Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 530: debated on Tuesday 21 June 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have today, for the second week in a row, had a written statement, followed by a prime ministerial press conference, followed by an oral statement. Last week it was on the Health and Social Care Bill, today it was on sentencing and legal aid. It is pretty unusual to have two statements on the same subject on the same day, but do you share my concern that it is discourteous to the House, because it means that the media have a chance to question Ministers on policy—the Prime Minister in the last two cases—before Members of this House get the chance to ask questions? As such, it is not in keeping with the spirit of our rules.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for notice of it. I have made clear my view that important announcements of policy should be made first to this House, with the opportunity of questioning Ministers. Although I understand the pressures of the 24/7 news agenda, that remains my firm view. I am therefore uneasy at sequences of events in which a written ministerial statement is followed, or even preceded, by briefing outside the House, with the opportunity to question Ministers in the House by means of an urgent question or following an oral statement coming only some time later.

The House will recall that, on 20 July last year, it asked the Procedure Committee to consider whether the rules of the House should be changed. The Committee reported in February, and the Government’s reply was published a month ago. There are thus matters awaiting resolution by the House itself. In the meantime, the right hon. Gentleman may be assured that I will remain vigilant in the House’s interests, and will be ready to use my powers to permit questioning or debate if I see fit to do so, and indeed for such period as I see fit. I hope that is helpful.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to show that there are concerns on both sides of the House, and to tell the shadow Leader of the House that I did not think he went far enough. Last night on Sky News, Jon Craig reported not only the detail of the statement but the media schedule. The policy was also reported in this morning’s newspaper. That clearly cannot be in order under current practices.

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I think that the House will have noted it as well. I do not think I need to add to what he has said, but I am nevertheless grateful to him.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We shall shortly be considering a very important motion on the recommittal of the Health and Social Care Bill, and I understand that the Secretary of State for Health is not going to be here to move it and be questioned on it. Have you had any communication from the Secretary of State about his presence or otherwise, or has he simply resigned or gone out looking for another job before he is pushed?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I would simply say that no, I have had no indication on that matter. Of course, she and I came into the House together in 1997, and she will be as aware as I am that precisely who moves motions on the part of the Government is a matter for the Government. I think I know the Minister who is going to move the motion, and if he wants to respond he is perfectly welcome to do so. He is under no obligation, but he may.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It might help you and the hon. Member for Warrington North (Helen Jones) if I point out that the precedents for recommittals are not that common, but that if one looks at the previous recommittal, it was done in 2003, by the then Minister of State, one Mr Tony McNulty.

I am grateful to the Minister of State. I think that we will leave that as a no-score draw or a score draw, as the case may be. I am happy to take any further points of order, but if the House’s appetite has been satisfied, we will move on.

Bill Presented

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary Kenneth Clarke, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Secretary May, Mr Secretary Lansley, the Attorney-General and Mr Jonathan Djanogly, presented a Bill to make provision about legal aid; to make further provision about funding legal services; to make provision about costs and other amounts awarded in civil and criminal proceedings; to make provision about sentencing offenders, including provision about release on licence or otherwise; to make provision about bail and about remand otherwise than on bail; to make provision about the employment, payment and transfer of persons detained in prisons and other institutions; to make provision about penalty notices for disorderly behaviour and cautions; and to create new offences of threatening with a weapon in public or on school premises.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 205) with explanatory notes (Bill 205—EN).