Mr. Speaker: "I do not comment on the content of ministerial replies"
There was an interesting exchange following Prime Minister's Questions. A Conservative MP had asked a question of a minister, and the minister had failed to answer the question. The Conservative MP asked the Speaker what could be done to get the Minister to answer the question:Points of Order
12.31 pmAnne Main (St. Albans) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last week, I raised a point of order about the lack of answers to my specific questions with regard to establishing the facts about whether or not released foreign nationals who were convicted of serious sexual offences were placed on the sex offenders register. The Leader of the House has said about questions:
“the House will know that it is also important that they are answered accurately and comprehensively.”—[ Official Report, 14 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 772.]
It is with regret that I have to inform you, Mr. Speaker, that I have waited two months for a detailed specific answer. I was told by the Home Office that I was given only a generic answer to a very specific point and simply directed to read a statement that was sent to the Home Affairs Committee, although that statement made absolutely no reference whatsoever to my specific inquiries.
I cannot accept that there is no answer to the question. Surely the Secretary of State is responsible to the House for ensuring the delivery of information on this very specific question. I thus seek your guidance on the matter, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving me notice of her point of order. I do not comment on the content of ministerial replies, but I can understand the frustration that she feels. The Table Office is well aware of the issue and is ready to assist the hon. Lady with follow-up questions.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard that an important speech was made earlier today by the Minister for Policing, Security and Community Safety about the amalgamation of police forces. The matter has concerned many hon. Members for several months. Should not that all-important statement—it was a policy U-turn—have been made in this place so that it could be have been examined by all Members of Parliament?
Mr. Speaker: The Home Secretary is in the Chamber, so perhaps he will be able to clarify matters.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) had been following the debates in the House closely enough, he would have seen that that had been announced in the House, not least on 19 June when I made it absolutely plain that although the mergers and the coming together for protective services of police forces was to be maintained as the destination, I had changed the position on enforced mergers, not force mergers. In other words, I was no longer proceeding with a situation in which we would be laying orders against the wishes of the forces involved. That is what has changed, not our desire to bring together police forces in new configurations.
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Several hon. Members rose—
Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me reply to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). I am sure that we will come back to this matter. Although we have heard from the Home Secretary, there is nothing to prevent the hon. Gentleman from seeking an Adjournment debate so that the Home Secretary or an appropriate Minister could come to the House. I would advise him to do that.
Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember the practice of the House. When a Minister rises on a point of order to make a contribution to the point of order, it is within the discretion of the Chair to treat that as a statement, and at that point hon. Members are entitled to ask questions of the Minister who has intervened.
Mr. Speaker: I think that we will leave it at that for the moment.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I listened carefully to the answer that you gave to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Anne Main). You will know that I raised that matter in the House on 14 June, at the conclusion of Prime Minister’s questions—I had tabled a named day question on 29 April on the specific issue of foreign prisoner releases from Her Majesty’s prison in Peterborough. I was reassured by the Leader of the House on that occasion that the matter would be looked into. Thirteen weeks later, I have still not received a substantive answer to my question. That is unacceptable. Putting a generic statement in the House of Commons Library is unacceptable, too.
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman was present in the Chamber when I advised the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main) to go to the Table Office, which will help. I shall go no further than that. The hon. Gentleman should go to the Table Office as well.
The 'Table Office' are House of Commons staff who pass MP's questions to Ministers, and who can offer advice to MPs on how best to draft their questions.
If the Speaker is unable to comment about ministerial answers to Parliamentary Questions, it means that such answers are not part of parliamentary proceedure.
What rules are there, then, governing how Minister's answer their questions? There is a ministerial code that Ministers sign up to on becoming ministers that gives some direction: but is it against this code that MPs must challenge Ministers whose answers are weak?