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Point Of Order

Volume 406: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2003

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1.40 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are the custodian of the rights of the Opposition parties as well as those of Back Benchers, and you will be aware that, on page 271, Erskine May says:

"Standing Order No 14 provides that on 20 days in each session, proceedings on business chosen by the opposition parties shall have precedence over Government business."
That raises a long-standing issue in the House: protection—so far as it is possible these days—for Opposition parties. You will also know that it is a convention beyond that Standing Order that Governments do not bring forward Government or ministerial statements on Opposition days. However, on at least two other recent occasions as well as today, the Government have done precisely that.

Mr. Speaker, you have generously and properly allotted considerable time to today's important statement to allow Members to express their concerns and those of their constituents. However, the Opposition's time has now been reduced as a result of the Government statement, which, by any reckoning, could have been given on any number of days before or after today. What can be done to protect the Opposition from that sort of casual action, which eats further into the time available to hold the Government to account? I hope that you will agree that that cannot be allowed to go on.

I have some sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman, but the matter should be dealt with through the usual channels—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman was kind enough to remind me of Erskine May, and I have consulted page 307, which states:

"Prior notice to the Speaker is necessary, but neither his permission nor the leave of the House is required"
to make a Government statement. The usual channels will take note that I would prefer it if, on Opposition Supply days, we do not have Government statements. That is the best comfort that I can provide to the right hon. Gentleman.