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Points of Order

Volume 512: debated on Monday 21 June 2010

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I ask your advice? Tomorrow the House will vote for the Chair of the new Backbench Business Committee. Given that the aim of the Committee is to give Back Benchers control over non-Government business, would it not be inappropriate for members of the Government and Opposition Front-Bench Members to vote in the election tomorrow?

The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. The advice is that on the one hand, there is no provision in the Standing Orders barring any Member from taking part in the proceedings; on the other hand, voting is not compulsory. I am sure that Members will listen to that advice. This is ultimately a matter for individuals to decide for themselves, rather than for the Chair to decide.

Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It may be helpful to the House to know that the business managers on the part of the Government—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, myself, the Chief Whip and the Deputy Chief Whips—will not take part in that election.

I think the answer has been made clear. It will be interesting reading for other hon. Members to take that advice on board.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I received an answer today to a parliamentary question to the Treasury on the distributional impact of a 1% rise in VAT. The Treasury answered me by saying that it cannot provide that information. Is it in order for me to ask for a Treasury Minister to come to the House urgently to explain what the distributional impact of a 1% rise in VAT would be? Is it not extraordinary that, on the day before the Budget, the Treasury seems unable to give that information?

I am sure that, with his experience, the hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair, but he has got it on the record, and no doubt if he puts a message in to the Speaker tomorrow, it could be looked at in due course.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I welcome you to the Chair? On the basis of my experience, there is no doubt that the Treasury has that information. The only question is why it is unwilling to bring it to the House. On a different issue, may I seek your guidance on urgent questions? I asked the Education Secretary a particular question, which was whether private schools could reopen as free schools and then pass on their school fees to be paid for by the taxpayer, rather than by parents. Is there any obligation on the Secretary of State to answer an urgent question in the House, or will the Department follow the path of the Treasury and not answer the question even when it knows the answer?

The right hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record. It is not a matter for me, but I am sure that it will be read tomorrow.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. At 9.25 this morning, the Department of Health announced a major revision of the NHS operating framework, and the story ran in the media all morning. I checked repeatedly for a written ministerial statement; it did not appear. There was no copy of the announced changes until 12.40 pm, more than three hours later. The statement deals with major changes in health policy, including the removal of guaranteed access to a general practitioner and the guaranteed 18-week waiting time for hospital treatment, and the lowering of the threshold of four-hour waits at accident and emergency. Should there not have been an oral statement to the House on these major NHS policy changes, not a written statement issued three hours late?

That matter is now on the record. If the hon. Lady were to table an urgent question, I am sure it would be considered through the usual channels.

Further to the point of order made by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), Mr Deputy Speaker. It is surely right that the Backbench Business Committee should be elected predominantly by Back Benchers, not by Front Benchers. I fully understand and accept the point made by the Deputy Leader of the House that the Leader of the House and the business managers will not take part in that vote, but may we publish not how people vote, but whether they vote tomorrow, so that we can know whether Ministers vote?

The hon. Gentleman rightly makes his point, which I am sure will be taken on board and considered in due course, but it is not for the Chair to make that decision today.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Yesterday, the Chancellor announced on the BBC a major review of public sector pensions, but today the Prime Minister was unable to confirm the terms of reference for that investigation. Have you received representations from the Chancellor or the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to come to the House to tell us the terms of the review, or would the Secretary of State for Defence like to enlighten us in the next debate?

Many points of order are being made that are not a matter for the Chair. Once again, the matter has been put on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On 10 June, I asked the Minister for Housing a question concerning the powers that Southampton city council has concerning homes in multiple occupation, and in regulation. The answer I received that those powers would be maintained has proved not to be true and to be seriously misleading. Is it in order for you to ask the Minister to come to the Chamber to give me an answer that is both true and not misleading?

The point has been well made and it is on the record. It is not for the Chair to decide, but I am sure that the usual channels will pick up that point.