On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you advise and guide me on the appropriate step I should take? At last week’s Prime Minister’s questions I asked about a petition being handed in at 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister said that she did not understand what I was talking about, because a petition had been received. My question, however, was very specific. The petitioners said that they had made an appointment to hand in the petition, which usually means going outside Downing Street and knocking on the door to hand the petition in. I subsequently contacted one of the petitioners on Twitter, and found that they had made an appointment to go into 10 Downing Street, but that they had not been allowed to hand the petition in, and the security officer or policeman had taken it in.
I am bound to say two things to the hon. Lady. First, I have no responsibility for arrangements for the delivery of petitions, and certainly no responsibility for any security or other arrangements in the immediate environs of, or anywhere near, 10 Downing Street. The hon. Lady may think it very satisfactory that I have no such responsibility, or she may be gravely dissatisfied by that fact, but it remains a fact none the less.
Secondly, I think that the hon. Lady has found her own salvation in this matter. She has registered her discontent very forcefully on the Floor of the House, as she is privileged to be able to do as a Member of Parliament. I feel sure that she will communicate that point to her constituents, but I do not myself think that the argument need run any further, and even if it does, it certainly should not involve the Chair.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 9 February a group of councils in Dorset made a submission to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, seeking to abolish Christchurch and two other councils that are strongly resisting abolition. A week ago, I asked the Secretary of State whether he could give a closing date for the receipt of objections to that submission, and also a closing date for the receipt of alternative proposals. Those seemed to me to be reasonable requests.
My question was due to be answered on Friday. I received a holding reply. I assumed that I would receive a full reply yesterday, but I did not. I have still not received a reply. I wonder what could be done, Mr Speaker, to ensure that such a modest question can receive a timely response from the Secretary of State, because a great many of my constituents want to know how much longer they have in which to register their objections.
I do not have any great sagacity in these matters, but my response to the hon. Gentleman is as follows. It does seem to be a pretty straightforward inquiry, and, of course, it is a general rubric in this place that responses to hon. Members’ questions should be both timely and substantive.
In my limited experience, Ministers in successive Governments, irrespective of the hue of those Governments, tend to find it rather irksome, and possibly even embarrassing, if the non-answer to a question is regularly highlighted on the Floor of the House. I do not want to raise a spectre, but if the Minister does not respond, and if the hon. Gentleman—discontented as he would then continue to be—were to raise a point of order on a daily basis, it would be gravely embarrassing to Ministers in the Department concerned, and I am sure that they would not want that to happen.