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Points of Order

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek to invoke your help to improve ministerial accountability to the House. Paragraph 9.3 of the ministerial code states:

“Every effort should be made to avoid leaving significant announcements to the last day before a recess.”

However, we all know that every single July we have a plethora of 30 or 40 written statements on the last day before we go into recess, including a whole lot of bad news that is being buried together. I have raised the matter with the Prime Minister on a number of occasions through written questions. Most recently, I asked him what steps he would take to ensure compliance with paragraph 9.3 of the ministerial code, to which he replied:

“Guidance for Ministers on announcements is set out in the Ministerial Code.”—[Official Report, 13 July 2009; Vol. 496, c. 108W.]

That was all there was. What steps can you take, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that next week we do not have 30 or 40 statements on the last day as usual?

The hon. Gentleman has made his views very clear, and I am grateful to him for doing so. I think that he will understand, and I hope the House will appreciate, that it is not for me to rule or adjudicate as between one orderly method of giving information to the House and another. I think that Ministers are aware that there is a widespread appetite for oral statements, and it would be helpful if, to a greater extent in the future than in the past, that appetite could be met.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is well aware of your concern to ensure that parliamentary questions are answered promptly. I am concerned that there seems to be a practice in some Departments of answering on time on the required date by merely saying that they will write to the hon. Member concerned at some point in the indeterminate future. That indeterminate future can often occur during a recess. Is there anything that you can do to require Ministers, when there is sufficient time and a clear possibility, to give a clear written answer within the timetable required by the House?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. The answer to his question is that I can certainly reiterate today what I have said on previous occasions and indicated in writing to the Leader of the House, who I know takes ministerial responsibility for these matters extremely seriously—namely, that replies to written questions should be timely, and that they should also be substantive. It would, I think, represent a breach of the spirit of the principle that I have set out, if not of the letter, if Ministers were simply to reply with what I suppose the hon. Gentleman would call a holding response. What is needed is a substantive reply, and it might interest the House to know that I requested of all Ministers a matter of a fortnight or so ago that the backlog of written questions should be cleared, with substantive replies, before the summer recess.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I congratulate you, Sir, on the speed of the previous statement? It is much appreciated that all Back Benchers got in. Unfortunately, that was not the case at Prime Minister’s questions, during which fewer than half the Back Benchers with questions on the Order Paper were reached. The Prime Minister appeared to me to be very long-winded and even to make a mini-statement. I wonder whether you could help Back Benchers get in at Prime Minister’s questions.

I am very sympathetic to getting Back Benchers in—I served as a Back Bencher for rather a long time myself, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I know that he would not for one moment try to draw me beyond what I have already said on the matter. For the avoidance of doubt—it is important to be balanced—I said during Prime Minister’s questions that, exceptionally today, in rather exceptional circumstances, questions and answers from the Front Bench were notably longer than usual. I would like some economy in those matters so that more Back-Bench Members get to ask questions of the Prime Minister.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance about procedure on a pressing matter. Today, I sent an urgent fax to the Secretary of State for Health, which needs a reply and his intervention today, about the shameful behaviour of NHS Leeds towards the family of Dr. John Hubley, who tragically died under its care. NHS Leeds is now trying to overturn the coroner’s report, deny its culpability and—outrageously—threaten the family with liability for legal costs. There is no other way of holding it to account, so is there a way, Mr. Speaker, that I can raise the matter, or another way in which I can insist on a response and intervention from the Secretary of State today? Tomorrow will be too late—the deadline is today.

The hon. Gentleman has made his point, which is firmly on the record. Frankly, I am not sure whether what he has just said constitutes a point of order, but to be helpful to him and the House let me say that, if memory serves me correctly, the hon. Gentleman raised the matter at business questions last Thursday, and he was promised a ministerial reply—when the Leader of the House responded to him, that promise was given. Let me gently say to those on the Treasury Bench that if an hon. Member is promised a reply on the Thursday of one week, failure to deliver it by the following Wednesday is below par.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will have heard earlier the disappointing news from Jaguar Land Rover that it is cutting car production along with jobs. Part of Jaguar Land Rover’s statement referred to the fact that it is still waiting to secure funding of some hundreds of millions of pounds from the European Investment Bank. That is a matter for negotiation with UK Ministers, and may now put the company in jeopardy. Given the urgency of the situation following Jaguar Land Rover’s statement, I wonder whether you have received any indication that Ministers intend to come to the Dispatch Box to tell us about the European Investment Bank loan?

I have to say to the hon. Lady—I know that it will disappoint her—that I have had no indication from any Minister of an intention to come to the House and make a statement on the matter, and I am not in a position to require one. However, she has made her point with her usual force and alacrity.

Bill presented

Personal Responsibility

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Norman Baker presented a Bill to place upon the individual a greater responsibility for the consequences for him of his own actions and of any failure on his part to use common sense; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 134.)