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May I follow up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) about compensation? I am told that people who have discounted tickets are being told that no refunds will be provided following industrial action. Will the Government intervene
to ensure that that issue is addressed, and will the Minister do everything he can to ensure that this strike does not destroy British Airways, because the union does not seem to understand that?
Mr. Khan: It is a private dispute; BA is not a nationalised company. BA has said on its website, and made it clear in all its press announcements, that it will allow passengers who are inconvenienced to rebook or to cancel and be refunded. If there are particular issues that the right hon. Gentleman wants to raise with me, I will be happy to raise them with BA.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend rise above the smokescreen of party funding and use all his energies, and those of his ministerial colleagues, to get a satisfactory conclusion to this bitter dispute? Does he agree that any inflammatory statements are counter-productive? Will he find out where Mr. Walsh is, because we have not heard from him, or from any of BA's senior management, for quite a long time?
Mr. Khan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What is required at this time are cool, calm heads, and for British Airways to meet the trade union to try to resolve this dispute. I am afraid that sending out press releases, doing press conferences and using emotive language is not the way to reach a resolution, and nor are sending one's pit bull to press conferences and using dossiers to try to muddy the waters.
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): The Minister spoke of clarity and transparency, so he will not mind being reminded that Messrs. Whelan, Dromey and Woodley all have passes to the House of Commons provided by members of the Labour party. Does he agree that this is a question of the Labour Government being bankrolled by Unite while Unite bankrupts British Airways in Britain?
Mr. Khan: Let us be clear. The Labour party has been fully transparent about how it is funded by 6 million hard-working trade unionists, all of whom pay taxes, and by many other individuals. One political party relies on a small number of individual donors, and only because of the Freedom of Information Act did it reveal how it was funded. At least those who contribute to the Labour party pay their taxes.
Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is not in the interests of British Airways or the travelling public for this matter to be turned into a party political football? Does he agree that what would help is if Willie Walsh put the offer that was made previously back on to the table as a basis for both sides getting into serious renegotiations?
My hon. Friend raises a really important point. What is required is not for British Airways, the huge work force or the thousands and thousands of passengers to be used as political footballs in the lead-up to a general election. What is required is for British Airways and the trade union to sit around a table and resolve any differences that still exist. My understanding is that they were close to agreement last week as a consequence of the terms to which my hon. Friend
referred, and I am disappointed that they were unable to reach a resolution. I am optimistic still that cooler heads will prevail, but what is important is that we must not allow what is an industrial dispute to be politicised. The question that must be asked is this: why do some people wish to do that?
Justine Greening (Putney) (Con): The reality, though, is that this is a political dispute, because Unite gives Labour money, and it is one of the key stakeholders pushing for the expansion of Heathrow, which is the policy of this Government. Will the Minister therefore condemn Unite in going ahead with this strike? It puts not only passenger services at risk, but Heathrow jobs and local communities.
Mr. Khan: The history is that a Conservative Government passed legislation on how political parties should be funded. Unite, like other trade unions and individuals, gives money to political parties, and does so in an open and transparent manner. Some individuals decide not to abide by the rules, and only because of a freedom of information request are funding sources revealed. I am disappointed that undertakings are not respected and that deputy leaders are hoodwinked. I am keen to see whether the deputy leader of the Conservative party and its deputy chairman will come to give evidence on Thursday to the Select Committee.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I have operated a very considerable latitude in these brief exchanges, and there have already been several-frankly, too many-references to the issue of party funding. The matter upon which we need exclusively to focus is that of the BA strike. I feel sure that a fine example of that focus will now be provided by Mr. Dennis Skinner.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): In any industrial dispute, it takes two sides to cause a row. Will my right hon. Friend draw the distinction between the clean money that is given by the trade union movement to the Labour party, as opposed to a man who refuses to pay tax on £127 million and bankrolls the Tory party?
Mr. Speaker: Order. [ Interruption. ] Order. The House needs to let me address this. I must say in fairness to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that I did not stop him. He made his point, and I have no objection to his doing so. To be fair, I did not interrupt him. He had his say.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con):
Over the years, trade unionists have understandably campaigned for bank holidays and public holidays. Does the Minister not
agree that there comes a time when there should be an understanding or convention so that we do not always have disruptive strikes over bank holidays? They destroy the holidays for many working families, people who want to go and see relations, and kids who want to get back from university. I understand that there is also a suggestion that the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers is going to go on strike over Easter. It is very unfair-not to employers, but to working families-when other trade unionists strike, so disrupting their lives.
Mr. Khan: Clearly, any industrial dispute causes a huge inconvenience, but when families have planned holidays or to visit loved ones, and saved money to do so, a strike looming over them and their plans is a huge source of discomfort. That is one reason why I hope BA and the trade union will sit around the table, and why they should not allow emotive language to affect the possibility of reaching a resolution to what is an industrial dispute.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does the Minister believe that the union leaders behind the BA strike should set an example and forgo some of their £150,000 a year pay packets? Is not that another example of the arch hypocrisy at the very top of the Unite union?
Mr. Speaker: Order. I am sorry- [ Interruption. ] Order. Leave me to deal with this. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that his question does not remotely relate to the issue that we are considering, and that is why- [ Interruption. ] Order. I do not require any comment or signalling from the hon. Gentleman. I am giving a ruling: the hon. Gentleman can listen to it and he can like it or lump it. I intervene- [ Interruption. ] Order. I require no gesticulation from the hon. Gentleman- [ Interruption. ] Order. His question was out of order. That is the beginning and the end of the matter.
Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Clearly, the holidaying public and business need to see this strike called off and an end to the dispute. May I specifically ask the Minister to reinforce to British Airways the point that Aberdeen is a long way from London? It may be a domestic route, but there is no viable alternative for getting business done. Therefore, can he reinforce to BA the need to maintain as many vital services to Aberdeen as possible despite any disruption to services?
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is the expression "verbal diarrhoea" parliamentary language? I have not heard it used in this House before, and certainly never about yourself or another occupant of the Chair, as it was just now.
Mr. Speaker: I did not hear the offending expression to which the hon. and gallant Gentleman refers. There is a certain amount of gesticulation now from a sedentary position both from him and from the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). The written record will tell us all, and I am happy to await it. The hon. Gentleman, who came into the House in 1992, knows-not least from his smile-that what he has just said does not amount to a point of order.
Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? As I understand it, there are 112 Members who are also members of the Unite union. When we are discussing matters that relate directly to the conduct of that trade union and hon. Members who are members of it seek to take part in that discussion, should they declare their membership of that union at the time of their participation in the debate?
Chloe Smith (Norwich, North) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Thursday 11 March, the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families visited my constituency without notifying me. He visited a local primary school where he made comments of a highly political nature to the local press. He then went canvassing for his party and, as a school visit is within the subject matter of his portfolio, I am given to understand that that may be in contravention of section 10.9 of the ministerial code. I seek your guidance on this matter.
Mr. Speaker: Certainly, if it was an official visit, the Minister in question should have given notice of the intention to visit the constituency. This is the first I have heard of this particular case. However, at this relatively febrile time, perhaps I may simply reiterate the overriding point that there is a long-established courtesy in this place that when one Member visits another Member's constituency on public business-as opposed to a private visit-the Member visiting has a duty to notify, suitably far in advance, the Member whose constituency he or she is visiting. I hope that that courtesy will be observed across the House. On the whole it is a respected and valued courtesy and we should uphold it.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab):
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have raised a lot of points of order over the past 20 years, and I do not think that any of them have been in order, but I hope that I will be successful this time. Last Thursday a statement was made in the House of Lords by the Secretary of State for Transport. It was 40 minutes before that statement was made here. I went to the Table Office to get a copy of that statement after the Secretary of State had sat
down, but I was told that it would not be available until it had been made in this place. I then went to the House of Lords and got a copy of the statement. Surely that cannot be right, and surely it cannot happen again in future.
Mr. Speaker: It would give me great pleasure if I were able to satisfy the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), but I fear that I cannot. I entirely understand why he and others might have been frustrated by this; however, it results from the simple fact that the Secretary of State- [ Interruption. ] Order. The hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) should be quiet when I am ruling on the point of order that has been raised. What happened arises from the fact that the Secretary of State for Transport is a Member of the other place, and although there are arguments about accountability to this place and so on, that is the situation.
Mr. Martlew: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not have any disagreement with that; in fact, I have advocated that the Secretary of State should come to this Chamber. However, statements should be made available to Members of this House after the Secretary of State has sat down, because they are available to noble Lords and the general public.
Mr. Speaker: Those Members are in another House. I entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but it is not clear to me that an immediate resolution of the issue is available. However, I will reflect, as I always reflect on what he has to say, and if I have anything further to report, either to him or to the House, he and the House will be the first to learn of it.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some moments ago you rebuked me-I think unfairly, but I stand by your ruling. However, after my question there was a pause, whereupon I saw the Minister of State-he appeared to prompt you, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that was not the case, because of course you can rebuke me in your own right-
Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me deal with this point of order very clearly and conclusively. [ Interruption. ] Order. The hon. Gentleman will sit and listen to the response and not gesticulate while I am offering that response. I saw no sign whatsoever, from any Member on the Treasury Bench, and for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that I would be prompted-in this House, from the Chair-by another Member to make a comment or response is quite wrong, and it is also an unacceptable observation on his part. Let me very politely suggest to the hon. Gentleman, whose behaviour was untoward, that it would be sensible and rational of him simply to accept the rebuke, to call it a day and to move on. That is the end of the matter.
Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con):
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week I raised a point of order about two unanswered questions to the Department for Work and Pensions. Since your kind intervention on my behalf, one of those two questions has been answered. The other is now five weeks overdue, and it concerns the administration of jobseeker's allowance
up and down the country, an important matter for a great many of our constituents. The question number is 316962, and I repeat: it is five weeks late. Could I please ask you, Sir, for your kind intervention a second time to get the Department to do what it should have originally done within five days?
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, of which, as he knows, I had no advance notice whatever. He has taken the opportunity to air-and very properly to air-his concern about the excessive tardiness of ministerial replies. I feel sure that his point of order will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench, and I hope that, as a result, a reply will come to him extremely quickly. I hope that it will not be necessary for him to raise his point of order again. I simply say to Members on the Treasury Bench, including the Deputy Leader of the House, that these matters must be taken seriously by Ministers. Indeed, it looks to me as though the Deputy Leader of the House would like to say something, and I think that the House would welcome that.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Barbara Keeley): Just to be clear, I have said on a number of occasions, as has my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, that we will take representations from Members and put them to Departments, and I think I said that last Thursday at business questions. I am happy to do that for any Member who has similar issues, and will do so now if the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) wants to give me the details.
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill, which was tabled as Government business yesterday, is not on the Order Paper at all today. Can you assure me, Mr. Speaker, that it will be tabled again tomorrow? We want Government time in which to debate the remaining stages of the Bill, and to vote on it.
Mr. Speaker: Unfortunately I cannot reassure the hon. Lady, for the simple reason that-although I understand the background to, and concern about, this matter-the tabling of Bills is not a matter for the Chair. I think that she will have to have discussions with people other than me. She indicates from a sedentary position that she has already done so, but I know of her dedication and persistence, and I think that they may be required in this case.
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