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Points of Order

Volume 536: debated on Monday 21 November 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Once again, a major policy announcement from the Department for Communities and Local Government has appeared in the newspapers before a statement has been made to the House. I refer in particular to the report on the Financial Times website on Saturday 18 November on the details of the mortgage indemnity scheme, and the front-page report in The Times of the same date about both the mortgage indemnity scheme and right-to-buy discounts. Mr Speaker, you have been consistently clear that statements about policy should be made to the House before they are made anywhere else. What can now be done, given that this is the third occasion when that has not happened in respect of a policy statement from this Department?

Order. Before I respond to the point of order, the Secretary of State is seeking to catch my eye, and I shall listen to him.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to give an assurance to you, Mr Speaker, that what appeared in the Financial Times and The Times on Saturday was not authorised by my Department or by any other Department. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government has explained, putting together policy statements necessarily involves talking to third parties, and it is a matter of some considerable regret that this information was released before we intended. It was our intention to release everything today.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We regularly saw leaking under the previous Government, which was wrong, and I thought that things were going to be put right. Leaks may occur, but that does not explain why Ministers appear in the media and are grilled by journalists before they come to this House. I wonder whether that can be looked at.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State for the point of order. Let me respond as follows. I was interested but concerned to hear the Minister for Housing and Local Government explain the position by saying that, though regrettable, it was not his doing and that those entrusted with the information had let it slip. It is not, I am afraid, a satisfactory excuse for a Minister of the Crown to say, “It wasn’t us but those to whom we gave the information.” Ministers are going to have to think rather carefully about the people to whom they entrust information in future. If they cannot be confident that the confidence will be respected, perhaps they ought not to divulge the information. I know that in these circumstances there is a tendency, particularly among old hands, for there to be a certain amount of smirking on the Front Bench but, frankly, it is not good enough—it is a rank discourtesy to the House of Commons and an abuse of Parliament. That is the reality. I deprecated this under the previous Government, but what happened in previous decades or under earlier Governments does not concern me. What I am concerned about is trying to bring about an improvement now.

Secondly, I say in respect of the point made by the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) that Ministers of course must make judgments about when they appear in the media, but they certainly should not allow themselves to be drawn into the pertinent matters that are to be addressed in the statement. If they now and again felt able to restrain themselves from appearing in the media until after they have addressed the House, I doubt whether either they or the nation would suffer.