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Points of Order

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 7 March, the Prime Minister stood with the chairman of Bombardier and said:

“I am bringing the Cabinet to Derby today with one purpose—to do everything we can to help businesses in the region create the jobs and growth on which the future of our economy depends.”

People are now asking whether the Prime Minister already knew that his Government were planning to give the Thameslink order to Germany, costing thousands of jobs, so I asked the Prime Minister in a written question when he knew the outcome of the procurement. His reply, tabled yesterday, does not answer the question, but refers to an irrelevant answer to a different question tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Margaret Beckett). Is there anything that you can do, Mr Speaker, to get the Prime Minister to give a factual answer to a factual question, or should we assume that he has something to hide?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving me advance notice of it. He came into the House long before I did; he is a seasoned campaigner and a man of great wisdom and experience. He will therefore know that I am not responsible—I say this with some relief—for anything that the Prime Minister might say or do. That is well beyond my ken. The right hon. Gentleman has placed his concerns on the record, and I am sure that he will find other methods, through the use of the Order Paper and other parliamentary processes, of further registering his views and probing the Prime Minister.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking your guidance because we are due to have an Opposition day debate tomorrow whose title is as yet totally unspecified. That means that members of the public who wish to attend the debate will have had no notice of the subject, and hon. Members who might wish to prepare for the debate have no cognisance of it. I understand that 48 hours’ notice is normally given of such debates and their titles. May we seek your guidance on why that courtesy is not being extended to us?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. For some hours, the PoliticsHome website has been reporting details of the wording of tomorrow’s motion, yet when I went to inquire where the motion was, I found a queue of Members doing the same thing and we were told that it had not yet been tabled. Should not the rule be that the motion is tabled here first and then put into the media? Is it not time that the recommendation of the Wright Committee that 48’ hours notice should always be given was referred to the Procedure Committee?

I note what the hon. Gentleman has said in support of the point of order raised by the hon. Member for St Albans (Mrs Main). There is inevitably a certain amount of letting off steam in points of order, but the simple factual position is that this is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman asked a normative question about what the rule should be. That is a matter for the House to decide; I have no power in these matters. It is commonplace for some notice to be given, but that is not an unfailing practice. It is for the Member in charge of the motion to decide on the timing of its tabling, in keeping with such rules of the House as apply, but there has been no breach of order in this case. The concern has been registered and will have been heard—

In a moment. The hon. Gentleman has had one bite; he must not be too greedy. I call Mr John McDonnell.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. A letter has gone from the Ministry of Justice today to chief probation officers around the country informing them that the core functions of probation services are to be put out to tender. This is the wholesale privatisation of probation services—possibly the most significant change in probation practice in this country since the service’s foundation. There has been no ministerial statement or written ministerial statement, so may I through you, Mr Speaker, suggest to the Government that this matter is of such import that there should have been at least a written ministerial statement on it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for advance notice of it. The short answer to the query he raised and the concern he expressed is that I have not been informed of any oral statement on this matter today. I had understood—and, at the time of speaking, I do understand—that there will be a written ministerial statement from the Ministry of Justice about public bodies, but I have not seen the contents of it. I say what I do with some care because it is my best understanding at the moment. If I am wrong or if the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied, he can return to the matter. I am sure that he will in any case find other ways of pursuing it.

No day would be complete without a point of order from the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash). We will come to him; I am saving him up; we look forward to hearing him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The only statement that has come out today has been the consultation paper on reforms proposed in the Public Bodies Bill. The probation service is not covered by that Bill or by the paper itself. I want to emphasise again, through you, Mr Speaker, that this is a significant matter that warrants a ministerial statement of some sort.

There are other ways of pursuing the matter. The hon. Gentleman can do so through the use of the Order Paper. I add that we have business questions on Thursday, so if there is no route before then that satisfies the hon. Gentleman, I will look out for him on that occasion.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the Opposition motion is likely to be

“That this House believes that it is in the public interest for Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation to withdraw their bid for BSkyB”,

would it be in order for the shadow Leader of the House to rise and tell us whether that is the case, as doing so would be a courtesy to the House?

The hon. Gentleman is a persistent and indefatigable fellow, but I need to say two things to him. First, that is not the way we go about the confirmation of business in this place. Secondly, although it is extraordinarily generous of the hon. Gentleman to refer me to the PoliticsHome website, I am not among those who browse it with any frequency. [Interruption.] “Very wise” says a Government Whip on the Treasury Bench; I suppose Government Whips know about these matters. I think it was the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) who volunteered that helpful advice to me.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have the problems with the Division bells in Portcullis House been sorted out? Would you be good enough to look into the matter, Mr Speaker, as last night a number of problems led to significant delay. Has it been sorted out; is the root cause being investigated?

I was not aware that there was a problem; I am now. I hope that there is not still a problem. I have known the hon. Gentleman for at least 13 or 14 years and the thought that he might, as a result of some failure, miss a vote is something that saddens me. Whether the same would be said of him by the Government Whips is a matter of legitimate speculation and conjecture. We will leave it there for today.