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Points of Order

Volume 627: debated on Monday 17 July 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek your advice on the urgent matter of the HS2 route and the announcements due to be made by the Transport Secretary, which will affect millions of people? The Secretary of State began his consultation with an oral statement last November, and there had been an expectation that he would announce his final decisions today in an oral statement; indeed, parts of the media were briefed to that effect. All the indications now are that the news will be sneaked out in a written statement any time now. This is a gross discourtesy and adds insult to injury for my constituents. I seek your advice, Mr Speaker, about how we can get the Transport Secretary to come to the House and show some accountability on this issue.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As others wish to raise points of order relating to the same subject, I will take them—or at least a number of them—and then respond.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice, because today the Government have announced—they have certainly been all over the airwaves—£6.6 billion of contracts on HS2. When such a large amount of taxpayers’ money is being spent, it seems to me that the Minister should come to the House and make a statement. I appreciate that the urgent question, the statement and the business on the Order Paper today are equally important, but I wonder whether you could extend the sitting of the House, Mr Speaker, and allow us to have a statement from the Minister, in the light of what has happened with contractors before, CH2M having withdrawn from a £17 million contract because of a lack of due diligence and conflicts of interest. We need to look at these contractors, because one contractor has major project overruns and has written off millions of pounds, two contractors have pulled out of other public service contracts and one is having financial problems and restructuring. I would therefore seek a statement urgently from the Minister.

Further to the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), Mr Speaker. I would add that it is not just his constituents but voters across South Yorkshire and beyond who are affected by the decisions related to HS2. Not only that, but this is the latest in a long line of actions by the Government who are demonstrating an unwillingness to make themselves properly available for scrutiny by the House. I wonder what you can do, Mr Speaker, to improve the situation and encourage the Government to stand up and do their job properly.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. On the Order Paper today we have the High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill, which, as it points out, relates to Fradley Wood in Staffordshire, in my constituency. I have two farms on which it was announced there will be quarrying, and that is before we have even had First Reading. I have elderly residents who are being told that their homes will be taken away from them. We have already heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) about cost overruns. I too, sadly, think it is outrageous that this major item of public expenditure, which is affecting my constituents and those of many others, is not being reflected by a statement here today.

I am saving the right hon. Gentleman up. He is too precious to waste at an early point in our proceedings.

Further to the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), which I entirely support, Mr Speaker. This is a major announcement affecting my constituency and many others. It is not an HS2 recommendation; it is a Government decision on a previous recommendation. The Government have always come to the House before with an oral statement. While we can ask for an urgent question tomorrow, by that time there will have been public debate on the matter. This House should have the first opportunity to debate it.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Many of my constituents have taken part in the consultation on the re-routing of HS2, over many months now, and we do not know if their voices have been heard. There has been no publication of the consultation, and we are now threatened with a decision that is going to wreck over 100 homes in my constituency and many jobs, with different employers. It is absolutely outrageous that my constituents have been treated with contempt by Ministers, who are not prepared to come to this House, tell us what they have spent all the money on and come to logical decisions on this matter, as opposed to hiding behind making a written statement, we think sometime today.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, because you have already allocated an Adjournment debate to two colleagues—my right hon. Friends the Members for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) and for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron)—and because you have heard us, and me in particular, say it, this possibly £80 billion scheme means that a lot of houses in my constituency are going to be demolished; that roads are going to go straight through a development that has only just taken place; and that in Derbyshire there will be a slow track, dawdling its way to Sheffield and beyond, and then a fast track going to Meadowhall. This is a very important matter, and it should be debated at length, because it is going to cost the taxpayer a small fortune. As you know, Mr Speaker, the Sheffield line could be electrified all the way to London, and the trains could get to London a lot more quickly for a lot less money.

This is an outrage, and that is why I have raised the matter today, along with my right hon. and hon. Friends.

I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their points of order. What I will say in response is this.

First, my understanding is that the written ministerial statement has now been issued. There was some speculation on when it would be issued, and I am advised that it has been. Secondly, I am not in a position to require a Minister to come to the House today to make a statement; however, it is comparatively unusual for Members on both sides of the House, in unison, to raise such a concern, and to make, to all intents and purposes, exactly similar requests for a statement.

I will come to the hon. Gentleman.

In the circumstances, the Secretary of State is bound to hear of these concerns within a matter of minutes. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to come to the House today to make a statement, I would certainly be very happy to facilitate him.

Finally, the hon. Member for Sheffield—

The hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)—the former hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe—said that an urgent question could be applied for tomorrow, but by then all sorts of briefing would have taken place. I am afraid it is not within the power of the Speaker to reverse time. I cannot do anything about that; I can only deal with the situation as it evolves. What I will say, however, is that if no statement is forthcoming from the Minister, it will be perfectly open to Members to do their best to secure parliamentary time and attention tomorrow. It may be that such an exploration would take place at some length, and it may be that, faced with such a scenario, a Minister might think it prudent and judicious to anticipate the difficulty and offer the statement today instead. I do not know—we shall have to see—but I am on the side of the House in wanting Ministers to be accountable to it. That seems pretty clear to me.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Has there been any discussion between you and the Secretary of State about whether the further reports and documents that are scheduled to be published today should have been delayed until the Secretary of State was before the House tomorrow, if at all possible?

The short answer is no. There have been no such discussions, and it would not automatically be expected that there should be. Let me simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I have not been advised of any revised plans. We will leave it there for now.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 27 June, I put a parliamentary question to the Government asking when they would release the report on product safety produced by a working group from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I am sure you will agree that, given the situation in which we find ourselves, particularly after the Grenfell Tower disaster, it is crucial for the House to be kept up to date with the progress of the report.

On 3 July, I received the response that an answer was being prepared and would be sent in due course. On 12 July, I asked another parliamentary question pursuing the matter, for named-day answer today. May I ask you, Mr Speaker, to kindly ensure that the Government make their response known as a matter of urgency?

It is highly undesirable for questions that have been tabled in good faith and an orderly manner some time before the recess not to receive an answer by the time of the recess. That is not some new development articulated at this moment by me from the Chair; it is a long-established and respected practice that Ministers try, to put it bluntly, to clear the backlog. It has customarily been expected that the Leader of the House would be a chaser after progress on such matters. I very much hope that the hon. Lady will receive a substantive reply to her written question or questions before the House rises for the summer recess. That would seem to me to be a matter of proper procedure, and indeed of courtesy from one colleague to another.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The working group to which my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Gill Furniss) refers was set up following a serious fire in my constituency last August. We were promised at least its first report before last Christmas, but we are still waiting. If we do not get it this week, and if we do not get a clear statement from the Government, we will be waiting, both in the case of my constituents and that of Grenfell Tower, until the autumn. The urgency cannot go unremarked by the Minister. Anything you can do to assist with that would be most welcome.

The hon. Gentleman has transmitted his concerns through me to the Government, who will very quickly hear that he is on the war path on the matter, which might yield a positive outcome for him over the next 48 or 72 hours. It is up to him to judge whether, having heard or not heard anything from Ministers, he wishes to find ways of trying to secure attention to the issue on the Floor of the House before we rise for the summer recess.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would have given advance notice of this point of order, but I thought that we were having points of order a little later. Last week, after meeting trade union representatives from Rolls-Royce outside Bristol, I attempted to table a written question asking whether the Government are seeking to stay in the European Aviation Safety Agency post Brexit. My question was rejected, on the grounds that a similar question had been asked back in January and nothing had changed. The answer to that question had been that we cannot pre-empt the negotiations. Today I would like clarity on two points. First, how will we know that nothing has changed if we are not allowed to table questions about this? Secondly, I have been told that I cannot ask the question again until the end of the Brexit negotiations, which seems absolutely ludicrous.

Well, it strikes me as a very rum business indeed. I hope that it will be possible for the hon. Lady to receive some satisfaction. My strong advice to her is that she should make the very short journey from here to the Table Office and seek advice, because I am quite sure that it will be possible to achieve a satisfactory outcome. Forgive me for making this point again, but I do make it again: the hon. Lady effectively refers to being denied on grounds of repetition. Repetition is not a novel phenomenon in the House of Commons. I think that we will leave it there for today.