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Points of Order

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 16 November 2022

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on ensuring that the Home Office provides a high-quality and timely service to MPs.

Since 1 January my office has been approached for help with more than 260 cases of asylum and immigration, all requiring updates from the Home Office. My office established a system of monthly calls with the Home Office, which in fact has been running at about every six weeks. Moreover, four of the 10 consultations scheduled this year have been cancelled. Yesterday I was informed that today’s call had been cancelled because of staff members being “out of office”. No revised date was offered, and I was advised that the next call would take place as agreed on 21 December. That is five weeks from now, and it means that there will have been three months between consultations.

These calls are crucial, as constituents find the prolonged waits distressing. When we do receive updates, they are often of a very poor quality, stating only that the claim is in progress and there is no timeframe for a decision, or that people will be contacted in due course. The members of the Hull Seahawks ice hockey club are currently waiting for an update on a visa for one of their players; they have been waiting for more than two months, and are now halfway through the season without a much-needed player. That is one of the cases that my office was going to raise with the Home Office in the call today.

MPs have been offered an unacceptably poor service by the Home Office, and I hope, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you can use your power and influence to put pressure on the Prime Minister to improve it.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and also for giving me notice of it. She raises a serious issue that affects how all of us can assist our constituents, and the service she describes from the Home Office is not acceptable. Ministers on the Treasury Bench will have heard her comments and I expect them to be conveyed to the Home Office. I expect the Home Office to address the issues that she has raised urgently, and if improvements are not made, I know that the Speaker will be sympathetic to attempts by the hon. Lady to pursue the matter, perhaps in an Adjournment debate or through an urgent question.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. We are about to debate the National Security Bill. In the Second Reading debate, the Chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), asked the then Minister, the right hon. Member for East Hampshire (Damian Hinds), for a commitment that there would be a Committee of the whole House to discuss a number of important matters in the Bill. The Minister responded by saying:

“I hear the request from my right hon. Friend…I can assure him that I have heard colleagues—him and others—on the importance of having time for scrutiny.”—[Official Report, 6 June 2022; Vol. 715, c. 639.]

Since then, 130 or so amendments and new clauses have been tabled in the last week, more than half from the Government, and we have 100 or so to debate today. There will be barely two hours before we are required to vote, and then presumably a near non- existent Third Reading. May I ask whether you have had any information from the Leader of the House about the intention of the Government to find more time to debate this matter, or indeed to have the important parts of this Bill debated fully on the Floor of the House?

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I raise one specific issue that is directly linked with this? I discovered one day ago—overnight, almost—that the Government had tabled amendment 60, which will add certain offences to the list of offences that are not eligible for statutory defence for victims of modern-day slavery. Whether or not this amendment improves the Bill, the truth is that we have had no chance to scrutinise it at all, and it will be done today and gone. My concern is that this is a delicate area, often dealing with people who have very great problems, and I simply want to ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, whether it is feasible for us to raise a complaint that this is becoming an abuse of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. In addition, it is notable that a large chunk of the Bill has been added. It is an important chunk of the Bill, which I know that the Minister for Security, the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), supported because he was on the Foreign Affairs Committee when we called for the registration of foreign agents. That has now been put in the Bill, but it was added only in Committee and not given much time to be debated there. We have not had a full opportunity to analyse the clauses that have been added. We have significant numbers of Government amendments today and we are not even going to have two hours in which to debate them. Surely it would be possible for the Minister to stand up now and say, “This is national security and it is a matter that we need to get right. We cannot just expect another place to consider these matters. We are going to do our job of scrutiny properly and we will allow additional time to debate them on another day.”

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am not making any comment about the current Minister, but during the Committee stage, we had four separate Ministers handling the Bill. This made scrutiny very difficult because Ministers were coming and going so fast that they could not have even read the Bill between when they arrived and when they left. That has been a cause of significant frustration for members of the Committee, and now to have only two hours makes a mockery of the idea that we are scrutinising this important legislation.

I would like to thank all four hon. Members for their points of order. They will know that the Chair has limited powers in this regard, but I have every sympathy with the points of order that have just been raised. Perhaps those on the Treasury Bench will have heard this and will pass it on to the Leader of the House. Also, when we get on to the Bill, maybe the Minister himself will comment, as he is the appropriate person to do so. I am extremely grateful for all four points of order.