Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 573: debated on Wednesday 8 January 2014

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. No doubt, you will have seen today’s Guardian front page, which reports a major rift between the Cabinet Office and the Department for Work and Pensions over universal credit. Leaked documents in The Guardian report that the Cabinet Office has accelerated Government Digital Service withdrawal from universal credit. At the last Cabinet Office oral questions, I asked the Paymaster General for a full explanation of his role in universal credit, but he declined to answer. Has he given you any notice that he plans to come to the House to give us a full explanation of his role in the universal credit shambles?

I certainly confess to being a regular reader of The Guardian, among other newspapers. I have received no such indication, but the hon. Gentleman has put his concerns on the record, and they will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. I think that we will have to leave it there for today.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In late October, I raised a point of order with you about the Prime Minister’s refusal to answer questions from Back Benchers. Twice he refused not only to answer my questions, but to make any reference to them. Instead, he ranted about Unite the union. You gave me some sound advice, Mr Speaker. You told me to write to the Prime Minister, which I did, on 31 October, but I am still awaiting a response. You also suggested that I speak to the Table Office. I have spoken extensively to the Table Office, which, after long discussions, agrees with me, as I understand it, that there is no mechanism in this place, when a Minister either refuses to answer a question from a Back Bencher or makes no reference to the question, to ensure that the question gets answered. If that is the case, is that a concern for the House?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for giving notice of it. All I can say today is that the Prime Minister is answerable to the House for his conduct in government, not for his private life. The hon. Gentleman can pursue the Government through all the procedural channels available to him. He has asked his questions and has received answers that he finds unsatisfactory. I am afraid that he is not the first and is unlikely to be the last hon. Member to have that experience. I can only encourage him to persevere. For today at least, we will have to leave it there, partly because I have nothing to add and partly because there are other points of order with which I need to deal.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 13 December, the House had its annual debate on fisheries, which was quickly followed by negotiations in Brussels on 17 and 18 December, at which the allocations for fish species were agreed. Following such negotiations, it is customary to have an oral statement in the House from the appropriate Minister. Have you received any indication of such a statement being forthcoming?

I have received no such indication, but the hon. Lady is an indefatigable Member. Her concerns will have been heard by the Deputy Leader of the House, and she will have to look for opportunities, either at Question Time or through the resources of the Table Office, to highlight her inquiries.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, with your permission, with pride and humility, I would like to associate myself with the tributes paid to Paul Goggins, our dear friend—and particularly your tribute, Mr Speaker. He was involved in many activities. I remember most his commitment to international development, which was shared by his family and his son Dominic. I know that our thoughts, as expressed by you, are very much with them today.

During our eventful break, to their credit the television media covered the significant events in South Sudan. That is understandable, given that 200,000 people have been displaced, 500,000 are waiting for humanitarian aid and awful violence continues. Mr Speaker, have you been given any indication, either by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Department for International Development, that a Minister intends to make a statement to the House? If not, may I seek your invaluable advice about how the matter might be pursued?

I have received no such indication from either Department. My advice to the right hon. Gentleman is to think forward to Tuesday 21 January, when there will be oral questions to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and his team. The right hon. Gentleman might think that a suitable opportunity to raise the matters of concern to him. Who knows? He might be successful either on the Order Paper or in seeking to raise a supplementary question.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, the Cabinet Office released confidential documents to the National Archives relating to the then Government’s covert intervention in the 1984-85 miners’ strike. The documents confirmed what the National Union of Mineworkers and the Labour movement fully suspected at the time, but many people in the mining communities and the UK as a whole were alarmed to learn that senior Ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister deliberately misled the people of this country. Have you been approached, Mr Speaker, by the present Government wishing to apologise and to put the record straight regarding the then Government’s real intentions back in 1984-85, which were to close 75 pits, not 20 pits, as they insisted? If not, will you advise the House how this injustice can be rectified by the House?

The short answer is no; I have received no such approach. It is, of course, open to the hon. Gentleman to seek an Adjournment debate, in which he could set out his thoughts more fully and elicit a response. I have a sense that that is a course that the hon. Gentleman will in all likelihood follow.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. About 90 minutes ago, I raised a question with the Prime Minister about the situation of police officers patrolling by public transport in Bassetlaw, and the Prime Minister responded by saying that crime had gone down 27%—a fact that he miraculously repeated within seconds on Twitter, putting it out to the outside world. I have the statistics with me, and crime in Bassetlaw has not gone down by 27%; it has gone up by 2%, including in respect of all the serious categories. What advice do you have, Mr Speaker, about getting the Prime Minister to correct the record in relation to the objectively available facts about the change in crime in Bassetlaw?

My advice is twofold. First, all Members are responsible for the accuracy or otherwise of what they say. If a mistake has been made, it should be corrected. The procedure for making a correction will be well known to any and all hon. Members. Secondly, I simply say to the hon. Gentleman, with due affection, that I first met him when we served on the Lambeth borough council together in 1986, so we have known each other for 27 years. He always struck me as an extraordinarily persistent blighter then, and nothing in the intervening period has caused me to revise that judgment.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In view of what you had to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) regarding the release of papers on the year-long miners’ strike, we are not talking about a day or two; we are talking about the sentiments and points of view expressed over a long period in the House by Ministers. It was pretty clear, according to the papers that have been released, that many things said by Ministers were based on something that was not correct. It therefore gets to the heart of Parliament when we realise that those statements made over a year-long period were shaping the views of all people, including the judiciary, which learned what it wanted to know about the nature of the strike based on ministerial statements on a continuing basis. That is why this issue is so important retrospectively.

You, Mr Speaker, have several times heard the Prime Minister apologise for some incidents involving Governments from way back. That applies to previous Prime Ministers as well as this one. I therefore think that it is your duty, Mr Speaker—an adventurous Speaker—to use your good offices on this matter. Since you assumed your office, you have already moved into some such territories, so it is important to check all the statements made in this House in violation of what we now know as a result of the release of these papers. If you do that, Mr Speaker, we will then be able to see how the course of events in that year-long strike were shaped, resulting in the judiciary taking action—on sequestration, on the imprisonment of people, on blacklisting and on other events. What flowed from the mouths of those who occupied the Treasury Bench at the time was the utterance of statements that we now know to be untrue. That makes this a parliamentary issue rather than one that is just broadly political.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I hope that he will recognise, as the House will have noted, that I have treated it with great respect. I have listened to him while he fully made his point. I would say two things in response. First, rather than give an instant response, I would like to reflect on what he said. Secondly, while noting his observations about my spirit of adventure, it may be that what he seeks on this occasion could conceivably be beyond my spirit of adventure—I do not know. I will consider the matter and if I think it necessary to revert to the House, I shall do so. We will have to leave it there for today.