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Points of Order

Volume 508: debated on Thursday 25 March 2010

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the exchanges in business questions, the Leader of the House, no doubt inadvertently, misled the House. She asserted in respect of two private Members’ Bills—the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Bill and the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill—that they had been blocked not by a Back Bencher, but by the official Opposition. Will she take it from me that the official Opposition support those two Bills and are not blocking them at all?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am extremely pleased to hear what the right hon. Gentleman has just said, although that does not entirely excuse the activities of some Conservative Back Benchers. However, is it not the case that the matter is entirely academic anyway, because those Bills are private Members’ Bills, for which no more time has been allocated by the Leader of the House? Unless Government time is allocated, those Bills cannot make progress in any case, whatever the official Opposition’s position. Is that not the case, Sir?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his observations. He has put his views firmly on the record, although I am not sure that this is point-of-order territory or that I need to respond. However, before I give the opportunity to the Leader of the House—if she wants to take it—to come to the Dispatch Box, let us hear a point of order from Ms Sally Keeble.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a mistake on the Order Paper, because although it says that there is an amendment, I understand that it was withdrawn this morning, so unless anybody raises any further objections or tables a further amendment to the legislation, I understand that the Bill can go forward to the wash-up. However, that will require a bit of good will on both sides and a self-denying ordinance by Members; and, with your long track record on the issue in question, I am sure that you will be keen to see that happen.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, to which I shall respond straight away, before returning to that of the shadow Leader of the House. What I would say to the hon. Lady is twofold. First, so far as the Order Paper is concerned, if something was withdrawn this morning, it is not a mistake that it is on the Order Paper, because obviously it will have been put on last night, or some other time yesterday, and then printed. The point is simply that a decision has since been made to withdraw it. As for her second point, I note the force with which she has made her concern known, but as she will know, the question of whether a Bill survives in the wash-up is a matter for others, not the Chair.

As for the shadow Leader of the House’s point of order, the safest thing that I can say is that it is not entirely clear to me that this is a matter of order for the Chair. A statement was made—[Interruption.] I am grateful to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt): I know how earnest he is on these matters, and I will do my best to satisfy his appetite, if I can. Let me say to the shadow Leader of the House that it is not clear to me that he has raised a matter of order. A reference was made to blocking, but it seems to me that we are largely in the territory of debate, and I am happy to offer the Leader of the House an opportunity to respond.

You referred to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) being earnest, Mr. Speaker, but was he actually here when those exchanges were made? [Interruption.] No, he was not here, and he does not know what those exchanges were, so he can be earnest, but he is not relevant. As for what the shadow Leader of the House said, let me make my position clear. It is to no avail for the official Opposition to say from the Front Bench that they support the Bill if their Back Benchers block it. Basically, it is Members from the official Opposition who have been blocking the Bill—that is self-evident—so what I am saying is that the right hon. Gentleman should get his party’s act together, and then we can get that important Bill through.

First, let me say to the Leader of the House that we could have a most interesting debate on the importance of being earnest, but I am not sure that it would greatly avail the House for us to do so. Secondly, let me say in a very friendly spirit to the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire that I certainly cast no aspersions on what he said. Indeed, I would say to the Leader of the House that the idea that knowledge of something is a prerequisite for subsequently contributing to debate would be a new precedent for the House to set.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the BBC website there is a piece about an announcement that coastal towns are to share £5 million of Government funding, something that was also a topic on the “Today” programme this morning, which you might have heard, Mr. Speaker. I have hunted high and low for more evidence of that announcement, but I have found nothing on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website. Indeed, I have even approached a Treasury Minister, who knew nothing about it whatever. May I seek your guidance on this matter? Should we not find out about such information here in the House? Should there not be at least a written statement, or are we talking about another of those fictitious figures that come up at Budget time?

The hon. Gentleman might be gratified sooner than he anticipates, because if there is a written ministerial statement, I have a feeling that we are about to hear about it.

A full and detailed written ministerial statement on that announcement was tabled this morning, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a copy.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I feel rather confused about something, so I hope that you can help me. There was some talk earlier, in the exchanges about private Members’ Bills, about the wash-up, but as far as I can see from the Order Paper there are three more Fridays set down for private Members’ business. Surely there would be ample opportunity to discuss those Bills, if not on 23 or 30 April, then surely on 7 May.

That is a most interesting point of order, but the hon. Gentleman did not get where he is today by being confused about anything.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:

Child Poverty Act 2010

Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010

Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010.

How heartening it is for all of us that the House is in such a convivial mood. [Interruption.] Well, it is at the moment, anyway.