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Points of Order

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2016

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to a recent parliamentary question on the staffing levels of the Child Poverty Unit, the Minister for Employment said:

“responsibility for child poverty policy and analysis transferred to the Department for Work and Pensions.”

Given the significance of the decision to abolish the Child Poverty Unit, may I seek your guidance, Mr Speaker, on whether it would not have been more appropriate to have made a written ministerial statement, at the very least, informing the House of that decision?

The means by which a Minister seeks to clarify a matter that is the subject of parliamentary interest is for that Minister. Sometimes a Minister will sense that the salience of the issue or the inquisitorial appetite of the House is such that a statement, rather than simply an answer to a written parliamentary question, might be judicious, but that is a judgment for him or her to make, not the Chair.

On the closure of the Child Poverty Unit, I note that the hon. Gentleman has a Westminster Hall debate on that matter this very afternoon. It would be surprising, to say the least, if he did not raise and ventilate fully his concern, on this and related matters, on that occasion.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are probably aware that one of my hobby horses is the Government’s sneaking out of written statements rather than coming to the House. On 8 December, the Home Office announced the extension of asylum accommodation contracts. The Minister for Immigration wrote that the Government were

“committed to ensuring that destitute asylum seekers are accommodated in safe, secure and suitable accommodation”.

The Scottish Refugee Council was advised yesterday that there have been changes to the sharing criteria in that contract, which include: allowing siblings of the same sex to room-share until the age of 20, no longer 16; allowing siblings of the opposite sex to room-share until the age of 16, no longer 10; allowing willing mothers to return to shared accommodation; and allowing children up to the age of 16 to share with their parents.

Order. May I very gently say to the hon. Gentleman that I do not think the House requires the full details of the statement that he is clearly very keen to share with us? The matter to which he alludes is certainly important, but it did not require rehearsal in the Chamber today. That is why it is not being aired today in the way that, for example, another matter has been aired very fully.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that various vehicles are open to him to pursue the issue. Knowing him as I do, I feel certain that he possesses the ingenuity to use one or other of those vehicles. I shall be looking with great interest to see how he does so, after he has had a brief break over the Christmas period.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Many of us who have been Ministers know only too well that quasi-judicial processes have to be very carefully handled in this Chamber, but I wonder whether you could assist us. We had a statement from the Secretary of State on the Sky bid, but she refused to answer a range of other questions, such as whether she had read a 2012 Ofcom report that is published and in the public domain. Surely she refused to answer that question not because she was in a quasi-judicial process, but simply because she did not want to tell us whether she had read it or not.

I would not want to impute any particular motive to any Member of the House, including the Secretary of State. What I would say to the hon. Lady is that I understand her irritation—I was going to say “frustration”—on this matter. The Secretary of State has interpreted her responsibility, in the way she described to the House, very narrowly, which she is entitled to do. Colleagues on either side of the argument can make their own assessments of how the Secretary of State responded to the various inquiries put to her. I feel sure that significant numbers of Members will want to return to this matter in the new year.

House of Lords (Exclusion of Hereditary Peers)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr David Hanson presented a Bill to amend the House of Lords Act 1999 to remove the by-election system for the election of hereditary peers; to provide for the exclusion of hereditary peers from the House of Lords over time; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read the Second time Friday 24 March, and to be printed (Bill 116).