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Points of Order

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2013

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The figures produced on Friday by the independent Office for National Statistics show that borrowing rose from £118.5 billion in 2011-12 up to £118.7 billion in 2012-13. Is there a danger that the Chancellor may have inadvertently misled the House in claiming that the deficit had fallen? Would it be appropriate for him to correct the record now or should he make a statement today correcting the record and saying that borrowing has not gone down but up?

Every right hon. and hon. Member is responsible for the content, including the accuracy, of his or her answers. I know that neither the shadow Chancellor nor the Chancellor would seek to draw me into a debate on substantive matters. That would be unworthy, and neither of them is an unworthy individual.

The shadow Chancellor has raised his point of order. There is an opportunity for the Chancellor to respond if he wishes—[Interruption.] Order. But he is under no obligation to do so. I have a suspicion that these matters will be aired further in the course of the week, and perhaps in weeks, months and indeed years to come. We will leave it there for now.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week I received a response from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to my written question on how many occasions Ministers have signed off special severance payments for NHS employees in the past year. He said that it would cost too much to give me that information. How can the Government possibly claim to want an end to the culture of secrecy in the NHS if they are covering up their complicity in these pay-offs? Is there anything you can do to intervene, Mr Speaker?

I will make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman. The first is the point that I have just made—that all Members, including Ministers, must take responsibility for the content of their answers. My second point is that if the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied with the answer because he thinks that it is uninformative or in some way lacks credibility or plausibility, it is open to him to take up his concern with the Procedure Committee. The House will doubtless be aware that the Procedure Committee, under the auspices of its indefatigable Chairman, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), is looking at the whole issue of answers to parliamentary questions, and I feel sure that he and his colleagues on the Committee will be happy to hear representations from the hon. Gentleman. That response is intended to be helpful to all Members of the House.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that you will have noticed that I was trying to catch your eye during Treasury questions. On 12 March, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury told me that the case of my constituent, Mr James Boyle, with Clydesdale bank was being looked into. Clydesdale bank has since written to me saying that, no, it has not been reviewed or looked into. Could the Speaker tell me whether the right hon. Gentleman has perhaps inadvertently misled the House?

The hon. Gentleman’s use of the point of order procedure is ingenious, but perhaps a tad cheeky. He is seeking to ask now the question that he did not have the opportunity to ask earlier. If we were to proceed on that basis, Treasury questions would, in effect, be at least doubled in length. The hon. Gentleman has made his point. I have no idea whether the Minister in any way feels that his reply to him requires revision or reconsideration in the light of the verdict of the bank. It has to be said that the expression “looked into” is a commonly deployed term that has about it a certain vagueness, and it therefore lends itself to a number of different interpretations. It would be inappropriate for me to suggest that anyone has misled the House, and I am certainly not doing so. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to take the matter up, he must correspond further with the Minister or hope to be luckier at Treasury questions in future.