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Points of Order

Volume 482: debated on Monday 3 November 2008

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that during last Thursday’s business questions a number of hon. Members, myself included, raised the issue of the horror that is going on in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I understand that the Foreign Secretary is returning from his welcome visit there. Is there anything that we can do to ensure that he makes a statement, if possible, tomorrow, on whatever support can be given to meet the humanitarian needs of the people of the eastern DRC during this crisis?

I say to the hon. Gentleman that that is not a matter for the Chair. It is up to Ministers to decide whether or not they make a statement, but I am sure that his concerns are on the record.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you, as the defender of the rights of Back Benchers, to examine answers to parliamentary questions? We are well used to the fact that in answers to written questions we do not always receive 100 per cent. of the information requested. The attraction of oral questions, and their great advantage, is that we can be critical of the answers that we receive, particularly when they contain certain omissions. May I therefore ask you to examine the replies given to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) and me this afternoon? We sought factual advice on a matter of the gravest importance, but the responses that came from the Front Bench team did not answer our questions. I do not know what description one could apply to those answers, except to say that they were evasive. I had to withdraw my remark, but are we to believe that the word “evasive” is now unparliamentary language?

Unparliamentary language is a bit strong; I am saying that the hon. Gentleman should not direct that term at Ministers, as he knows. What was the term that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) used? Did he say “confused”?

If the hon. Gentleman said that the Minister was bewildered, I would go for that one. For me to examine Ministers’ answers, be they written or oral, would be to add too much to the job description of the Speaker. As a trade unionist, hon. Members would not want me to get any more work than I am doing at the moment, but that is what the hon. Member for Newport, West (Paul Flynn) is telling me to do.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I and several other Members received letters inviting us to join the cross-party group on balanced migration, but when I applied, I was told by the secretary that I was not allowed to join and that only Back-Bench Members, not including Select Committee Chairmen, could be members of all-party groups. Is that the case? My understanding is that as long as a Member is not a Government member, including a Whip, they cannot be restricted from joining all-party groups.

It is up to the groups to sort out such matters and to decide whether they wish the right hon. Gentleman to be a member, so I shall not interfere in the matter. Rules have been laid down on the number of Members in an all-party group and on whether there should be a balance of officers, which clearly there should.