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Points of Order

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 27 March 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will try to emulate that example. On 1 March, in response to questions about attacks by dangerous dogs, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made an explicit and welcome promise at the Dispatch Box:

“If a Minister stands at the Dispatch Box and says that something will happen very shortly, it means precisely that. It certainly means before the House rises for Easter.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2012; Vol. 541, c. 415.]

That deadline expires today, 27 March, yet there is silence from the Department and the Government, nearly two years after the consultation ended. Nearly 100 people are treated in hospital every week. Kennelling costs are now spiralling out of control, and people in all parts of the House are rightly sickened by attacks by aggressive and uncontrolled dogs. Our sympathies go out to the five police officers from Newham who were injured in the latest attack. Dog bite incidents in the UK have risen by 79% in London and 43% nationally in recent years, according to figures from the Kennel Club. Have you received any late indication, Mr Speaker, of the Government’s intention to make a statement today? Do you have any powers, as Speaker and defender of the rights of this House, to summon the Minister to explain why the Government have broken their promise again?

The answer to both the hon. Gentleman’s inquiries is no, but he has placed his concerns on the record.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This House, business and environmental organisations have been waiting for a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs since last autumn on mandatory carbon reporting. We read in the Financial Times this morning that the Government have abandoned their commitment to MCR. We also learn that Michael Hintze, a well known climate change sceptic and funder of Lord Lawson’s climate think-tank, was one of the Tory donors who had dinner at No. 10 with the Prime Minister. Surely Members of this House should have had the opportunity to question the Secretary of State about the further delay in the Government making a statement. There has been no written ministerial statement or oral statement, and a report has only just been laid in the Table Office. I would appreciate your guidance, Mr Speaker; otherwise Members of this House will be left wondering what this Secretary of State has to hide.

Those on the Front Bench will have heard what the hon. Lady has to say. She will know—and the House can testify—that I attach great importance to Ministers making statements of new policy to the House, but statements arise when—[Interruption.] Order. I do not require any assistance. [Interruption.] Order. Such statements arise when, and only when, there is a new policy to announce. There is not a matter that engages the Chair today, but the hon. Lady has placed her concerns on the record, and I thank her for doing so.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have given you and the Leader of the House notice of my point of order, which arises from a question I asked the Leader of the House last Thursday about the publication of a response to the Select Committee on Science and Technology report on alcohol guidelines. I raised the matter because of a leak from the Home Office. It now appears that the leak was correct, yet the Government chose, for whatever reasons, not to separate the publication of their strategy and their response to the Select Committee, which was delayed by over a month. That is not the right way to treat a Select Committee that is doing serious work on such matters. Although the Leader of the House clearly did not mislead me, he did not tell me the full story. Will you use your good offices, Mr Speaker, to ensure that this kind of incident does not happen again, because it undermines the work of Select Committees?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. He should be encouraged by the presence on the Treasury Bench of the Deputy Leader of the House, who will have listened to him. The gravamen of his complaint appears to relate to the relationship between the Science and Technology Committee and, in this case, the Home Office, but perhaps the Government more generally. I can say only that these are not matters of order on which the Chair can rule. The Select Committee should pursue these questions with the Government, and if the Committee is dissatisfied with the response, it should in the first instance take the matter up with the Liaison Committee.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hope you will be able to guide the House on what we shall do with the Finance Bill when we get back. Two days—Wednesday and Thursday immediately after Easter—have been set aside for a Committee of the whole House, but the Bill has not yet been published. Today’s Order Paper provides that amendments to the Bill may be tabled in advance of Second Reading, but we do not yet know what subjects will be considered on the Wednesday and Thursday. Those subjects are usually agreed by the Opposition and the Government, and I am party to neither. When will we find out what those subjects will be?

What can you do through your good offices, Mr Speaker, to ensure a timely response to questions that are pertinent to the Finance Bill? I have tabled priority notice questions that have a direct bearing on the issue of child benefit, yet they have remained unanswered for over a week. What can you do to ensure that Ministers respond to them quickly?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I shall make two points in response. First, I should imagine that it is the responsibility of the Government to table a committal motion in regard to the consideration of the Finance Bill, and to do so before the rise of the House tonight. On the assumption that the hon. Gentleman remains as keenly interested in the matter throughout the day as he is at the moment—that is a confident expectation on my part—I suspect he will be beetling into the Table Office to discover at what point the Government have tabled that motion. I hope that that offers him some reassurance.

Secondly, in relation to the prospective—but, as far as he is concerned, delayed—answers to his substantive questions, the Deputy Leader of the House will have heard what he has said. It is important that there should be timely and substantive responses to parliamentary questions from colleagues, and I would say only to the hon. Gentleman in the friendliest possible spirit that not to provide timely responses to the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) is almost as hazardous a mission for any Minister as to treat in a similar way the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been brought to my attention today that the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) has been charged with contempt of court because of comments he made in daring to criticise a judge in Northern Ireland. I understand, however, that that law is obsolete and no longer applies in England and Wales, and that the right hon. Gentleman will be charged in Northern Ireland. Have you been informed of this matter, Mr Speaker, and if not, why not? Are you able to make a ruling or to comment on it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer is that I had not been informed of the matter to which he refers. Ordinarily, the Speaker would be informed only in the case of an arrest of a Member, and that is not what is involved here. Beyond that, I would say that I understand the seriousness with which the hon. Gentleman treats this issue, and how perturbed he is by what he has learned, but the interest and authority of the Chair would be engaged only if the comments concerned had been made in the Chamber. My understanding is that the comments by the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) were made outside the Chamber. I cannot say more than that at this stage, but if the hon. Member for North Antrim wishes to communicate with me further on this matter outside the Chamber, I will always be interested in what he has to say.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had any indication that a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions will be coming to the House to talk about the new policy of means-testing access to cheaper postage at Christmas? Today, we have received notification by e-mail from Royal Mail of a 20% hike in postal prices. We also understand that a concessionary scheme will be introduced, but that it will apply only to pensioners in receipt of means-tested benefits, who will receive cheaper stamps at Christmas. This clearly involves benefits, and it merits a statement to the House to enable Ministers to explain how they will prevent large-scale fraud through individuals buying the cheap stamps and reselling them at a lower rate than the full price. This is a serious matter, and a Minister ought to have come to the House to make a statement.

No, I have received no such indication. The hon. Gentleman might think that, as a consequence, I have been sorely deprived, but that remains the position.