Points of Order

Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:25 pm on 19th July 2017.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 2:25 pm, 19th July 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday’s Order Paper said that the debate on drugs could continue until 7 o’clock. The final speaker sat down four minutes early. The normal practice in this House is then to use that time for other speakers to contribute. It was particularly interesting that the final speaker, the Minister, had denied interventions on the grounds that she did not have enough time to finish. The Standing Orders are not clear on this point. Is it not right that we get some definition of past practice in relation to cases where speakers do not have anything else left to say and other Members can contribute to what would then be a full debate?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice somewhat earlier of his intention to raise it. I am loth to quibble with the hon. Gentleman, who is a considerable authority on matters parliamentary, as evidence by the well-thumbed tome on how to be a Back Bencher of which he is the distinguished author. That said, I am inclined slightly to quibble with him on his proposition that it is normal or commonplace, if a ministerial wind-up concludes early, for other Members to be invited to contribute. In my experience, that is not commonplace. I would not say that it never happens, because you can almost always find an example of something if you try hard enough, but certainly when I am in the Chair I tend to work on the assumption that the ministerial wind-up is indeed the conclusion of the debate.

I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the conclusion of this debate taking place earlier than listed on the Order Paper, although I am sure that he will readily accept that the Official Report—that is to say, the verbatim account of what was said; there is no question of misleading anybody—will show that the debate concluded a little early. The Chair does not normally allow a further Back-Bench speech, and—this is not directed at the hon. Gentleman; it is just a wider point—certainly not from a Member who had already made a substantial speech in the debate.

As for interventions, the hon. Gentleman, as the author of “How To Be An MP”—available in all good bookshops, and of which I am myself a noted admirer, as he knows—he will appreciate that a Member is free to take interventions or not. I note what he tells me—that the Minister said, “No, I can’t take interventions because I haven’t time”—but that is not something on which the Chair can rule. Sometimes Ministers can be a tad neurotic in these circumstances, it is true, as can sometimes, perhaps, shadow Ministers, but that is not a matter for the Chair. Whether the Member seeking to intervene likes it or not, the situation is as I have described.

Let me take this opportunity, in a positive spirit, to encourage all new Members—I am not sure the Whips would agree about this—to read the hon. Gentleman’s books on being a good parliamentarian. [Interruption.] “No!”, says a Government Whip, chuntering from a sedentary position, in evident horror at what bad habits new members of the flock might pick up. I think that they are fine tomes. The hon. Gentleman has used his position as a Back-Bench Member to stand up for his constituents and to fight for the principles in which he believes. That has sometimes pleased his party and sometimes not, but that is what we are supposed to get here—Members of Parliament who speak to their principles and their consciences. That is a good thing, and, as he knows, I like to encourage it. In fact, when I was a Back Bencher, I had a relationship with my Whips characterised by trust and understanding—I didn’t trust them and they didn’t understand me.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, the Department of Health accounts were finally laid before the House, after a week of to-ing and fro-ing that prompted no actual changes, as I understand it, to them. The Comptroller and Auditor General has raised some concerns about the accounts. I seek your guidance on two points, Mr Speaker. First, the accounts have again been laid late. Last year, they were laid on the final day on which Parliament sat; this time, they were laid only a couple of days before the final day. Secondly, what can we do to ensure that a Minister turns up to the House to explain the Department of Health accounts and address the financial concerns that many Members of the House, and not least the Public Accounts Committee, have about the Government’s handling of health finances?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady, who has put her concern on the record. It will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench, and I suspect that the contents of her point of order will wing their way to Health Ministers ere long. The truth of the matter is that there is no resolution of her grievance available from the Chair. The Select Committee on Health may wish to return to this matter if it is dissatisfied, and the Public Accounts Committee, of which the hon. Lady is herself the distinguished Chair, may wish to pursue this matter further. Realistically, I fear that that will have to wait until September, although if the hon. Lady—she is of course a London Member, and a very assiduous attender—is present in her place tomorrow for the summer Adjournment debate and wishes to expatiate further on her concerns, she may well find she is able to catch the eye of the Chair.

If there are no further points of order—I think that there are none—we come now to the presentation of Bills.