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Points of Order

Volume 477: debated on Thursday 12 June 2008

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am concerned that the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has just attributed to me words that I did not speak and sentiments that I certainly do not feel. He attributed to me disparaging remarks about our intelligence services and about our civil servants more generally that I certainly did not say or mean. I would be grateful if you would give him the opportunity to retract his comments. As one of my hon. Friends mentioned, I am on record as having said that I think we get fantastic service from our civil servants. However, there is a genuine issue to be addressed about the state of morale in large parts of our civil service, for which I do not blame civil servants; I think that it is attributable to the Government.

I am in your hands, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I attributed to the right hon. Gentleman only the words “low morale” and “laxity”, which were exactly the words that he used.

We obviously cannot continue—[Interruption.] Order. We cannot continue further with that statement, which we are in danger of doing. I think that both the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman have put their points firmly on the record. We must leave it at that.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have already mentioned this point—indeed, I mentioned it in advance to my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House. You will know the importance of business questions: it gives Back Benchers an opportunity to raise matters of concern to them or their constituents. The time available is inevitably limited, so it is important that the Front-Bench spokesmen should not occupy too much time. This morning, the Front-Bench spokesmen took up between 22 and 24 minutes of business questions, which is intolerable to many Back Benchers. As a result of that, many Back Benchers were not able to intervene, although happily, I was able to do so. May I ask you to raise with Mr. Speaker how we can deal with this issue? I have privately raised the matter on previous occasions within my party, but I suggest that the prolixity of the contributions by Front-Bench spokesmen, especially in business questions, is intolerable.

I very much understand the points that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is making. I think that it is incumbent on all Front Benchers to be very conscious of the proportion of the allowed time that they take. I think that Ministers and Opposition shadow Ministers should think about that, and that all of us should lend our attention to it. May I say that I think that it is also incumbent on Back Benchers to ask one question when they are supposed to ask one question, if that is possible, and to make it brief? If we could all achieve both those objectives, that would be highly satisfactory from everybody’s point of view.

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