Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 7th February 2005.

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Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Chair, International Development Committee 4:31 pm, 7th February 2005

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Ideally, I would have liked to raise this point of order a couple of weeks ago, but I have been away with the Select Committee on International Development and this is the first opportunity that I have had.

One of the most contentious issues in my constituency is the Government's proposal for an "accommodation centre for asylum seekers"—the phrase used by the Government—at Bicester. I was somewhat surprised, on 20 January, to be told by the regional media that, according to a Government website, leaflets were being distributed in my constituency by the Home Office. I knew nothing of that. I obtained a copy of the leaflet and was even more surprised to see that it contained this announcement by Ministers:

"A community liaison group will shortly be set up which will play an important role in shaping the relationship between the centre and the local community. This will also be the forum for raising local concerns on matters associated with the centre . . . Membership of this group will be made up of a variety of key people from the local community, including local service providers, residents, voluntary organisations and clergy, amongst others."

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no reference in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to community liaison groups, so this is an extra-statutory provision. At no time did the Minister concerned either make a written statement to the House on this matter or have the courtesy to write to me as the local Member of Parliament. So far, this is the only accommodation centre in the country being proposed, so it is not as though there is a huge number of us to write to. I find that contemptuous of us as Members of Parliament. If our constituents feel that Ministers are being contemptuous of us, they will also conclude that they are being contemptuous of Parliament as a whole. That substantially undermines our ability to provide leadership in the community and to represent our constituents. I therefore urge you to urge Ministers not to make policy announcements of this kind by shoving leaflets through our constituents' letterboxes, but to have the courtesy to inform the House first.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I hope that the Ministers concerned will take careful notice of what he said. Ministers are expected to notify Members before visiting their constituencies, and the same courtesy should extend to the announcement of new initiatives affecting Members' constituencies, particularly when they concern issues of high political sensitivity.

Photo of Mrs Alice Mahon Mrs Alice Mahon Labour, Halifax

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In our next business, we shall debate amendments dealing with religious hatred and blasphemy. I think that most Members would agree that religion is about people's consciences. I understand that some Opposition parties have been given a free vote on the issue. I have asked for one from my party and wonder whether, at this late stage, it has revealed whether we shall have one.