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Points of Order

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 10 June 2021

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Could you clarify how we better ensure that Ministers who sit in the other place face proper scrutiny from parliamentary Select Committees of this House? The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has had considerable difficulty securing any time with the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office. We were told on 16 February that it was his responsibility to oversee the negotiation of crucial bilateral agreements to ensure that people working in the creative and service sectors in the UK can travel to and work in countries within the EU. Following our subsequent request to see the Minister, we had two refusals point blank. It was only after the Prime Minister himself stated, under my questioning at a Liaison Committee hearing, that he expected the Minister to appear before the Committee, that finally, on 23 April, we secured a date for the Minister’s appearance, that being today.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you can imagine my dismay at the said Minister’s subsequent cancellation of his appearance this week. We all appreciate that there are many important issues for the Minister to address, particularly in the light of the trade dispute with the EU. However, with the Minister citing the G7 as a reason for cancellation, that can hardly be deemed an unexpected event. Could you express the House’s concern over Ministers from the other place not appearing in front of parliamentary Select Committees to receive due scrutiny, and would you reflect on the democratic deficit that this brings about?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. Select Committee scrutiny is an essential aspect of our work in this place, and for Committees to be able properly to undertake scrutiny they need access to key witnesses, including Ministers. The Government must therefore make every effort to ensure that the appropriate Ministers are able to give evidence to Committees in a timely way. When the Minister concerned is in the House of Lords, it is particularly important that Committees in this House are able to hold them to account.

I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman’s Committee has been experiencing these difficulties. He has now put his concerns on the record. They will have been heard by Ministers, and I hope that every effort is now made to ensure that the Committee is able to take evidence from the Minister, without delay.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In responding to the urgent question on 27 May about the UK’s proposed tariff offer to the Australian Government on agricultural experts, the Minister for Trade Policy claimed, in his opening statement, that

“Australia has some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.”—[Official Report, 27 May 2021; Vol. 696, c. 549.]

Later, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley), he said that

“if she sat down with the RSPCA Australia, it might give her a robust view of how good Australian animal welfare standards are.”—[Official Report, 27 May 2021; Vol. 696, c. 557.]

Since then, the Australian RSPCA has described the Minister’s reply as being “misinformed”, with its chief executive, Dr Richard Mussell, saying:

“Unfortunately, animal welfare standards in Australia are basic at best…Standards are rarely audited and, unless implemented into law, which few are, they are only voluntary.”

I have informed the Minister of my intention to raise this point of order, and I am sure he would not wish to have inadvertently misled the House in this way. I wonder whether you can advise me as to how the Minister might be able to correct the record in the House at the earliest opportunity.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice that he wished to raise this matter. I have to say that the content of Ministers’ answers to parliamentary questions is a matter not for me but for the Minister concerned. I am also a little concerned that points of order become a continuation of Question Time. However, the hon. Gentleman has put his views on the record, and I am sure the point has been heard by those on the Treasury Bench and will be relayed to the Minister.

I am now suspending the House for two minutes to make arrangements for the next business.

Sitting suspended.