Wednesday 1 March 2017
[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair]
The hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), who is due to introduce the debate, has made communication with the authorities to inform us that he is a victim of disruption on the Northern line. At the time of his phone call, he was seeking alternative means of transport—a taxi—and I do not know whether he will appear here before 9.31 am. Unfortunately, unless he does, we will not be able to proceed with the debate and I will have to suspend the sitting, because the right to initiate a debate is individually balloted and not transferrable. If he is not present, I have no alternative but to suspend the sitting until the start of the next debate at 11 o’clock. In his absence, I do indeed—
On a point of order, Mr Chope. I can testify to the problems with the transportation system; I was stuck on the tube for 20 minutes myself. The Northern line is in a state of chaos. Given that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) is significantly delayed, I ask hon. Members to listen to this point of order for a few moments. We are gathered in great numbers to debate a significant and timely issue, particularly as we approach the celebration of Nowruz, when there will be pleas from many for clemency for prisoners of conscience. It is important that we recognise, while we await my hon. Friend, that this is a very important time. I do not know whether any colleagues want to add to that point of order.
Order. I call the Minister.
Further to that point of order, Mr Chope. We seek your guidance. Would it be in order for there to be another 15 points of order, each elaborating in different ways on the importance of our holding this debate, to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) extra time to arrive, or would that be out of order?
It would be out of order. The Minister puts a straight question, and the answer is a straight one: it would be out of order to try to abuse the process. The rules are quite clear. If the hon. Member for Hendon, who was due to be here at the beginning of the debate at 9.30 am, is not here, I have no alternative but to suspend the sitting.
Order. I will take one more point of order, from the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick).
On a point of order, Mr Chope. I am grateful for the opportunity to make an additional point of order. You explained your interpretation of the rules in response to the Minister, and you are obviously in sole charge. You said that it would be an abuse for other colleagues to raise points of order, but the fact that the Speaker’s Office allowed a 90-minute debate indicates quite clearly that this matter is not of interest to just a single Member. Other colleagues bid for a similar subject to be debated. For the Speaker’s Office to determine that this issue is exclusively an interest of the hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord), because he was the lucky one who was drawn in the ballot and secured time for the debate, seems to be a very narrow interpretation of the rules, in that—
Order. I will interrupt the hon. Gentleman, because he seems to be challenging my interpretation of the rules. If he wishes to have the rules changed, I suggest that he refers the matter to the Procedure Committee. The rules are quite clear. There have been occasions on which a Member has arrived a minute or two late and I have suspended the sitting. The rules are quite clear, and it would be wrong to try to rewrite them. If we were going to rewrite the rules, I would be tempted to allow an emergency debate on the state of the Northern line, but I will not do that. The sitting is suspended until 11 am.