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Point of Order

Volume 552: debated on Tuesday 6 November 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Ash dieback disease is a major national disaster of huge proportions, and of direct and immediate interest to every hon. Member of this House. It is therefore disappointing to learn that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has written a detailed letter updating hon. Members on this environmental emergency, but that the letter has been exclusively distributed by the Government Whips’ admin unit to Government—governing party—MPs only.

As you are guardian of the rights of this House, Mr Speaker, I seek your guidance on the appropriateness of a Secretary of State, in a moment of great national emergency, seeking to use the functions and resources of the private office exclusively to brief only his own party colleagues. Surely every hon. Member of this House is equal in their standing and equal in their need to hold the Executive to account.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. If Ministers acting as Ministers with the support of the civil service are making information available to hon. and right hon. Members of this House, they should without question do so equally. That requirement does not of course apply to political parties making information available to Members of the House. I hope that that distinction is clear and intelligible to the House. I cannot have a debate with the hon. Gentleman about it and there is no requirement to do so, but if he is seeking genuine clarification—his brow is furrowed in such a way as to suggest that that is so—I shall briefly indulge him.

Thank you, Mr Speaker, and I do not intend to detain the House any longer than I need to. Further to that point of order, the letter is signed not by a party political unit but by the Secretary of State in name as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. If I were to share the letter with you, Mr Speaker, perhaps you could offer some clear advice on whether it falls within the remit of the civil service or party politicking.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his follow-up point of order. I have not had sight of the letter and I am happy to look at it, but I do not think that I need now to add to anything that I have said.