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Points of Order

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 16 January 2024

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Last week I attended a Committee considering a statutory instrument on the immigration health surcharge, and, as would be expected in such a forum, I was asking questions of the Minister—in this instance, the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove)—who was unable to answer a number of those questions.

I should give credit to the Minister—I have alerted him to my intention to raise this point of order—because he has since written to me, ahead of the House finally agreeing to the statutory instrument yesterday, and I thank him for that courtesy. However, that was not the first time that I have been in a statutory instrument Committee and Ministers have been unable to answer questions. In this case it was off the back of a detailed impact assessment conducted by the Home Office, but on other occasions Ministers have been unable to supply answers on fairly basic information.

I wanted to raise the matter with you, Madam Deputy Speaker, because it seems to me that this is an inadequate and inopportune way for the House to operate. We are there to scrutinise the legislation of the Government of the day, and we are hampered in doing so if Ministers are unable to give us answers and instead promise, variously, to write to us or tell us about the issue involved at a later stage, or sometimes even brush off the questions. I wonder whether you would like to say anything on this matter, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I thank the hon. Lady for her point of order and for giving me notice of it. I assume that she did inform the Minister that she intended to raise it.

Obviously, Ministers are responsible for their own replies to Members in Delegated Legislation Committees, as they are in the Chamber. I note that the hon. Lady said that the Minister did her the courtesy of writing after the event, but I think we would all believe—and it is certainly my view—that Ministers should have all the relevant information to hand when responding to a debate. The Leader of the House is here and has clearly listened carefully to what the hon. Lady has said. I am sure that she will take that point back, as will others on the Treasury Bench.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can tell the House that this is not an isolated incident in statutory instrument Committees, but surely it is not good enough, because the Ministers who are answering questions about an impact assessment have signed that impact assessment and dated it to confirm that they are responsible and fully aware of its contents. If Ministers are indeed signing off impact assessments on statutory instruments and presenting them to Committees without knowing the contents, that is an extremely troubling revelation.

I note the point that the hon. Gentleman has made. Let me say again that this is up to individual Ministers; we cannot test them from the Chair before they respond to a debate on a statutory instrument.

Further to the point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We take these matters very seriously, and I will ensure that the points that Members have raised are brought to the attention of the Departments that have been mentioned.

I would just add that a great deal of work has been done by the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, which has been looking into how we can improve these processes, the quality of impact assessments and so forth, and a large training programme takes place in Departments. My noble Friend Lord True and I have also undertaken sessions with Ministers dealing with statutory instruments, involving training and improving the quality of what is put forward to enable the House to scrutinise legislation properly.

There will be incidents, I am sure, particularly with complex briefs, where someone cannot recall the information while at the Dispatch Box, but as the textbook example set out by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Dame Meg Hillier) with regard to my hon. Friend the Minister for Legal Migration and the Border shows, when those situations arise, Ministers are very aware of their responsibility to get back to hon. Members before those statutory instruments come into effect.

In that helpful intervention the Leader of the House has outlined the programme that is in train, and I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members will keep their beady eyes on the situation and Ministers will ensure that they are as well prepared as possible.

Bills Presented

Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Stewart Malcolm McDonald, supported by Kirsten Oswald, Ms Anum Qaisar, David Linden, Deidre Brock, Patricia Gibson, Alison Thewliss, Allan Dorans, Stuart C. McDonald, Dr Philippa Whitford, Alyn Smith and Ian Blackford, presented a Bill to prohibit unpaid trial work periods; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 15 March, and to be printed (Bill 144).

Military Action (Parliamentary Approval) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Richard Foord presented a Bill to require parliamentary approval for the deployment of UK armed forces for armed conflict; to provide for exemptions from that requirement in cases of emergency or in respect of compliance with treaty obligations; to make provision for retrospective parliamentary approval in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the first time; to be read a second time on Friday 26 January, and to be printed (Bill 146).