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Point of Order

Volume 655: debated on Monday 25 February 2019

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am sorry the Speaker is not in his place, but I seek your wisdom and learned advice on an issue, Mr Deputy Speaker. At the close of business questions to the Leader of the House on the Thursday before last my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) in a point of order raised a complaint about the contents of my interventions. She said I had made a serious allegation that had caused real distress in Taunton. It concerned a company which has now confirmed in the Somerset County Gazette, the local newspaper, that everything I said in this place was in fact correct, and I will be sending that information to the Speaker as soon as I can.

Sadly, I was not in the House to respond to my hon. Friend’s complaint, and if I had known I would have stayed. I never want to cause distress to any colleague, and I understand the Speaker made it clear that free speech must be used wisely, maturely and with sensitivity. I totally agree, and I always try to let parliamentary colleagues know in advance if I intend to mention their constituencies. I ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, as Chairman of Ways and Means, if there might be any possibility of bringing this protocol up to date.

I have been lucky enough to have been called in almost all of the last 30 business questions to talk about Taunton Deane, and I have raised many serious matters about the government and governance of Taunton. All of them have been aired by me outside this place. I do not represent the people of Taunton, but Taunton’s new council, which is about to start, will soon control the lives of 35,000 of my constituents in West Somerset. Most of them were dead against this merger, and many of them are alarmed and very worried about what is happening in Taunton. Frankly, it is impossible for me to avoid talking about Taunton and still do an adequate job on behalf of my constituents.

The Speaker’s predecessor, the late Lord Martin of Springburn, ruled in 2001 that a Member should inform a neighbouring Member 24 hours in advance of making any intervention about the other’s constituency. Eighteen years is a very long time in politics, as we know, and times change. May I offer a suggestion: if I write to my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane just once at the start of each parliamentary Session, will that maintain the spirit of the protocol while recognising my duty to my constituents? I will of course send any of my more interesting comments to the Speaker in advance, as I have tried usually to do.

Thank you for that point of order. There was a lot there; what I would say is that I think neighbouring MPs need to work closely together and I think customs and practices of the House should continue. One letter would not suffice, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, but I am sure there must be a way forward. You have certainly put on record the part that wanted to be corrected, and in the spirit of being good neighbourly MPs, especially from the same party, there must be a way of whipping this forward, and maybe a cup of coffee between the two of you will be a better way forward than raising it in the House. I wish you both well.