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Points of Order

Volume 536: debated on Monday 28 November 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to seek your advice on the Government’s deliberate and selective leaking of tomorrow’s statement, which has now become, in effect, a crisis Budget. So far we have been treated to Government media announcements on youth unemployment, housing, credit easing, infrastructure spending, schools spending, an energy package and a minor adjustment to the Government’s ferocious squeeze on rail commuters. Ministers from the Chancellor on down have made numerous media appearances confirming the leaks. This morning on the “Today” programme the Chief Secretary to the Treasury refused to discuss the bad bits of tomorrow’s statement, and spent the whole time talking about what he thought were the good bits. The ministerial code requires that Parliament should hear important statements first, and there can be few more important than this. Has not the Government’s disgraceful behaviour over the past few days made a laughing stock of the ministerial code, which is now more honoured in the breach than the observance?

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for that point of order. I have been gravely concerned about these matters, and I can tell the hon. Lady and the House that I have had conversations with senior members of the Government on the subject. I would like at this stage to await events. The House will look forward with interest and respect to hearing the statement by the Chancellor tomorrow, but I remain alert to the concerns that she has raised and shall be looking further into the matter.

I do not want to have a lengthy exchange on this subject—I have given a ruling—so I feel sure that the following point of order, from a Member of Parliament who has served in the House for 28 years and five months without interruption, will, in accordance with precedent, be on a completely different subject.

My point of order is simply this. Having served in this House for 28 years and five months, I would not like you to think, Mr Speaker, that concern about this matter is restricted simply to Opposition Members. Those of us who love Parliament believe that Parliament should come first.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and the terms in which he has said it.

The hon. Gentleman has served for well over 30 years in total, so I am sure that he will observe the precedent even more closely.

I note that you did not mention the exact years and months, Mr Speaker, and I am pleased about that. I wonder whether I might make a helpful suggestion, arising from what my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle) has said from the Dispatch Box. In order to save parliamentary time on Tuesday, and in view of all the leaks that have occurred, would it not be helpful when the Chancellor stands up to make his autumn statement for him merely to say, “I refer hon. Members to the press releases that have already been issued over the past weekend”?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I think it would be very sad if we were to reach that situation, but coming from an hon. Member who first came to the House in 1966, I have to say that there is more than a grain of truth and validity in that observation. Members should take account of it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On the subject of policy being made in the press and with particular regard to the case of auto-enrolment, before the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions left the Dispatch Box, he suggested that policy should be made in the House. Would a written ministerial statement on the changes to the auto-enrolment schedule be in order?

The decision as to whether a policy announcement should be the subject of a written or an oral ministerial statement is, in the first instance and without exception, a decision for the Minister. It is not a matter on which the Chair would adjudicate—and certainly not in advance of any such matter having to be decided. We ought to leave it there.

Unfortunately, it will not now be a point of order; I simply wanted to express my concern about this matter.

Well, there is much meeting of minds—from the Back Benches at any rate—this afternoon. We are grateful to Members for that.