On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you will be aware, for over 18 months I have been looking into the inappropriate use of sanctions by the Department for Work and Pensions. At a Select Committee hearing on 4 February, I questioned the Minister for Employment and one of her officials on peer reviews undertaken by the Department of cases in which claimants have died. I asked whether there were any instances in which DWP actions were considered inappropriate or incorrect. I also asked about their association with sanctions. The answers I was given were inconclusive and opaque. I have since tabled written questions on the same matter, but again I received responses that bore no relation to the questions. Given that Parliament is due to be dissolved in the next few days, I seek your advice on how I can get answers to those very important questions.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. She will understand that the content of Ministers’ answers, whether in Select Committees, in written answers or on the Floor of the House, is not a matter for the Chair. That said, I understand her frustration on the subject. The shortness of time before Dissolution limits the opportunities for her further to pursue the matter. However, the deadline for tabling a question for written answer on a named day is next Monday, so she still has a little time. Eyes can be kept on the matter. In the meantime, she has at least succeeded in putting her concern on the record.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This morning I visited Sir Christopher Hatton school for a debate with young people. In fact, five years ago I did the same thing, and out of that came a parliamentary candidate, Tom Pursglove, who is fighting in Corby. I have a problem with the sitting times of the House, because as a result of attending that debate I was unable to get here in time for business questions. Had I done so, I would have been able to pay tribute to the Leader of the House for all that he has done and for the way he has answered questions absolutely brilliantly and not entirely to my satisfaction. I could also have paid tribute to the shadow Leader of the House. Is there any chance that the sitting hours of the House could be looked at again?
Anything is possible, but in the meantime, as the puckish grin on his face eloquently testifies, the hon. Gentleman has found his own salvation.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have already referred to the fact that this parliamentary Session is coming to an end and that it is difficult for hon. Members to get replies to questions. I think that you were in the Chair on 4 March when I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether he could confirm the figure, which the Conservatives had announced on 5 January, of £83 million for the cuts to Arts Council England’s budget, which would start in April. He undertook to write to me at the time, but he has still not done so, despite the fact that I also wrote to him on 4 March. Would it be in order for you to encourage the Financial Secretary to make sure that he replies to all correspondence, particularly on undertakings he has given, before Dissolution?
I have no control over the matter, but it is a very simple ethical principle that people should honour their commitments, whether in respect of the House of Commons or elsewhere. If a Minister has committed to write to the hon. Gentleman, either stating explicitly that the letter would be sent before Dissolution or giving the strong impression that it would be, it just seems to me to be axiomatic that that should happen, and it would be extraordinary if anybody were for a moment to suppose otherwise. But I know the hon. Gentleman, and he does not let go, so I have no doubt that he will persevere on the matter in all manner of ways until he receives some satisfaction.
Confiscation Orders (Sentencing and Offence) Bill
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Keith Vaz, supported by Nicola Blackwood, Dr Julian Huppert and Yasmin Qureshi, presented a Bill to provide that payment of the recoverable amount determined in a confiscation order by a court must be included as a component of a custodial sentence; to provide that non-payment of the recoverable amount be a criminal offence; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 27 March, and to be printed (Bill 191).