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Points of Order

Volume 517: debated on Monday 25 October 2010

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House will recall that on 5 July the Secretary of State for Education announced the closure of the Building Schools for the Future scheme and the cancellation of 700 school building projects. Six hundred had reached financial close and were described in a list published by the Department as “unaffected”. However, last Friday local authorities received phone calls to tell them to make 40% efficiencies in those projects, threatening to throw local plans into chaos.

On the “Politics Show” yesterday the Education Secretary said that schools were informed back in July of the potential for further large-scale cuts. However, councillors in Salford, Leicester and Nottingham dispute that claim, which is at odds with the statement given to this House back in July that the remaining projects would be “unaffected”. There is a great deal of confusion in communities throughout the country about Building Schools for the Future. The projects matter greatly to children and teachers in those communities and to Members in this House, so I request through you, Mr Speaker, that the Education Secretary makes an urgent statement to the House to clarify matters.

I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for his point of order. I confess that here and now I detect nothing on which I should rule. That is a narrow interpretation of my responsibility, but it is a direct response to the point of order that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. I have heard very clearly what he has said. He has in a sense put his request for a statement on the record. That will have been heard by Members on the Treasury Bench, and I hope that it is helpful, both to the right hon. Gentleman and to others who have expressed an interest, if I remind the House that there is an upcoming debate on the comprehensive spending review, within which the concerns articulated by the right hon. Gentleman will doubtless be more fully aired.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You will understand the distress and concern that has been caused in Salford as a result of a telephone call that came out of the blue at the end of last week, saying that our Building Schools for the Future programme might be cut by 40%. I ask you to convey to the Secretary of State the deep concern that people have and the gravity of the need for him to respond. I shall ask him for an urgent meeting to discuss the matter with people from Salford, and I just ask that you, Mr Speaker, ensure that he is fully aware of the distress that the matter has caused.

I note what the right hon. Lady says and certainly do not treat it with levity, but I am not convinced that I am, in this situation, a better conveyor belt than the right hon. Lady herself. She has just registered her concern and conveyed her message to the Secretary of State, and in those circumstances I do not think that I need to do so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Wednesday last week, at column 986 of Hansard, the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) may have given the wrong impression to the House by implying that in the European Parliament Labour MEPs had supported an increase in the EU budget. That is not the case, nor did they vote for the EU to have tax-raising powers. I say that to set the record straight.

The hon. Gentleman has done so—doubtless to his own satisfaction and, possibly, to that of others.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has assured the House that no decision has been taken on the future of RAF Lossiemouth. However, defence documents have been forwarded to me indicating that the Air Force top brass favours RAF Marham as the main future base for Tornado aircraft. Such a decision would decimate the Moray economy, cut armed forces numbers in Scotland by 25% and concentrate the RAF in the south of England. Given how important an issue this is for service families, for Moray and for the whole of Scotland, has the Ministry of Defence confirmed when an official announcement will be made in this House?

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning I received an answer to a written question from the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker). My concern about the answer is that it refers to only half my constituency, when my question referred to the whole of it. Inasmuch as there has been a boundary change, the answer refers to the part of my constituency which was formerly in the old Gateshead East and Washington West seat and totally ignores the half that was in the constituency of Tyne Bridge. I am a bit concerned not only from my perspective, but for all hon. Members, because we are anticipating 600 boundary changes some time in the future.

The hon. Gentleman is proving that he is fastidious to a fault, and what I can say by way of advice and assistance is that I feel sure that a quick visit to the Table Office will yield a benefit to him, not least if he seeks to table further questions, as I suspect perhaps he might.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is time that we investigated the appallingly vacuous answers that we are having to parliamentary questions. They are the worst answers I can remember in 25 years in this House. I will give just one example from last Wednesday, when I asked a question on the number of desertions from the Afghan army and police. That is a matter of great importance for our soldiers in Afghanistan, because our whole exit strategy is based on a strong army. The answer that appeared made no reference whatsoever to the substance of the question asked. This is becoming increasingly common. The Government seem to be systematically leaking on a more incontinent basis than any other previous Government, and they are not answering questions; they are now treating this Parliament with disrespect.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Lest others who listen to our proceedings are not aware of it, I can remind them, or inform them for the first time, that the hon. Gentleman is the author of a well-thumbed tome entitled “Commons Knowledge: How to be a Backbencher”. Over the years, he and I have both tabled very large numbers of questions, but I have to say to him, with some relief, that I have never been responsible for the content or quality of the answers under successive Governments.

The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, but it is not one, as I think he knows, on which I can rule. What I will say to him is twofold. First, the Leader of the House is sitting on the Treasury Bench and will have heard very clearly the plaintive representation that he has made. Secondly, as an inquiry is currently being conducted, or is shortly to be conducted, into the subject of parliamentary questions and ministerial answers under the auspices of the Procedure Committee, if memory serves me correctly, the hon. Gentleman, with his vast experience and many examples, might wish to submit evidence to that Committee. I think that that would be useful.

Further to the point of order on the Building Schools for the Future programme, Mr Speaker. If it is the case that there have been significant changes to money that was allocated in July, can you make sure that there is information in the Library prior to Wednesday’s debate on the comprehensive spending review?

Ministers will have heard the request that the hon. Lady has made. I have noted it myself, and it does not seem unreasonable. I cannot continue now the debate and exchanges that have already taken place, but I am grateful to her and to all hon. Members.

Mr Nuttall addressed the House for over an hour on Friday, but he feels a great thirst to raise a point of order, and of course I shall hear it.

Further to the point of order on parliamentary questions, Mr Speaker. If I may assist, I understand that an e-mail has already been circulated from the Procedure Committee asking for any problems to be submitted to it.