Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:52 pm on 29th October 2001.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 4:52 pm, 29th October 2001

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have given prior notice of this point of order to you and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

On 5 October, I tabled a written question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about alleged underspending on several public services, notably education and health. Twenty-four days later, I had not received a parliamentary answer from any Treasury Minister. Yet on 26 October, last Friday, a detailed briefing about precisely such underspending in several Departments was curiously and inexplicably provided to The Independent.

The sin of gross parliamentary discourtesy—that is, providing information calculatedly to a newspaper in advance, instead of giving the House an answer—has been compounded by another. On 24 October, I tabled a written question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about corporation tax. In column 261 of Hansard, I received what might be described as a desultory reply from the Chief Secretary, followed by an exhortation to consult the Inland Revenue website for further and better particulars.

That proved a disappointing exercise because the relevant page is entitled "Inland Revenue Missing Page", and states:

"The page you want either no longer exists, or has been moved."

I am not an unduly suspicious character, but that raises the question of whether the page went absent without leave or, true to Treasury fashion, was removed by stealth. Either way, it is grossly unsatisfactory.

Has any Treasury Minister asked to make a statement on the matter? If not, will you give your verdict, Mr. Speaker, on that gross Government ineptitude?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

I cannot advise the hon. Gentleman about the missing page. However, if sufficient information is available for a press conference, an hon. Member who tables a parliamentary question should be able to get a proper answer. I hope that the Minister concerned takes note.