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House of Commons Hansard
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08 May 2018
Volume 640

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if you could help me with a situation that has arisen in Buckinghamshire and therefore may be of concern to you.

We were all delighted when my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) was promoted to the Home Office and my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) took over at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. However, that has coincided with the potential reorganisation of local government in Buckinghamshire. Because it is quite hotly contested between having one unitary authority or two local authorities, notices have gone out to ask constituents to feed into the Secretary of State their feelings about the “minded to” decision that he announced.

Unfortunately, the email address given out by the Ministry and printed in all the leaflets that have been distributed throughout the county was based on the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. We were assured that the address would remain open until 25 May, when the decision is due, but despite the assurances from the Ministry, it appears that constituents trying to put in their representations are now getting a bounce-back message saying that the email has address has been closed. There are no instructions as to who they should now contact and no information given as to why the address has closed. That means that constituents’ views are not getting through to the Ministry on this matter, which, as I know you appreciate, is very important.

What can we do about that? Is there any way we can ask a Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and confirm that the email address will be reopened, or can we ensure that we get an extended period, so that we can put to rights this aberration whereby people have been asked for their opinions, but the wherewithal of giving that opinion to the Ministry has been unilaterally withdrawn without any notice?

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I am very grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order, and for her characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of her intention to raise it. This certainly sounds rum, and it is indeed a very unsatisfactory state of affairs. I am very familiar with the issue because, as she suggests, it is of course a matter of concern to my constituents and to hers, as well as to those in other Buckinghamshire constituencies.

I think the effect of the right hon. Lady raising this matter on the Floor of the House is that the gravamen of her concern will be speedily communicated to the new Secretary of State, and an appropriate change must be made. Technology can be very helpful, but if it is dysfunctional or inflexible, it does not aid but obstruct, which cannot be allowed to happen. If people have been told that they have a certain period in which to get across their views by a convenient means, such a means must be available, and if it ceases to be available, it must be restored.

I do not want to tease the right hon. Lady. I have known her a very long time, so I can probably get away with a bit, although she looks a bit doubtful on that score. I just want to say to the right hon. Lady, whom I have known for a very long time—she has been my county colleague for over two decades—that even though she is now a dame, and therefore even more illustrious than she used to be, she is very much in touch, grounded in her constituency and well aware of these matters. That is in stark contrast, I must admit, to one of my great historical parliamentary heroes, Edmund Burke. I remember that I used to rhapsodise about Burke, until Tony Benn said to me, “John, I wouldn’t overdo it if I were you. Burke may have been a great man, but his visits to his constituency were by way of being an annual pilgrimage.” By contrast, the right hon. Lady seems to know what is being said on her watch. I do not know whether she is happy with my answer to her point of order, but that is the answer she is getting.

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Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am most grateful, and I am glad to have given you the opportunity to wax lyrical about one of your heroes. I hope that this will lead to the reopening of the email address, and that the Department will take note so that our constituents can get their message through. [Interruption.]

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The right hon. Lady’s hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) is gesticulating from a sedentary position to the effect that he is communicating the thrust of this exchange to the Department now. What a whizz kid the hon. Gentleman is. I am most impressed. [Interruption.] They both look frightfully happy with the product of their endeavours this afternoon.

If there are no further points of order, we now come to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) has been so patiently waiting.