Our MP was in hot water not once but twice in Parliament this week and here is Hansard, the official record, to explain just what happened.
7 July 2014: Column 63
Point of Order
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), visited the new Hitachi factory in my constituency this morning to make a Government announcement. He was joined by the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), but neither of them informed me of their intention to visit my constituency, although the hon. Member for Stockton South informed me of his visit after the event. What can you do or say to ensure that hon. Members, and especially Ministers, show the common courtesy of informing the sitting Member of their intent to visit his or her constituency before the visit happens?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Dawn Primarolo): I am grateful for that point of order and for prior notice of it. I would like to remind Members that Mr Speaker has made it clear on several occasions recently that if any hon. Member intends to make an official visit to another hon. Member’s constituency on political business, they are under a strong obligation to inform the constituency Member as far in advance as possible. Ministers in particular, with their private office to help them organise their business, have no excuse for failing to fulfil this obligation. I sincerely hope that this will not happen again. Mr Speaker has been quite clear about this.
James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to make it clear that I do not wish to cause discomfort to any hon. Member in this place. My role this morning was to drop off my hon. Friend the Minister, at which point I tweeted that I had dropped him off. Realising that I was in the constituency of a neighbouring Member, I asked my office to inform him by e-mail. Are hon. Members obliged to inform other hon. Members when they drive through or drop people off in their constituencies?
Madam Deputy Speaker: That is really not a point of order, Mr Wharton. I think we are all grown-up enough to know what the conventions imply about visiting another Member’s constituency. We do not need to go this level of detail in the form of a point of order at this time. We shall move on.
But the plot thickened when local newspapers picked up Mr Wharton’s attendance at the visit showing him in a photograph with the Minister at Hitachi. So the next day Phil Wilson MP came back for a second time to castigate his parliamentary neighbour.
8 July 2014: Column 163
Points of Order
Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, I raised a point of order about a ministerial visit to my constituency of which I was not given prior notice. The hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) was also at the visit without informing me in advance. The hon. Gentleman said in the House last night that his role
“was to drop off my hon. Friend the Minister”.—[Official Report, 7 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 63.]
It now appears in the local media that his role was more than that of a chauffeur, as the photographs suggest that he was an integral part of the visit. Have you received any indication from the hon. Gentleman that he wants to put the record straight and apologise to the House?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have received no such indication, although the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) is in his place and if he wishes to say something, it is open to him to do so. He is stirring from his seat.
James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I stand by what I said yesterday. My role was to drop off the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), who was visiting Hitachi, that great investment that this Government have brought to the north-east, creating thousands of jobs and bringing in millions of pounds. I did not stay throughout the full visit. I dropped him off, spoke briefly to the media, got a quick photograph and left before the visit was complete. My role was to drop the Minister off, Mr Speaker. How may I most accurately put on the record my honest and well-meant suggestion to the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) that rather than continually making points of order of this type in this place, which of course he is entitled to do, he would perhaps be better served asking Hitachi why they did not invite him to attend?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have listened to his explanation and I do think that we should operate in a fashion informed by common sense. My colleague in the Chair at the time that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) raised his original point of order about this matter said that
“we are all grown-up enough to know what the conventions imply about visiting another Member’s constituency.” —[Official Report, 7 July 2014; Vol. 584, c. 63.]
I have no intention of having a lengthy debate on the matter, but suffice it to say that the question of how long a Member was present on a particular visit is pretty immaterial. I do not doubt that the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton) is a first-class driver. I have not benefited from his skills in that regard over the years, but I have no reason to question that he would be a very satisfactory chauffeur. If in fact he took part in the visit, I think he must know the logic of that. I appeal to Members, particularly in this sensitive time in the run-up to a general election, to take care to observe not merely the letter but the spirit of the convention about prior notification. I do not want to go beyond that, so let us leave the matter there. Let us try to ensure that we behave in a way that is seemly and the public would think is seemly. Let us leave it there.
ABOVE PICTURE: James Wharton MP, third left, at the Hitachi site alongside Communities and Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis. Sharing the platform, from left, is Geoff Hunton, director of Merchant Place Developments, Neil Matthias, senior project manager for Shepherd, Darren Cumner, plant manager for Hitachi Rail Europe, and Paul Woolston, chairman of the North-East LEP
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the man who once told a colleague in an email:
It hasn’t gone down at all well on the doorstep I can tell you, so it looks like he might be needing that chauffeurs cap after all!