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Points of Order

Volume 536: debated on Wednesday 30 November 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House appreciated the almost unprecedented opportunity you gave them yesterday to interrogate a senior Cabinet Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at considerable length. May I ask whether that innovation is a practice that is likely to recur with any regularity?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Each case is, of course, considered on its merits, but what I would say to him and to the House is twofold. First, I am always keen to ensure that as many Back-Bench Members as possible should have the opportunity to question Ministers of the Crown. Secondly, as the House will be conscious, I am insistent that statements of policy should first be made to the House of Commons, not outside it. There have been notable breaches of that established protocol and they are a source of concern. To the hon. Gentleman I say explicitly that yesterday I was particularly keen to ensure a full airing of the issues, not least because I wished to hear whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer had anything to say in the Chamber that he had not already said in the media. I hope that that response to his point of order satisfies the hon. Gentleman’s curiosity.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, you said:

“All hon. Members, including Ministers, are responsible for the content and accuracy of the statements they make to the House. If an error has been made it is the responsibility of the Member who made it to correct it.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 848.]

On Monday, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) said, reported at column 709 of Hansard,

“The shadow Foreign Secretary did not mention Libya once in this whole conversation, and one wonders why”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 709.]

Yet my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) had clearly dealt with Libya, as reported at column 695. Yesterday, I drew that to the hon. Gentleman’s attention, hoping that he would have the courtesy to apologise for inadvertently misleading the House and to set the record straight. I cannot see that he did so in yesterday’s Hansard. Has he indicated to you that he intends to do so today, Mr Speaker? If he has not, how can we ensure that the correct position is placed on the record?

I have had no such indication from the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham. When the right hon. Gentleman asks by what means he can secure redress, I think that he has found his own salvation, courtesy of his point of order. Although I am certainly not going to instruct anybody to come to the House—Members must take responsibility for what they do—there is nothing wrong with apologies from time to time. They are on the whole good for the soul, I think.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During questions on the statement from my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, the hon. Member for Derby North (Chris Williamson) accused this Government and my party of being anti-public service. Given the number of Members on this side of the House who have served our country, for example in schools, hospitals, embassies and all three armed forces, may I ask you whether his comment was in order or should be withdrawn?

I was indulgent to the hon. Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) because I wished to listen to his mellifluous tone, but I have to tell him that nothing disorderly took place, and what he has just put to me—I say this in the most courteous possible way—constitutes not a point of order, but a point of outrage. We will leave it there for today.

It is many years since I raised a point of order, Mr Speaker, but further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), may I say that one of the primary purposes of Parliament is to hold the Executive to account? I as a Back Bencher and, I believe, many Back Benchers on both sides of the House greatly value the opportunity to question Ministers on their statements. Had you not allowed the questioning to continue until after 3 o’clock yesterday, I would not have been called. I am incredibly grateful to you for allowing so many Back Benchers to put the points they wanted to put to the Government.

I thank the hon. Gentleman. The fact that there is a glow of contentment on his face warms the cockles of my heart. I think we should probably quit while we are ahead and move on.