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Points of Order

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 23 June 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) is the lead Member on one of the motions we are debating later, but yesterday a pager message was sent out to Conservative MPs cancelling all leave and requiring them to come and vote against the Back-Bench motion this afternoon. Is there any way that the hon. Gentleman, who is a Conservative Member of Parliament, can be forced by the Conservative Whips to withdraw or vote against his own motion, and what would happen in those circumstances?

First of all, I do not entertain hypothetical questions. Secondly, that is not a point of order and, thirdly, I say—with an audible sigh of relief—that I am not responsible for the conduct of the Whips.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have heard my question to the Leader of the House about the accountability of the Government on women and equalities matters. He said that the arrangements had not changed at all, but I dispute that. I do not believe that the previous Government ever transferred oral questions on women and equalities to other Government Departments—and certainly not with the frequency that this Government are doing so. Is there something that you can do to protect the rights of Back Benchers to hold the Government to account on issues of women and equalities? At present, we do not have a Select Committee, we have only 15 minutes for questions, there are no topical questions and Ministers are not answering questions if they do not like them.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for advance notice of her intention to raise it. She has put her views very firmly and explicitly on the record. There is very little I can do about this matter, but let me say to her that I have considerable sympathy with Members who seek to ask oral questions on what might be described as cross-cutting subjects. As she and the House are aware, transfers are a matter for the Government, but I am sure that her point of order will have been noted. When a Member tables an orderly question to a Department in respect of that Department’s responsibilities, it is unfortunate if it is transferred and we need to keep an eye on the matter. The hon. Lady should seek the advice of the Table Office before the next oral questions to the Minister for Women and Equalities.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to the point that was raised in questions to the Leader of the House by the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), there is still the remaining issue of how to deal with the fact that the Government are regularly briefing the press before briefing the House of Commons. [Interruption.] Many of us also deprecated it when it was done by the Labour Government. I realise that it is very difficult for you to exercise any direct powers in relation to the Government, but this is a question not only of supply but of demand. Might I suggest that any journalist whom you find has written an article saying, “Tomorrow, the Government will announce that…” should have their pass withdrawn so that they cannot work in the House any longer?

Let me say to the hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced Member of the House, that it is extremely naughty of him to tempt me in that way. I think he should be careful about such an approach. The wider point he raises has been raised a number of times in the past couple of weeks. I have made my views about it extremely clear in the House and in the conversations that inevitably take place about these matters. I think it is extremely important that the responsibility of Government to explain and answer first to Parliament is accepted and that effect is given to it. It would be very unfortunate if a regular pattern of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has been complaining about were to develop. If, in extremis, this were to continue to happen, and as a consequence the Government’s own business were to be damaged or lost as a result of what might be described as retaliatory action, that would of course be very unfortunate.