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Leveson Inquiry

Volume 554: debated on Thursday 29 November 2012

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a further statement to the House. I know it is unusual, but this is an unusual debate.

The terms of reference for Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry were agreed on a cross-party basis and, as the House has heard, we intend to proceed on a cross-party basis, so it is right that Parliament is clear on the initial views of the whole coalition. I agree with much of what has already been said by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition concerning the principles of the Leveson report. That bodes well for the cross-party talks that are taking place for the first time later this afternoon, which in my view must establish an early and clear timetable for the decisions that we must take so that the momentum for action is not lost.

I thank Lord Justice Leveson for his extremely thorough report. There are two big liberal principles at play in this debate: on the one hand, the belief that a raucous and vigorous press is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy, and on the other, the belief that the vulnerable, the innocent and the weak should be protected from powerful vested interests. A free press does not mean a press that is free to bully innocent people or free to abuse grieving families.

What I want now is for us to strike a better balance between these two liberal principles so that our media can scrutinise the powers that be, but cannot destroy innocent lives; so that the journalists up in the Press Gallery can hold us, the politicians, to account, but we can look up to the individuals and families in the Public Gallery knowing that they have the right protections in place.

I have always said that I would support Lord Justice Leveson’s reforms, providing they are proportionate and workable. I will come on to why I believe that is the case as far as the report’s core proposal is concerned—namely, a tougher system of self-regulation, supported by new independent checks recognised in law. But I do not want to disguise the fact that I have some specific concerns about some specific recommendations—for example, on some of his ideas concerning data protection rules, and on the suggestion that it should be Ofcom which independently verifies the new press watchdog.

Ofcom has a key role in regulating the content of broadcast media. I am yet to be convinced that it is best placed to take on this new, light-touch function with the print media too. Lord Justice Leveson said in his report that this function could be fulfilled by a different body. However, on the basic model of a new self-regulatory body, established with a change to the law, in principle I believe this can be done in a proportionate and workable way. I understand the entirely legitimate reasons why some Members of the House are wary of using legislation. I myself have thought long and hard about this.

I am a liberal. I do not make laws for the sake of it, and certainly not when it comes to the press. Indeed, when I gave my own evidence to the inquiry, I made the point that if we could create a rigorous, independent system of regulation which covers all the major players without any changes to the law, of course we should consider that. But no one has yet come up with a way of doing that.

Lord Justice Leveson has considered these issues at length. He has found that changing the law is the only way to guarantee a system of self-regulation that seeks to cover all of the press. He explains why his proposed system of sticks and carrots has to be recognised in statute in order to be properly implemented by the courts. What is more, changing the law is the only way to give us all the assurance that the new regulator is not just independent for a few months or years, but is independent for good. Someone will need to check periodically that the independence of the regulator has not been weakened over time, and the report explains why that needs to be set out in law. As Lord Justice Leveson himself states,

“this is not, and cannot be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press”.

It is a voluntary system, based on incentives, with a guarantee of proper standards. It is not illiberal state regulation.

It is worth dwelling on that point for a moment, because although there has rightly been a lot of discussion about the risks of legislating, some key arguments have been missing from the debate so far. First, the press does not operate in some kind of lawless vacuum; it has to abide by the law. In many instances it is already protected by the law, and I agree with the report that we should go further in enshrining the freedom of the press in statute.

Secondly, it has been suggested that using law will blur the line between politicians and the media, but we must not ignore the extent to which that line has already been blurred under the current system of self-regulation. It is the status quo which has allowed such cosy relationships between political and media elites to arise in the first place. Let us not forget that of the five Press Complaints Commission chairs, three were serving parliamentarians who took a party whip. Far from allowing greater overlap, the laws that have been proposed give us a chance to create a hard wall between politics and the press.

Thirdly, as the report notes, there is already an example of statutory underpinning in the Irish Press Council, which has been accepted by a number of UK newspapers. The Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star, The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror are all members—they all publish Irish editions. I have not yet heard those papers complain of a deeply illiberal press environment across the Irish sea.

Of course, neither I nor anyone can be certain of exactly how the proposals will look until we have worked them up in detail. The two tests I have set—that any reforms must be workable and proportionate—will need to be met in practice as much as in principle. If they are not, I will be the first to sound the alarm. In that event, we would then need to consider how to make progress, because the absolute worst outcome in all this would be for nothing to happen at all.

We must not now prevaricate. I, like many people, am impatient for reform. Put bluntly, nothing I have seen so far in this debate suggests to me that we will find a better solution than the one that has been proposed; nor do I draw any hope from the repeated failure of pure self-regulation that we have seen over the past 60 years. We need to get on with this without delay. We owe it to the victims of these scandals, who have already waited too long for us to do the right thing—too long for an independent press watchdog in which they can put their trust. I am determined that we should not make them wait any more. I commend this statement to the House.

I thank the Deputy Prime Minister for his excellent statement. This is an unprecedented procedure, but it was important for him to make it as leader of his party. As he has said, our democracy needs, indeed depends upon, the existence of a free press, but a strong press must be a clean press. The wrongdoing brought shame on a press that has a great tradition and is admired around the world. That wrongdoing by the press brought misery to families who were already suffering. We heard the brave and harrowing evidence of the Dowlers and the McCanns. We often talk of walking a mile in someone’s shoes; none of us would want to walk even one step in theirs.

The Leveson proposals are to stop that happening again. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that they will strengthen the press by ensuring that it has the legitimacy—the moral authority—to hold power to account, and that by providing for a proper complaints system, they will protect individuals from abuse and unwarranted intrusion? We believe that the system Leveson proposes is independent both of politicians and of the press. We also believe that that can be achieved only by legislation on the basis Leveson proposes. Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree?

Will the Deputy Prime Minister commit to the timetable that the Leader of the Opposition has set out: that by the end of January next year, this House should have the opportunity to debate and vote on taking the Leveson proposals forward? Will he commit his party to vote to support Leveson’s core proposals? Does he agree that we should expect the legislation to have completed its passage through both Houses by the end of the next parliamentary Session, which starts in May next year? We are about to go into all-party talks. Will he assure the House that he will not kick this into the long grass? Will he assure us that he will not allow the press to have yet another lock-in at the last-chance saloon?

I agree with what the Deputy Prime Minister said, but does he agree that what the Prime Minister said amounts to nothing more than a craven acceptance of the status quo? If the Prime Minister does not think again, he will have surrendered to powerful press interests and betrayed the victims.

It is obvious, of course, that the Prime Minister and I come at this from different angles, but the right hon. and learned Lady should not overlook the perfectly legitimate misgivings—I happen not to share them, but they are none the less misgivings—that the Prime Minister has expressed about legislation in such a sensitive area.

I have no problem with a speedy timetable, which is obviously one of the main things that we need to concentrate on this afternoon in the cross-party talks. I strongly agree with the right hon. and learned Lady that the long grass is the last place this problem should end up. We have got to act now in one way or another. Lord Justice Leveson has put forward his proposals, and I am convinced that he has made a case for legislation. I have not seen—no one has—what that legislation would actually look like. It is important that we see his proposals translated into draft legislative form so that we can all examine that and make the rapid progress that I think everybody, whatever their different views on specific aspects of this report, believes is now necessary.

I declare an interest as a member of the media law Bar.

Will the Deputy Prime Minister—it is always a joy to hear him—set out very briefly the differences in principle between the view that he takes and that of the Prime Minister?

The difference is that I believe that the case for legislation has been made, but of course I acknowledge that we now need to show how it could be delivered in practice in a proportionate and workable way. The Prime Minister—I hesitate to recap what he said while he is sitting next to me—has thoughtfully expressed his serious misgivings about taking the step of legislation, but has not entirely excluded that possibility in the absence of other viable alternatives. I think that, in a nutshell, is the difference between our two approaches.

Echoing an important point made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that the Prime Minister was incorrect when he talked about crossing the Rubicon in writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land, because the press themselves explicitly asked that there be direct reference to the press complaints code in what became section 12 of the Human Rights Act 1998? The press has already sought a statutory underpinning of what it does. All that Leveson is proposing is to give greater strength to the process that they began in 1998.

What I think we can all agree on—Lord Justice Leveson places great emphasis on this in his report—is that none of this would have arisen if the press had abided by its own code. What surprised all witnesses to the Leveson inquiry—it certainly surprised me, because I was not familiar with the details of the code—was that on reading the code, one thought, “This is excellent—brilliant!” We just need to ensure that it is enforced.

That is where the debate now comes: it is about the means. Everybody agrees that the end must be the application of the principles set out by Lord Justice Leveson. Everybody agrees that the code itself was well drafted and that, if it had been enforced in full, the problems would not have arisen in the first place. The debate, which is clearly already raging this afternoon, is about how we can make absolutely sure that that is done in a way that is independently monitored and that endures. My view is that Lord Justice Leveson has made the case for why that can be done only through legislation, although I stress that how that legislation is crafted is a separate matter, to which the House will need to address itself.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that one of the greatest expressions of liberty in the world is the first amendment to the American constitution—a measure in statute if ever there was one? That has proved to be compatible with legal restrictions on copyright and obscenity which, as in this country, provide a statutory framework for the press already. Should that not reassure traditional champions of liberty, even the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg), that it is possible to have a legal framework that guarantees both the freedom of the press and the rights of individuals?

I accept that there is a big philosophical difference between liberals, who, as I have sought to explain, try to balance freedom with the hurt endured by people who are abused by the powerful, and libertarianism, which believes that freedom should be completely untrammelled and unconstrained. The latter is not a philosophy that I believe in—it is a one-eyed approach to freedom. The press has always operated within the ambit and the context of the law. It is creating a straw man to imply that law is always inimical to the exercise of freedom in the press. That is a slightly absurd position, because the press has been constrained and indeed protected in many respects by the law for generations.

The detail of the new regulatory body is critical, but does the Deputy Prime Minister accept that it is only within the legal underpinning that the public support that is so crucial to any new regulator is carried?

I have expressed my own views about the assertions that Lord Justice Leveson makes about that. As I said, this is a debate about means, not ends. Let us dwell for a minute on the fact that this afternoon everybody appears to have agreed that what we need is tough, independent regulation of the press, where people are properly protected when things go wrong. The debate is about whether legislation is the indispensible means to deliver that.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister on anticipating what was in the Leveson report and on anticipating that he would have a disagreement with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

How does my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister think statutory underpinning by Ofcom would have prevented what happened in the past?

I commend to my right hon. Friend a book called “The Laughter of Triumph” by Ben Wilson, which is about William Hone, the man who got criminal libel laughed out of practical use. We ought to have a sense of proportion.

We must also protect the rights of newspapers such as the ones that campaigned for Stephen Lawrence and that almost certainly broke rules. If there had been statutory underpinning then, what would have happened?

Lord Justice Leveson advocates legislation for three reasons. First, he does not think that the system of incentives—the carrots and sticks that he is offering the press so that they all join in the new system—would work without law. Secondly, he thinks that that is the only way in which we can establish a credible process of “verifying”, as he puts it, the independence of the new self-regulatory system. Thirdly, and crucially, he thinks that there should be additional protections in law to enshrine the freedom of the press. I ask the hon. Gentleman, in return, to accept that it is perfectly rational to suggest that these things can be held in balance and that it is not a zero-sum game between freedom on the one hand and regulation that protects the vulnerable on the other.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it would be a betrayal of the victims if we allowed the Leveson report to be kicked into the long grass, which is exactly what has happened to every previous report into press standards? If he cannot persuade the Prime Minister, will he and his party work with us and the significant number of Conservatives who support the Leveson report to implement its proposals as quickly as possible?

The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and I will start talking this afternoon, in a positive spirit, to try to find a cross-party approach. I think the British people would lose patience with this place if we turned an important issue, which is being treated with the seriousness it deserves this afternoon, into a political football. I want to avoid that and find a solution together that not only answers the demands of the victims, but provides a solution for the country. After two and a half years in coalition, I am used to starting from different positions and finding a solution that suits the whole country in the end.

Does the Deputy Prime Minister speak for the Government, and what are the implications of his statement today for the doctrine of Cabinet collective responsibility?

In a coalition Government there can be no collective position that is not agreed collectively by all parts of that Government. I know people in Westminster get terribly hot under the collar about some of these doctrines, but people out there in the country find it perfectly normal that in a Government with two parties, there are issues on which those parties, because they are two parties, might not have the same view. We have to be relaxed and grown up about explaining that to the House and to the public and then, as has been set out, seek to resolve those issues in the national interest.

The Deputy Prime Minister has spoken about 60 years of failure of self-regulation. That is precisely why the public, and particularly the victims, will not be able to accept the Prime Minister’s position today. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition might not be able to persuade the Prime Minister, may I wish the Deputy Prime Minister every success in trying to bring the right hon. Gentleman round to his point of view?

That is a daily undertaking on many issues. I win some and I lose some.

I say again that we will not get what we all want out of cross-party talks unless we first agree that we all want the code by which the press was supposed to abide to be properly respected, and we want the principles set out by Lord Justice Leveson to be respected. If we keep that in mind and ensure those objectives are delivered, we will do a big and good thing for the country and future generations.

We have just heard about the 60 years of failure of self-regulation, and newspapers have been given five previous chances. Under Labour and Conservative Governments, the problem has not been solved: there has been too cosy a relationship between politicians and the press, and abuse of victims. What does my right hon. Friend think is different about this Government, who set up the Leveson inquiry and will now make some progress?

My hon. Friend wants me to say, “Other than the fact that the Liberal Democrats are in it?” I think it was right that we in the Government collectively decided to take the unprecedented step of asking Lord Justice Leveson, with help from the panel members, to look at the issue in the round. He has very wide terms of reference and has not yet completed his work in full. The sheer breadth of what he has been asked to do is revealed in the sheer volume of what he has produced.

As the Deputy Prime Minister knows, when the Prime Minister set up this inquiry it was in two parts. He did not mention part 2 in his statement, but may I assume that the Prime Minister fully supports part 2 of the report, which deals with the relationship between the police and the investigations they have conducted? Does the Deputy Prime Minister agree that it is vital that we give the police in London all the resources they need, so that Operations Weeting, Tuleta and Elveden can be completed as soon as possible? At the moment, it looks like a timetable of three years.

On the first point, the Prime Minister did refer to part 2 of the report and reiterated that the Government’s attitude to part 2 and to the inquiry as a whole has not changed from the day it was established. He also explained that part 2 is affected by criminal investigations being conducted right now. We will of course endeavour wherever we can to ensure resources are provided so that criminal investigations being conducted by the Metropolitan police are completed as quickly as possible.

The first duty of the Deputy Prime Minister is to support the Prime Minister. We have today seen something that has never happened before in parliamentary history. The doctrine of collective responsibility has been swished away by the Deputy Prime Minister. How can he spend 25 minutes at the Dispatch Box criticising my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and remain in the Government? Is he considering resigning?

The hon. Gentleman and I have had this exchange countless times. He still struggles to get coalition. His party did not win the election, and my party did not win the election, so we have a Government of two parties that must compromise. That is different from previous one-party Governments. It might lead to anomalies, glitches and innovations in this venerable place that he finds unwelcome, but that is the reality of coalition government. I suspect it will be repeated quite a lot in future.

It is incredibly important that the newspaper industry heeds what hon. Members have said and what the Prime Minister has said forcefully—that the ball is now in its court to make the first move of showing that it can propose a self-regulatory institution, which would be independently verified in one way or another as soon as possible. It would be an extraordinary failure if the press did not take up that opportunity and respond to Lord Justice Leveson’s invitation for its own good. Everybody who cares about our great British press knows that the public need to be reassured that it will abide by higher standards in future.

Given that we can choose one of two extremes—one is a dangerously politicised regulation of the press, and the other is allowing editors to continue to regulate themselves through a lock-in at the last-chance saloon—is not the best thing to do to accept the advice of an independent commission that sat for so long, heard so much evidence and produced such a lengthy report, so that we do not kick the matter into the long grass, and so that we give the victims of the worst examples of journalism the justice they deserve?

I agree with my hon. Friend’s basic premise that, if the central insights of Lord Leveson are good ones, we should implement them. However, I disagree with hon. Members who have implied that the report should be adopted in its entirety, with every t crossed and every i dotted. There is a lot of dense and complex stuff in the report. There is an extensive chapter on data protection. I am no data protection expert, but Parliament will want to scrutinise the implications of that chapter properly. We should adopt Leveson’s central insights and what he is seeking to deliver, but I do not believe we should therefore suspend all critical faculties on some of the detail, which must be got right.

It is clear that Leveson does not propose in any way any kind of statutory regulation of the press, and no one in the House wants to see that in any shape or form. Is it not very important, as the debate progresses in the coming days and weeks, that nobody either outside or inside the House, by open assertion or implication, tries to frame the debate in those terms? This is about getting proper redress for those who have been abused; it is not about statutory regulation of the press or crossing any Rubicon.

Lord Justice Leveson was very clear and unambiguous this afternoon and in his report that he is not advocating statutory regulation, from which hon. Members on both sides of the House would recoil. What he is trying to do is ingenious, but it is materially different from statutory regulation, because it is based on voluntary participation—yes, it is driven by incentives, but it is none the less voluntary—from all parts of the press. That is why the detail and the design of the incentives he is offering to the press are incredibly important.

The Deputy Prime Minister’s suggestion is neither liberal nor democratic. Accordingly, does he understand that many victims feel aggrieved because they are unable to seek justice through the legal system, which is often considered too complex and costly? What will he do within the coalition Government to try to put that right?

I do not accept the underlying premise that all this can be settled by courts and the criminal justice system. Kate and Gerry McCann had their privacy abused and were subject to the most shocking and vile accusations, which they could not have possibly remedied through the law. The hon. Gentleman should read Gerry McCann’s evidence if he really thinks it is undemocratic or illiberal to suggest that maybe we should set up a system that can help people such as them. Gerry McCann went to the Press Complaints Commission and was basically told, “Sorry, there is nothing we can do.” Surely, one would have to have a heart of stone not to accept that there is something seriously, seriously wrong when there is nothing that helps Kate and Gerry McCann. I strongly refute the hon. Gentleman’s idea that it is illiberal and undemocratic to help them.

Given what the Deputy Prime Minister has said and what the Leader of the Opposition said earlier, the Prime Minister now seems to have become a marginal figure on this issue. Therefore, will the Deputy Prime Minister work with the Leader of the Opposition, the First Minister of Scotland and the Taoiseach na hEireann, Enda Kenny, to find, where possible, common ground in this free movement area of the UK and Ireland in press regulation?

The Prime Minister has initiated the cross-party talks. They will happen shortly and I hope that, with good will, we can make progress. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Irish model. There are similarities between the Irish model and what Lord Justice Leveson is suggesting. They are not identical by any stretch of the imagination. In many ways, the Irish model is a much more direct form of the statutory establishment of a regulator than the indirect verification of a self-established regulator set up by the press. There is an important qualitative difference between the two, although, as I said earlier, it is remarkable that a number of British newspapers operate, as far as I can make out, relatively comfortably under the more exacting—dare it say slightly more illiberal?—system that exists across the Irish sea.

Why do we need legislation, ministerial involvement through Ofcom and implicit licensing for news printed on dead trees, but not for news displayed on computer screens?

Lord Justice Leveson said this afternoon that he thinks there is something qualitatively different about the impact of news printed in our newspapers than there is in the great ecosystem of digital news and news on the internet. He is not making any claims that one form of regulatory remedy is applicable to other media; he is explicitly dealing with abuses in the newspaper industry. To say that because it does not apply to others we should therefore do nothing is a curious way of making the best the enemy of the good.

I welcome the Deputy Prime Minister’s stance and I accept that he has given it a lot of thought, but will he tell the House how he proposes to give effect to his views when the Prime Minister is fundamentally opposed to bringing forward any legislation to underpin a new, truly independent system of regulation? Will he urge the Prime Minister, for instance, to allow a Bill to be introduced so that the House can have a free, democratic vote on it?

To be fair, the Prime Minister expressed misgivings about taking a significant step. Of course, these are the kinds of things that we will talk about in the cross-party discussions, but if we all immediately start digging trenches and digging our heels in the worst of all outcomes will happen, which is that nothing will happen at all. I will work very hard to prevent that.

During the Prime Minister’s statement, I suggested that Lord Justice Leveson had called time at the last-chance saloon. Does my right hon. Friend agree that without implementing the central planks of the Leveson report, we risk any changes brought forward being seen as yet another last chance from an industry that has failed miserably to regulate itself effectively?

My eye was caught by a quote from John Major, who said in his evidence to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry:

“I think on this occasion it’s the politicians who are in the last-chance saloon.”

This is a test not just for the press, but this place. It is a test for us all to try to find a cross-party approach. That is best done on a cross-party basis, rather than becoming the subject of party political point scoring. On the central assertion, I think that Lord Justice Leveson’s report makes the case well for why legislation is necessary to administer his system, although as I keep stressing I do not know exactly what the legislation would look like. It is very important to get the details, as well as the principle, right.

I commend the Deputy Prime Minister for his measured and thoughtful statement and how he has dealt with questions this afternoon. Given the two statements, will he clarify whether he intends to adopt the same principle on this issue as on the boundary proposals—that when he disagrees with his Conservative colleagues, Liberal Democrat Ministers will, on a point of principle, go through the Lobby with us when they agree with us?

To be fair, this is not driven by being in agreement with the Opposition.

I am not going to repeat what I have said in the House about boundaries, but I accept, of course, that in coalition government there will be cases—this is one instance—where it is perfectly fair, normal and transparent to the public and the House to say, in a level-headed way, “Look, these are the differences of view.” Coalition does not mean homogenised government where the differences that naturally exist between parties are somehow eliminated.

Order. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was present in the Chamber at the start of this statement. If he was, of course we will hear from him. If not, the nation will have to wait for another occasion.

Given that my party appears to be split on this issue—judging by recent letters submitted to Lord Justice Leveson—given that the coalition is clearly split on it and given that the House is split, too, does the Deputy Prime Minister share my hope that the various measures we will be discussing over the coming weeks will be put to the House, preferably in a free vote?

In the first instance, before we get to that, we should seek a cross-party approach. It is nothing for the House to be ashamed of that there are strongly held views in all parties on something of principled importance. I just hope that we do not allow those differences of view to become an alibi for inaction.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) will remember acutely having his ear bent by me and others over the creation of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the checks and balances within it. That happened at the time we brought together the European directive and the original Act. I would like to ask the Deputy Prime Minister precisely the same question I asked the Prime Minister. Paragraph 57 of the summary recommendations is for the creation of an information commission that would include members of the media. Does that not provide a vehicle to remove his concerns about some of Leveson’s comments on data protection?

I think the hon. Gentleman’s idea is, in effect, to turn the Information Commissioner into an information commission. I am no great expert, but that does not seem, in and of itself, to be the worrisome part of the proposals. As he will know better than I do, it is worth bearing it in mind that further and new European data protection legislation is in the pipeline on a separate timetable. That is one example of something we need to examine, but it would put the cart before the horse were we to pass all these data protection provisions, and then have to reinvent it all in the light of a new EU data protection directive. That is exactly the kind of level of detail I hope we can get into very rapidly.

By the way, I support the idea of separate statements— I would have liked to make some myself in the past.

I think I know the answer, but, because it will strengthen the message, will the Deputy Prime Minister confirm the call that the Prime Minister has now backed for proprietors to meet the National Union of Journalists and others to start work immediately on the introduction of a conscience clause into journalists’ contracts?

Yes, that is one important part of a long list of issues that proprietors and editors now need to address. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the NUJ. I think I am right in saying that the NUJ has come out unambiguously in favour of a model of statutory underpinning. It is important to remember, therefore, that there are working journalists, who care as much as anybody in the House about the freedom of the press, who none the less recognise that this might be the right way to proceed.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have enjoyed an innovation. I was going to ask whether the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) had asked whether he could make a statement after the energy statement earlier today.

I was going to go on to say, perhaps not as light-heartedly—which means seriously—whether the Procedure Committee should be consulted on whether Ministers wanting to make a second statement should require the leave of the House or whether that should be left to you, Mr Speaker.

I say two things to the hon. Gentleman. In respect of his first point, if I did not know him so well, I would think that he was being mischievous, but because I know him so well, I do not think anything of the kind. Secondly, the Procedure Committee can take up any matter at any time of its own volition. It requires no permission from anybody else to do so. I feel sure that the Chair of the Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), will shortly have heard what the hon. Gentleman has had to say.

I thank the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and all colleagues for their co-operation today. We now move to the next item of business.

Delegated Legislation

Ordered,

That the motion in the name of Mr Andrew Lansley relating to the House of Commons Members’ Fund shall be treated as if it related to an instrument subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 118 (Delegated Legislation Committees) in respect of which notice of a motion has been given that the instrument be approved.—(Anne Milton.)