Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 524: debated on Monday 28 February 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw the House’s attention to my earlier declaration of interest. During questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Minister for Housing and Local Government said that I misrepresented his policy on the new homes bonus. He claimed that he had equalised the payment for new homes built, but that is simply not the case. The new homes bonus matches the council tax for each new home built over six years. The council tax for each band is averaged; the payment per home is not. The Library has produced research that supports the case that I made with regard to Hull and to Kensington and Chelsea. Will you, Mr Speaker, advise me and the House on how the Minister can correct the record?

I am very grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of what she intended to raise and has, indeed, now raised. She has put her point on the record, and she will have other ways of pursuing her concern about the matter. I must advise her, however, that it is not a procedural matter on which I can rule this afternoon.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister, during his statement, referred to a meeting yesterday of the Privy Council, which has frozen Libyan assets. I do not object to the freezing of Libyan assets—quite the contrary—but I wonder whether you, Mr Speaker, have had any notice of any parliamentary procedure to approve that particular motion, because the Prime Minister did not refer to one during his contribution. Clearly, Parliament must have a role in any decision of that magnitude.

The hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. Indeed, it is so important and so deserving of serious consideration that it would be a gross discourtesy for me to respond now, thoughtlessly, inadequately and, from the vantage point of the hon. Gentleman and the House, disappointingly, so I will not. I will reflect on the matter, and I might come back to the hon. Gentleman, who has, on the strength of his nearly 28 years’ experience of the House, put his own thoughts on the matter very clearly on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Of course, I fully agree with the stricture that you laid on us earlier in relation to naming members of the royal family, but I am sure that, in reading “Erskine May”, you will agree with me that the only reference to the matter is:

“The irregular use of the Queen’s name to influence a decision of the House is unconstitutional in principle and inconsistent with the independence of Parliament.”

I presume it must therefore still be perfectly possible for us to criticise members of the royal family when they play a particular role as a trade ambassador for this country on behalf of UK Trade & Investment, and that it will be possible for us to table written parliamentary questions on that matter?

My understanding, off the top of my head, is that the hon. Gentleman is correct. He is an assiduous follower of the use of language, and I think that he will recall that in making my observation, I emphasised the importance of treating these matters with great care, and said that on the whole it is preferable if references to members of the royal family are both sparing and respectful. I think, however, that the entitlement to raise matters which, in a sense, he is pleading in evidence, is undisputed, and his understanding of “Erskine May” on this occasion—as, I have to admit, it is on most occasions—is notably accurate.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As more and more universities are planning to do the Government’s bidding and charge the full £9,000 in tuition fees, last week the Government announced yet another delay to their higher education White Paper, and also raised the prospect of even deeper cuts to teaching and research funding. That White Paper, which has at its core the future of student numbers, is fundamental to the future financial health of our universities. Although it increasingly appears that it is being written by Walter Mitty, nevertheless it is surely the responsibility of the House to give it proper consideration. Can you bring any clarity to the House, Mr Speaker, as to when we might be able to debate that White Paper?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman’s inquiry is no, but I note that the Leader of the House is in his place. The hon. Gentleman, who has become rather a seasoned professional at raising matters of this kind, the better to advance his case, has obviously decided that today should be no exception. He has registered his concerns very forcefully, and it may be that he will hasten the day when satisfaction becomes his due; we shall see.

If there are no further points of order, for which there has been quite an appetite after the half-term break—I suppose that that is to be expected—we now come to the main business, which is a debate on the big society. Before we get under way, perhaps I can explain a number of things. First, the amendment that was tabled has not been selected. Secondly, there will be a 15-minute limit on the opening Back-Bench speech, as the hon. Gentleman who is about to deliver it is aware. Thirdly, there will be an eight-minute limit on each subsequent Back-Bench speech.