Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 11:42 am on 17th September 2015.

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Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 11:42 am, 17th September 2015

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise the breach of the consultation process by the Home Office, which means that Members, the public and the police are denied vital information on the future funding of the police service. The existing formula is widely recognised to be unfair and out of date. The Government have opened a process of consultation on a new formula to inform the comprehensive spending review. They did so on the last day before Parliament rose for the summer recess. This week, just before Parliament rises for the autumn recess, they have made it clear beyond any doubt that they will refuse to publish vital information, including studies that have been carried out in the Home Office on the likely impact of such a policy and the equality impact study that is required by law despite the fact that the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice conceded before the Home Affairs Committee earlier this week that such studies had been carried out.

I have written to the Home Office, as have the police service and the police and crime commissioners. Freedom of information requests have been lodged, but there remains a stony silence from the Home Office. It has been left therefore to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the police to model the likely impact, pointing to catastrophic consequences in excess of 50%, which will make it very difficult for the great metropolitan forces to function.

I ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker. The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. If there is information within the Home Office that the public might be put at risk, the full facts should be disclosed to this House, the public and the police. I seek your guidance on how the Home Office can be made to discharge its duties in disclosing that vital information, enabling meaningful consultation and extending the period of consultation, otherwise it will mean that this House is being treated with contempt.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it. That said, I fear that my reply will be disappointing, although it has the advantage of being accurate. The timing of a consultation and the information that the Government provide to inform that consultation or in response to freedom of information requests are ultimately a matter for Ministers and not a matter on which the Chair can rule. That said, the hon. Gentleman has made his concern forcefully known and it is on the record. I feel sure that Ministers and the Patronage Secretary will have heard what he has to say. In answer to his inquiry on what more can be done, he is dexterous in the use of parliamentary devices and he knows that there are means by which matters can be brought to the attention of the House, particularly if he thinks that they are urgent or topical, if his continued pursuit of information is unavailing. I hope that that is helpful, and we will leave it there for now.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, we had the refreshing change of a Prime Minister’s Question Time that involved an exchange of opinions carried out in a respectful and quiet manner between two politicians. It was a wonderful antidote to the infantile bedlam we suffered for many years, which has done so much damage to the reputation of Members and this House. You have a responsibility in your role for the conduct of Prime Minister’s questions, so may we have an assurance that you will, as you did yesterday, allow generous time to that part of Prime Minister’s Question Time so that we do not go back to the chaos and damaging exchanges of the past?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and happen rather strongly to agree with him. For what it is worth, if colleagues are interested, I know from my pretty extensive visits around the country that it is clear that there is a divide at the Beltway, particularly between those who observe our proceedings and would be more than happy for there to be a fistfight as it would lead to a headline but are not remotely interested in the detail of scrutiny, and those who make up the mass of the public, who are interested in robust but respectful exchange of opinion between elected public servants. I am with the hon. Gentleman and I think the bulk of the public are, too, and those who took part in Prime Minister’s questions in that way yesterday. It is important that Back-Bench participation should be maximised, so we have to try to ensure that there is plenty of time for Back Benchers to put their questions and get their answers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is encouraged by what he witnessed yesterday and by what he has heard from me today.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick Labour, Walsall North

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Without in any way disagreeing with the remarks of my hon. Friend Paul Flynn or yourself, in view of some of the controversy over PMQs, and making no comment whatsoever about what happened yesterday, may I say—perhaps you will fully agree—that PMQs is a unique feature of our parliamentary democracy? Many countries would love for the Leader of the Opposition and Back Benchers to be able to question the Government at least once a week. I, like my hon. Friend, am certainly not happy with the Prime Minister’s response over the years, but we should be very careful not to denigrate this feature of parliamentary life. We should be pleased that it exists, and that should be put on the record.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and I personally see no contradiction between what he has said and some of the criticisms of the way in which PMQs have been conducted in recent years. He knows that we live in a world in which it is often expected, particularly by our friends in the media, that there is a simple yes/no, like/dislike, agree/disagree, black/white attitude to life. In fact, it is perfectly possible enthusiastically to support the idea of a Prime Minister’s question session for precisely the reason that the hon. Gentleman gives, namely that there are many countries around the world in which the Prime Minister is not required to come to the House each week to respond to questions—I have met people in those countries, politicians and members of civil society, who say that they wish it had to happen as it does here—while believing that the debate should be conducted robustly but in a courteous fashion. I do not think that there is a contradiction between those two things. When I am asked whether I am in favour of PMQs, I say that I am in favour of it but that I would like it to be better. I cannot see that there is anything wrong with that.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. What we do not want is PMQs becoming Front-Bench PMQs. Given that only a number of questions are drawn for the Order Paper each week, and given that not all of them are asked, would not a simple solution be to make sure that they are all asked before PMQs can finish? Hopefully that would deter Front Benchers, including the Prime Minister, from going on for too long.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman encourages me, and I am grateful to him for his encouragement, but he knows that, in so far as there is any latitude, I tend to use it to try to ensure that we get further down the Order Paper. Therefore, as he will have noticed—he is a very observant fellow—we do not always finish at 12.30 precisely; sometimes we stray a bit beyond that. I think we once went as late as 12.38. The hon. Gentleman is exhorting me to go even longer. He might be exhorting me to get into trouble. I am sure that he would not do that deliberately. I agree with the thrust of what he says. We ought to be trying to get down the Order Paper. The exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are very important, but they are by no means the only part of Prime Minister’s questions. The opportunity for Back-Bench Members to put their questions to the Prime Minister is precious, so I will do everything I can, increasing my efforts if necessary, to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is on a completely different matter, and although I gently suggest that your middle name is Latitude, there is one area on which you might allow less latitude. Last Friday the House debated the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill, but the debate did not start until 9.48 am because we had a Division that, to my mind, was completely unnecessary. About 10 Members shouted “Aye” when the Question was put on whether the House should sit in private. In practice, only one Member, Mr Bone, voted Aye and two Members acted as Tellers. However, several of the Members who shouted “Aye” then voted no. As you know, because the acclamation is part of the voting process and how we proceed, it is a requirement in this

House that one’s vote must follow one’s voice, if one chooses then to vote. I am not making bones about the practice of Members shouting and then not voting, but I am making bones about the fact that some Members shouted “Aye” when they had every intention of voting no. Will you make it clear to hon. Members that there is no need to waste time in that way?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

Yes, I will. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make bones about the matter, on the assumption, of course, that what he is conveying to the House is truthful, which I am sure he absolutely intends it to be—he always does his research, so I am sure that he has a reason for making a bone about this point. We should not waste time. The public expect us to get on with the substance of debate. If the hon. Gentleman remains dissatisfied over a period, he could consider having a word with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, Mr Walker.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Speaker of the House of Commons

Well, he might need to do so again. I think that it would be useful to have a view from the Committee on the use of the device that causes a delay in the start of debates on a Friday.

I think that I am right in saying that the appetite for points of order has now been exhausted.