Skip to main content

Points of Order

Volume 731: debated on Wednesday 26 April 2023

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have notified the Immigration Minister of this point of order and, in fact, we have just had a conversation about it, so he knows very well what point I am about to raise.

On 19 December, the Immigration Minister told the House that the backlog of asylum cases

“was 450,000 when the last Labour Government handed over to us.”——[Official Report, 19 December 2022; Vol. 725, c. 8.]

However, the UK Statistics Authority has written to both the Minister and the Prime Minister to say that that is not true, and that they should correct the record.

I have been trying to get to the bottom of this ever since, so I have written two letters to the Minister and tabled two parliamentary questions. To be fair to the Minister, he has responded remarkably quickly. In the first parliamentary question, I asked

“how many asylum applications were awaiting processing in (a) June 2010 and (b) December 2022.”

The Minister replied not with a direct answer, but with a reference to a lengthy dataset. It did include a figure for December 2022—166,261—but did not include one for 2010. I therefore tabled another question, asking

“how many asylum applications were awaiting processing in June 2010”,

which was when the Labour Government handed over to the Conservatives. Again, the Minister replied not with a direct answer but with a reference to the same dataset, which provides 543 separate lines listing asylum backlogs from different countries in 2010. Fortunately, I got an A in O-level maths, so I added up the backlogs in the 543 lines, and the total came to 18,954, so that would be the correct figure for 2010, not 450,000, as the Minister had said.

Earlier this year, Madam Deputy Speaker, you yourself ruled that when Ministers reply, not only should they do so swiftly and fully but, ideally, their answers should be free-standing. The Minister’s answers in this instance were not free-standing, and I had to do my own maths on his behalf. Can you confirm, therefore, that Ministers should not attempt to obfuscate in their responses, but should answer the question as directly as possible? I know the Minister would want to make sure that the House has the most accurate information possible.

Can you also explain to the Minister, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to any other Ministers who might be interested, that there is a formal process whereby Ministers—not Back Benchers; only Ministers—can correct the record? That would mean correcting the original statement in Hansard. Will you explain what that process is, Madam Deputy Speaker, and will the Minister now finally admit that the figure for June 2010 was not 450,000, as he said, but 18,954?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point of order. He has given me a lot of tasks to undertake.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, Ministers, rather than the Chair, are responsible for answers. However, I would of course always expect Ministers to provide answers that are as informative and helpful as possible, and I know that Mr Speaker would also expect Ministers to correct the record if an error is made in an answer. The Minister is here, and he will have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said. He may wish to take it away, or he may wish to respond immediately.

If the Minister does not wish to respond, I should just add that the Procedure Committee reviews the performance of Departments in providing answers, so the hon. Gentleman may wish to make his views clear to that Committee.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have always taken my responsibilities to the House seriously, and I continue to do so. He and I have corresponded on this issue, but he may not have seen the letter that I wrote to him yesterday.

The hon. Gentleman indicates that he has read the letter. I am happy to read out a portion of it for your benefit, Madam Deputy Speaker, and that of the House, and perhaps, with the hon. Gentleman’s consent, I may put a copy in the Library of the House, which is what I did with my previous letter to him.

In the letter, I wrote:

“I clarified my remarks on the floor of the House in the debate on Illegal Migration Bill on 27 March and”—

in the letter that I had sent to the hon. Gentleman and placed in the Library—

“I expanded on that clarification in writing”.

The point that I was trying to make in the debate, which I appreciate is different from what the hon. Gentleman believes, is this. As I said in my letter,

“With regards to the backlog of 450,000 asylum cases—this is the assessment of the then-independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, as reported by the BBC and the Guardian. Iusb therefore believe it is a perfectly legitimate figure to quote, as then-Home Secretary John Reid did in the House of Commons on 19 July 2006.”

I hope that that clarifies the matter and corrects the record to your satisfaction, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank the Minister for responding at the Dispatch Box. It is obviously not for me to rule on different interpretations of statistics—

No, I will not, but I am sure that this debate will continue elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman may well wish to respond to the Minister’s letter, but I think at this point we should leave it at that.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 27 March, the Home Affairs Committee invited Andrew Patrick, the UK migration and modern slavery envoy, to give oral evidence to our inquiry into human trafficking on Wednesday 26 April. The Foreign Office told us on 18 April that Ministers had declined permission for Mr Patrick to give evidence, given

“the focus of the inquiry, and his remit”.

We wrote to the Foreign Secretary immediately, pointing out that civil servants should be made available to Committees as requested. Although we were told yesterday that Mr Patrick’s role

“complements the work of the Home Office and is focused on the global and regional mechanisms to tackle modern slavery”,

the Foreign Secretary again declined our request. What action would you advise we take in relation to this discourtesy to the Committee, which was trying to carry out its duties to scrutinise properly the work of the Home Office and the modern slavery envoy?

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. Mr Speaker has said repeatedly that it is important that Committees are able to take evidence from the witnesses whom they believe to be essential to their inquiries. Ministers will have heard the point of order from the right hon. Lady, who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, and the Whip appears to be making a note of it right now. I am sure that Mr Speaker would encourage Ministers to reconsider their position on this issue.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In recent days a Russian vessel, the Admiral Vladimirsky, has been cruising off the coast of my constituency. It is not a trawler; it is not a pleasure boat; it is a spy ship, complete with armed guards. It has been snooping around the Beatrice oil field and examining the interconnector to my constituency, and it has been snooping around the oil installations and pipelines in the North sea. We all know what happened in recent times in the Baltic with the gas pipeline. I do not take kindly to this happening. I regard it as an important security issue that affects the United Kingdom and our energy security. What advice can you give me, Madam Deputy Speaker, on getting the Secretary of State for Defence to come to this place and make a statement, in view of this urgent situation?

The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of this House, and I am sure he knows that there are routes by which he can request that a statement be made. I have to tell him that at this point we have had no notice of a statement, but his comments will have been heard and I am sure they will be fed back to the Secretary of State.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that I could not give you notice of this point of order because it follows the SNP’s Standing Order No. 24 application. It seems to me that the reason today’s debate on the Illegal Migration Bill finishes at the moment of interruption is that there was a programme motion. When I first came into the House, I routinely voted against programme motions. It seems to me to be a good thing that we debate things at length, and I would have been quite happy to sit through the night debating this issue. So unless I am mistaken, the problem is that these wretched programme motions keep getting tabled and the House keeps voting for them. Is that correct?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. He is correct to say that there was a programme motion, and I believe that the SNP voted against it. However, the programme motion was passed. He was a Deputy Leader of the House, I understand. Yes, I recall very well his time as Deputy Leader of the House. He might want to make his points to the Procedure Committee, which might well look at them, especially in the light of his time as Deputy Leader of the House, when he might have tabled some programme motions himself—I am not sure.

The hon. Gentleman assures me that he did not do that, so there is perhaps even more reason for him to make his representations to the Procedure Committee.

I am indeed going to correct the record in one respect. My officials have helpfully told me that in regard to the written parliamentary question tabled by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Sir Chris Bryant), the Home Office did indeed provide the data requested. It is included in the table, the link to which was provided. I am told that there were instructions in the notes tab on how to use the filters appropriately. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman got an A in his O-level maths, but perhaps he did not take ICT at that time.

I thank the Minister for that further point of order, which I think indicates why it is important for me not to get involved in interpreting statistics. We probably should not prolong the debate any further at this point, so we will move on to the ten-minute rule motion from Helen Morgan.