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Points of Order

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 21 July 2022

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I seek your advice? In the run-up to my debate on English language schools in Westminster Hall this week, my office was contacted numerous times by Home Office officials wanting me to change the title of the debate to make it just about visas. I declined to do so, because my content was wider than that. I also had an email the day before the debate from the departmental Parliamentary Private Secretary, asking for my speech. I had not written it by then, but I did give a list of issues to be outlined.

On the day itself, I was surprised that the body language of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who is usually a very pleasant and reasonable chap, made it clear that he did not want to be there. Then, following my contribution and those by others, he read out a largely pre-prepared statement conforming to the desired title that officials had pushed me to adopt, not to what I had addressed. I was accused of being too narrow and of not focusing on things that I had actually addressed, and the Minister said that the debate was a “missed opportunity”.

Madam Deputy Speaker, is it orderly or normal for civil servants to try to move the goalposts of a Member’s chosen subject matter? If someone rolls their eyes at a Member, even before they have opened their mouth, does that not suggest discourtesy, even if Government Members do have other things on their mind—the results of the leadership contest were unfolding while the debate took place. Whoever decided to try to change the terms of the debate, does that not display a concerning disregard for scrutiny?

I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I presume that she informed the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) that she was going to raise this.

Thank you. The business to be taken in Westminster Hall is determined by the Chairman of Ways and Means, the Backbench Business Committee or the Petitions Committee, not by Ministers or their officials. While the content of Ministers’ responses to debates in Westminster Hall is not a matter for the Chair, I would obviously expect those responses to address the content of the speeches in those debates. If the hon. Lady feels that the Minister’s responses to the points she made in the debate were unsatisfactory, I am sure that the Table Office will be able to advise on how best to pursue the matter. I do not know if the Minister wants to make any comments—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last year, the Government launched their national bus strategy and promised that it would be one of the great acts of levelling up. Over this weekend, the biggest cuts to bus services in decades will take place as recovery funding winds down. In South Yorkshire, a third of services will begin to be cut from Sunday. In the north-east, a swathe of cuts are due, and in West Yorkshire 10% of the network is at risk. This follows the Government telling 60% of local authorities in April that they would see no change in transformation funding whatsoever. Given this huge crisis facing the bus sector, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would be grateful if you could advise whether a Government statement will be required, and if not, what avenues I can explore to elicit an explanation from the Government forthwith, with these latest cuts just days away?

I thank the hon. Member for his point of order. He asked whether the Government were likely to make a statement. I am not sure whether this was raised in business questions just now, but I do not think the Leader of the House made reference to any statement and I do not believe that the Speaker’s Office has received notification that the Government intend to make a statement today. Government statements are not a matter for the Chair, but I am sure that those on the Treasury Bench will have heard the hon. Member’s points, which he has now put very firmly on record.