Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 6th July 2010.

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Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools) 4:23 pm, 6th July 2010

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday the Secretary of State for Education made his chaotic announcement about decimating the Building Schools for the Future programme. It now transpires that a list naming the schools affected, which should have been available to Members during the debate, contained errors, and a revised list had to be sent out. There are also some authorities that think they might be affected, although they are not named.

As you can imagine, Mr Speaker, this has caused considerable anxiety and confusion. Is it not essential that on such a sensitive subject, this House must have timely and accurate information? Is there any way in which you can request the Secretary of State to come to the Chamber and account for this totally unacceptable situation? At the same time, can he also account for the serious allegations that he made yesterday against the former Secretary of State, who he claimed had made

"unsustainable and irresponsible promises that he knew no Government could keep", while also saying that

"£2.5 billion of unfunded commitments is evidence of scandalous irresponsibility"-[ Hansard, 5 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 54.]?

We now know, thanks to a letter from the permanent secretary at the Department, who is the chief accounting officer, that that was not the case and that the current Secretary of State was totally wrong. Mr. Speaker, should not the Secretary of State come to this House, set the record straight and apologise?

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and for advance notice of it. First, I reiterate what I said yesterday-that, of course, statements to this House should be both timely and accurate. Secondly, I think it only fair to point out to him that matters relating to the content of statements are not matters for the Chair. Thirdly, he drew attention to the letter sent by the permanent secretary to Ed Balls. He referred to that letter very specifically in a point of order to me last night. It is possible that he felt that it deserved a larger audience today, but Members can consult yesterday's Hansard. I do not think it would be proper for me to add anything more, but the hon. Gentleman is certainly an enthusiastic pugilist.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The practice of reading out the names of the fallen is a welcome new tradition in the House, and is greatly appreciated by their loved ones. We know the special intense silence that greets such readings. Last Monday and today, the names of the fallen were read out as part of statements-on the G20 last Monday, and on extraordinary rendition today. I know that there is no Member in the House who would want to seem to downgrade the gratitude, appreciation and respect that we feel for those who have given their lives, but if we move the reading to another time, it could be interpreted as an attempt to bury bad news. Will you consider that, Mr Speaker, and make representations to ensure that the names of the fallen are read at the time of maximum attendance in the House, and at the time when the House receives maximum attention from outside?

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I do not think that anyone would want to downgrade the significance of what has taken place, or the importance of informing the House of the details of those who have perished. The Prime Minister, on a number of different occasions and at different times of the week, has given the House such details, and I know that he has done so in all solemnity. I do not think it would be right for me to add anything further at this stage, but I am happy to reflect on the hon. Gentleman's point, and I know that others will do so as well.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

Young people in my constituency were reassured yesterday when they were told that the schools there would not be affected by the Building Schools for the Future cuts. I have now been informed that the organisation Partnerships for Schools has contradicted the statement that the Secretary of State made to the House, and that Manor, George Salter and Menzies schools face an uncertain future. People make mistakes, Mr Speaker, but is it not unreasonable for the Secretary of State not to put the matter right? If he is indeed wrong and Partnerships for Schools is right, those young people in my constituency deserve an apology for having their hopes raised and then cruelly dashed 24 hours later.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and also for giving me advance notice of it. He will understand that I am reluctant to be drawn into the detail of the debate, but I will say this to him. As I have already indicated, statements to the House should be both timely and accurate. Obviously, if something said to the House is misleading-that is a strict and tough test-it should be corrected; if any apology is required-I do not know whether it is-I hope that it will be forthcoming.

I did comment yesterday on the difficulties for the House of learning about detailed announcements when a Secretary of State possesses full details and the House does not. I made very clear my view that in the name both of courtesy and of effective scrutiny, if a Minister making a statement possesses a list, he or she has a duty to put that list on the Table of the House or in the Vote Office or both, at the start, not the end, of the statement.

It may also be helpful if I say to the hon. Gentleman and the House both that his point will have been heard on the Treasury Bench-I am delighted to see that the Leader of the House is present-and that there will be further opportunities to take up the matter, not least during oral questions to the Department for Education next Monday, 12 July. I have not, however, been notified of any further statement to be made on this subject today.

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Photo of Helen Jones Helen Jones Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Minister (Justice)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been said on a number of occasions from the Treasury Bench that the previous Government made unfunded spending commitments. Labour Members have repeatedly asked Ministers to produce, if that were the case, the letter to the permanent secretary giving a ministerial direction for those things to take place. Is there any way that you, as Speaker, can ensure that a Minister comes to the House and produces that letter of direction-or, if not, that Ministers apologise for the slurs that they have placed on Members?

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

The hon. Lady is a very wily and experienced operator, and she knows that I could be forgiven for concluding that she is attempting to continue a debate started yesterday by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood, the shadow Secretary of State for Education, and continued with some poise and persistence by Vernon Coaker, who is still sitting on the Front Bench. In fact she may, for all I know, be engaged in a double act with the hon. Gentleman. However, she has made her point with her customary eloquence, and it is on the record.

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