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Points of Order

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It relates to hon. Members visiting my constituency. Could you please advise me on how I should deal with a breach of protocol, in that I was informed by two hon. Members, the hon. Members for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), that they would be visiting my constituency within a few hours of their visits? I have given notice that I would be making this point of order today.

On 4 February, the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills told me, on the day, that she would be visiting Walsall College. On 25 April, I was informed by text. On 1 May, I was informed on the day of her visit that the hon. Member would be in my constituency. On 6 November 2020, 1 January 2021, 11 April 2022 and 1 July 2022, the hon. Member for Walsall North informed me that he would be visiting my constituency on the day in question. Both hon. Members are former Whips and should know the rules.

I should be grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you could confirm that according to the protocol set out in “Rules of behaviour and courtesies in the House of Commons”, advance notice is required of visits to the constituency of another Member. May I also ask you to make a statement to confirm the rule that “advance notice” is not notice given on the day itself?

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving notice of her point of order, and also for notifying the Members concerned that she intended to raise this matter. The most recent edition of the “courtesies” booklet to which she referred states that if a Member intends to visit the constituency of another Member,

“All reasonable efforts should be taken to notify the other Member”,

although that obviously does not apply to a purely private visit. Not to take such action is considered very discourteous. Although the booklet does not specify a minimum notice period, I agree that receiving notice on the day of a visit does not reflect the intention of the guidance. I think we all know that it is highly unlikely that a visit would be organised on the day, so these visits are very likely to have been arranged beforehand.

I trust the Members concerned, in this instance, to resolve the issue without my assistance, but I am happy to clarify the general point. I would expect all Members to make efforts to respect not just the letter of the guidance but its spirit, and to give notice at least in advance of the day of the visit itself. I hope that this will be passed back through the relevant channels, in all parts of the House, to ensure that it is made very clear to right hon. and hon. Members. I think we will leave it at that.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Home Secretary was due to meet the Home Affairs Committee this morning—we arranged this in April—for an evidence session on, among other things, the new Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, problems at the Passport Office, small boat crossings in the channel and the Government’s Rwanda policy, and the lack of progress in prosecuting and convicting those who commit rape and other sexual violence against women and girls. Shortly before 5 pm yesterday, the Home Secretary wrote to me to say that she was withdrawing from the evidence session. That is tantamount to providing no notice at all, and it deprives the Committee of the chance to scrutinise the conduct of her Department before the summer recess. We have requested her presence next Wednesday, but as yet have received no response.

The Home Secretary told us that she could not come because of changes in her ministerial team and other “wider unprecedented changes” that had occurred since she had agreed to give evidence. I think that that is a very weak excuse to avoid scrutiny of the Home Office at this time. It was only ever the Home Secretary and the permanent secretary who were to appear before the Committee. In fact, the Home Secretary issued a statement last week in which she said that she had not resigned because the role of Home Secretary demanded that the holder of the office should be

“focused on the business of government and our national security.”

What steps can a Committee of this House take, Madam Deputy Speaker, when a Minister refuses to be scrutinised, and demonstrates such discourtesy to this House?

Further to that excellent point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will, I am sure, agree that Select Committees play a crucial role in this place in holding the Government to account, and our ability to do so depends on those Committees. We are seeing chaos in the Passport Office, a broken asylum system and an unworkable Rwanda plan. Crime is up, prosecutions are down, and confidence in the police at a record low. Can you please advise us, Madam Deputy Speaker, on what can be done to ensure that the Home Secretary does indeed attend the Select Committee next Wednesday?

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, for giving notice of her point of order. I am also grateful to the shadow Home Office Minister.

Mr Speaker has said repeatedly that Select Committee work is important, and that Ministers should do their best to facilitate it through timely appearances at evidence sessions. I share—as, I am sure, does Mr Speaker—the right hon. Lady’s frustration that her Committee’s evidence session has been cancelled at such short notice. I do not know the reasons that the Home Secretary has provided for the cancellation, so I will refrain from saying more now, other than that I hope, and I am sure Mr Speaker would hope, that the Home Secretary will very quickly provide an alternative date that is acceptable to the Committee, and that, again, I hope that those on the Treasury Bench will feed these points back through the relevant channels.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As you know, the Government are at present in caretaker mode pending the election of a new Prime Minister. Is it your view that this caretaker mode extends to the Government’s interaction with Parliament? There are several pieces of potentially problematic—

I am so sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker; I apologise for my colleagues. Given that the Government are in caretaker mode, may I ask your advice on whether that extends to their interaction with Parliament? A series of potentially contentious pieces of legislation could be laid in the next few days, and I suggest that this may fall outside the remit of strictly attending to business in terms of the Government’s relationships with the House. I seek your clarification and guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have in mind particularly the broadcasting or media Bill that covers the potential privatisation of Channel 4, which is a matter of great interest and some political controversy across the House.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I gather that a similar point of order was made yesterday by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis).

The scheduling of Government business is not a matter for the Chair; it is a matter for the Government. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might like to raise this point during business questions tomorrow, which would provide a forum in which he could question the Leader of the House about the points that he has made about what is happening to Government business at the moment.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During the debate on Report of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill on 13 June, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) made a series of charges about Jesus College Cambridge, which is in my constituency. I have informed the right hon. Member of my intention to raise this point of order.

The College is rightly concerned about the reputational damage that is done when Members of this House make such accusations, particularly when there is little opportunity for those being criticised to defend themselves. It is particularly galling, in that the college had written to the right hon. Member more than a year ago to correct previous misrepresentations. The college insists that intellectual independence is always safeguarded, and points out that the financial contributions in question had in fact been promoted and supported by the then Conservative Government. It is very happy to meet any Member who has concerns, to ensure that these often complex historical situations are properly understood. I seek your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how such misrepresentations may be prevented in future.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving notice of his point of order and also for confirming that he told the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) that he intended to raise the issue. The Chair is not responsible for the content of Members’ contributions. Also, freedom of speech is essential to our effective functioning and I am sure the hon. Member will appreciate that it is important that Members are able to set out their views, even if those views are questioned or opposed. I appreciate that he was keen to put on record his views and the response of the college, and he has obviously done that.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. During questions to the Prime Minister the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) inadvertently misled the House over the decision-making process to proceed with redeveloping west Hertfordshire hospitals at St Albans, Hemel Hempstead and Watford General. I have notified the right hon. Member by email and in person of this point of order. Unfortunately, in an earlier point of order he repeated the claim that the trust had not considered all sites when reaching its decision, implying that that was the wrong thing to do.

The right hon. Member might not be aware that the judicial review in October 2020, brought by campaigners who share his view, found that the trust had acted properly and legally when it concluded that developing one of the greenfield sites that he favours would be too risky and take far too long to bring to fruition. As such, it was quite proper that the trust did not consider those risky sites. Can you advise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the most expedient way for him to correct the record on this important point, and on how we as a House can press the Government urgently to release funds to our hospital trusts where buildings are literally crumbling down?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. She is in effect continuing a discussion that took place during Prime Minister’s questions. As I just said in response to another point of order, the Chair is not responsible for the comments made by hon. or right hon. Members. There are plenty of ways in which she can put her point of view on record, as she just has, and she can consult the Table Office about those. I do not want to continue a debate where there are different views, which is not appropriate for a point of order.

If the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead wishes to make a further point of order, I must go to him first as he has been referred to, but I am anxious that we do not spend the whole afternoon debating different views about what was said earlier.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for St Albans (Daisy Cooper) for informing me that she was going to contradict the comments that I made at Prime Minister’s questions. I was exposing the contradictions that are going on in west Hertfordshire. My constituents, who I am responsible for looking after, do not want a tower block built in Watford for £1.2 billion. We want a new hospital on a greenfield site, and that is what we will continue to campaign for.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As I feared, we are continuing this debate, and I am anxious to move on to the important business before the House.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Would you be kind enough to pass on my thanks to Mr Speaker, who wisely and rightly curtailed the debate on special forces during Prime Minister’s Question Time? Those people are the bravest, most wonderful constituents I could ever hope to represent, and the attack on them and on Sir Mark Carleton-Smith by the BBC was without evidence, so curtailing that debate was very welcome.

I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments, but as Mr Speaker made clear, we must be very careful about making references to the matter at this point, so I will leave it there.