On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The disclosure of a letter sent by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s private secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office has revealed that according to the Government’s own estimates the introduction of a benefits cap will lead to greater homelessness, higher costs for the taxpayer and fewer homes being built. The only answer the Deputy Prime Minister could muster this afternoon was that things have moved on. He had no answer on why this information was not made available to Parliament in the first place or why Ministers have denied that such an assessment has been made, and arrogantly dismissed out of hand questions about what else they might be hiding. I have raised the matter directly with the Secretary of State and asked him to come to the House to clarify how many families he believes will lose their homes and whether that information was shared with the Department for Work and Pensions. He has failed to reply. Will you advise me on whether you have received any indication from the Secretary of State that he intends to follow my suggestion by making a statement to the House?
I am grateful to the shadow Secretary of State for her point of order. As she will be aware, and as the House will appreciate, this matter was raised from the Opposition Front Bench yesterday. On that occasion I undertook to look into the matter, and I can assure her and the House that I am doing so. As and when there is anything further to report to the House—I recognise the premium on time—she may rest assured that I will do so without hesitation. I hope that that is clear.
“I do not believe in making tax changes outside a Budget, which is the proper way we do things in this country.”—[Hansard, 26 January 2011; Vol. 522, c. 284.]
Yet today, the Chancellor has announced a decision on North sea oil and gas taxation which will cost the taxpayer £50 million a year. He did so not only outside a Budget, but outside this Chamber, despite the Government having an opportunity during yesterday’s Finance Bill debate, when the House discussed at some length an amendment on the North sea tax regime, to discuss the issue and to make the announcement then. Is it in order for the Chancellor to announce a tax decision in this way?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, of which on this occasion I did not have advance notice. She certainly raises a very serious concern that she and others feel. My initial response and advice is that she should look for other opportunities to debate the matter, possibly using the Order Paper. I do not know whether it would be in order to debate the matters within the context of consideration of the Finance Bill, because I have not looked at the groups of amendments. If that opportunity exists, I have a keen sense that the hon. Lady will be aware of it. If not, she will pursue it on other occasions. I hope that also is helpful.