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Points of Order

Volume 505: debated on Tuesday 2 February 2010

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on 21 January an urgent question was answered by the Minister for Europe on exchange rate movements and their effect on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget following the announcement of a £170 million loss in that budget as a result of sterling’s depreciation. In answer to a question from me about hedging, he said that the Foreign Secretary had written to the shadow Foreign Secretary on the subject. After further questioning from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), the Minister for Europe pledged to put a copy of that letter in the Library. I have to report to you, Mr. Speaker, that that letter has not appeared in the Library—and that according to the FCO, that is because the letter was never written. Can we ensure that the Minister for Europe comes to this House to explain not only why this has happened, but all the background to the effect of the depreciation of sterling, and the FCO’s failure to hedge for it, on the FCO’s budget?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He has given to the House a very specific and detailed sequence of events and the House will have heard it; it is very clearly on the record. What I would say to him is that if a Minister promises that a letter will be placed in the Library, it should be placed in the Library, and that should be done without delay; what is promised should be delivered. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand if, beyond that, I simply say that I will look further into the matter, and that he has put his concerns very fairly and squarely on the record today.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday we reached the end of the business on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in Committee, and we then lost time that could have been spent having a vote on new clause 52. There was a problem with how the handover when the House came out of Committee was to be conducted. We were told that that was an unprecedented development. Will you look into what happened? The matter was raised in two points of order yesterday, but I hope that you will examine how it was not handled well and how we need to learn from that, because Back Benchers, who have very little access to time, could have had the opportunity to move something about which many of us felt strongly.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Although I did not receive advance notice of it—I make no complaint about that, I hasten to add—I had a sense, given the strength of the points of order made last night, that this matter might be raised. I hope, therefore, that it will be helpful to the House if I make a short statement about those events.

I certainly do understand there was a hiatus last night—with the business in Committee on the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill finishing significantly earlier than expected—and the House was informally suspended for just five minutes. I am grateful, of course, to the Deputy Speakers and to members of the Chairmen’s Panel for their flexibility in chairing proceedings, whatever happens. I cannot comment on what happened in Committee—the House will understand that I am precluded from doing so—but I have inquired about new clause 52. I understand that once new clauses 85 and 86 had been agreed to, that decision of the House overtook new clause 52 and so ruled out the possibility of a separate Division upon it. No doubt Report stage will give Back Benchers other opportunities. As for whether the time of the House was well spent yesterday—the fifth day on this Bill—the management of legislative time on the Floor of the House is a matter for the Government.