On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have given you prior notice of this point of order, which relates to item 23 of the future business on today’s Order Paper—Public Bodies: Scrutiny of Draft Orders. This was due to be debated in the House last week, but the order, as drafted, was defective and so was pulled. It has enormous implications for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in particular, but it also relates to all the orders for the dismantling once and for all of particular public bodies, the vast majority of which relate to the Committee.
If I may, I wish to ask for three things: that the order be debated in an orderly manner in the customary fashion; that, where an order for approval is drafted, it is not to be tabled before the end of the laying period and that additional time be granted to an individual Committee, such as the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, to allow a minimum of 60 to 90 working days to consider it; and that, if necessary, a debate on such an order is allowed on the Floor of the House. This order is monumental in its nature. These public bodies will cease to exist and the members of the Committee would like to have time to consider it fully.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for advance notice of her point of order, and for the point of order itself. Sadly, none of the three requests that she has put to me is a matter for the Chair; all three are matters—her brow is furrowed, but I assure her that I am right on this issue—for discussion perhaps between the Liaison Committee, as the collective representative of Select Committees, on the one hand and Treasury Front Benchers on the other.
I should say to the hon. Lady and to the House, which I am sure will want the issue to be interpreted, that the point at issue is the procedure for Select Committees to deal with proposals made by Ministers under the recently passed Public Bodies Act 2011. I note—she referred to this in passing—that a proposed Standing Order to deal with those draft orders is indeed item 23 in today’s Future Business, section C, and no doubt those on the Treasury Bench, which does not include the Leader of the House or the Deputy Leader of the House at the moment but a number of Whips, who doubtless can convey the relevant information, will have heard her point. I have a feeling that if she does not get satisfaction, she is likely, if precedent is anything by which to judge, to return to the matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the end of October I submitted a written question to the Treasury for a named day reply. On the named day,
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. This has been the subject of some considerable discontent on both sides of the House over a sustained period. Ministers have heard me say before that conforming to the spirit of what the House expects requires the provision of a timely and substantive response to the question posed. Simply to say just before the deadline or on the day of the deadline, “I will reply to my hon. Friend as soon as possible,” really is not good enough. The hon. Gentleman is a perspicacious Member if ever there was one, and he might wish to provide that example and possibly others to the Procedure Committee—and, perhaps, to write to Mr Knight, who chairs that august Committee and is looking into those matters—in the hope that he and his colleagues can get satisfaction.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Front Benchers’ opening statements on the Vickers report earlier this afternoon lasted more than 25 minutes. They were almost Second Reading opening speeches. Statements have become alarmingly long recently. They used to be only seven or eight minutes, and then questions allowed points to be developed. Can we get back to that general rule?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I share his concern. Ordinarily, a ministerial statement is not expected to exceed and, indeed, is expected not to exceed 10 minutes. I was informed that the nature of that statement had required something slightly longer, and in those circumstances I allowed a little extension of time for the Opposition Front Benchers, but on the right hon. Gentleman’s substantive point I agree, and I hope that we can start 2012 rather better, with crisp statements and crisp responses from Opposition Front Benchers, and then get on to the people with whom I am mainly preoccupied, namely Back Benchers. I hope that that is helpful.