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Points of Order

Volume 571: debated on Monday 25 November 2013

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware of the growing concern that exists about the conduct of G4S and Serco, and whether they should be allowed to continue with their bids to run probation services. Last Wednesday, I asked you whether the Justice Secretary intended to make a statement following the admission by G4S that it had been overcharging for electronic tagging services. On Friday, the Justice Secretary announced his decision that he would not award the contract to run three prisons in Yorkshire—again, this was for reasons that appear to be linked to the investigation into overcharging. It appears that the Justice Secretary is making this up as he goes along, and I wonder whether he had, even now, indicated that he intended to make a statement.

No Minister from the Department has given any indication to me of an intention to make a statement to the House. I may misrecollect, but I thought there were going to be scrutiny opportunities in relation to legislation before very long, which might allow this issue to be aired. Whether that would include the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) or, in any case, is an avenue satisfactory to him, I cannot say. I recognise that he is being persistent on this point, but the straight answer to his question is that no such notification has been given to me and he will have to use the resources available to him further and better to flag the issue up with Ministers.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the whole House is very grateful to the Foreign Secretary for having come here at the first opportunity to brief the House on what happened in relation to Iran. I know that when he went to the Conservative Friends of Israel meeting at 1.30 this afternoon, he was religious in not saying anything there before he had said it to the House of Commons. Unfortunately, his officials were tweeting throughout his statement—while he was still making his opening remarks—the content of what he was about to say. The rules are very clear, as I am sure you are aware: nothing shall be said by the Department until such time as the Minister has sat down. I afraid that we now have a different set of officials with us, but I wonder whether it might not be a good idea to write to Departments just to remind them of the rules.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. Let me say to him, and to the House, what the position is. My predecessor ruled on 9 June 2008, at column 21, that the text of statements should be released simultaneously to Members of the House and to the media, and that that should happen when the Minister giving the statement sits down. That ruling still applies, and it applies equally to electronic release as it does to the circulation of hard copies so far as I am concerned. The hon. Gentleman has referred to people to whom we do not ordinarily refer in the Chamber. Whichever particular individuals might have undertaken this activity, the principle is very clear: Ministers are responsible for everything that happens in their Departments. That is a fundamental feature of our constitution, so I am sure that the point will have been noted by the Leader of the House and elsewhere, as necessary. I hope we will not need to return to it, because it is breathtakingly clear.

Bill Presented

High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr Secretary McLoughlin, supported by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs Secretary May, Secretary Vince Cable, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Pickles, Mr Secretary Paterson, Mr Secretary Davey and Mr Robert Goodwill, presented a Bill to make provision for a railway between Euston in London and a junction with the West Coast Main Line at Handsacre in Staffordshire, with a spur from Old Oak Common in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to a junction with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at York Way in the London Borough of Islington and a spur from Water Orton in Warwickshire to Curzon Street in Birmingham; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 132) with explanatory notes (Bill 132-EN).