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Points of Order

Volume 569: debated on Monday 21 October 2013

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have heard me raise on the Floor of the House the fact that the Government are going to launch a hybrid Bill on High Speed 2 before the end of the year. It is going to contain an environmental statement that is rumoured to have some 50,000 pages. It is such a large document that the Government have made special provision to provide this electronically. You will also have heard rumours, Mr Speaker, that the period of consultation for the general public on this 50,000-page document is one of only eight weeks over the Christmas period. I seek your advice on whether having such a period for consultation reflects well on this House and its engagement with the public, and on whether it gives my Back-Bench colleagues sufficient time to digest the document, to establish whether they have an interest and what that interest might be and to respond to the consultation. Could you help me with anything on that front?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her point of order. I understand that at this stage these are, in her words, only rumours. Such a decision is a matter for the Government, and if people receive it ill, that should of course reflect on those who are responsible for it rather than on the House as a whole. I can only say to the right hon. Lady that—as I think is evidenced by my approach to proceedings in the House—I am always in favour of a greater opportunity and a longer period for people to make their views known, rather than what might be considered to be an artificial and rather arbitrary truncation of people’s chances to contribute.

I hope very much that the right hon. Lady’s fears can be allayed. The Secretary of State is a very experienced and wily man. There is always a danger that if a consultation is too short for the amount of material on which to consult, or else takes place over the festive season—or another holiday period—a decision by the Government to run it in that way will be regarded as cynical and ill-judged. I know the right hon. Member for Derbyshire Dales (Mr McLoughlin) very well, and I know that he would not be regarded as either cynical or a maker of ill-judged decisions: perish the thought! We will leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday, during questions following the response to the urgent question, I gave you cause to call my question out of order. I apologise for that. However, you went on to state that it was the 21st occasion on which you had had to do so since 2010. The House of Commons Library informs me that it was, in fact, the second occasion since 2010 on which I had officially had a question called out of order. I know, Mr. Speaker, that on five other occasions you have had to give me the benefit of your advice and experience with regard to my questioning in the Chamber, and I thank you for that, but even if those five occasions are included, the total comes to only seven rather than 21, and represents about one in every 200 of my contributions in the Chamber. Mr. Speaker, may I please put the record straight?

There is quite an old piece of advice which is usually regarded as sagacious: when in a hole, stop digging.

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and for his courtesy in giving me notice of what I know he judges to be its import. Although I am not sure that it was strictly a point of order, I am very happy to help the hon. Gentleman in his effort to protect his reputation. I acknowledge that in my anxiety to help him last Thursday, I lured myself into multiplying by three the number of times when I had had occasion to adjust his line of questioning. As he rightly says, the number was not 21; it just felt like it. [Laughter.]

I am happy not only to allow the correction to lie upon the record, but to assure the hon. Gentleman of my hope, and confidence, that his score will never reach double figures. I thank him for the good humour that he has shown in this matter.

We will now proceed to the debate on the future of the BBC, which is very heavily subscribed.