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Points of Order

Volume 495: debated on Thursday 9 July 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thought about raising this matter at business questions, but I think that it is more appropriate on a point of order. Mr. Speaker and his predecessor have always deprecated the release of information to people outside this House before its announcement here. A few moments ago, the Leader of the House gave the future business and provisional business for October, and announced the delay of the Report stage and Third Reading of the Health Bill until Monday 12 October.

That information was given to lobbying organisations, NGOs and others long before it was discussed through the usual channels or with anybody else, including shadow Ministers from my party or, I believe, the Conservative party. It was certainly made known long before it was announced to the House. I know that this has happened before and that it is not unusual, but it seems wrong that Departments should be able to make announcements about the timing of the future business of the House to organisations that are not part of the House, before hon. Members know about it. Could not instruction be given to Departments to ensure that that does not happen in future?

The hon. Gentleman could have raised that issue during business questions rather than as a point of order. The whole House will be aware of how strongly Mr. Speaker feels about such activity. The points that the hon. Gentleman has made are on the record and will be studied by everybody—not least Treasury Benchers and, I feel sure, Mr. Speaker.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The truth is that Departments do not know exactly when their Bills are to receive Second Reading or have further stages debated until the business managers have decided, following discussions with the usual channels, and told them. Obviously Departments can make inspired guesses and put them around, but if they do that they might find one of these days that they are proved wrong. I assure the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) that the business managers do not discuss the business of the House in advance with anybody at all. We would not do that, because it would not be right.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given the seriousness of the urgent question this morning, do you agree that it would have been appropriate for the Home Secretary, rather than the Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism, to have been here to answer? The Minister had obviously not been afforded the information with which to answer properly to the House. Mr. Speaker is committed to ensuring that the House can hold the Executive to account. The Home Secretary is in this country at an event that could easily have been rescheduled, and he—not the Minister—should have been here this morning.

Obviously the Home Secretary would ideally be here to answer such an urgent question. However, it is extremely difficult—particularly on a Thursday and when the urgent question is granted at the last minute—for the Government to rearrange all their business. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is firmly on the record. In some circumstances, however, what has happened is quite understandable.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the responses to the urgent question earlier today, the Minister said that there probably would not be a statement on the matter later today. May we have some indication of when a statement is likely to be made, given that the Metropolitan police are likely to say something about the issue later today? Is there any reason the House cannot be informed about when that ministerial statement is likely to be made—on Monday, for example? If the House cannot be so informed, what is the problem?

Order. That is not for the Chair to answer today. The situation is developing and more information about it will become clear as time goes by. If the Government decide to make a statement, I am sure that they will make it at the appropriate time.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Last Thursday, Mr. Speaker made a statement to the House and a number of Members were disappointed that they were not able to ask him questions about it as they ask Ministers questions about their statements. Mr. Speaker himself canvassed the idea of a Speaker’s question time when he was seeking election to his post.

I wonder whether—through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—we could raise with Mr. Speaker the idea that when the Speaker makes a statement to the House, he will accept questions about it from right hon. and hon. Members. I am sorry that Mr. Speaker is not in the Chair at the moment and so cannot respond directly. However, I hope that, having put my point on the record, I can obtain a response from him in due course.

As the hon. Gentleman will understand, I cannot respond directly to him. I suggest that he write in detail to Mr. Speaker, setting out his suggestions. I am sure that he will get a response to them.