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Points of Order

Volume 534: debated on Tuesday 1 November 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice about the reduction in the time that will now be available for debate on the first group of amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. When we voted on the programme motion yesterday, we did not know that there was to be an important statement from the Home Secretary about gangs and youth violence. The consequence of the statement is that a wholly inadequate two and a quarter hours for debate will now be little more than one hour, barely time for the Front-Bench spokespeople to exchange views. Could you give us advice, Mr Speaker? These are controversial amendments, which deal with the sentencing of the most dangerous people in our community, yet they have been introduced not at 5 minutes to midnight but at 1 minute to midnight, with no debate on Second Reading or in Committee. Is there any way that we can reclaim that time, Mr Speaker, and will you make it clear to Ministers that you will not put up with this abuse of the parliamentary process?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me advance notice of his point of order. I fully understand the frustration expressed about the short time now available for discussing the first group of new clauses on longer sentences. The right hon. Gentleman will know that on the one hand it is in effect up to Ministers when to make statements to the House and that on the other hand I am bound by the terms of the programme motion agreed yesterday by the House. I can only advise him to make his point to the Procedure Committee whose Chairman is lurking, doubtless with intent, at the back of the Chamber, and has now progressed into the main body of the Kirk, for which we are grateful. Others will no doubt also have heard the right hon. Gentleman’s point.

Because this is an immensely serious matter, I would in addition appeal for extreme brevity from the Front Benches—a brevity that we did not witness yesterday—in the debates today, and from Back-Bench colleagues, so that matters of great importance to those outside the House can be properly considered.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Since August I have been in contact with the Home Office about the timing of today’s statement and talking about a cross-party meeting. Last Wednesday I asked the Prime Minister when the gangs report would be published and he said, “When it’s ready.” Yesterday I got an answer to a named-day question which said it would be published soon, yet on Sunday night on The Guardian website it was announced that it would be presented to the House today, and in today’s papers the detail was revealed. I ask your views on this and wonder whether it may be time for the House to throw in the towel and look first to The Guardian website for information about what the Government are doing, rather than expect the courtesy of the House being informed first.

I reiterate what I have said before, which is that Ministers should make key statements to the House first. I would never advise any Member to throw in the towel, as the hon. Lady puts it. There is significant evidence of important statements starting to be made first in the House. Ministers know that when that does not happen, there is a strong possibility of an urgent question application being granted. That did not use to happen; it now happens on a substantial scale, but I think it would be fair to say that achieving progress in these matters is not a matter of an isolated act, but rather of a continuous process. The point of order demonstrates that this is very much work in progress. We have no reason to be complacent. That point is addressed not least, as it has to be, to those on the Treasury Bench.