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Points of Order

Volume 551: debated on Monday 22 October 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister said that I was wrong when I asserted that there had been no progress in completing the single market in energy and digital. However, his statement says that between June and October there was no progress—the statements are exactly the same. That shows clearly that I was right and he was wrong.

I think that is a matter of debate. The hon. Gentleman has clearly satisfied himself of his own position, which I am sure will be reassuring to all his friends and family. The point is on the record, but it is not a matter for the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a shame that the Prime Minister has scurried out of the Chamber. Successive Speakers have made it clear that no Minister, including a Prime Minister, can opt out of parliamentary scrutiny and that answers to written parliamentary questions have to be timely and substantive.

Last week, as I am sure you are aware, I tabled five parliamentary questions for named day answer on Friday regarding the secret e-mails and texts between the Prime Minister, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, which a Downing street official has described as salacious and deeply embarrassing for the Prime Minister, and the deliberate attempt by No. 10 to cover up their existence. Following your ruling last Thursday, the Prime Minister “replied” last Friday afternoon. The answer said:

“I refer the hon. Member to my letter to the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), of 18 October 2012. A copy has been placed in the Library of the House.”—[Official Report, 19 October 2012; Vol. 551, c. 449W.]

Leaving aside the fact that it is dodgy to refer hon. Members to a letter that is not available to them, which has been deprecated by successive Speakers in the past, the only supposed answer that one could possibly conceive of there being in that letter to my right hon. Friend is:

“I am, however, happy to respond to your questions in full. As you know, I set up the Leveson Inquiry. I have co-operated fully with the inquiry and given them all the material that they have asked for.”

That is not in any shape or form an answer to any of the five questions I have tabled. It does not even pretend to be an answer to me—it is meant to be an answer to somebody else.

Can you please confirm, Mr Speaker, that it is an important principle of this House that Ministers have to reply to hon. Members? They cannot have hissy fits and decide who they are going to reply to and who they are not going to reply to. Every single Member of this House has to be answered properly and fully.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. Let me say at the outset that I stand by every word of my response to the hon. Gentleman last Thursday. In responding to his point of order then, I said that questions should receive a substantive answer, and that also reflects the resolution on ministerial accountability that is set out on pages 201 and 202 of “Erskine May”. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has been advised how he may follow up his questions, and I will study both the present exchange and the further exchange. I will leave the matter there for the moment.