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Points of Order

Volume 608: debated on Wednesday 13 April 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 2 December, during the debate on Syria, the Prime Minister promised that there would be regular quarterly progress reports to this House on the military action against Daesh. The longest a quarter could last is 92 days, but it is now 133 days since that pledge was made. Have you had any indication from the Government as to whether they intend to make that quarterly progress report so that we can see what action is being taken and whether it is effective?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order and his courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. The question of how a Government fulfil a commitment to the House is principally a matter for Ministers. Having taken a keen interest in this matter, the right hon. Gentleman will know that a report was presented to the House by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in December, and that a second report, which I think was billed or tagged as a quarterly report, was provided by the Secretary of State for International Development on 8 February. If memory serves me correctly, it was an oral statement, and it may be that the right hon. Gentleman and some other Members were hoping for—or even expecting—a written report. That is, however, not a matter for the Chair.

To be fair, the Government have made a large number of statements to the House over the past few years—that is a matter not of speculation but of fact. The only point I would make gently is that since the Foreign Secretary had unavoidably to be absent from Foreign Office questions yesterday—that prompted a modicum of comment from his own side although he had done me the courtesy of notifying me beforehand—it might be thought a good idea for a subsequent report to be provided by him to the House. If there is an appetite for that report to be oral, I know that it will be delivered by the Foreign Secretary with great dexterity. It would also have the additional “advantage”—I say that in inverted commas because it is a matter for the House to decide—of pleasing a right hon. Gentleman from the Liberal Democrat Benches.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware of the decision by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to close its Sheffield policy office. Despite repeated requests at the BIS Select Committee for the Department to share the figures on which that decision was based, the permanent secretary told the Committee:

“I don’t think I can point you to one specific document which covers specifically the Sheffield issue.”

In answer to a question about costs from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) at the Public Accounts Committee, he said that the decision was

“not based on individual cost-benefit analysis of a static closure.”

I have had access to a document entitled “BIS 2020—Finance and Headcount outline”, which specifically covers the Sheffield issue and is, in the permanent secretary’s words,

“an individual cost-benefit analysis of a static closure.”

Will you clarify, Mr Speaker, whether the permanent secretary’s words constitute misleading the House, and advise me on how I can get the information in front of the two Committees of the House that have requested it?

I am genuinely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but my instinctive reaction is that exegesis of what is said by the Government, including permanent secretaries, and adjudication upon it, is not a proper matter for the Chair. I think it is safer to keep out of that. It may well be that it is a subject of some dispute on which the hon. Gentleman is dissatisfied, but I underline that it is for the Committees concerned to press for the information that they require. If they are dissatisfied with what they have or have not received, they should persist, and there are well-established procedures for doing so. I have a feeling, however, that by putting his concerns on the record, the hon. Gentleman may find that the Government are able and inclined to offer the information he requires.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for not giving you advance notice of this point of order, but I had hoped that it would be raised during Prime Minister’s questions. On 28 October 2015 in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, Sir John Chilcot said that the text of the Iraq report would be available in the week commencing 18 April 2016, at which point it would be passed to the security services for checking. Given that that is next Monday, I wonder whether you have received notice from any Minister who intends to make a statement to the House, to update it as to when that process will be finished and the long-awaited report will be available?

The short answer is that I have received no such indication of an imminent statement on the matter. When this issue has been aired in the House, the sense of dissatisfaction across the Chamber has been audible not just to the Chair, but to millions of people throughout the country. It has become exceptionally and excessively protracted. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. He has put his point on the record again, and I hope that it will have been heard in the appropriate quarters. Have I received an indication of a statement? I am afraid I have not.