Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 543: debated on Monday 16 April 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In yesterday’s The Independent on Sunday, the Deputy Prime Minister was quoted as saying that he wants to recruit 65,000 new early years workers by September 2013, including 2,000 in Birmingham alone. However, the Daily Mail has reported a Department for Education source as saying that the figure will be closer to 12,000 across the country. Given that this is a significant policy matter, have you been informed that the Government intend to come to the House to set the record straight so that Members know whether the Deputy Prime Minister was right or wrong in what he told The Independent on Sunday, and have you received an apology from Ministers for once again announcing Government policy in the press before doing so in the House?

First, there are many ways in which the hon. Lady can continue to pursue this matter, but a point of order is not one of them. Secondly, she will understand that I do not want to act as umpire between competing reports in—I will not say the popular newspapers—what are apparently described as newspapers. I will leave those institutions to make their own observations. No Minister has apologised to me, but if I receive an apology in respect of this matter, I assure the hon. Lady that she will learn of it without delay.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. One of your principal responsibilities is to protect the freedom of speech and action of Members of this House. Accordingly, I draw your attention to an action taken by the Attorney-General for Northern Ireland who, on the last day before the recess, started proceedings against the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain) for “scandalising the court”, a criminal action that was described in 1899 as “obsolete”. Our freedom to criticise the judiciary and the judicial process is fundamental to the operation of this House. Accordingly, have you received an application from the Attorney-General of the United Kingdom to come to the House and explain what he will do to protect our rights? If not, what will the Officials and Officers of the House, led by you, do to help us protect those rights ourselves?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The answer to the first of his inquiries is that I have received no such approach. I shall seek to address the second of his concerns in what I say. I have listened carefully and respectfully to what he has said. These are extremely important matters and there are issues of devolved responsibility and, possibly, of whether the case is sub judice. I will reflect on what he has said and revert to him if necessary. In the meantime—I say this with great confidence—I know that he will draw on the skills and willingness to assist of the Table Office. I hope that that is helpful to him and to the House.