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Points of Order

Volume 606: debated on Tuesday 23 February 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears to be considerable confusion in the Government over which Department is responsible for making an application to the EU solidarity fund for assistance for flood-hit communities across the north of England.

This is what I have found out from vague answers to parliamentary questions. In December 2015, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that it was a Department for Communities and Local Government issue. In January, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that it was a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issue. A week later, the Leader of the House agreed. In early February, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said that she had not ruled out making an application, but a week later one of her civil servants wrote to me saying again that it was a DCLG matter.

Whoever is responsible, the deadline for an application is just days away. The Government’s confusion and subsequent failure to act will potentially deny our communities hundreds of millions of pounds of much needed help. Will you please encourage the Government to sort this out and get a Minister here to make a statement, so that we can hold them to account?

Certainly, it would help if there were clarity. The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not for the Chair to adjudicate between what one Department says and what is said by another, but it is very important that Members know which Department is responsible and from whom they can expect an authoritative answer. My request to those on the Treasury Bench, therefore, is that they ensure that this matter is clarified authoritatively sooner rather than later. Pursuant to that objective, it might help if the hon. Gentleman is in his place for the business question tomorrow in order that he can probe the Leader of the House about it.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was devastating news for my constituents and the Northern Ireland economy last week that 1,080 jobs will be lost at Bombardier. Indeed, jobs will also be lost at Derby in mainland Great Britain. Is it in order to inquire of you whether Departments have made any approaches to come to this House so that we can not only raise the consequences of the decision, but seek an assurance from Her Majesty’s Government that there is support for innovation and aviation in our society?

I have received no approach thus far, as far as I am aware, from any member of the Government asking to make a statement on the matter. The hon. Gentleman may use the Order Paper to pursue his objective. Moreover, if he is so seized of the importance and, perhaps, the urgency of the matter that he wishes to debate it on the Floor of the Chamber, he will be aware of the opportunities that are provided by Adjournment debates. I have a hunch that he will seek to take advantage of those opportunities.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a two-headed point of order, if that is okay. The first refers to the exchanges that we had earlier with the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) on Short money. Will you confirm that it is indeed true that the accounting officer for Short money is the Clerk of the House, not the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office? Has the Clerk of the House therefore been consulted about Short money? Why has the Vote Office—this is still the first head—still not been provided with copies of the consultation, when it pertains directly to the House of Commons?

Secondly, will you confirm, Mr Speaker, that there is a process for Ministers to correct the record when they have inadvertently made a mistake? The Cabinet Office Minister, to my reckoning, made about 18 factual errors. The biggest was when he said that no cut was planned, despite the fact that his document says:

“By contrast… A 19 per cent reduction will take Short money back”.

I do not know what the difference is between a reduction and a cut, but I am sure that there is a means of correcting the record. I wonder whether we can make a special exemption on the number of special advisers for the Minister, because he is making so many mistakes that might be corrected by proper research.

I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for his point of order. Let me answer his two inquiries. First, I can indeed confirm that in respect of Short money, the accounting officer is the Clerk of the House. On whether the Clerk has been consulted, I am not at all sure. The Clerk is well aware, as I am well aware, of the consideration of policy on this matter. Moreover, I have seen a copy of the consultation document. Beyond that, I would not go.

Secondly, there are any number of opportunities for a Minister, if he or she believes that the record needs to be corrected as a result of an inadvertent misstatement, to correct the record. Knowing the hon. Gentleman as I do, I feel sure that he will look to see the development of events. If he is dissatisfied, I have a hunch that his dissatisfaction will percolate through his contribution at the business question tomorrow.

Thursday, I beg your pardon. I am getting ahead of myself. It will be difficult, but we can just about wait for the hon. Gentleman’s contribution at the business question on Thursday. That is not to say that the matter will not be raised before then. I hope that that is helpful for now.