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Points of Order

Volume 542: debated on Thursday 15 March 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Two written ministerial statements have been issued in the past two hours. One is the Government’s announcement on proposals for the reform of our competition regime, and it was sent to the Vote Office at 10.10 am, 20 minutes before Business, Innovation and Skills questions. The other relates to a consultation on no-fault dismissal, which the Vote Office received at 10.30 am, when Business questions started. Clearly, those are both matters of huge national importance.

First, the deadline for applying to you for an urgent question is 9.30 am, Mr Speaker, so the timing of the publication and appearance of the statements meant that we were not able to make such an application on those statements. Secondly, we were not given any time to prepare in a way that would have enabled us to raise during Business questions any issues to which the statements related.

Were you, Sir, given any notice of the statements in advance? Have you—[Interruption.] Have you been given any notification that we can expect oral statements on those matters of national importance—

The Deputy Leader of the House says that this is outrageous, but the Government’s behaviour in relation to those statements is outrageous, and shows an utter contempt for this House. I should be grateful for your views on the matter, Mr Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I received no advance notification of the Government’s intentions beyond that which was on offer to, and could be seen by, Members of the House as a whole. The Government did give notice of their intentions on the Order Paper today.

I note, however, the hon. Gentleman’s further inquiry, namely whether I have had any indication of any Government intention to make an oral statement on either or both matters to which he refers, and my answer to that is no.

The wider response to the hon. Gentleman is that nothing disorderly has occurred. It is helpful to the House to have the maximum possible notice, and I can understand his disappointment that some of those matters appeared in the Vote Office, in the form of documentation, only at the time when Business, Innovation and Skills questions were taking place. He may think that that is unseemly or disappointing, and it may be something that he would not himself be inclined to do, I do not know, but nothing disorderly has taken place.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Leader of the House, in responding to my question about the Government’s definition of equality, said that the issue of extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples was part of the consultation being launched today, but I refer you to paragraph 1.5 of the consultation document’s executive summary, which states:

“The consultation therefore, does not look at reforms to civil partnerships, for example opening up civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples.”

May we have a statement from the Government either adopting the policy endorsed by my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench, for which I would be very grateful, or putting him right so that he has to correct the record?

This is a very important issue, because you will recall, Mr Speaker, that when people served on the Standing Committee on the Civil Partnerships Bill, some of us, particularly myself, moved amendments stating that civil partnerships should be available to heterosexual couples, and we were told then that civil partnerships were the exclusive domain of same-sex couples because there was no such thing as gay marriage. Now the situation seems to be changing, but there needs to be some equality-consistency on the part of the Government.

My response to the hon. Gentleman is as follows. First, he has a beady eye and is a keen student of detail, and I am not in any way surprised that he is familiar with the detail of the consultation document and has studied the various numbered paragraphs. He has made his point, and it is open to the Leader of the House to respond if he wishes, and perhaps to accept that on that factual point the hon. Gentleman is correct.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman refers to the Standing Committee on the Civil Partnerships Bill and suggests that I might remember that experience. That experience is etched upon my mind and is likely to remain so permanently, because I remember serving on the said Standing Committee with the hon. Gentleman, and it was—shall we say?—an immensely stimulating and, some might think, a protracted experience.

I feel sure that the hon. Gentleman will find further opportunities to develop his points—on that issue, on the issue as a whole and on particular points that are of concern to him today—in the weeks and months ahead, in the Chamber and possibly elsewhere. If the Leader of the House wants to respond, he can—[Interruption.] But he does not wish to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Just as a matter of information, you will recall that I had the great privilege of chairing the Civil Partnerships Bill Committee, and the memory of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and, I believe, your own is absolutely correct.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for confirming the memory of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and my own. I just mention in dispatches that of course I remember the chairmanship of the Committee by the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), which was frankly unrivalled in its brilliance and in its tolerance—characteristic tolerance, of course. We will leave it there.