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Points of Order

Volume 526: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This relates to unparliamentary language by the Prime Minister, which is why I was keen to make a point of order before he left the Chamber. I apologise if I appeared a little over-insistent. I believe that I heard the Prime Minister accuse me of being misleading, which is unparliamentary language.

I can deal with the point very simply. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer is that nothing unparliamentary was said, but for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman and of the House, let me make clear what a lot of hon. Members know, but some perhaps do not. To accuse someone of misleading the House is unparliamentary and a breach of order. The use of the word “misleading” in the way in which the Prime Minister used it is not unparliamentary or out of order. That is a statement of fact, and I hope that it is helpful both to the hon. Gentleman and to the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There has been some confusion about the use of iPads and other electronic devices both in the Chamber and in Committee, particularly the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill Committee. Will you advise the House of the conclusions of the Procedure Committee on the use of such devices?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it.

I shall deal with this briefly, and in two parts. First, my guidance on the courtesies and conventions of the House states that the House has agreed to the use in the Chamber of hand-held devices to keep up to date with e-mails, provided that they cause no disturbance. All such devices may be switched on as long as they are in silent mode. Members should not use electronic devices as an aide memoire in debate.

Secondly—and the hon. Gentleman referred to this—the Procedure Committee reported last week on this matter and the House will soon want to debate its report. In the meantime, I do not think that the occupant of the Chair can reasonably prevent a Member from discreetly using such a device as an aide memoire in debate. Members should remember to send any notes, electronically or not, to Hansard. I hope—I reiterate this forcefully—that the House will soon reach a view on this in order, apart from anything else, to assist the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In an earlier exchange with the Prime Minister, the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) seemed to imply that he possessed leaked information about a cancellation or compromise of the crisis loans scheme. Will you advise me on how we can get accurate information on this matter, as it has been raised on the Floor of the House?

I have a feeling that the hon. Lady’s expectations of the scope of my powers are unrealistic, however generous-spirited they might be. It is extraordinarily good of her to think that these matters are within my compass, but I fear that unless I am gifted with talents that I do not possess I am unlikely to be able to satisfy her demands on this front. More widely, I would say very simply to her that hon. Members are responsible for their own statements, and if she wishes to follow up the matter with the hon. Member in question she is welcome to do so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the Prime Minister to claim again today that the Government have embarked on the biggest work programme since the great depression? As you will be aware, Mr Speaker, there was no meaningful work programme during the great depression, but what we did have in the 1930s was mass unemployment presided over by a Tory-Liberal coalition.

I may disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I state the truth when I say two things. First, the Prime Minister was in order and, secondly, in his attempted point of order, the hon. Gentleman was not, but he has put his concerns on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I draw your attention to the arrangements for debates organised by the Backbench Business Committee on Tuesday 5 April, which are excellent? I think that all hon. Members will welcome the changes that have been brought about. However, I note that each Member participating in the general debate will receive

“a substantive written reply from the Department to the points raised unless they are dealt with fully in the Deputy Leader of the House’s reply.”

Who will make that adjudication? Let us hope that it is a matter for the Chair.

Of course, it is a matter for individual Members of the House to decide whether they have received a good reply. In fairness, and in the presence of the deputy Leader of the House, who has regularly shown himself, not least recently, to be conscientious in responding to colleagues’ concerns, my hunch would be that if the deputy Leader of the House, whose antennae are sharp, sensed widespread dissatisfaction among Members, he would want to respond to it. As for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the work of the Backbench Business Committee and of the Chair, my cup runneth over. I am extremely grateful to him.

If there are no further points of order, we come to the ten-minute rule motion, for which the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) has been patiently waiting.