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Points of Order

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On yesterday’s Order Paper, a debate was scheduled on coastguards, one of two debates that I had planned to speak in—

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman completes his point of order, may I appeal to hon. and right hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly so that we can proceed with subsequent business, including the point of order.

On yesterday’s Order Paper a debate was scheduled on coastguards, one of two debates that I planned to speak in tomorrow. Today, it is not on the Order Paper. I found out about the change yesterday in a series of Chinese whispers and I was livid, Mr Speaker. I have not heard of a debate being changed at 48 hours’ notice. Coastguards are dismayed that the bread-and butter-issue of jobs is being overlooked in this House. Coastguards have been badly treated by the Committee, which is an alleged Back-Bench Committee, made up of Conservative, Liberal and Labour Members who have utterly dismayed me in their treatment of the coastguards. The name “Back-bench Committee” is utterly wrong. It has made this change on a whim, Mr Speaker—

Order. I have got the point. First, on a point of fact, people can raise points of order and with those points of order I will deal, but we are not referring to the work of an alleged Back-Bench Committee. The Backbench Business Committee is established, it is functioning in an orderly way and it is chaired extremely assiduously and conscientiously. I will not have aspersions cast on the work of the Committee. I will not have that in this Chamber.

On the point of order, let me simply say to the hon. Gentleman that I am grateful to him for giving me notice and I understand his extremely strong feeling on this matter on behalf of his constituents and on behalf of others as well. I understand that the coastguards debate is now scheduled for a three-hour debate on Thursday 24 March—

Order. The leader of the Scottish National party must not chunter at the Chair from a sedentary position in that way. It is very uncharacteristic of him and quite unnecessary. That three-hour debate will take place in Westminster Hall. As the House knows—the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), who is an experienced Member, can certainly not claim to be unaware of this—the order of business is not determined by the Chair. The hon. Gentleman is free to raise the matter with the Backbench Business Committee if he wishes. The Chair of the Committee is in her place, and although I will not have a whole series of exchanges on this—that would not be right—if the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), who chairs the Committee, wishes to respond to the point of order and to offer explanation or clarification to the House, she is perfectly welcome to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I thank the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) for giving me notice of his intention to raise his point of order. I do not want to go into the difficulties of scheduling business, but I want to say that the Committee absolutely emphatically recognises the importance of the coastguards debate. Far from cancelling it, we rescheduled it in order to protect the full three hours of debate that it so clearly deserves. However, the notice given was very short, and I apologise for that, and I deeply regret any inconvenience that this rescheduling has caused to any Member of the House. Parliamentary business changes at a moment’s notice, but I do regret any inconvenience caused to the hon. Gentleman.

Order. I see other members of the Backbench Business Committee bidding to catch my eye. I just said that I am not going to have a protracted exchange on this; that would not be right or a proper use of the time of the House. I think I can say, and will command general assent for this proposition, that we have had a very clear and gracious response from the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. Other Members may agree with it or they may disagree with it; such is the stuff of democracy. But a point of order was very properly raised by the hon. Gentleman; I have responded to it; the hon. Lady has said her piece. It is not a continuing debate. The position is clear, and that is the end of the matter.

Order. I have made the position very clear. It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. He asked his question, in order, he raised the point of order and I have responded to it. There has been a further come-back on the point of order. I think most Members of the House would accept that the matter has been properly aired in the Chamber this afternoon.

On an unrelated point of order, Mr Jim Shannon.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, I thank the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) for her response; I understand that. On the procedure, given that the coastguards issue was to be debated, and that it was on the annunciator at 10 am this morning, is it in order for the business listed in Tuesday’s Order Paper—

Order. I am sorry; I do not wish to be unkind. The hon. Gentleman is an extremely assiduous new Member. I very clearly said, “On an unrelated point of order.” We are not continuing this exchange. So, nice try, but I am afraid it is not in order. I shall take any unrelated points of order.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On Channel 4 news yesterday evening, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change described 50 kW as “an enormous amount of power. That’s the equivalent of 1,500 domestic roofs.” That is just plain wrong, and either this is startling incompetence by the Government or they have based their review of solar feed-in tariffs on a completely false premise. The review is already causing uncertainty; these comments make it worse. I wonder, Mr Speaker, whether you can use your good offices to ensure that the Secretary of State clarifies the Government’s position to this House and to the public as quickly as possible.

As the hon. Lady knows—and as far as I am concerned, this is very fortunate—the content of ministerial statements or answers is not a matter for the Chair. If a Minister has made an incorrect statement, there is a procedure for setting the record straight, and that will be well known to all Members on the Treasury Bench. Meanwhile, the hon. Lady has put her concerns and her interpretation of the facts very clearly on the record, and that statement and interpretation will have been heard by Ministers.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is a matter that is causing great concern within the country, but on which the Government are silent in this House: the alleged conduct of certain official representatives of this country who are cultivating friendships with some of the emergent tyrannies in the world, including Azerbaijan. Should we not also be debating in this House whether we choose our trade representatives on the principle of inheritance?

There is every opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise this matter at business questions tomorrow, and he may well choose to do so. I have got a feeling that he will be hot-footing it to the salon, as the Leader of the House describes it, of the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire, who chairs the Backbench Business Committee, because I think the hon. Gentleman will probably be pursuing a debate on this matter in that Committee’s time.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, I apologised to the House and I wish to make a further apology. Yesterday, I apologised for suggesting that the reason why the Liberals had come sixth was because the nationalists and the—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I listened very carefully to what he said yesterday. He is very dexterous in his use of parliamentary language and he has a great sense of humour, but what he must not do—I say this in all seriousness—is abuse the point of order procedure to make apologies that transpire to be nothing of the kind and are really carefully crafted partisan points which suit his book. I cannot believe that he would ordinarily want to do that, but I think he was planning to do it today and I cannot allow him to continue with it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On two occasions during Prime Minister’s Question Time—both this week and in previous weeks—the Prime Minister has asserted that money that is going to be released by reform of the coastguard service will be redirected into front-line rescue missions. However, this is actually done by charitable organisations such as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and it is unclear as to how the transfer will take place. Would it be in order to request that the Minister responsible provide either a written or an oral statement to the House to clarify the link between the two?

The decision on whether to make a statement is a matter for the Government, as is the form that the statement takes. Otherwise, my earlier remarks about the procedure for correcting ministerial inaccuracies apply to the hon. Lady’s point of order.

If there are no further points of order, we will move on to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) has been patiently waiting.