity to debate the motion on the summer Adjournment dates. This is an extremely grave matter. About 0.25% of the population will be selecting the next Prime Minister at a crucial time in our history. Is there anything you can do to make sure that the House has an opportunity, when other Members are here, to properly debate this issue and make sure that the next Prime Minister can be held to account by this House without there being an extended period of summer recess in the way?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady and most certainly understand her concern. I want to offer her two responses. First, it is perfectly open to Members if they disapprove of the motion to vote against it. They are not obliged to accept it; they can oppose it. Secondly, although I do not myself know at this stage what is in the minds of Ministers today, or what was in their minds at the time of the tabling of the motion, since I am not psychic and it was not something they discussed with me or would ordinarily have been expected to discuss with me, I can tell her something that may be of interest to her.

I have been assured that there is no intention on the part of the Government to prevent the new Prime Minister from appearing before the House before it rises for the summer recess. The Leader of the House had his first outing relatively recently on a Thursday morning at business questions, and as he addressed the House the Government Chief Whip approached me, unsolicited but on the back of a number of queries about Prorogation and the timescale for the announcement of the new Prime Minister, specifically to tell me—as I say, unsolicited—that the Government had no intention of doing that.

The Government Chief Whip told me that he judged it most important that that not be the case. I am merely faithfully reporting what he told me on that occasion. If there has been some change in thinking, I am sure the Government would wish to communicate that to the House. I think it very important that there be some clarity about the Government’s intentions beyond simply the motion, which is a procedural motion, sooner rather than later, not because that is a matter of procedural necessity but because it is a matter of parliamentary courtesy.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you so much for what you have said. The Leader of the House is here. Such is the concern across the House about the Government’s plans and the very real concern that the next Prime Minister will not even come into this place before we rise for the summer, notwithstanding what you have been told, would it be in order for the Leader of the House to make a statement as soon as possible—literally in the next day or two—in order to satisfy the very real concerns that exist?

It would be perfectly orderly for the Leader of the House to do so. If he wanted to make a statement earlier than that, I am sure that we would accommodate him, either now or before the close of business tonight. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman. However, I had no notice of these points of order. I have responded to them in a public-spirited way, and I know that that is always the instinct of the Leader of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. First, I think I can confirm that it would certainly not be the Government’s intention to allow a situation in which there was not an opportunity for the new Prime Minister to appear before the House.

Indeed; before the recess. Secondly, I think it will also be accepted that Parliament would express its will if there were any likelihood of that becoming an issue.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for your statement, and also for that clarification, as far as it went. However, the Prime Minister said that she could not bind her successor. Presumably, the incoming Prime Minister may well reshape the Government, so any statements or commitments that are made now will not necessarily apply at the time when we have a new Prime Minister and, potentially, new Ministers in place. Can you clarify, Mr Speaker, what the position—as far as you understand it—would then be?

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman has stated a fact. That is true; of course a current Prime Minister cannot bind her successor, and a current Leader of the House cannot bind his successor, although we wish the right hon. Member for Central Devon well in his tenure. That is, in a sense—if the hon. Gentleman will forgive my saying so—blindingly obvious. What can I do about it? The honest answer is that I cannot do anything about it. However, I think that there was merit in the raising of these questions, because answers have been obtained, and some people will feel—I express myself cautiously—that considerable weight should be attached to what the incumbent says not just to one Member, but to the whole House. One would like to think that that would have a value that would endure for some time, and certainly for the material time between now and the summer recess.

I hope that that is clear; I think that we shall have to leave it there for now.