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Points Of Order

Volume 396: debated on Monday 9 December 2002

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4.19 pm

Thank you for calling this point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have previously commented on the importance of Ministers making policy announcements to the House to enable Opposition Members and Back Benchers to carry out our role of scrutiny. You will be aware that last Friday a policy announcement was made about civil partnerships and the recognition of same-sex couples in The Independent and on the "Today" programme by the Minister for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women, to whom I have given notice of this point of order. There was no sign of any Government announcement on that matter the day before, given that Friday was not a sitting day and, indeed, the answer to a parliamentary question tabled on 27 November gave no indication that an announcement was due. There have been allegations that that announcement was made to dominate the news agenda—[Interruption]—to conceal or displace other items in the news that day, but there was a great deal of interest in this important matter. I should be grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, if you could let me know whether you had any indication that the Government planned to make an announcement, whether any statement at the Dispatch Box or written statement is due, or whether the relevant Minister is willing to come to the House to apologise for the fact that, yet again, announcements have been made outside the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I reiterate what I have said many times before: the House should be the first to know of changes in Government policy. As for the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, my understanding is that last Friday's announcement concerned an intention to consult on the proposals that he has described. It did not therefore constitute a policy announcement as such.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noted that, when Madam Deputy Speaker was in the Chair on Thursday at the conclusion of the statement on local government finance, I raised a concern, which many Opposition Members share, about the attitude of the Minister for Local Government and the Regions when responding to the concerns that were expressed. About an hour after the Minister finished answering questions, I received a message from the director of finance of my local authority to say that the Minister's announcement that my borough council would receive a 3.2 per cent. increase in local government spending was, in fact, based on fiddling the figures by adjusting the current year's spending and that the true figure was only 1.08 per cent. Can you give us guidance on how we may press in the House for Members to receive a proper, accurate statistical analysis, supported by the opinion of professional local government officers, rather than by fiddled figures announced by Ministers?

What the hon. Gentleman raises is a matter for debate. He knows that he can apply for an Adjournment debate or table parliamentary questions. There are many ways to extract the figures that he requires.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, during business questions last Thursday, I asked the Leader of the House why we were not yet aware of the motion that the Government will table on Thursday for what he described as a substantive debate. He said:

"It is right that we should have a full day's debate on those topics"—
agriculture, the environment and foot and mouth disease
"and a full motion will be tabled in good time."—[Official Report, 5 December 2002; Vol. 395, c. 1050.]
So it was perfectly obvious that the Leader of the House seemed to know last Thursday what would be the terms of the motion that the House will debate this Thursday, yet, as I speak, there is no indication of what that will be. Can you do something about that, Mr. Speaker? If the Leader of the House knows the terms of the motion, presumably, Ministers also know them. Why cannot they share that with the House so that we can have a properly prepared, structured debate on Thursday?

May I advise the right hon. Gentleman that this is perhaps something that he could take up through the usual channels?