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Points of Order

Volume 523: debated on Thursday 17 February 2011

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In a response to a question that I asked yesterday about 150 job losses at the Department for International Development’s East Kilbride office in my constituency, the International Development Secretary said:

“DFID is not immune from the cuts and will see reductions of some 33% in its administrative spend. I had the opportunity of speaking to all the staff at Abercrombie house just a few days ago to make sure that that was understood.”—[Official Report, 16 February 2011; Vol. 523, c. 947.]

In making that statement, the Secretary of State suggested that he had broken the news of the job losses personally. In actual fact, he visited the office in East Kilbride on 3 February—a week before the job losses were announced. May I ask for your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, on how we can correct what was probably an inadvertent mistake by the Secretary of State and set the record straight?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order. The Leader of the House will have heard his comments and, I am sure, be able to pass them on, but I also suggest that the hon. Gentleman goes to the Table Office specifically with a request on how he can pursue the matter through the House in order to clarify the situation.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On the protection of Back Benchers’ rights, those of us who attend departmental questions regularly are becoming increasingly worried by the way in which Government Whips systematically organise the tabling of questions. Today, if one looks at the Order Paper, one sees that eight questions—eight out of 25—all ask:

“How many apprenticeship starts there have been in the academic year 2010-11”.

We all know that Government Whips use that method to block off other questions; I know it goes on, and I think you know it goes on, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the Whips are going to use it, however, could they be more inventive? They could at least ask people to ask different questions. Indeed, could we not have a method whereby if eight questions are tabled, we take just the first two and exclude the rest? The current situation is an abuse of Back-Bench freedoms.

The tabling of questions is not one of the responsibilities of the Chair, but I am sure that all Members heard the hon. Gentleman’s observations. Seeing as he has a proposal for dealing with the point, I suggest that he ask the Procedure Committee to consider whether the issue is within its remit. It is certainly not within mine as a Deputy Speaker.

(Derby North): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In response to a question about atomic veterans from my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) at the most recent Defence questions, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), inadvertently misled the House when he said that

“the courts have found that there is no causal link whatever between many of the disabilities and illnesses suffered and exposure to any radiation.”—[Official Report, 31 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 573.]

The truth is that the courts have made no such finding, and all attempts to get the Minister to correct the record have so far proved unsuccessful. Could I therefore ask you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to remind Ministers of the importance of correcting the record when they get their facts wrong?

I hope that no Member needs to be urged by the Chair to correct the record if they felt that something they had said in the Chamber was not correct. I feel that the hon. Gentleman is trying to open up the debate again, but, if he wants to pursue the issue, I would give him the same advice as I gave a few moments ago: he should pursue with the Table Office the question of how to ensure that it is clarified. All Members—Ministers and Back Benchers—are responsible for what they say, however, not the Chair.