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Points of Order

Volume 514: debated on Wednesday 21 July 2010

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the comments of the Prime Minister in Washington yesterday, are the Government seeking to make a statement in the House about their plans to release all documentation relating to the prisoner transfer agreement between the UK Government and Libya? Will UK Ministers and, now, shadow Ministers, come to the House to explain why they signed a PTA deal with Colonel Gaddafi at the same time as an economic agreement was being signed with BP?

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced enough parliamentarian to know extremely well that that was not a point of order, but the views that he has expressed and the concern that he has articulated will have been heard. The short answer to his question is that I have had no indication from a Foreign Office Minister of any intention to make a statement on that matter. Whether Ministers will seek to do so in light of what the hon. Gentleman has said remains to be seen, and he will require his usual patience.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand fully that any expenses system, including one involving home accommodation, must retain records of hon. Members’ private home addresses, private telephone numbers and private bank details. But were you as disturbed as I was to read in The Times on 15 July that, owing to a glitch in the website, all such details became accessible to 1,300 hon. Members and their assistants, who are entitled to log on to their own part of the website? Such mistakes can always happen with online systems. Will you, Mr. Speaker, take up with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and, if necessary with the Information Commissioner’s Office, the necessity to impress upon IPSA that such private details should not be held in any online system whatsoever, as there is absolutely no need for the information to be held in that vulnerable way?

I was as disturbed as the hon. Gentleman by this very unfortunate incident and breach of security. The Speaker’s Committee on IPSA is now the appropriate forum through which concerns about matters of operation or policy can be transmitted to IPSA. I have regular meetings with representatives of IPSA. It will not be my normal practice to talk in this House about the detail of those exchanges, but the hon. Gentleman has raised a very serious point, and I am aware of other Members who have expressed similar concerns. Those concerns will be transmitted, and I will be happy to play my proper role in helping to transmit them.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have made it clear in the past that if a right hon. or hon. Member makes a statement in this House that is subsequently proved to be inaccurate, they should—at the earliest opportunity—make a correction to the House. On 22 June, we learned in Prime Minister’s questions that the Deputy Prime Minister had made a statement about the directors of Sheffield Forgemasters not being prepared to dilute their shareholding. Subsequently, he wrote to the chief executive saying that he recognised the inaccuracy of those comments, that he withdrew them and that he apologised. However, despite repeated opportunities at Prime Minister’s questions today—I listened as carefully as I could—the Deputy Prime Minister did not apologise, accept that he had been wrong or withdraw or correct his comments. Do you, or the House in general, have any powers to ensure that the record of the House can be corrected in this instance?

I have several points to make in response to that point of order. First, I ruled on the matter yesterday and it would be unwise to add to or pick at an earlier ruling about the appropriateness of correcting in the House factually incorrect statements made in the House. Secondly, I know that the hon. Gentleman will not take umbrage if I suggest that he is as persistent a woodpecker in the House as there is to be found. He has raised this matter before and he knows perfectly well that it was raised at some considerable length with the Deputy Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s questions. I have a slight anxiety that the hon. Gentleman is now seeking to continue the debate, and that would not be right. Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman need be patient for only a few hours because, unless I am mistaken, he has an Adjournment debate on the matter in which these and other points will probably be developed eloquently and at appropriate length.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last night we had a debate on the UK Youth Parliament and one Member spoke for an hour and 17 minutes. Is it correct, proper and appropriate—and is it in order—that a Member should speak for that length of time so that others who wish to make a contribution are denied the opportunity?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that point of order and the answer to him is twofold. If something disorderly occurs, the Chair will ensure that it is stopped and that a Member does not continue in disorderly conduct. On the wider point about long speeches by some Members preventing others from contributing to a debate, it is true. However, it would be wrong for me to say to the hon. Gentleman, who is a new and committed Member, that a new precedent was somehow established last night. There have been occasions on which very long speeches by one Member have prevented other Members from contributing. It is a regrettable state of affairs and I know that the hon. Gentleman is often keen to catch the eye of the Chair. If he is persistent on other occasions, I am sure that he will get his fair share of opportunities. Account may also be taken by the Chair of occasions on which a Member has wished to speak and, because of long-windedness by someone else, has failed to do so.