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Points of Order

Volume 545: debated on Monday 14 May 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Lord Justice Leveson is conducting a public inquiry on the media, and will call a number of hon. Members, including Ministers, to give evidence. It is an important inquiry, and we await the outcome, but will you clarify that while the Leveson inquiry proceeds with its work, it remains the case that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is accountable to this House? Is it in order for him to say that he will not answer questions from hon. Members in this House because he will instead tell Lord Leveson the answers, and to say that he will not place documents in the Library because he is giving them to Leveson? Will you confirm that he refuses to answer the question not because he is prevented from doing so by the Leveson inquiry, but because he does not want to? Of course the Secretary of State must give his evidence to Leveson whenever he is called to do so, but surely he cannot use that as an excuse to evade his accountability to this House.

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. My response is twofold. First, as a matter of general principle, I should make it clear that the accountability of a Minister to this House is not diluted or suspended by a Minister’s engagement with inquiries or other proceedings outside this House. When parliamentary questions to Ministers are tabled, those questions should receive substantive and timely answers. Secondly, if Ministers are providing written documents to an inquiry, it would be a courtesy to the House, and help with the discharge of its scrutiny function, if such documents were also provided to the House. I hope that is clear.

Further to that point of order and to your response, Mr Speaker. Before the House prorogued, I tabled four questions to the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport and received replies to exactly the same effect as those that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) described: the Secretary of State said that he would submit the information that I sought to the Leveson inquiry. In view of the ruling that you have just given, should I retable those questions, or should the Secretary of State answer them?

I have made the position very clear. I would not presume to advise the right hon. Gentleman, who is well versed in the use of the Table Office and the facilities offered by the House. He is a persistent woodpecker, and he will make his own judgment on how to proceed in the matter. I hope that is helpful.

Order. I do not want this to become a debate; I am a little concerned that it might. I will err on the side of tolerance, but I hope that it will not be abused by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh).

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When we have had scandals or so-called scandals in the past, our Select Committees have constantly been fobbed off, and no information—e-mails, for instance—have been given to them. Inquiries such as Leveson are given everything. Surely the time has come to proclaim this truth: this House is supreme and sovereign, and we should get everything first.

I hope that over the last two and three-quarter years I have given some indication, not just by voice but by conduct, that I believe that this House should be pre-eminent. It should be treated by whomsoever is in government with courtesy and consideration. It should be regarded as a priority and a matter of honour to keep the House informed and to facilitate the House’s discharge of its scrutiny function, so I do not dissent from anything that the hon. Gentleman has said.

This will be the last point of order, I hope, on this or any related matter. I call Mr Chris Bryant.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you confirm that article 9 of the Bill of Rights makes it clear that no other body, including a court, can impeach or question a proceeding in Parliament, so the only body that can adjudicate on whether a Minister has misled the House, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is this House, and that Lord Leveson has no power to do so?

I believe the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct in his statement and interpretation of article 9.