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Points of Order

Volume 690: debated on Thursday 11 March 2021

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, the Prime Minister confirmed to me last week during Prime Minister’s questions that we have a unified civil service in the United Kingdom and that there are no separate civil services in the devolved Administrations. Logically, that means that Ministers are answerable to this House of Commons for issues relating to the conduct of the whole civil service. Will you please confirm that that is the case, and that, if any Member of this House consequently wants to table a question or ask for a report into the conduct of civil servants currently serving in any devolved Administration, which Ministers would answer such questions? Will you also confirm that any Committee of this House that seeks information from any civil servants in any part of the United Kingdom will be able to do so if that is needed for any parliamentary inquiry?

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. The Table Office will be able to advise him about the tabling of questions. The Government decide which Department responds. The Table Office will be able to advise about the most appropriate Department to direct the questions towards in the first instance. The normal rules about questions, including on ministerial responsibility, would of course apply.

Select Committees may seek evidence from a wide range of sources and certain options are open to them if that evidence is not provided.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before the Clerk reads the Orders of the Day for the Second Reading of the supply Bill, may I put on record that I and a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends had hoped to table an amendment yesterday to the motion on the vote on account? The amendment would have referred to the sums being appropriated to overseas aid in that motion and sought to establish that the Government should not be able to reduce planned expenditure below the sum set out in the International Development (Official Development Assistance Target) Act 2015.I am advised—I am sure correctly—that that was not possible, as no amendments could be moved at the roll-up, and the Bill is about to go through on the nod. That means that Members have no way of deciding whether or not the House assents to the massive cuts planned in our support for the world’s most vulnerable people. Whatever the merits of that case, Mr Speaker, do you agree that if we are to take back control, one place to start would be to get some grip on public expenditure plans, which are at the heart of what we do in this place, and yet seem to be totally in the hands of Ministers?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I confirm that he was given the correct advice, and that under Standing Order No. 55 no amendments can be proposed to the roll-up motions. The matter is therefore not a point of order for the Chair, but the right hon. Gentleman has put his comments on the record, and the House has heard them. As he knows, this has been the longstanding way that the House has dealt with issues, and I gently say to him that he was the Chief Whip and he did not complain too much when he was in charge at the time. There are ways that we can change things, but at the moment we will carry on with the way we are.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. When I was on the Procedure Committee, I was instrumental in getting that committee to ensure that we had proper debates on estimates days. On a previous occasion, when I tried to speak about the estimates on estimates days, I was ruled out of order by your predecessor. We have made progress, but I would have thought that the whole debate to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) alluded, shows that we can continue to make progress on this and improve parliamentary scrutiny on estimates. In particular, we should follow up the recommendations of the Procedure Committee in the previous Parliament that we should have a proper Budget committee. I appreciate that you are constrained by present rules, Mr Speaker, but I hope you will forgive me if I make that point.

As you well know, Sir Edward, that is not a point for me, but I am sure the Leader of the House has managed to hear what is being said. I think we will leave it at that. I will suspend the House for three minutes to allow preparations to be made for the next item of business.

Sitting suspended.