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Points of Order

Volume 537: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2011

On 6 December, during questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, an hon. Member used language—confirmed by Hansard—that was unsavoury, blasphemous and, many feel, unparliamentary. I have spoken to you about that, Mr Speaker, and out of courtesy and good manners I have made the hon. Member aware of my intention to bring this matter to your attention. Can you, Mr Speaker, look at this matter, check Hansard and request that the hon. Gentleman withdraw the remarks and terminology used on that day?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in giving me notice of his intention to raise his point of order. Moderation and courtesy are, as we all know, required of the language used in the Chamber. I think that that courtesy should extend to sensitivity to and respect for the religious convictions and sensibilities of other Members and of all those listening to and reading our proceedings. It would be desirable for all hon. Members to bear that in mind, even—perhaps especially—in the heat of the moment. I intend to leave the matter there, but I hope that I have been helpful to both the hon. Gentleman and the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have let the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) know that I would be raising in the House his participation in a dinner in France over the weekend before last at which guests toasted the Third Reich and chanted “Hitler, Hitler, Hitler.” These disgraceful events are now being investigated by the French judiciary. May I ask whether it is in order for the hon. Gentleman to retain his position as a member of the Government and for the Prime Minister to have taken no action?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I was not sure how the matter related to the authority of the Chair, but he has raised his concern about conduct outside the Chamber and placed his concern on the record. He will know that membership of the Government, at whatever level, is—perhaps I should say thankfully—not a matter for me.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you notice of my point of order, but in the past few minutes I have given a transcript to the Clerks so that they can give you suitable advice.

A very welcome improvement in the transparency of Government and Parliament has been the publication on departmental websites of the officially recorded meetings that Ministers have with organisations and individuals from the business, public and third sectors. That helps to give the public a feel for who has the ear of Ministers, for good or bad. While it is not a substitute for a proper overhaul of access through lobbyists, and neither does it preclude less official access, as we have seen in recent months, it has helped to some extent with transparency for the public and also for parliamentarians in this House.

Having turned my attention to the recent meetings of such groups and individuals over the past year or so, I am surprised to see a very wide divergence in approach between Departments. Some produce a rolling, live, updated register of meetings with Ministers; some produce a list retrospectively every three or six months; and some run for up to a year before being updated. Indeed, the No. 10 Downing street website has only this week updated its list of meetings, which had not been updated since March 2011. That is surely unconnected with the written parliamentary question that I tabled on 12 December.

Could you give any guidance, Mr Speaker, for Members about the frequency and timeliness of information on meetings with Ministers, as we need to know not only who has been meeting Ministers but to know that information in a timely manner, so that it is of use to us and to our constituents?

The short answer is no. I am an enthusiast for timeliness where Government replies to parliamentary questions are concerned; that is a legitimate preoccupation of the Chair. Timeliness in this context is not a matter for the Chair at all. However, Ministers will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s point. I am sure that he will be gratified that both the Leader of the House and the Deputy Leader of the House are on the Front Bench. I hope that that is helpful to him.

Bill Presented

Passive Flue Gas Systems (Strategy)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Martin Caton, supported by Mr Don Foster, Heidi Alexander, Caroline Lucas, Lorely Burt, Kelvin Hopkins, Bob Russell and Joan Ruddock presented a Bill to require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a strategy for the promotion of passive flue gas heat recovery systems; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 20 January, and to be printed (Bill 261).