On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you know, there have been exchanges between hon. Members and Mr. Speaker about parliamentary answers. On 10 July, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence what assessment he had made of the frequency, scale and sophistication of Taliban attacks on British forces in Helmand province. In reply, I was told what we knew already—that attacks had increased with the deployment of British troops in the south of Afghanistan. However, the end of the right hon. Gentleman’s answer was extraordinary. He said that neither the Taliban nor the range of illegally armed groups currently posed a threat to the long-term stability of Afghanistan. That is exactly the opposite of what the House has been told over recent months. This country has deployed troops to Operation Enduring Freedom and to the NATO mission precisely to secure the long-term stability of Afghanistan. Can you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, ask Mr. Speaker to use his good offices to ask the right hon. Gentleman to come to the House and explain what he meant by that answer, which hon. Members will find as perplexing as it is disturbing?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, Mr. Speaker has no direct responsibility for the quality of ministerial replies to questions. If he consults the Table Office, I am sure that staff there will be able to assist him in following up answers that he regards as inadequate. I am sure that Mr. Speaker will have noted again the points that the hon. Gentleman has made today, as they will be on the record.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During questions to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister this morning, I asked a question about casinos. In his reply, the Deputy Prime Minister accused me of receiving money from casinos via my Conservative association. That is wholly and totally untrue; it is a very concerning accusation that has no substance. What advice can you give about how I can place it on record that the accusation is untrue? Does Mr. Speaker have the power to call the right hon. Gentleman back to the House of Commons to set the record straight?
I think that accusations of any kind, from any side of the House, should be thought through very carefully before they are made. They should not be made as often as they are, but the hon. Gentleman has succeeded in putting the matter on the record.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 28 June, I asked the Prime Minister a question about infant class sizes. I put it to him that he had not met the pledge on that subject that he made before the 1997 election. He said:
“As far as I am aware, the infant class pledge has been met.”—[Official Report, 28 June 2006; Vol. 448, c. 259.]
Yet Government figures reveal that nearly 30,000 children are being taught in infant classes with more than 30 children. I have written to the Prime Minister telling him that he inadvertently misled the House, but he has not replied. What further steps can I take to oblige him to correct the record, as this is a serious breach of his responsibilities to this House?
I trust that the Prime Minister will reply in due course, and that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied with the answer. When figures such as those are bandied about, they are often less a matter of record than of debate.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Through you, may I thank Mr. Speaker for an intervention that he made in respect of a parliamentary question that I tabled on 25 May? I finally received a response yesterday. The question asked how many questions tabled to the Home Office before 5 May had remained unanswered by 25 May, and yesterday’s answer put the number at 565.
This is a hugely important matter, and I am grateful for Mr. Speaker’s intervention. I understand that the Home Secretary has said that the problem will be resolved by 9 October and that questions will be answered appropriately. However, parliamentary questions are very important to Back-Bench Members who want to put the Government under scrutiny. Will you urge the right hon. Gentleman to ensure that he fulfils his pledge?
The whole matter of questions to Ministers and their answers is clearly extremely important. The House is already aware of Mr. Speaker’s interest in the matter, and the hon. Gentleman has placed his concerns clearly on the record.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have either you or Mr. Speaker been approached by the Ministry of Defence with a request to allow a Minister to give an oral statement to the House about troop deployment to Iraq? I discovered from a written statement yesterday that my local regiment, the Black Watch, was being asked to undertake an unprecedented third tour of duty in Iraq that does not comply the 24-month period that should elapse between deployments. Given that the deployment is so contentious, should not a Minister come to the House to be questioned by hon. Members?
There is a debate on these matters tomorrow. I trust that that will allow the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to raise the points that he is now raising with me.
Further to the point of order raised yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) about supplying water to visitors to the House, a delegation of more than 600 of my constituents had to stand outside the House in tremendous temperatures. I hope that you are able to convey to Mr. Speaker my gratitude for his kindness and thoughtfulness in ordering the Serjeant at Arms Department to make water available to those visitors.
I am sure that Mr. Speaker will read with interest the points that the hon. Gentleman makes.