On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I need to declare an indirect interest. I seek your advice, because I would hate for a Minister to have unwittingly misled the House. Is it in order for the Chief Secretary to return to the Dispatch Box and supply the correct figures for social house building? Yesterday, in response to me, he said that the Government
“have the highest annual rate of social house building than under the previous Government”.—[Hansard, 10 March 2015; Vol. 594, c. 145.]
The UK Housing Review, published on Monday, had within it a Department for Communities and Local Government live table, which had the following figures for social rent starts and completions: in 2009-10, there were 39,492 starts and 30,939 completions. The figures in 2013-14—the last full year—were 3,961 and 7,559 respectively. As you can see, Mr Speaker, the Chief Secretary’s statement is wrong, and his Government have not out-built the Labour Government.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order and for advance notice of its likely content. She has put her point on the record. I hope she will understand if I say that the content of Ministers’ observations in the House is not a matter for the Chair. If the Chief Secretary, upon reflection, judges that he has made an inaccurate observation, it is of course open to him to correct the record in one or other of a number of different ways. I hope the hon. Lady will not take offence if I say—it is meant as a compliment—that she is a wily character. She has largely achieved her objective by putting her point on the record in prime time.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order. I certainly did not say that a Member was a washing machine. If I caused offence to an hon. Member on Monday afternoon in the course of Question Time, in rebuking her for a long answer—it did result in a somewhat shorter one after that—and if I caused offence by what I said, I very happily apologise to that Member. I intended to cause no offence to her and hold her in the highest esteem. I hope I ordinarily treat Members with great courtesy. It was an off-the-cuff remark, it may well have been a foolish one, and I apologise for it.
Order. Please, Mr Bryant, I know you are an exceptionally clever man. No one is more aware of your cleverness than you, but you can leave me to deal with this matter.
We are, of course, regularly reminded of that, not least by the hon. Gentleman himself.
In a deferred Division, when one wishes to abstain, as I tried to recently, I was told that if one fills in both the Aye and the No Lobby one is recorded as “not voting”. Was that advice correct, or should it be possible, in the same way that one can vote in both Lobbies, to do the same in a deferred Division?
I am advised that the advice the hon. Gentleman was given is correct. The hon. Gentleman will have heard that the Acting Clerk has confirmed the accuracy of that advice to the Chair.
More widely, perhaps I can take this opportunity to make it clear—I think this largely deals with the concerns of Chris Bryant—that the occasional practice, and it is usually a very occasional matter, of a Member going through both Lobbies as a means of abstaining has long been deprecated by the Chair. It is not a breach of any particular rules, so far as I am aware, but it has long been deprecated by the Chair. It did happen on a piece of legislation a couple of years ago. I have to say, I strongly deprecated the decision of a particular Member to abstain in that way. I think it is an unsatisfactory way to behave and it is better avoided.
I think we have dealt with the matter, but if the hon. Member for Rhondda now wants to have his say on his feet, rather than from his seat, doubtless he will do so.