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Point of Order

Volume 486: debated on Wednesday 21 January 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise with you a matter of the gravest importance that arises from your duties to protect the rights of Back Benchers? This is an instance in which the right of Back Benchers to scrutinise Government decisions has been obstructed in a most serious and deliberate way.

You were kind enough to allow me a debate in November on the decision to grant a novel indemnity to the American-led company that has taken over Sellafield, an indemnity that could cost taxpayers many billions of pounds in the future. At the time, I raised the concern that I, along with other Members who had shown an interest in the subject, would have no opportunity to debate it in the House because the minute came from the civil servants, from the Government, 75 days after the final day on which we could raise objections.

In the Adjournment debate, the Minister said that that was simply a clerical error. Now, 140 pages have been released under freedom of information legislation, many of them heavily censored, but it is clear from them that this was a deliberate, calculated attempt to ensure that the House was not informed about the decision until after the recess when no objection could be raised.

It was also suggested in the document and the debate that informing a single Chairman of a Select Committee is a substitute for informing the entire House, but the decision of one Select Committee Chairman, however distinguished, is no substitute for the historic right of Parliament to decide these matters. This a matter of the gravest importance, involving a contract of £22 billion, and possibly a £1 billion-plus subsidy for taxpayers in the future. Will you ensure, Mr. Speaker, that there is some way of reversing this decision, certainly calling the Minister to the House to explain how the rights of Back Benchers have been so flagrantly abused?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. Members are responsible for the accuracy of their speeches; that is not a matter for the Chair. However, I always expect Ministers, who are accountable to Parliament, to provide accurate information to the House, as they are bound to do so under the resolution of the House in 1997 on ministerial accountability. The hon. Gentleman also raised the matter of how the contingent liability in relation to Sellafield was handled. I will ensure that he receives a response on that issue as soon as possible.