Motion made, and Question put,
That this House notes the recommendation of the Procedure Committee in its Fifth Report of Session 2010-12, 2010 Elections for positions in the House, that the House should be invited to decide between a secret ballot or open division where the question at the start of a new Parliament that a former Speaker take the Chair is challenged, and accordingly makes the following change to Standing Orders, with effect from the beginning of the new Parliament:
Standing Order 1A (Re-election of former Speaker) Line 11, at end insert—
“(1A) If that question is contested, it shall be determined by secret ballot, to take place on the same day under arrangements made by the Member presiding, who shall announce the result of the ballot to the House as soon as is practicable.”—(Mr Hague).
That, at the start of the 2015 Parliament, the Speaker may nominate no more than three Members as Deputy Speakers to serve until the House has elected Deputy Speakers in accordance with the provisions of Standing Order No. 2A; and that the Members so nominated shall exercise all the powers vested in the Chairman of Ways and Means as Deputy Speaker.—(Mr Hague.)
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Members for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) and for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) raised points of order yesterday on my Prime Minister’s question about the Health Committee—I was not given prior warning of that. Can you confirm that it was in order for me to raise the issue of the Health Committee’s publicly minuted decision—[Interruption.]
Order. I will come to other points of order, but first may I thank the hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving me notice of her intention to raise this point of order and for what she has said? I know she will not take it amiss if I say that although her point of order contained an inquiry as to how she could put the matter straight, I think that she has found her own salvation. What I do want to say is that it is one of the courtesies expected of hon. Members that they should give notice—I make this statement on advice; I do take advice on these matters, as the House would expect—to another Member if they intend to make personal criticism of them in the House. I listened carefully to what the hon. Lady said in her question to the Prime Minister yesterday. I took the view that it was not evidently out of order. Whether it was wise or appropriate to raise matters relating to the internal working of a Select Committee in Prime Minister’s questions is a different matter, on which Members will doubtless have different views. The hon. Lady says that she has not been referred for any investigation. In this respect, I understand that she is correct. The Health Committee has not, at this stage, made any report on the matter. She has put her view on the record.
I think we should leave this matter there. I would simply add my view that mutual trust between members of Select Committees and confidence that the confidentiality of private discussions in Committee will be respected are important to the effectiveness of Select Committees.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is about more grubby business. On 4 November, I tabled a question asking how much money was spent on social housing in each of the past 15 years. It was answered today, nearly five months late, and the answer showed that there had been a 75% decrease in the spending on social housing over the past five years. Was this a good day to bury bad news? Can you investigate why it has taken five months to answer my question?
I am very taken aback by the idea that any question should be unanswered for so long. Members will have heard me many times say, on behalf of the House, that Ministers should answer questions speedily and as comprehensively as they can. The Leader of the House has noted that. Probably a nod of assent from the Government Chief Whip will suffice to acknowledge the point on his part.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is in fact further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie). Could we have your guidance on whether or not a referral relates to a letter that has gone to the Standards Committee or a letter to you? Should the hon. Lady not have given us a courtesy when she released informal notes of conversations in meetings of a Select Committee to the media and in Prime Minister’s questions?
I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. She is, of course, a member of the Committee in question and therefore has a very direct interest. I hope she will not take it amiss if I say that I think my fairly comprehensive response to the point of order from the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Charlotte Leslie) treated of those matters. I acknowledged the veracity of what she had said, but I also made the point about courtesies and confidentiality and, by implication, the inappropriateness of breaching such conventions. I hope colleagues will feel that there is nothing that now needs usefully to be added.