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Points of Order

Volume 519: debated on Monday 29 November 2010

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance on a potential issue of contempt. Last Friday, the Clerk of the Home Affairs Committee was contacted by the Press Association to inform him that it was in possession of a recording of a private session of the Committee in which one of our reports was discussed. On Tuesday, we held a public session before going into private session and the live feed remained on, due to a technical problem in Committee Room 5. To its credit, the Press Association agreed not to publish or broadcast the Committee’s deliberations, but instead reported the fact that the feed had remained open. When such a matter occurs, is a news organisation able to broadcast a private session of a Committee, or is that regarded as a contempt? We assumed that it was a contempt, but, as I said, the PA did not broadcast what we said. It would be good to receive clarification on that matter and to hear whether there might be an investigation into the technical matters in Committee Room 5 to ensure that it does not happen again.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. I understand from the advance notification and from what he has just said that there was a technical problem with the recording of his Committee’s meeting last week. There is not really a procedural solution that I can offer him or the House, but I am advised that all necessary steps are being taken to avoid a recurrence. If no harm was done, I am sure that the Committee and its illustrious Chairman will be relieved. In essence, he asked me a hypothetical question—whether it would have been a contempt, and so on and so forth. I think that he is capable of working out such matters for himself. On this occasion, I hope that he will understand it if I adopt the approach of the late Lord Whitelaw, which was that on the whole, judging from experience, he preferred to cross a bridge only when he came to it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to ask for your help as a new MP baffled by the actions of Government Departments that may wish to avoid scrutiny in this place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and I tabled questions for today’s Culture, Media and Sport Question Time on the impact on participation in sport of the proposed abolition of school sport partnerships, which were accepted by the Table Office and drawn in the ballot for answer. Subsequently, the DCMS summarily moved them to other Departments for answer, and having seen today’s Question Time, we may understand why it chose to avoid them. Could you help me understand how that occurred, and would it be possible to look at the current procedures to help prevent Ministers from using them to park matters that they are too embarrassed to deal with, and indeed from further diluting scrutiny of their actions by making such questions eligible only for a written answer?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order. That is a very unfortunate sequence of events, and I am afraid that there are really only two points that I can make to her today. First, the decision as to whether to transfer an oral question from one Department to another is exclusively a matter for the Government. It is not a matter for, for example, the Chair.

Secondly, as I have had reason to state on several previous occasions, I strongly deprecate the practice of late transfer of oral questions by Government Departments. It could have been done earlier. It is very unseemly and very discourteous to Members, and whatever the motivation behind it, it will inevitably fuel the type of suspicion that the hon. Lady has eloquently articulated this afternoon. I am pleased that the Deputy Leader of the House is on the Treasury Bench and will have heard that point. I hope that it will not be necessary continually to repeat it.