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Point of Order

Volume 727: debated on Thursday 9 February 2023

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would like to raise two points, about which I have given notice to both the Speaker’s Office and to the hon. Member to whom I will refer.

First, on 30 January the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), responded to my written parliamentary question 131454 by directing me toward a previous freedom of information request. However, my office, the House of Commons Library and the Table Office have all been unable to trace this FOI reference, which is not in a recognisable format. I understand that the House authorities are consulting with the Treasury to investigate this further.

Secondly, on 17 January I took part in a debate on the Local Government Finance Act 1988 (Non-Domestic Rating Multipliers) (England) Order 2022, the sole purpose of which is to set a variable in the formula used to calculate the small business non-domestic rating multiplier for the coming year. I asked the Financial Secretary three times to clarify why this variable was increasing. I checked her final answer with the House of Commons Library, which said it did not think what the Minister said was “entirely accurate”.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I would be grateful for your advice, first, on whose responsibility it is to ensure that responses to written parliamentary questions are accurate; and secondly, on how the record can be corrected when a Minister inadvertently gives incorrect information in Committee?

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving notice of his point of order. On his first point, it is not acceptable for Ministers to provide answers referring to material that is not accessible. Answers should be free-standing or at least refer to material that can be accessed relatively easily.

On the hon. Member’s second point, Ministers and other Members, especially Opposition Front Benchers, sometimes take a different view about whether or not a response is accurate, and the Speaker cannot arbitrate about such differences. Ministers are obviously responsible for their answers. However, if a Minister accepts that a mistake has been made, they should correct the record. That is required of them by both the ministerial code and a resolution of this House. If the Minister does not accept that a correction is required, I am sure the hon. Member will find ways of pursuing his points in any event.

The hon. Member is very lucky that the Leader of the House is here and will have heard his comments, and I am sure she will take them back for consideration. I hope that any other Ministers this will be fed back to will have heard my response to the two issues, and I hope that they will help provide a more useful answer in the first instance and reflect on whether a correction is required in the second instance. As I say, the Leader of the House will have heard that as well.