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House of Commons Hansard
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05 November 2009
Volume 498

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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Ah, the points of order are still here.

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Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

During business questions, there appeared to be a planted question to which the Leader of the House made a mini-statement about the communications allowance. Many Back Benchers would have liked to question the Leader of the House about that. Have you, Mr. Speaker, been given any indication that a proper oral statement will be made?

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May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I have had no such indication, and it is, of course, a matter for the Chair to determine the orderly conduct of business. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will rest content with that situation.

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will know of the importance you attach to answering written questions. The Government have issued new guidance to Ministers that the reply saying that it has not been possible to answer a written question ahead of Prorogation should be used only for those questions tabled in the two weeks before Prorogation. As of last Thursday, more than 1,500 written questions still awaited an answer. What advice can you give the House to ensure that those questions are indeed answered before Prorogation and that the form of words I mentioned is not used as a means of avoiding ministerial accountability?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to his question is twofold. First, guidance is a matter for Ministers and it is not for me to interfere with that. Secondly, it is of the essence that there are timely and substantive answers to right hon. and hon. Members’ written parliamentary questions. In that context, the House will be aware—I have previously announced it—that a procedure is to be established for tracking the answering of written questions, and the transparency that that will bring should act as an incentive for Ministers speedily and comprehensively to answer questions. I am confident that that incentive will be effective, but if it is not, I expect the hon. Member and others will soon raise further points of order, when I shall have to reiterate the importance I attach to making progress on this matter.

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We very much appreciate the way in which you have sought to ensure that questions are answered promptly. We, as Members of Parliament, are increasingly under pressure in regard to individual cases dealt with by the Home Office involving people who urgently need an answer, often when items have been very severely delayed, lost in either the post or the Home Office. As we are approaching some gaps during which Parliament will not be sitting, would it be possible for the House to invent a better system for enabling people to receive immediate responses? These are individuals who may be in serious individual difficulties, and we as Members of Parliament ought to represent them more effectively.

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What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, whose thoughtful point of order I appreciate, is that it would be very difficult and, arguably, constitutionally hazardous to seek to specify a procedure for one Department that differs from the procedure that would be expected to apply to others.

The key point here is that answers are needed, they are needed in a timely fashion, and they are needed in a comprehensive form. It is, frankly, for Ministers to recognise both the salience and the urgency of the questions, not least when individual cases are being put to them, and they must then respond in an effective fashion. If that requires the devotion of additional human or other resources to achieve the objective, those resources must be provided, because the House must come first.

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Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), Mr. Speaker. May I prevail on your good offices to ensure that all right hon. and hon. Members receive, as a matter of urgency, clarification of where matters stand post-Kelly in relation to all the allowances and so on? It appears to many Members that they must trawl through myriad different pieces of information—statements and so forth—to establish the current position, and it is vital that it be clarified for all Members.

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I think that the Leader of the House has herself been clear about the need for maximum clarity. I can only say to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that there are also responsibilities for Departments in the House to communicate to Members what the current and the expected future position shall be. It is difficult for me to give the hon. Gentleman a more comprehensive explanation than the one that I have just offered, but he has put on the record a serious point and a legitimate concern, and the Leader of the House is in her place and has heard it.

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, in regard to your very welcome statement about tickets for service men to attend Prime Minister’s Question Time. Has consideration been given to allowing servicemen to sit in the largely unused upper viewing Galleries for Members?

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The short answer is that consideration has not been given, but the hon. Gentleman prompts such consideration, and I am grateful to him for putting his views on the record.

If there are no further points of order, we shall proceed to the main business.