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Points of Order

Volume 520: debated on Tuesday 14 December 2010

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Moray is the most defence-dependent community in the UK, and the Government have already announced the closure of RAF Kinloss in the region, while the future of neighbouring RAF Lossiemouth has been under review. It has now been widely reported that the Royal Air Force has made a recommendation for the retention of RAF Lossiemouth, which would reflect the strong defence and financial arguments in its favour. Unfortunately, it appears that RAF Leuchars in Fife is now being considered for closure. Has the Ministry of Defence given any indication that it will make a statement on those recommendations, as we need an end to uncertainty both in Moray and in Fife?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You have gone out of your way to emphasise that when important Government decisions are announced, they should be announced in the House and not in any other way. The issue of Royal Air Force bases in Scotland and elsewhere appears to have been the subject of a number of leaks. I have no notion where these leaks come from, but there is no doubt that they add to speculation and to the kind of uncertainty that the hon. Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) mentioned in his application for a debate under Standing Order No. 24. I hope you might take the opportunity today, Mr Speaker, to reinforce your belief that when important announcements are to be made, they should be made to this House and not elsewhere.

We will have a last go from Mr Fitzpatrick on a point of order, then I will respond to them all.

I am grateful, Mr Speaker. Much of air-sea rescue is delivered by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force, but some is delivered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. It is suggested that the coastguard service’s stations and the bases run by the MCA will be cut. That is a major statement which the Government ought to make to the House, rather than have it leaked by the MOD, the Financial Times, a civil servant or whoever. I strongly support my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty) and right hon. and hon. Members who ask that the Government explain to the House the future of the air-sea rescue service.

The hon. Members for Moray (Angus Robertson) and for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell) have all raised extremely important points of order on the back of the speech in support of the application for a Standing Order No. 24 Adjournment debate.

First, I am conscious of press commentary, not least because of what right hon. and hon. Members have said, but I think it fair to point out that there is sometimes a difference between press commentary and speculation on the one hand, and a firm Government decision on the other. Secondly, I note the presence of two responsible Ministers in the Chamber, which I think is appreciated by the House. I noted that when the point was made about statements needing to be made to the House, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) was nodding vigorously his assent to that proposition.

The last point that I would make, specifically responding to the right hon. and learned Member for North East Fife, is that he is right. If a decision has been made, it should be reported timeously to the House so that the responsible Minister is subject to scrutiny. I hope the House will understand if I say today that I am not in a position to issue a verdict, but the point has been made forcefully. I hope it will have been heard on the Treasury Bench and that all proper procedures will be followed in this matter. I hope they will be, and I am quite sure, in light of the experience and perspicacity of the Members who raised their concerns, that if there were anything amiss or awry, those Members and others would bring it to my attention and that of the House before very long.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if you can assist me. The court closure announcement that we heard just now was, in the case of Welsh courts, predicated on back maintenance figures which proved to be 100% inflated. Even on the second attempt to correct them, they were completely inaccurate. Were the announcement made outside the Chamber, I would say that it was justiciable. What can I do about this? I feel badly let down by the process.

The hon. Gentleman is seeking to continue the debate. I understand his frustration. My advice to him is that he should look for an opportunity to air his concerns in the Chamber. As he is aware, there is an innovative version of the Christmas Adjournment debate taking place under the auspices of the Backbench Business Committee next week. He might want to view that as an opportunity. There are opportunities in Westminster Hall. There will be further opportunities at Question Time. In the meantime, the hon. Gentleman has reminded his constituents of the importance that he attaches to the matter.