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Points of Order

Volume 644: debated on Tuesday 10 July 2018

I am saving up the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden). I call Mr Barry Sheerman.

This is a very busy time for Parliament, Mr Speaker. I do not know whether you have been able to see the queues that are gathering around the Palace, especially now, when so many schoolchildren are taking their last opportunity to visit. Is it right that the queues are so long, that security is so slow, and that most of the entrances to this great royal Palace are filthy, with the smell of urine, with vomit and dirt, and—well, I do not want to go into the details of what you can see at those entrances. Is it not about time that someone did something about this royal Palace and the access to it?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am concerned when from time to time there are lengthy queues that inhibit people from getting into the building. It is true that last night someone who was due to be present at—and eventually came to—the function taking place in Speaker’s House was delayed as a result of a queue. I think it important to be clear that sometimes it is perhaps our fault, and sometimes people perhaps do not allow sufficient time for the fact of the security process that they have necessarily to undergo.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s concern about what might be called malodorous matters, I am not unconscious of that phenomenon, although whether it is quite as pervasive as the hon. Gentleman suggests is, I think, a matter of some uncertainty. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, I have always taken him immensely seriously, the more so now that he is in his 40th successive year as a Member of this House, and although I will probably regret saying this, I would exhort him, if he wishes to pursue the matter further, to write to me— although, as I say, I may very well regret tendering him that advice, for he normally requires no encouragement.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you are a very busy man, but may I invite you to join me on a walk around the Palace so that we can see it in person?

I can imagine few things in this life more pleasurable than undertaking a leisurely excursion anywhere, including the Palace of Westminster, with the hon. Gentleman. After all, I have visited the hon. Gentleman’s Huddersfield constituency, and I have visited and spoken at his local university, praising him to the skies in the process, so it seems only fitting that the other end of the equation should be met. I dare say we will have a little toddle round the Place of Westminster together when the hon. Gentleman has got in touch with my office to arrange it, which I fancy he will require no further encouragement to do.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I should be grateful if I could correct the record.

Last Wednesday, when I rose to ask the urgent question on Khan al-Ahmar that you had kindly granted me, I had just heard that bulldozers had arrived at the village, and that demolition had started. I reflected that in what I said.

Although demolition had indeed started at the nearby village of Abu Nuwar that morning, what I did not know was that the bulldozers had paused before commencing the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. Whether that was because of the number of people who were there to protest—a number of whom were injured that day—or the presence of foreign diplomats, including those from the United Kingdom, I do not know. What I do know is that a court injunction has since been secured prohibiting the demolition until at least tomorrow. That makes the form of words that I used last week inaccurate, and I want to take this opportunity to correct the record.

In doing so, I thank Members in all parts of the House for raising their voices in opposition to the breach of international law at Khan al-Ahmar, which I am sure has helped to change the course of events in the past week. As the injunction is only temporary, however, pressure is still needed to keep the villagers of Khan al-Ahmar safe in the long term.

I am grateful for this opportunity to update the House, and to correct the record of last Wednesday’s exchanges.

I am moved to observe that the hon. Gentleman, who is a very dextrous and dedicated parliamentarian, stretched the elastic almost, but perhaps not quite, to snapping point in getting across a particular line of argument or set of observations that he wished to be recorded in the Official Report. However, I want to say two things in response to him. First, I thank him for his typical courtesy in giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter, and indeed for his promptness in correcting the record at the earliest opportunity. Secondly, of course I would accept his correction in any case, and I am sure that the House will, but I speak with some experience of the hon. Gentleman, because for nearly five years we served together on the Select Committee on International Development, and I know both the extent of his knowledge of the matters he has just raised and the absolutely undeniable sincerity with which he pursues what are not merely his concerns, but the concerns of a great many people. So I thank him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you are aware that many Members of this House, and just as importantly the staff of this House, use the underground car park at Members’ entrance. I reported to the Deputy Speaker over a month ago that the emergency exits from the underground car park had been sealed off because of water ingress. This is very dangerous and, as a former firefighter, I thought it important now that I address the fact that yet again when I parked in the car park yesterday morning the underground emergency car park exit was sealed off on all floors, yet the signs saying it was an emergency exit were still illuminated. People would go to that should there be an incident, and they would not be able to get out. That is fundamentally wrong and dangerous.

If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to write to the director general of the House of Commons, who has overall managerial responsibility for the parliamentary estate and services delivered thereon, it is open to him to do so. I take very seriously what the right hon. Gentleman has said, but I know he would not expect me to furnish him with a detailed reply now.

No further point of order is required. The matter will be looked into and the right hon. Gentleman will receive an answer. Whether it will satisfy his palate is another matter, but we will do our best.

When you are having a toddle around the Palace looking at entrances and other things, Mr Speaker, perhaps you could toddle down to the underground car park with me and see this for yourself?

I am not sure that we wish to conduct a procession on this matter, but I can certainly suggest to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) that, if it suits him and he has no violent objection to the idea, our little toddle will include a search of that area. The right hon. Gentleman will know that I myself do not now use that area as my vehicle is parked elsewhere, and therefore I do not have reason, I must readily acknowledge, to go there with any frequency at all, but it would do no harm to do so, and if also—this is a bold expression of hope—it would bring a smile to the face of the right hon. Gentleman to know that his request had been complied with, I require no further incentive.