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Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 12:21 pm on 13th January 2011.

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Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 12:21 pm, 13th January 2011

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier this week I raised a point of order concerning the transfer of certain ministerial responsibilities from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and you indicated very kindly on that occasion that this morning we had Business, Innovation and Skills questions, which might clarify the position. Regrettably, they have not.

We do not have a written ministerial statement, but I have received representations from Members about the difficulty that the situation is causing when tabling questions, and from the telecommunications industry about not knowing the Department with which it should deal. This is an urgent matter that is affecting investment decisions. Is there any way in which the Government can expedite the matter, so that the effects of a decision that was made some weeks ago might be made clear to the House?

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It is for Ministers to define their responsibilities and to communicate the facts relating thereto. The matter was raised today, and the Leader of the House offered a reply, but the hon. Gentleman will know that I am not responsible for the content of that reply. It is a responsibility of Ministers. I feel sure that the point will have been heard by Members on the Treasury Bench, and that it will be communicated as appropriate to Ministers.

Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Labour, West Bromwich East

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Standing Order No. 139, on the powers of the Administration Committee, allows the direction of Officers of the House to service Select Committees. This morning, during a debate in the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, of which I am a member, we did not know the ministerial policy areas for which we were responsible. If the Government cannot decide which Ministers are in what Departments or who is responsible for policy, can the Administration Committee aid Select Committees with that?

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

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that it is a matter that requires clarification. I hope such will soon be provided to the satisfaction of the hon. Gentleman and others.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. When constituents write to me, I consider it a courtesy to write back to them in kind. I would expect the same thing to happen when MPs write to Ministers-for them to write back in kind with a signed reply. Recently, I received correspondence on behalf of the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport from something called the public engagement team-an electronic communication indicating that a unilateral decision had been taken without consultation by the Secretary of State, whereby in future no letters would be sent to Members signed by Ministers. I am not a dinosaur-I engage in electronic media, social media and so on-but do you, Mr Speaker, have any powers in the matter to require Ministers to reply in kind to MPs' correspondence with a signed response?

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

I am not sure that that is a point of order; I think it is, instead, a point of offended sensibility. Nevertheless, the point has been made and heard. I can say only two things: how Ministers communicate with Members is a matter for them and I do not have any formal powers in that regard; but, I think that it is a matter of courtesy, and it has always been understood that, if a Member writes to a Minister, in most circumstances that one can predict the Member will get a reply from a Minister-and that is right.

Photo of Thomas Docherty Thomas Docherty Labour, Dunfermline and West Fife

Further to the point of order from my hon. Friend Mr Watson, Mr Speaker. As a member of the Administration Committee, I wonder whether it would be possible for you to circulate that clarification later today, so that we Committee members might have a chance to discuss the matter on Monday at our next meeting.