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Points of Order

Volume 628: debated on Thursday 7 September 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that a huge number of people have put in to speak today and on Monday. Hurricane Irma is a tragic and deadly event, but it is not heading towards our shores as Wind Brexit is. Whether that wind is just a gentle touch on the cheeks or a storm will depend on our efforts here. I urge the Government to try to desist from bringing statements to the House on Monday, so we can hear from a record number of Back Benchers. Indeed, I urge them to be generous with the House of Commons both in information and in time on every occasion.

I agree with that view. It is one that I have articulated to the Government Chief Whip, and one to which I understood and understand he is sympathetic. For my own part—trying to be helpful—I can say that, notwithstanding my enthusiasm to serve the House in granting urgent questions where appropriate, colleagues will understand that the bar for urgent questions on Monday will be very high.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Has the Chief Whip explained to you if there is any reason why we are not suspending the 5 o’clock rule this evening? There is no chance of any Division taking place on the first day of a two-day debate. It really is rather absurd that Members are told to confine their remarks to three minutes or some equivalent when we are discussing such enormous issues of such long-term significance.

An explanation has been offered to me on that point. I am sympathetic to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said and I hope that account will be taken of it, not least in relation to Monday. Although I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks in support of the rights of all his colleagues, I hope he is at least moderately mollified to know that there is no question of the right hon. and learned Gentleman today—or probably in a speech at any other time—being confined by the Chair to a mere three minutes.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was wondering whether you could give your views and advice with regard to the matter of Big Ben. Many tears have been shed across both sides of the House at the silencing of the bongs of Big Ben, but the issue I raise is much more serious than that.

The construction company that has been awarded the pre-construction and scaffolding contract for Big Ben is Sir Robert McAlpine. We understand that it has been awarded the main contract to fix the bongs and do the refit of Big Ben. We had a debate about blacklisting earlier this week in Westminster Hall. Sir Robert McAlpine was one of the firms that founded the Consulting Association, which was responsible for the blacklisting of more than 3,000 construction workers, depriving them of a livelihood and facilitating their systematic discrimination and victimisation.

Mr Speaker, what message do you think it sends to the victims of this gross injustice for this House to award a contract to a firm that not only funded the Consulting Association, but provided its first chair and another chair? I would also be interested to know to what extent this decision is made by the House and to what extent it is made by the Government. I note that the Prime Minister is in her place. I think many people would want to hear from her on this matter.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The House will not want a dilation on the matter. Suffice it to say that an initial contract was awarded. As I understand it, the contract for the main works has yet to be awarded. Nevertheless, I take head-on what the hon. Gentleman perfectly legitimately and reasonably puts to me. The House of Commons Commission considered this issue yesterday, and we are seeking reassurance from the company, not least in the light of the facts that the hon. Gentleman has just articulated and in the light of his remarks in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday, which colleagues and I have studied.

As I believe the hon. Gentleman indicated, blacklisting is now illegal. This House will expect any contractor to observe the letter and spirit of the law. That is point one. Point two is that any contractor will be expected to conform to the highest standards in such matters. I hope the hon. Gentleman understands that I cannot be expected to say more than that today, but I am not knocking what he said. It is important. We are sensitive to it and we will be conscious in the days ahead of the reputational importance of what he has raised. Perhaps I can leave it there for now.

Bills Presented

House of Lords (Exclusion of Hereditary Peers) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

David Hanson, supported by Clive Efford, Matthew Pennycook, Barbara Keeley, Bill Esterson, Jack Dromey, Louise Haigh, Kate Green, Lyn Brown, Liam Byrne and Paul Blomfield, presented a Bill to amend the House of Lords Act 1999 to remove the by-election system for the election of hereditary peers; to provide for the exclusion of hereditary peers from the House of Lords over time; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be a read a Second time on Friday 27 April 2018, and to be printed (Bill 104).

Pensions (Review of Women’s Arrangements) (No. 2)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Carolyn Harris, supported by Tim Loughton, Caroline Lucas, Stephen Lloyd, Ian Blackford, Christine Jardine, Maria Caulfield, Peter Aldous, David Hanson and Chris Elmore, presented a Bill to establish a review of pension arrangements for women affected by changes made by the Pensions Act 1995 and the Pensions Act 2011; to require the review in particular to undertake costings for a compensation scheme and consider the operation of section 1(4) of the Pensions Act 2011; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be a read a Second time on Friday 27 April 2018, and to be printed (Bill 105).