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Points of Order

Volume 501: debated on Thursday 26 November 2009

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay), the Leader of the House just said that cross-party discussions were held about issuing the local government finance settlement as a written ministerial statement, rather than an oral statement. May I confirm that that is not the case? She implied that, because this is the third year of a triennial settlement, there is in essence no need for an oral statement. However, last year—the second year—there was an oral statement. Do you agree, Mr. Speaker, that departing from the custom in the House of having an oral statement on local government finance would deny Members a chance to raise questions with the Government about the level of the grant that their authorities receive?

Before I respond to the hon. Lady, given that the Leader of the House is here, I shall let her put her two penn’orth in.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government wrote—perhaps he did not have verbal discussions—to Opposition Front-Bench spokespeople on 12 November explaining the course of action that he intended to take, but has since received no notice of objections. Hon. Members and other interested parties have the opportunity to make their views known during the consultation period.

Order. Before I take other points of order, I should say, on the basis of hearing the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) and the Leader of the House, that a charitable interpretation would be that there has been something of a breakdown in communication. I also say to the hon. Member for Meriden that instinctively I am always keen that there be the maximum opportunity for matters to be debated properly on the Floor of the House. However, my generosity of spirit is not the only factor involved, and she will know that, I am afraid, I do not determine such matters. They are determined between the usual channels, and it would not be right for me to seek to second-guess those channels or indeed the Leader of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have clearly heard earlier the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) refer to a Member of the other place as “corrupt”. That was not only wrong, but unparliamentary. The right hon. Gentleman has now left the Chamber. What arrangements can be made for him to return to the Chamber and withdraw the unwarranted remarks?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that point of order. [Interruption.] Order. The House must calm down a bit. The right hon. Gentleman has raised an important point of order, to which I would like to respond. He has raised a very important matter.

I made clear to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. MacShane) at the time my disapproval of his immoderate language, and I think it would be better if the word were simply withdrawn. As in so many things, there is precedent on the subject: specifically, “Erskine May” pages 438 and 439, which exhort Members to recognise that reflections must not be cast upon the conduct of Members of either House except on a substantive motion. No such substantive motion had been tabled or was in play on this occasion. The right hon. Member for Rotherham is no longer in his place, but I feel sure that my ruling, the observation of the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) and the wider sentiment of the House will have registered with him.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were in the Chair yesterday when I raised with the Chancellor a very serious matter: namely, that contrary to precedent, having issued an indemnity to the tune of £62 billion to HBOS and RBS, and having chosen to do it in secret—his choice—he did not inform me as the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee or the Chairman of the Treasury Committee. The Chancellor told me in reply that he did not need to do so because of legislation. That legislation was not on the statute book till some months after he issued the indemnity. In any event, it covers a different sort of transaction. That is a serious matter. Nobody in Parliament was informed, even in confidence, of what was going on, contrary to ancient traditions and conventions. May I write to you in detail and ask you to defend the privileges of the House?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer is with us—[Interruption.] Order. As the right hon. Gentleman is with us, I offer him the opportunity to respond if he wishes.

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I anticipated the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, not least because he wrote to me earlier today—he will, of course, get a reply. It is right that the Banking Act 2009 came into force during the course of this year. However, when I replied to him yesterday, I made the general point that such operations are conducted by the Bank of England. Yes, of course I issued an indemnity for reasons that I explained yesterday, but the operations were not disclosed because, as I set out yesterday, of the prevailing conditions at the time. I said that the decision about when we disclosed the matter publicly was a fine one, although I remained of the view that the Governor was right. Clearly, I will reflect on the procedures for advising the Chairman of the Treasury Committee and the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, because it must be right that Parliament is kept informed, but equally it has to be right that, especially in the tempestuous conditions we had just over 12 months ago, we had regard to the effectiveness of the Bank’s operations. I will reflect on what the hon. Gentleman said. I would, of course, have said exactly the same had he chosen to intervene on my speech, which I hope to make in the not-too-distant future.

I am grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for that considered and reasonable reply. As Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) has immense experience of the subject, and that should be respected. He has explained—and the Chancellor has confirmed—that there is correspondence between them. The hon. Member for Gainsborough has written to the Chancellor, and I think that he should await the reply with eager anticipation, and I should be grateful it he copied me in on it. Let us see where that takes us.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support the covert operations, but I fear that perhaps next week, a report from the National Audit Office will be published, which indicates that the £61 billion had been given. Given that the Governor of the Bank of England disclosed that at a Treasury Committee sitting, I fear that the Bank of England and the Treasury have been caught with their fingers in the till. There is a serious question mark over public and parliamentary relations in the Treasury and the Bank of England. Given that the loans were repaid in January 2009, I do not understand why they were not disclosed. I feel that both Parliament and the Select Committees have been short-changed. There is a need for a protocol that affects Select Committees and Parliament. I look forward to its being developed as a result of the correspondence.

The right hon. Gentleman is a distinguished Chairman of the Treasury Committee, and it is therefore with sadness that I have to tell him that, although he has put his views firmly on the record, they did not amount to a point of order. I know that he will not in any way seek to entice me to participate in a debate on policy. Any impression that might have been conveyed to that effect is certainly accidental.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In business questions a few minutes ago, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), the Leader of the House said that discussions had taken place about the timing of the Equality Bill, as she promised in an earlier business questions session. However, I have it on good authority from the Deputy Chief Whip of the Conservative party, the Conservative spokesman on the Bill, our spokespeople on the Bill and the Chief Whip of the Liberal Democrats that no such discussions with spokespeople or the usual channels have taken place. Would it be in order for you to invite the Leader of the House to withdraw her assertion that discussions had taken place? Otherwise, something that has the effect of misleading the House is left on the record.

Unfortunately, I do not think that it would be in order. The hon. Gentleman is engaged in a rather rebarbative pursuit of a point of difference with the Leader of the House. He has placed his views very clearly on the record—they will be intelligible, I hope, to all hon. Members. The amount of time that is allocated is a matter for the usual channels. The hon. Gentleman makes his view clear. I have indicated my preference for maximum debate, but I know my place, and such matters are not, sadly, determined by me.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not making my question clear enough. My point of order is not about the amount of time, but the assertion that discussions had taken place. If that remains on the record and is not the case, the House is in the position of being misled. Those discussions did not take place. Will not the Leader of the House correct the record?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I understand what he is saying, but I still maintain that at stake is essentially a disagreement about who said what, when and whether it was reflected in practice. That is not a matter for me. If the Leader of the House wants to come back on the hon. Gentleman’s point, she is free to do that. I give her one last chance, but she is not under any obligation to do so. I do not think that she wants to say anything further, and she is under no obligation to do that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the continuing discussions about the usual channels, it is surely important for the House’s reputation that Back Benchers, particularly independent Back Benchers, are given the opportunity to speak on issues such as the local government financial settlement. In places such as Croydon, we get the minimum increase in grant, and we have extra asylum seekers to deal with because of changes in Government policy. Can you advise me on the way in which the usual channels can start being used for the benefit of the House rather than for ensuring that Back Benchers do not get the chance to contribute?

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. I am always seeking to champion the rights of Back Benchers, and it is always a pleasure to hear his views.

We now proceed to the main business—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) would allow us to proceed with the main business, that would greatly assist us.

Corporation Tax Bill

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 60(2)),

That the Corporation Tax Bill be proceeded with as a tax law rewrite Bill.—(Kerry McCarthy.)

Question agreed to.

Taxation (international and other Provisions) Bill

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 60(2)),

That the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Bill be proceeded with as a tax law rewrite Bill.—(Kerry McCarthy.)

Question agreed to.