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Points of Order

Volume 630: debated on Monday 6 November 2017

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In oral questions earlier today, the Secretary of State for Education told the House about her first-class degree in economics. She went on to state that Labour’s spending plans would lead to school budgets being “absolutely frozen” in cash terms. I might not have an economics degree, but I am sure that those at the Institute for Fiscal Studies have a few between them, and they have said that our spending plans would

“reverse real-terms cuts to spending per pupil since 2015 over the course of the next parliament”

with an increase of about £4.8 billion. I am sure that the Secretary of State did not intend to mislead the House, Mr Speaker, but can you advise me on how I can seek a retraction or correction of that remark for the record?

I would say to the shadow Secretary of State that every Member of this House is responsible for the veracity of what he or she says to it. If a Member believes that he or she has made a mistake, that Member has a responsibility to correct the record. However, I would point out, both for Members of the House and for all others interested in our proceedings, that sometimes these matters are, let me put it this way, notably political and that there are issues of interpretation and of argument—notwithstanding the shadow Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Walsall South (Valerie Vaz), shaking her head and frowning at me in a mildly censorious manner. That nevertheless remains the case. If I did not know the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) better, I would think that she was using the device of a point of order in a rather bogus way to continue the debate that had been taking place in Education questions. However, because I know her as well as I do, I cannot believe that she would be guilty of such impropriety and opportunism.

I am saving the hon. Gentleman up; he is too precious to waste at this early stage of the proceedings.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the urgent question just now, I asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for some information pertaining to the levels of usage of offshore accounts. He said that he was unable to put his hands on that kind of information immediately. Is there a mechanism whereby I could prevail upon him to find that information and to put it in the Library? Or is there perhaps a way in which you might assist us to enable that to happen?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has taken his opportunity. If the Minister genuinely did not have the information to hand, but would otherwise be willing to provide it, he might think it a collegiate thing to do to provide it, either to the hon. Gentleman or to all Members by a deposit in the Library of the House. But the Minister is not under any obligation to do that. He has always struck me as an agreeable fellow, however, and he might well think that that is an agreeable thing to do, but if he does not, it is not a matter for Chair sanction. The hon. Gentleman has an indomitable spirit, and I sense that if he does not get what he wants, he will be beetling into the Table Office and tabling a flurry of questions to the Minister, which the Minister might find it rather irksome to have to answer. The Minister might therefore think that the simpler course would be to lob the material in the hon. Gentleman’s direction, and that that might provide due satisfaction.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following last week’s passing of a motion of unopposed return relating to the sectoral impact assessments carried out by the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Secretary of State has this afternoon written to the Chair of the Brexit Select Committee to say that

“it is not the case that 58 sectoral impact assessments exist.”

This is despite the fact that the Government have published a list of those 58 sectors. He adds in his letter that

“it will take my Department…time to collate and bring together this information in a way that is accessible and informative for the Committee.”

Mr Speaker, you made it clear last week that precedent suggested that the motion was binding and effective, but I am concerned that the Government are not treating that motion or the House with the required respect or seriousness. Is it still your opinion that this is a matter that should be deliberated on over a period of days? If, as appears to be the case, the Government are going to take weeks to provide the information, what more can the House do to expedite the matter? Finally, is it your opinion that there is a case for the Secretary of State coming to the House tomorrow to explain the Department’s handling of this matter?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and for his characteristic courtesy in giving me advance notice of it. The motion passed on Wednesday obliges Ministers to provide the Exiting the European Union Committee with the impact assessments arising from sector analyses. That should be done very promptly indeed. Failing that, I expect Ministers to explain to the House before we rise tomorrow evening why they have not provided them and when they propose to do so.

I should say, and will out of courtesy to the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and for the information of the House, that the Secretary of State has contacted me to say that the Government will comply with the ruling from the Chair and, by implication, with the outcome of the uncontested vote by providing the material. Moreover, before I had even contemplated whether to ask for it—I had not asked for it there and then—the Secretary of State offered me an indication of likely timescale. That was by way of him informing me, but informing me of an outline plan is one thing—I do not cavil at the Secretary of State for doing that—but informing the House is another, and the obligation is to the House.

The House’s interest in this will be protected by the Brexit Committee, which is chaired by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who was elected by the whole House. I know that if he considers that his Committee, and by extension the whole House, is not being treated with due respect, he will not be slow to alert the House and to seek redress. We may have to return to this matter very soon. My feeling is that the best course of action is for the Government to set out in terms and in public their intended modus operandi and timescale. As I say, that must happen before we rise tomorrow.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Would it be in order for Members of this place to see a copy of the letter to compare it with Hansard? Although I did not sit in for the entire debate, I sat in for 90% of it, and I do not recollect any Minister saying that there were not 58 papers or that it would take them a long time to collate them in any event. It would help us to compare Hansard with the contents of the letter.

The answer to the right hon. Lady, to whom I am grateful for her further point of order, is that that matter is in the hands of the Secretary of State. He wrote to the Chair of the Brexit Committee and, perfectly courteously and properly, copied me in on that correspondence. Whether the Secretary of State wishes to furnish a copy to the right hon. Lady is a matter for him. Now, he may readily do so, as the Secretary of State is a fearless fellow, ex-SAS and all the rest of it, but he may view the right hon. Lady—I say this in all courtesy and as a mark of respect—with considerable trepidation. I do not know. That is a matter for the Secretary of State to judge. He may wish to release the letter, but I rather imagine, knowing the right hon. Lady, she will discover the contents of that letter by one means or t’other. I think we will leave it there for now.

If there are no further points of order and if the appetite has been satisfied, at least for today, we come to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and his statement.