Valerie raises a Point of Order on DCLG and Walsall Council

On 1 December 2016, I raised a point of order in the House of Commons. Below is the point of order in full:


On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise that my point of order is so long, but I have to make it clear and use words carefully.


I seek your guidance on a matter of importance that affects my reputation and that has implications for other Members. Following my presentation of a petition on behalf of my constituents, there was confusion between the Department for Communities and Local Government and Walsall Council on whether it was a planning application call-in, despite the fact that the petition did not ask for a call-in, and that DCLG guidance makes it clear that a call-in must be expressly asked for.


It appears that the Minister for Housing and Planning has decided to treat petitions opposing planning applications as requests for call-in, and that he has instructed his staff to contact planning authorities but not Members in accordance with that decision. Walsall Council blamed me for its decision to delay consideration of the application, which it said was caused by the petition. The council was wrong as a matter of planning law.


The Minister’s policy, if that is what it is, to treat petitions as requests for call-in has not been communicated to Members or to the House, and appears to treat each request from Members arbitrarily and in a way that is inconsistent with procedures that are set out in a previous written statement, and that are helpfully described in the Library guidance. That has resulted in reputational damage to me by Walsall Council and DCLG. So far, only the head of the planning casework unit has apologised to me. The Minister has made up that policy in breach of his own guidelines. He has not communicated it to the House, so the Journal Office, on which Members rely for advice on petitions and which is extremely helpful, is unaware of it. I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker replied:

The hon. Gentleman’s experience was obviously different from and, according to his own lights and probably those of the hon. Lady, preferable to hers. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order as well as for its substantive content. I appreciate her concern. She is of course right that the petitions procedure is quite separate from planning law. Furthermore, it is a matter of public record that the petition she presented on behalf of her constituents did not request that the application be called in.

In setting out the facts of the case today, the hon. Lady may well feel that she has achieved her objective of putting the record straight. Moreover, I have little doubt that her concerns about the process will have been heard on the Treasury Bench, and that they will be conveyed to the relevant Minister. I hope that that is helpful.