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Points of Order

Volume 534: debated on Thursday 27 October 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I bow to no one in my admiration for the BBC “Today” programme, but it is not the forum in which Ministers should make important announcements. Today the Minister for Housing and Local Government, asserting that the big problem for 8 million social tenants is a lack of mobility, has launched HomeSwap Direct, a website—it is not so much “on your bike” now, but “on your website.” Had the Minister come to the House, we could have debated collapsing house building, soaring rents, a mortgage market where no one can get mortgages, and the big problem of rapidly rising unemployment where there are no jobs to move to. Has the Housing Minister indicated his intention to do the House the courtesy of coming to the House to make the announcement?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer is that I received no notification of any intention by a Minister to make a statement on this subject. Off the top of my head, and without undertaking inquiries, I know the hon. Gentleman and the House will appreciate that it is difficult for me authoritatively to adjudicate on this matter. The reason why I say that is that I do not know at this stage whether what has happened is merely the launch of a statement, or the fulfilment of a policy commitment made on a previous occasion, or whether this is a new initiative of which the House should first have been informed, but as the hon. Gentleman would expect me to do, I shall assume the role of a detective and look into the matter, better to inform myself, and perhaps the hon. Member when I have done so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would not wish to have visited this on your head, but unfortunately the Scottish National party Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) repeated a calumny in the House recently, accusing a Member of threatening another Member, I believe without telling the Members that they were going to be named. I believe the Committee has met since then, and unfortunately the Leader of the House was not informed of the outcome of the formal meeting of the Select Committee, which clarified and, quite frankly, exonerated the Chair of that Committee of any threatening behaviour. Since it has been repeated in the House, can I ask you to look into this matter and call the SNP Member back to apologise on the Floor of the House? It is not politics; it is abuse of the House we are talking about here.

The hon. Gentleman was doing nicely until he approached the conclusion of his remarks. There are two real points here. First, a Member who is planning to denounce the conduct or impugn the integrity of another Member should notify that Member in advance. Secondly, the issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers is properly the property of the Select Committee, which, I understand, has indeed deliberated upon it. The hon. Gentleman has used his point of order to offer his own admonishment of the hon. Member who he thinks has misbehaved. I do not think that further action by me at this time is required, but the hon. Gentleman has correctly put on record the fact that the Select Committee has had a discussion about the matter. If the hon. Gentleman will understand, I think it is perfectly reasonable now that we leave it there.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that very often a generic issue arises out of the very specific, and I wish to raise a generic issue and seek your guidance. The guidance I seek is on the necessity for accuracy in facts that are used in debates. Very often the interpretation of facts will differ, but facts are very important. Yesterday, in the course of a debate, a number of Labour local authorities were derided for, in the words of the hon. Member—I said the point is generic, so I will not name the individual—their “appalling and terrible” record on recycling. My own local authority was mentioned in the list, with a 33% rate of recycling. That was inaccurate; the actual rate is 51%. I request guidance from you, Mr Speaker, and possibly from “Erskine May”, on the need for accuracy, or alternatively, the need for Members to return to the House to correct the record, because I suspect that the other Labour local authorities named also have admirable recycling records and would want Hansard to reflect that accurately.

There are two simple points in response to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. First, all Members take responsibility for, and are responsible for, the content of the statements that they make in the House. Secondly, it is of course desirable that facts adduced are indeed facts, but I know that the hon. Gentleman, who is a very experienced Member, will understand when I say that if there were to be complete agreement as to the particular facts on any issue, let alone all issues, I have a feeling we would be witnessing the end of the House of Commons—and that isn’t going to happen.

If the appetite of Members for raising points of order—actual or contrived—has now been exhausted, we can proceed to the main business.