Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have heard you on occasion, Sir, advise Ministers at the Dispatch Box to address the House, not their own Back Benchers. I wonder whether you have noticed that the Leader of the House has developed an unfortunate habit of staring either at Mr Bone or vacantly into space when answering questions from the quarter of the House where Scottish National party Members sit. There is an issue here not only of audibility but of non-verbal communication. For example, when the Leader of the House was unable to distinguish between a 94% performance in accident and emergency in Scotland, compared with 88% in England, had he been looking our way, he would have seen SNP Members shaking their heads. When he made an unfounded allegation about the conduct of the Scottish referendum campaign, which was impeccable, he would have seen us laughing at him. I do not want to pick out the Leader of the House in particular, but perhaps you could encourage all Ministers to do Members the courtesy of responding to them when being asked questions in debates and statements.
My first point is that statements made in the Chamber should always be communicated through the Chair. The second is that people speaking from the Dispatch Box should address and, in so doing, look at the House, rather than behind them at the Member to whom they might be responding. Beyond that I will not venture. If I were uncharitable, I would imagine that the right hon. Gentleman was seeking, against all precedent and expectation of him, to propagandise, but because I am not uncharitable, I cannot imagine that he was seeking to do anything of the kind.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you are a staunch defender of Back-Bench Members’ rights, so may I ask your advice? A Government proposal to site an asylum hostel in my constituency has caused great angst and concern there. It is an inappropriate place. It is the wrong decision. In connection with that, I have been pursuing questions with the Minister for Immigration. The Government seem to have taken a decision to put these hostels in mostly Labour areas. I have been trying to ascertain in which constituencies the hostels are being sited. The Minister has replied several times, but his last reply said that he could not give me the individual locations for the safety of the asylum seekers. That is odd because on Monday night Halton Borough Council will be considering the planning application for the asylum hostel, which has gone through full public consultation. I cannot see, therefore, how the Minister can give such an answer. I have tabled a further question to the Minister. If he still refuses to answer, given the information I have put before the House today, what advice would you give me, Mr Speaker?
Off the top of my head, my advice is as follows. My principal suggestion is that the hon. Gentleman go to the Table Office and seek its advice on the nature and terms of the questions to be tabled. [Interruption.] He mutters, I think, that he has already done that.
If that has not availed him, I am disappointed to hear it. Having had no prior notification of this matter, and therefore off the top of my head, I have two further thoughts. One is that the hon. Gentleman can, without delay, seek an Adjournment debate with the relevant Minister, in which he would have a face-to-face opportunity, over a decent period, to probe the Minister with the relentlessness and tenacity for which he is renowned in all parts of the House. Secondly, he can use freedom of information opportunities to try to ascertain the facts that he wants to ascertain. I have a hunch that, if neither of those approaches helps, he will be raising his concern with me on the Floor again.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Momentarily, I felt moved to be charitable. I always thought that when I addressed the Chair, I was addressing the House—and, if I may say so, my pleasure in so doing is magnified when I address the Chair and you, Sir, are occupying it. [Laughter.]
Well! My cup runneth over. To be complimented by a parliamentarian of the repute of the right hon. Gentleman really does cause me, for the rest of the day, to go about my business with an additional glint in my eye and a spring in my step.
And possibly two inches taller. I am a happy man indeed. I have always liked Sir Desmond Swayne, in the 20 years I have known him, and I like him even more now.
I think the hon. Gentleman had better watch himself a little bit with the Deputy Speakers in the coming days.