Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 539: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Backbench Business Committee, at its meeting yesterday, decided to amend tomorrow’s business slightly to include a pre-EU Council topical debate at the beginning of its proceedings. Unfortunately, this means that we have had to postpone the presentation of a report by the Chair of the Public Administration Committee.

Mr Speaker, could you give me some advice? Given that the Backbench Business Committee is unable to make an emergency business statement to inform the House of this change of business at such short notice, how do I best go about doing so?

As I would have expected, the hon. Lady has provided her own salvation. The information is on the record and the House is grateful to the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning the Government lost their appeal against a High Court ruling that the cuts to solar tariff payments are legally flawed. The Government have spent at least £66,000, cost social housing providers perhaps at least £1 million and created even more uncertainty, putting thousands of jobs at risk. Have you have received any indication at all from Ministers at the Department of Energy and Climate Change that they intend to come to the House and make a statement, explaining how they plan to clear up the mess that they have created?

The short answer is that I have received no such indication or communication from a DECC Minister, but I just have a sense—I do not know why; perhaps it is my nearly 15 years in the House and the fact that the right hon. Lady and I came into the House together—that she will pursue the matter at DECC questions tomorrow, probably like a terrier.

On a separate point of order, Mr Speaker, but one that is related to the role of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would want to fulfil his function as Leader of the whole House, and not just to be a spokesman for the Government about Government business. Would you, Mr Speaker, have a word with my right hon. Friend to explore how a hiatus such as this might be avoided in future, so that the Leader of the House might carry out his function as Leader of the whole House?

Well, it is not for the Chair to intervene in this matter, and certainly not to pronounce on it now. The hon. Gentleman has put the ball into play, and I rather imagine that it will be returned, probably before long. Whether it is returned with interest, topspin or slice, I do not know, but I imagine that the ball will be returned.

I have regular and very constructive and convivial discussions both with the Leader of the House and—[Interruption]no, not with alcohol—with the shadow Leader of the House, and I intend that those discussions will continue. I bear in mind the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order for the House to read the detailed contents of an important statement on charging heavy goods vehicles, including a direct quotation from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), in selected newspapers before the statement is laid before the House? Do you, Mr Speaker, think that that tactic might have something to do with the fact that the statement itself shows that the Government are breaking the coalition agreement by proposing to increase charges on more than 28,000 British lorry drivers, a fact that was strangely absent from the briefing to the newspapers? What can be done about that?

It is, of course, perfectly in order for a written ministerial statement to be laid, and I gather that such a statement has been laid today. That is, of itself, a legitimate vehicle for informing the House of ministerial decisions and other matters. However, and this is a very important caveat, the contents of such statements should not be released—I emphasise, should not be released—under any circumstances that I can imagine to the media before being made available to Members.

I should just underline the very basic doctrine of ministerial responsibility to Parliament, because I know that it is sometimes said in such circumstances by a Minister that “the Minister did not do any such thing.” Ministers, I know, will accept that they are responsible for everything that is done in their Departments by officials and by special advisers. That is the situation, and this should not happen.