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Points of Order

Volume 621: debated on Thursday 9 February 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I cannot quite believe that I am having to raise Concentrix in the House again, but after the scandal that broke around that company HMRC announced that it would never again use a private provider to deal with tax credits, especially in relation to error and fraud. But today the Government have issued a written ministerial statement saying that they will transfer tax credit error and fraud to the Department for Work and Pensions and will seek an external provider to do so. That is a disgraceful U-turn on Government policy as stated to the House. Can you do anything to ensure that a Minister comes to the House and explains why that U-turn has happened, so that they can be held properly to account?

Ministers are responsible for their own statements and subsequent adherence to those statements —or not, as the case may be. I do not seek to adjudicate on such matters. The short answer is that it is not for me to say that a Minister must come here today. We have scheduled business that is heavily subscribed. The hon. Lady, with her usual persistence and indefatigability, has put her concern on the record and it will have been heard on the Treasury Bench. Knowing her as I have come to do over the last 21 months, I rather doubt that she will let the matter rest. She may think about it during the recess and if she is dissatisfied with what is said, or not said, by the Government, she will doubtless return to it when we come back.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During International Trade questions earlier, the Minister repeatedly referred to a deferred Division that took place yesterday and stated on several occasions that it gave Members an opportunity to vote for or against the CETA deal. The wording of the motion on which the House divided in that deferred Division makes no reference to support for or opposition to that trade deal. I accept that the Minister was acting in good faith, but can you advise me of some way in which we can set the record straight, so that the terms on which the House divided yesterday are correctly described?

The hon. Gentleman has made his own point in his own way, and it is on the record for all—including his constituents—to see. Moreover, I understand that at the end of European Committee B a vote took place on an amendment moved by the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies). The result was seven to five against the amendment, and the record shows that the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Ms Ahmed-Sheikh) was in the minority of five. Thereafter, the motion was passed unopposed in Committee and subject to a deferred Division in the House yesterday. I am not sure that I can add anything further. I am not seeking to be obtuse: if I have missed the hon. Gentleman’s point and he insists on having another go, I will indulge him—

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The motion that was divided on was not actually the same motion that we were asked to consider on Monday evening. The terms of the motion as described by the Minister were different from the terms of the motion on which the House actually divided. The motion subject to the deferred Division made no reference to support for or opposition to CETA, as the Minister suggested it did on several occasions.

It is fair to say that the Chair is not responsible for what might be called textual exegesis. I have not looked at the text of the amendment or compared and contrasted that text with the words uttered from the Treasury Bench by the Minister this morning. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman has made such a close study and may well have profited by it. I do not think there is anything further that I can do today. The hon. Gentleman is, in a sense, engaging in a debating point—perhaps a legitimate one—with the Minister and it would seem that, at least today, the hon. Gentleman has had the last word—[Interruption.] “Hopefully”, says someone from a sedentary position.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that the record has just had to be corrected to reflect perhaps understandable human error in the Division Lobbies last night, and given the number of intense votes we can probably expect on the great repeal Bill, does that not suggest that electronic voting might help to avoid some of those human errors? Can you tell us whose decision it would ultimately be to introduce electronic voting in this House?

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman, who never misses an opportunity, is that it would be a decision for the House. Let me be clear about that. A change could be agreed only by the House, and equally it could decide not to agree to such a change. I think we will leave it there for today.

If there are no further points of order and the appetite, at least for today, has been satisfied, we come to the Back-Bench motion on Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. I warn colleagues that it is almost inevitable that we will have a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, because some 35 colleagues wish to contribute.