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Points of Order

Volume 449: debated on Tuesday 25 July 2006

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the last three sitting days before the 76-day summer recess, there have been 98 written ministerial statements. It is impossible for hon. Members to scrutinise the Government given the deluge of statements, and it is also clear that the vast majority of the statements could and should have been made earlier. Can you help to rectify what appears to be a gross abuse of power by the Executive?

The advice that I received when I first entered the House was that I should specialise, and the hon. Gentleman should read the statements on the subjects in which he is specialising. It has taken me a long time to get Ministers to be accountable to this House, and written statements are a form of accountability, which I welcome. I would rather have written statements than nothing at all.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Chief Whip and I have made every effort to reduce the number of written ministerial statements tabled on the last day of the Session. In the past, about 60 written ministerial statements were tabled on the last day of the Session, compared with 14 today. The hon. Gentleman cannot complain about the large number of written ministerial statements that were tabled earlier, because we have done what we said we would do to ensure that hon. Members are not ambushed on the last day. On this occasion, it should be bouquets rather than brickbats from the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, hon. Members jealously guard their right to be informed when other hon. Members visit their constituencies. On Friday, the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), the Leader of the Opposition, visited my constituency. I had discovered that he was coming before his visit, so I approached him, welcomed him to my constituency and told him that I could not be present at the function—I do not mind other hon. Members visiting my constituency, even if they do not tell me. However, he addressed a gathering of members of the British Hindu community in what he thought was flawless Gujarati. There was bewilderment, because the majority in the audience thought that he was talking in a cross between Chinese and Welsh. Is it possible for guidance to be given to hon. Members on the courtesy of writing to let other hon. Members know when they are visiting their constituencies and on the need to have a proper tutor if they choose to speak another language?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for momentarily delaying the well-deserved tribute to the Clerk of the House. May I seek your assistance in protecting the rights of Back Benchers and preserving the courtesies and customs of the House in connection with written answers? Following a well-publicised policy change by the Government arising from an article in the News of the World, I tabled a question for answer on 26 June. On that day, the Home Secretary said that he would reply as soon as possible. Nearly one month later, I tabled a further question asking when he might be interested in telling me when he met the News of the World to discuss the matter. Yesterday, I received another written answer from the Home Secretary, which stated that he would reply “as soon as possible”. The Home Secretary must know whether he met the News of the World. When and how will we get the traditional answers to written questions out of Ministers in a timely fashion?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for letting me know that he was going to raise that point of order. It is important that Ministers answer questions in time, and I know that the Leader of the House shares that view. I hope that the current delays can be dealt with quickly, because parliamentary questions are an essential part of the accountability of Ministers to this House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am a relative new boy, and I am inexperienced in the procedure of the House, so I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. Last week at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister stated that the constituency party of the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) had received funding from a company that wanted to build a casino. The hon. Gentleman replied that that was a lie and raised a point of order. However, I have checked his entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, which includes a company called Aston Wood Properties. In August 2003, the local newspaper stated that Aston Wood Properties hoped to build a casino, along with a hotel and nightclub, on the site of the old Keddies store in the High street, which suggests that the Deputy Prime Minister was correct. How can we rectify the situation?

The House was very noisy at that Deputy Prime Minister’s questions—I remember the hon. Gentleman being in the Chamber. It is not helpful to the proceedings of this House when allegations go from one side of the House to the other. If any hon. Member has any complaint about the behaviour of another hon. Member, there is a procedure, which I will not go into at the moment—I am not encouraging anyone to use the procedure. If the word “liar” was shouted, it would have been helpful if there had been less noise in the Chamber, because those hon. Members who know me well know that I would not have tolerated such language and would have called for an immediate withdrawal. However, I cannot do that if there is so much noise that I cannot hear what has been said. I would appreciate it if hon. Members listened rather than throwing in their tuppence-worth and shouting across the Chamber.

Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), Mr. Speaker. May I point out for the record that I accompanied my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) to the function mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman? As my right hon. Friend’s tutor in Gujarati, and as a fluent Gujarati speaker, I advise the right hon. Member for Leicester, East to turn to page 7 of the Leicester Mercury, where the quality of Gujarati spoken by my right hon. Friend is highly praised.

I have enough to worry about in dealing with the Springburn Herald, so I will not get involved.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), Mr. Speaker. May I apologise unreservedly for any intemperate or inappropriate language? I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue with me in advance, which gave me the opportunity to give him a statement from my local association outlining where the Deputy Prime Minister got his facts wrong. Would it be helpful if I were to write to you enclosing a copy of that statement to allow hon. Members to see where the point of confusion arose?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has apologised, which is good enough for me. We should put an end to the matter and leave it at that. Sometimes, particularly at Deputy Prime Minister’s questions, things get very heated, so we will move on and have a nice recess.