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Points of Order

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order that may sound trivial, but is a matter of serious disappointment for young people in my constituency. For the last four years in the run-up to Christmas, choirs from my constituency have entertained parliamentarians, staff and other members of the Palace authorities over lunch. Last week, out of the blue, an e-mail arrived at my office saying that this would be banned in the future, as it was inconveniencing Members of the House during their lunch. Were you aware of that, Mr. Speaker? Surely we should be encouraging young people to come to this House, not barring them.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the point of order that he has raised. I confess that I was not previously conscious of it, as will probably be apparent to him and the House by the rather measured terms of my response. Suffice it to say that, on the face of it, he and his constituents have reason to be disconcerted, and I will certainly look into the matter. I am happy to revert to the hon. Gentleman when I have done so.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You recently made it clear to Ministers that you expect substantive replies to parliamentary questions before the summer recess, which is a little more than 24 hours off. May I draw this to your attention and seek your support? Frankly, the biggest offender, in my view, is the Prime Minister himself. To buttress my argument, and to illustrate the point, I point out that I asked a question of the Prime Minister about his meeting with President Gaddafi, at the margins of a recent summit, in relation to matters raised by the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Dodds) and me about compensation for the victims of IRA Semtex whose provenance was Libya. The Prime Minister sent me a letter saying that was referred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, but the only person who could answer my question was the Prime Minister himself—not even the Foreign Secretary. I also asked about the per diem remuneration for members of Chilcot, and the Prime Minister said that was a matter for Chilcot. He refuses to answer a simple question.

Mr. Speaker, will you, first, ensure that there are substantive replies from all Ministers by tomorrow and, secondly, look at the Prime Minister, who dodges the question time and again? I am certainly not prepared to put up with that.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, which was put to me and the House in the characteristically blunt terms that the House has come to appreciate. I know that the hon. Gentleman would not seek to inveigle me into an argument between him and the Prime Minister, but what I would say to him is that who answers a question that the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. or right hon. Member poses is a matter for the head of the Department or, in this case, for the Prime Minister. Similarly, the content of such answers is a matter for Ministers and I cannot get into that.

What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the exhortation I issued to all Ministers to ensure that substantive replies were provided before the summer recess was an exhortation that extended to the Prime Minister as well, because he, of course, is a Minister. Moreover, I think I can gently say to the hon. Gentleman, who is an extremely experienced Member of the House, that he might feel tempted to try to give voice to some of these concerns in a little more detail in the Adjournment debate that will take place immediately prior to the summer recess tomorrow.

Bill Presented

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. Secretary Straw, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary David Miliband, Secretary Alan Johnson, Tessa Jowell and Michael Wills, presented a Bill to make provision relating to the civil service of the State; to make provision relating to the ratification of treaties; to amend section 2 of the House of Lords Act 1999 and make provision relating to the removal, suspension and resignation of members of the House of Lords; to repeal sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 and to amend Part 2 of the Public Order Act 1986; to make provision relating to time limits for human rights claims against devolved administrations; to make provision relating to judges and similar office holders; to make provision relating to the Comptroller and Auditor General and to establish a body corporate called the National Audit Office; to amend the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 and to make corresponding provision in relation to Wales.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 142) with explanatory notes (Bill 142-EN).