Dr Rupa Huq (Ealing Central and Acton) (Lab)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, may I seek your advice? In the run-up to my debate on English language schools in Westminster Hall this week, my office was contacted numerous times by Home Office officials wanting me to change the title of the debate to make it just about visas. I declined to do so, because my content was wider than that. I also had an email the day before the debate from the departmental Parliamentary Private Secretary, asking for my speech. I had not written it by then, but I did give a list of issues to be outlined.
On the day itself, I was surprised that the body language of the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster), who is usually a very pleasant and reasonable chap, made it clear that he did not want to be there. Then, following my contribution and those by others, he read out a largely pre-prepared statement conforming to the desired title that officials had pushed me to adopt, not to what I had addressed. I was accused of being too narrow and of not focusing on things that I had actually addressed, and the Minister said that the debate was a “missed opportunity”.
Madam Deputy Speaker, is it orderly or normal for civil servants to try to move the goalposts of a Member’s chosen subject matter? If someone rolls their eyes at a Member, even before they have opened their mouth, does that not suggest discourtesy, even if Government Members do have other things on their mind—the results of the leadership contest were unfolding while the debate took place. Whoever decided to try to change the terms of the debate, does that not display a concerning disregard for scrutiny?