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Points of Order

Volume 515: debated on Wednesday 15 September 2010

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During Prime Minister’s Question Time, I asked the Prime Minister a question about the future of the Mersey Gateway bridge and the impact of cutting capital projects on economic growth. The Prime Minister said specifically and clearly that the Government were not going to cut capital projects. That seems to contradict what I have been told on the Floor of the House and in letters: that a decision on the Mersey Gateway bridge is postponed pending the review of expenditure. Incidentally, that is in stark contrast to the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future programme, which is a capital programme, the cancellation of which has badly hit my constituency. Can you, Mr Speaker, arrange for an urgent statement to be made to the House to clarify the position on the bridge because we do not want to be in a situation where the Prime Minister is misleading the House?

I can make no such arrangement. What I say to the hon. Gentleman in response to his attempted point of order is that he is a wily old hand, and some people might think—this could be uncharitable, but it might not be—that he is seeking to continue the debate. He has put his views very clearly on the record, and I have a feeling they will be heard where he wishes them to be heard. Moreover, if he wishes to follow up his grave concern on this matter with questions of one form or another and in other parliamentary ways, it is open to him to do so, and I have a hunch that he will.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope that this is in order. I was concerned to read in The Guardian today a statement from Jenny Watson of the Electoral Commission that was based on evidence she gave yesterday. She said that she could not really accept amendments to the alternative vote and boundary change Bill after November and that if their lordships amended it, that would make her life very difficult. Is it right for the head of an Executive agency so to dictate to or tell both the other place and, as their lordships’ amendments come back here, this place what they can and cannot amend and when they can and cannot amend it? You have been very good in bringing Ministers to the House to be held to account by Members, but the Executive consist of more than Ministers; we have these new agencies, the Electoral Commission in this case and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority in others, where there are deep concerns about whether MPs can carry out their duties. This new state within a state just does not seem to be accountable and has an awful lot of influence.

The right hon. Gentleman has made his point, but we cannot have an oration on the matter. We have had a point of order—we are grateful for that—to which I will respond after I have heard from the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mrs Laing).

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I had no idea that the right hon. Gentleman was going to raise it and I have not read the report in The Guardian, but I am a member of that Committee and was at its sitting yesterday morning. What the report describes is not what the chairman of the Electoral Commission said; in fact, it is quite close to a point that I raised in that Committee sitting with the chairman of the Electoral Commission about the significance of the date of 5 November being six months before a proposed referendum. What the right hon. Gentleman has just read from The Guardian is not my recollection of what occurred yesterday, and I thought it was as well to raise that.

Not for the first time, and I am sure not for the last, there is a disagreement on what the evidence is. What I would say to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) and to the hon. Member for Epping Forest is that I am not responsible for what is or, alternatively, is not said by people outside this House. There is, of course, a system for the House to consult external parties, and there is a chance for Members to move amendments on which the views of others have been given. The Bill to which reference is being made is, of course, a Bill that has been committed to a Committee of the whole House, and the situation is that people are free to volunteer their views to the Committee on the Bill. The Select Committee on Political and Constitutional Reform is also conducting an inquiry into the implications of the Bill and, doubtless, it will report any views in due course. I see nothing amiss in what has occurred, but in the course of these brief exchanges the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady have placed their views fairly and squarely on the record.

Bill Presented

Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Lansley, Secretary Michael Gove, Danny Alexander, Mr Mark Hoban, Mr David Gauke and Justine Greening, presented a Bill to make provision about eligibility for a child trust fund; to repeal the Saving Gateway Accounts Act 2009; to make provision about entitlement to health in pregnancy grant; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 73) with explanatory notes (Bill 73-EN).