Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 24th January 2012.

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Photo of Rachel Reeves Rachel Reeves Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 4:19 pm, 24th January 2012

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The International Monetary Fund has today revised its growth forecast for 2012 downwards, from 1.6% to 0.6%, and asked the Government to reconsider the pace of their deficit reduction plans. Have you had any indication that the Chancellor plans to come to the House to give the Government’s response?

Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In answering a series of questions printed in Hansard on 19 January on 18 separate and current EU proposals on financial services, the Treasury Minister responded:

“When EU legislation is being reviewed or prepared, responses by the UK authorities to a public consultation will be made available on the Commission website.”—[Hansard, 19 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 948W.]

When a Member of the House asks questions of the British Government, is it sufficient for them to be answered by reference to potential statements being put up on the European Commission’s website? Is it not the responsibility of the Minister to give an answer to the Member of Parliament?

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. There has been no breach of order in the method that the Minister chose for his reply to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman’s point of order will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench, however, and I hope that, when framing answers, Ministers will take account of the convenience of right hon. and hon. Members in being able to access information. I recall from my own experience as a Back Bencher that it was exceptionally irritating when a series of carefully crafted written questions was responded to in a desultory and, some might have thought, a discourteous manner. To do so to the hon. Gentleman is certainly a hazardous enterprise, because he is bound to raise the matter on the Floor of the House, as he has just eloquently demonstrated.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

On a point of order of which I have given you notice, Mr Speaker. I tabled two named-day questions for answer on 13 December by the Department for Communities and Local Government. They were factual questions about the payment of money for regional projects under the European regional development fund. Despite polite follow-up questions from my office, no reply was received until yesterday. I was surprised and concerned that the Minister responsible, Grant Shapps, had inserted into his reply a tendentious, partial and lengthy attack on the previous Government, including inaccurate comments about me. The argument that we shout like mad and protest too much might come to mind, but is it not an abuse of the conventions and courtesies of the House to pervert a factual written reply to a Member in that way? Given that the reply has now appeared in

Hansard in that form, what recourse is available to enable it to be amended so that it reflects only the factual information that I requested from the Minister, and represents a response suited to a Minister of the Crown rather than a boastful rant more suited to a timeshare salesman?

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 thank the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I do not feel comfortable about commenting now on his question about retrospective amendment, but I can respond to him on two points. First, the content of ministerial answers is not a matter for the Chair, and the hon. Gentleman might wish to write to the Procedure Committee if, as is obviously the case, he is dissatisfied. Secondly, I will say that, in my view, Ministers should avoid putting in their written answers to written parliamentary questions any polemical matter that would not be allowed in the questions themselves. The Table Office regulates the manner of the asking of the questions, and Ministers must exercise some responsibility and demonstrate some courtesy in the manner of their answers.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You very generously allowed the debate on the urgent question to carry on for 49 minutes, and there is obviously enormous interest in the situation in Iran. The Leader of the House is in the Chamber. Would you accept a request for a much fuller debate on the situation facing Iran in the very near future? Clearly, the whole situation is extremely dangerous.

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. A senior Government Whip, chuntering rather helpfully from a sedentary position, says that there will be a defence debate on Thursday. I do not think that he was saying it for my benefit, but I am grateful to him nevertheless. That debate might provide a suitable vehicle for Jeremy Corbyn to air his concerns. I do not want to be pedantic, but when he asks me whether I would accept such a request, he will know that the scheduling of business is a matter for the usual channels. Those on the Treasury Bench will have heard his point of order, and he will know that I allowed the debate on the urgent question to run for a substantial time because I felt that it related to a matter of the highest importance, on which a statement could have been—but did not have to be—volunteered by the Government, and in which there was very substantial interest. I hope that that will be taken into account, and that the Government will realise that Members want to be updated on the matter on a regular basis.