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Points of Order

Volume 555: debated on Tuesday 11 December 2012

May I have your guidance, Mr Speaker? Is it in order for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, pre-empting a written statement, to slip out news during topical questions about Northern Rock that could well have fiscal implications, including for Government borrowing, in a way that is designed to avoid any proper scrutiny or questioning from the Opposition? Is this not just another example of the Chancellor refusing to answer questions in this House? Would it not be in order for the Chancellor or another Treasury Minister to make an oral statement in this House today and be properly scrutinised, rather than once again playing fast and loose with the public finances and Parliament?

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. There was no pre-empting of the announcement. It was laid as a written statement one hour ago. I thought that it would be appropriate to illuminate the written statement in oral questions, as Ministers frequently do from the Dispatch Box. There is, of course, a debate on the economy this afternoon, during which we can answer questions. It relates to errors that took place in Northern Rock in 2008 that have affected a number of customers. Customers will be receiving letters from Northern Rock. As I said, I thought that it would be helpful to illuminate the details of the written statement, but apparently that is not the case.

The right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) is itching to raise a further point of order, but I ask him to hear what I have to say first. This cannot be a debate; there are a couple of points of order to which I am giving a reply. My response, whether Members like it or not, is as follows.

First, I feel sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to be helpful to the House. It is not for me to impugn motives, and I do not do so. However, was it a good idea to handle this matter via the device of topical questions in the way that it was done? The answer is no, it could have been better done. I am sure that the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) was doing his best, according to his own lights, but it was unwise to deal with it in that way.

Secondly, I simply make the point—[Interruption.] It may be topical, but that does not necessarily mean that it should be raised at topical questions. My understanding, which is very easily explained, is that although something is a topical matter, it does not mean that it should be the subject of a topical question if the Government have tabled a written—

No, I do not require any assistance from the hon. Gentleman. He should do his own job to the best of his ability. I am giving a verdict on the matter.

The Government have laid a written ministerial statement. If they had wanted to make an oral statement, they could have made one. They did not do so, but made a written ministerial statement. I repeat: I am sure that the Chancellor meant well. That is the kindest thing, in the circumstances, that I can reasonably say. There is nothing further to be said on this matter now, but we may well return to it.