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Points of Order

Volume 508: debated on Monday 22 March 2010

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance and advice? My understanding is that when a Department seeks to group questions together at Question Time, it is a common practice and courtesy that hon. Members whose questions are going to be grouped together are notified in advance by the Department that that is going to happen. I have spoken to a number of my colleagues who had their questions grouped at today’s Home Office questions, and they all tell me that none of them had been notified in advance. I certainly know that a few weeks ago I had a question grouped and the first time I knew about it was when I saw it on the monitor rather than from any notification to my office. Can you confirm that Departments should still be continuing the practice whereby they notify hon. Members, and could you use your offices to ensure that they return to the courtesy that we always expected from them?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. His understanding of the custom and practice is entirely correct, and that custom and practice should continue. It most certainly should have applied on today’s occasion and, indeed, on all others. It is helpful that the Leader of the House is present when I am answering the hon. Gentleman’s point of order, and she may wish to respond. She is not obliged to do so, but she may wish to do so. I can say only that I regard it as a fundamental courtesy that when a grouping is proposed the ministerial team should notify Members affected in advance and without fail. Does the Leader of the House wish to comment?

Okay. However, I have made the position very clear and those on the Treasury Bench have heard it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to seek your guidance having already given you prior notice in writing. On 15 March, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Malik), issued an answer to this written parliamentary question from me:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government whether the regional fire control rooms in London will be operational and live by September 2011.”

The Minister’s reply was as follows:

“Under current planning assumptions the regional fire control centre for London is due to become operational during September 2011. Planning assumptions are currently under review.”—[Official Report, 15 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 666W.]

That gave a clear impression that the London fire control centre was still on course to be operational by September 2011. As we know, Mr. Speaker, the Olympics run from July to September 2011. [Interruption.] In 2012—I beg your pardon. However, I have subsequently discovered that on 9 March the Minister wrote to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to say:

“I have asked the FiReControl team to begin discussions with your project team about how we can move to a planning assumption that London would only join the FiReControl network after the Olympic Games.”

The ministerial code states that

“it is of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate and truthful information to Parliament, correcting any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”

and that Ministers should

“be as open as possible with Parliament and the public”.

In this context, the Minister’s reply represents a significant and inadvertent misleading omission in failing to indicate that he was preparing to delay the project. I therefore ask what guidance you can give so that we can bring the Minister to the Dispatch Box to make a full statement to the House.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman both for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. It is not, of course, for me to adjudicate on the accuracy of answers. It is open to the Minister to issue a correction if his answer was erroneous. Otherwise, the hon. Gentleman may seek advice from the Table Office about ways of pursuing this matter.