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Mr. Speaker: Order. I must first answer the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). Certainly, Prime Minister's Question Time this afternoon was very lively; I think that we can both agree with that. At all times, I must be able to use my judgment. The Prime Minister does not change the rules of the House. The House changes the rules. I am the custodian of those rules. I heard many hon. Members shouting, "Disgraceful." I did feel that some of those remarks were directed at me. I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation that they were not directed at me--that is fine--but some were telling me to intervene and to stop the Prime Minister.
I will use my judgment at all times in the House. It is for me to use my judgment. Let me put it on the record that the worst thing that can happen is for hon. Members to tell me to intervene, because in doing so they are telling me how to do my job. Believe me: I will stay put and I will not intervene in those circumstances. I will use my judgment.
The hon. Gentleman has given me an opportunity to add that, when the House gets very noisy, it is unfair to those who are asking and, indeed, answering questions. The noise level has been very bad. I expect co-operation from hon. Members on both sides of the House during Prime Minister's questions and other parliamentary questions. The noise level can be far too high.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter. I am glad that he was not directing his cries at me, but he and others were out of order when they were shouting far too loudly in the Chamber. That goes for hon. Members on both sides of the House. It would be best to leave it at that. It was a noisy day. There was more than one excited hon. Member.
Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given notice in correspondence with you of the point that I want to raise, which connects directly with the point on which you have just ruled.
I had understood that the Prime Minister could only answer questions for which he was responsible and for which the Executive were responsible. We had a contentious case today. Six weeks ago, you ruled that a question on Short money to the Prime Minister was in order. But the House vote that pays for the Short money is not a matter for the Executive or in any way a matter for the Prime Minister. As you know, it is a matter for the House of Commons Commission, which you chair. I hesitated to raise this in the House on a point of order, so I wrote to you. If I may, I will read out part of your reply:
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case, as Hansard will show, that previous Prime Ministers--Labour and Conservative--have used Question Time and every aspect of the agenda before them to try to defend the Government's record, and that the present Prime Minister has not departed from that? I refer you to 10 January, when the Prime Minister, quoting a Conservative candidate in Birmingham, said:
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In common with other hon. Members, I am extremely grateful for the ruling that you have just given and the guidance that you have thereby provided.
On a different point, on several dozen occasions in recent months, at a time when right hon. and hon. Members have been asking questions, at best tangentially related, if related at all, to Ministers' responsibilities, right hon. and hon. Members have busily been chatting to you while you have been occupying the Chair. I wonder if I might put it to you that it would be extremely helpful to the efficient dispatch of business and the retention of good
Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could it ever be in order for a Leader of the Opposition to be afforded special protection in this House during Question Time or any other occasion, no matter how exposed, vulnerable or pathetic that Leader might be?
Mr. Christopher Leslie, supported by Mr. Phil Hope, Mr. Terry Rooney, Mr. James Plaskitt, Ms Sally Keeble, Maria Eagle, Shona McIsaac and Ms Rosie Winterton presented a Bill to require the Financial Services Authority to carry out an inquiry into the operation of overdraft facilities provided by clearing banks and deposit-taking institutions; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 11 May, and to be printed [Bill 91].
The need to change those regulations was drawn to my attention by the tragic case of my young constituent Mrs. Corinna Smith. I raised this matter in an Adjournment debate more than a year ago, on 6 April 2000, and I therefore propose only to give a summary of the details. On 2 June 1999, Alan Smith of Margate was working with highly inflammable chemicals which caught fire, inflicting terrible burns, from which Mr. Smith subsequently died on 18 June, leaving a 19-year-old widow, Corinna.
Mrs. Smith was required to identify her husband's body in the Broomfield hospital, Chelmsford and then, for a second time, at the Buckland hospital, Dover, to which his remains had been transferred and where a post mortem was carried out. Alan Smith's corpse was subsequently released by the Dover coroner, who provided to the undertakers the burial order necessary for a funeral to take place on 8 July 1999.
A postponed inquest into Alan Smith's death was eventually held on 12 October 1999 and the Chelmsford registrar was finally able to issue a death certificate on 14 October. That was posted to Mrs. Smith with a covering letter, saying:
As Mrs. Smith was under 45, she did not qualify for a widows' pension and so she claimed the £1,000 widows' payment--the only assistance available to women facing her tragic circumstances--that she needed to help to repay money borrowed to pay for her husband's funeral and related expenses. In a pro forma notice issued by the local DSS she was told that
Given that the death certificate and letter of advice were not sent to Mrs. Smith until after the three-month deadline had passed, I assume that my constituent was expected either to read the fine print of every document in the DSS office or to have second sight in order to know of her entitlement. Without the necessary documentation and information it was not, of course, possible for her to claim in time.
My purpose in raising the matter in an Adjournment debate was not to win retrospective benefit which the Government were clearly determined, under rigid adherence to the regulations, to deny to Mrs. Smith, but to urge the Secretary of State to change the regulations so that no other woman would have to suffer, in similar circumstances, the indignity suffered by my constituent. In response, the Government Department charged with the duty of protecting the most vulnerable in society made it plain that, not to put too fine a point on it, my proposed and simple solution was "not thought of here", and it would not budge.
On 9 April, the widows' payment was replaced with the bereavement benefit, and the amount involved was increased from £1,000 to £2,000. It would have been easy to change the regulations at that time and, instead of starting the three-month clock running from the moment of death, to start it from the time when the death certificate--and the vital advice that goes with it--is issued.
That would have been easy, but this Secretary of State has chosen not to do it. It is to bring about that very simple change, and to make sure that others in the future are not denied Corinna Smith's widow's mite, that I seek leave today to introduce this Bill.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Roger Gale, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mrs. Helen Brinton, Mr. Ian Bruce, Sir Sydney Chapman, Mr. Nigel Jones, Mr. Andrew Rowe, Rev. Martin Smyth, Mr. Ian Stewart and Mrs. Ann Winterton.