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Points of Order

Volume 700: debated on Tuesday 14 September 2021

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Yesterday, during the statement on Afghanistan, the Minister with responsibility for Afghan relocation—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins)—said that

“we have to be very careful about offering either encouragement or support for people who may be in a perilous situation in Afghanistan on making that journey to borders.”—[Official Report, 13 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 688.]

She also sent a “Dear Colleague” letter, which said the Government

“cannot pursue cases concerning Afghan people in country in the usual ways”,

and asked us to signpost people to for the latest information on the Afghan relocation and assistance policy and the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. It was therefore surprising to hear a Government Member—the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat)—say yesterday:

“I pay enormous tribute not only to my hon. Friend the Minister but to the Home Secretary, whom I was texting barely half an hour before I came into the Chamber about an Afghan who is currently near a border, and she was personally sorting out the transit documents that I hope will enable him to come through.”—[Official Report, 13 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 690.]

I am very pleased that that individual was able to make the journey, but it seems that we have a two-tier system here for advocacy. I and probably many Opposition Members do not have the Home Secretary’s phone number, so I am wondering how I can raise cases, because I have a large Afghan community in my constituency and I have been inundated with cases of people who are concerned. How do we raise such cases?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I am sure she will understand that it is not for the Chair to police how right hon. and hon. Members communicate with one another. However, it is extremely important that all Members can make effective contact with Government Departments and that all Members get responses in good time. I feel that that is particularly true in the case of Afghanistan, where many of the issues are of the utmost urgency. I do expect, and I know the Speaker expects, Ministers to do everything they can to make sure that they and their Departments are responsible to all right hon. and hon. Members. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will feed back the concern that has been raised.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Thank you very much for your answer, because it helped to provide clarification, and I thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) for raising the point of order. I share her concern; my office alone is supporting 400 Afghans. I just point out that the “Dear Colleague” letter said that the Government “cannot pursue” these cases and that they would consider

“how this data will be used in the future”,

which seemed to suggest that all the correspondence that MPs have been sending to the Department will not be answered. Furthermore, it says to us not to write to the Department. Is that proper? In my time as an MP—it has been four years now—sometimes letters have been late, but they have always come back.

I thank the hon. Lady for that further point of order. I know that this was raised quite a few times in the urgent question yesterday. Again, I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will take that point back and ensure that right hon. and hon. Members get clarification about the situation.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I raise this partly for information and partly with regard to the role of the Chair in protecting the rights of the House. We have all the stages of a very important Bill being taken in one day today. This is incredibly unusual. Normally, it is done only for matters that are very urgent—typically, terrorism legislation, with imminent terrorist attacks and so on. The last time that it was done inappropriately was the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, on which you may remember, Madam Deputy Speaker, I took the Government to court and they lost at all levels. I would not like to see something like that happen to the business today. Can you tell the House who approves such a proposal when the Government brings it to the House? Is it the Speaker? Is it the Opposition Front Benchers? Is it an instrument of the House? How does it come to be that we are faced with the option solely of having to take all this very important, very effective legislation all in one day?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for notice of that point of order. He is a very experienced Member of Parliament and former Minister. The Government have put their proposals for the timetable in the business of the House motion, and it is for the House to decide whether it agrees with the motion. There is the opportunity for the House to disagree with that motion. That is the way it will work today. I am confident that the right hon. Gentleman will have made his concerns clear to the Government and many other people—

The powers that be. That is how it works. The House has the option to reject the motion if it does not like it.

Very briefly, Madam Deputy Speaker, is there anything that Mr Speaker can do about extending the time that Parliament has to scrutinise this important legislation today? We are raising tens of billions of pounds for a social care reform of which Parliament has had no opportunity to scrutinise the details. In fact, I am not even sure that the details have been supplied. That is the wrong way of going about business in this place and it does not reflect well on us here.

The hon. Gentleman could have tabled an amendment to the business of the House motion and given the House different choices as to how long it wished to spend discussing the Bill. As it is, it is in the hands of the House to decide whether it accepts or otherwise the business of the House motion. I hope that is clear.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I reinforce the point that the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) just made? If Ministers are going to impose on our constituents a punishing, unfair tax rise, surely a Health Minister must come to the House and explain what that money is actually going to be spent on.

That is obviously a point of a view—it has been expressed previously by Members in different parts of the House—but it is not really a matter for the Chair. I am sure that it may come up in debate. Having said that, I think we should now move on to the ten-minute rule motion.