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Point of Order

Volume 663: debated on Wednesday 10 July 2019

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance. I am sure you are aware that the Cabinet Office has a role in co-ordinating the cross-governmental response to climate change, including the greening government commitments and the UN sustainable development goals, and is responsible for procurement across Government, which obviously relates to sustainability. We have discovered that in Cabinet Office questions this morning the Cabinet Office decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Order Paper one question that had been drawn four times, each having been submitted by a Labour Member. The question was about what steps the Department was taking to facilitate cross-governmental co-operation on tackling climate change. The Opposition had approached the Table Office, and it confirmed that the question would be in order, but the Department decided to unilaterally withdraw it. I seek your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, as to how we can ensure that questions are in order. If the Table Office say they are, is it okay for Departments to unilaterally decide they are not?

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for having given me notice of her intention to raise it. It is not for the Chair to interfere in such matters, of course, but it is for the Chair to make sure that Members are given proper answers to any question they ask and that Departments are accountable to Parliament and therefore to individual Members of Parliament. [Interruption.] We really do not need commentary from the Back Benches while I am giving a polite answer. I have never known a point of order to be heckled like that.

The short answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that it is perfectly in order for Departments to decide which Department is responsible for any matter a Member raises, be it in a written question, an oral question, a letter to a Minister, and so on. It is quite normal for a Department to say that a matter cannot be properly answered by one Minister but that it could be answered by another. Even where the Table Office might have said that a matter is properly for one Department, that Department has every right to transfer it to another one.

That said, if the hon. Lady or the four Members who tabled questions they thought would be answered publicly this morning do not get answers in a timely fashion, please come back and draw it to the attention of the Chair, because the Chair is concerned that Members have their questions properly answered. I hope that helps the hon. Lady.