§ 11.1 am
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
The object of this debate is to draw attention to a report which the Minister has done his best to stifle at birth. Far from being stifled, it is crying aloud for action.
The report, by Meg Hubey and Gill Dix of the social policy research unit at York university, entitled "Evaluating the Social Fund", presents the findings of a major survey commissioned by the Department of Social Security. I presume that the Minister then responsible expected the survey to confound the social fund's many critics by showing that it had been a success. Sadly for the Government, the report reached them at a time when the social fund is under attack once again from all sides. It has no friends. Included in its critics are the Social Security Advisory Committee, which has called for radical changes in how it operates.
We do not know exactly how long the Minister sat on that report before allowing it to be published a week ago, but we know that it was a matter of months rather than weeks. When I tabled a question three weeks ago, asking what stage arrangements for publication had reached and for a copy to be placed in the Library, the answer that I received on 25 June was:The report will be published following examination by Ministers."—[Official Report, 25 June 1992; Vol. 210, c. 308.]It is wrong that publication of an important research report, financed by public funds, should be held up pending examination by Ministers.
On receiving that answer, I wrote to the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who is in his place today, seeking clarification. I asked him whether that meant that he was examining the report to see whether it needed doctoring before publication. If so, it was outrageous that academic research should be subjected to political censorship. Was publication being delayed so that the Minister could make policy decisions without first allowing an informed public debate to take place? Or had he deliberately delayed publication until the House rose on 16 July to prevent any possibility of parliamentary debate until the autumn? Those questions remain unanswered; I have had no reply so far.
Meanwhile, the report has been published. It was published last Wednesday in strange circumstances. It was published much to the surprise of its authors, who had been told that publication was to take place the following day. They learned of the change not from the Minister but from an unofficial tip-off two hours before publication. They also discovered that the announcement of publication was being tagged on to the end of a written parliamentary answer. The only indication of the York report's contents in that written answer was the Minister's final sentence, which said:I am pleased to note that the findings confirm the message of the Secretary of State's annual report that the fund has provided cash assistance for exceptional needs to millions of people; and also recognise the excellent job being performed by social fund officers."—[Official Report, 8 July 1992; Vol. 211, c. 224.]Although those words are in the report somewhere, they are not obvious. But the report shows that the social fund totally fails in its objective of concentrating help on those in greatest need. It shows that, by any measure that the 1236 authors could devise, those whose applications to the fund were refused were in great need—sometimes in greater need than those who applied successfully.
The Minister's answer, reproduced faithfully in a DSS press release, was a gross misrepresentation of the findings of that major research project. I hope that he will dissociate himself from it.
It is impossible, in the time allowed for this debate, to do more than pick out some of the more striking findings of this important report. The survey, carried out in October to December 1990—allowing long enough for the social fund to bed down since 1988—investigated 1,724 people on low incomes, including 968 social fund applicants. It also involved a novel technique of in-depth interviews with a small number of applicants and simulated decision-making exercises in which 15 social fund officers took part.
The fundamental fact that emerges throughout the report is the inadequacy of the basic weekly rates out of which people are expected to meet the whole of their normal living expenses. As a result of the policy pursued since 1979—freezing the real value of benefit while other incomes rise—people living on income support find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
By an amazing coincidence, another report was published today giving damning new evidence of how the poorest in society have become relatively even poorer in the past 10 years. Is it not a strange fact that those reports are coming in a great rush at this time—the dog days of Parliament when Members are thinking of their holidays and the recess ahead of them? It is disgraceful practice that that flood of reports is arriving now.
Part of the evidence of that report is that, in the 1990s in Britain, even food is a problem to many families. The report states:The main problem facing all the families and particularly emphasised in households with children and by pensioners was simply providing enough food at each meal.The in-depth interviews revealed that some families were economising on fuelby going without heating for parts of the day, not using the central heating at all, sitting in the dark in the evenings, or going to bed early.Only four of the 15 applicants interviewed in depth had a telephone. The others, including people with disabilities, regarded a telephone as essential both for emergencies and to maintain social contacts, but it wasan expense beyond their means.Some had had to give up their telephones when their incomes fell.
Holidays were virtually unknown. Only 6 per cent. of social fund applicants reported spending anything on holidays, and fewer than one in three spent money on leisure activities of any kind. There was little possibility of saving. The report said:60 per cent. of survey respondents said that they never managed to put money aside for expenses that did not come up every week, and a further 17 per cent. said that they hardly ever managed to do so. Only 3.3 per cent. of respondents had any savings at all at the time of the interview.In their attempts to manage, they left the less urgent bills unpaid, especially the poll tax,. Of the 15 in-depth interviews, only seven people had paid the poll tax in full, a few had made one or two monthly payments, and the rest had paid nothing. Given the choice between food, fuel and the poll tax, who can blame them?
These facts are shameful in themselves. In relation to the social fund, their significance is that, with weekly 1237 benefit rates as inadequate as this, any system of one-off payments for special needs is bound to come under enormous pressure, and the social fund tries to contain that pressure by screwing on the lid, imposing totally unrealistic cash limits, and placing increasingly rigorous restrictions on the purposes for which payments can be made.
As a result, most of the needs which the social fund was supposedly designed to meet remain unmet. One third of the lone parents in the survey and more than a quarter of the couples with children did not have adequate bedding. One in seven of all those interviewed did not have adequate floor covering.
Where help was forthcoming from the social fund, it was usually in the form of a loan, which people had to repay by deductions from their already inadequate weekly benefit income. The report states:Most respondents expressed very negative feelings about the experience of living on reduced incomes following loan deductions … over a third of loan recipients in the survey dealt with social fund loan repayment by cutting back on spending and going without other things.The "other things" were most often food, clothing and the payment of fuel bills. They paid their debt to the social fund by getting in debt to the gas board.
Because social fund payments are discretionary, making an application is always a gamble. A lone parent said:They never give you any information as to what you are entitled to and not entitled to. They just give you the forms and tell you to send them in. That's it. Sometimes you come out feeling terrible.There were twice as many negative as positive comments about the process of applying to the social fund. Some 34 per cent. of the comments described it asterrible, ridiculous, unfair, depressing, humiliating, degrading.Applicants for crisis loans were particularly critical, 21 per cent. complaining that it took too long. That complaint was made recently by the Social Security Advisory Committee. In a chapter about young people in its latest annual report, the committee says that a 16 or 17-year-old who is awarded income support on grounds of severe hardship has to wait one to two weeks for it to come through. Meanwhile, they have to go through the additional hassle of applying for crisis loans. The committee fairly quotes the view of local office staff that that isa waste of staff time, social fund resources and an unnecessary difficulty for the claimant.I asked the Secretary of State what it would cost to pay income support immediately instead of one to two weeks later and received a reply, not from the Minister but from the ubiquitous Mr. Bichard of the Benefits Agency, who assured me that, because wages and other benefits are paid in arrears, payment of income support in advance in these circumstances would not be possible.
It has been a revelation to many Back Benchers to receive letters from civil servants, because it lets us see how much civil servants take on themselves. If the Minister decided that such a method of payment was possible, I suspect that Mr. Bichard would find it perfectly possible. However, many of the replies show the supreme power of the civil service.
I watched a programme called "Target" on Sky television in which there was an extraordinary interview 1238 about new secrecy, the inability of hon. Members to see letters from the Benefits Agency and other agencies that are sent to other hon. Members. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that they could be seen in a publication produced by an admirable Member of Parliament. He said, "We have helped him." I presume that he means the Government. However, they have not raised a finger to help in the publication of the report to which I have referred. The publication in which the letters appear is an admirable document, and I hope that before long the Government will publish the letters in Hansard. The Government's claim that they are devoted to sweeping away the cobwebs of secrecy is gossamer thin. For over a year those letters have remained secret, but I am sure that they will soon be published in Hansard. That delay shows the increasing importance and power of civil servants, who seem to act outside the control of Ministers. After receiving odd information from Mr. Bichard and Mr. Fogden and other civil servants on several other issues, I appealed to Ministers, but my letters were not answered by Ministers: they were diverted to Mr. Bichard and Mr. Fogden.
The authors of the York survey attempt to establish by sophisticated statistical techniques the type of application to the social fund that was most likely to succeed. However, the attempt failed becausethe inability to predict probabilities of awards and refusals from general needs-related variables suggest that people who receive social fund awards are not in greater general need than those who are refused . we cannot show that those who got awards were in greater general need than those who did not; nor can we conclude that the social fund is meeting its objective `to concentrate attention and help on those applicants facing greatest difficulties in managing on their income.'That is a remarkable conclusion.
It is hard to imagine a more sweeping condemnation of the whole basis of the social fund. People with health problems at risk of needing institutional care, with damp accommodation, heating problems, and lacking cooking facilities and floor coverings, were no more likely than others to get help from the fund. Those lacking washing or drying facilities or sufficient beds were less likely to get help.
The impression that the social fund is a cruel lottery was confirmed by the exercise of having 15 social fund officers brought together and asked to make decisions on some hypothetical applications. They were not working in the pressure of an office with demands on their time. They were in a laboratory situation and had time to consider before deciding. The results are unbelievable. A single parent was in need of a washing machine and the application, made two years after the introduction of the fund, was placed before those 15 professional officers who are used to taking such decisions every day. Two of the officers said that the person should have nothing, 11 decided that he was entitled to a loan, and two said that he was entitled to a grant.
There was an application from a pensioner in need of clothing, and the decision could not have been more mathematically confusing. Five of the officers said that he was entitled to nothing, four said that he was entitled to loans, and six said that he was entitled to grants. The effects of the social fund cash limits were shown when 15 social fund officers were asked to decide in cases that were, first, subjected to their local office budget priorities, and then considered without budgetary constraints. When the 1239 constraints were removed, those experienced people decided that grant expenditure should go up by 49 per cent. and loan expenditure by 41 per cent. That is a telling finding. There were not just more payments, but bigger payments—up 28 per cent. on average for grants and up 24 per cent. for loans. Eight of the 38 loans were converted to grants.
The Minister will no doubt argue, as he always does, that the cash limits are generous, but that exercise suggests otherwise. When he announced the limits for 1992–93, he claimed with his usual sleight of hand that they were 30 per cent. above the April 1991 figures, which they were. What the Minister forgot to mention was that the April 1991 limits were so low that they had to be increased no fewer than five times during the year to keep the fund afloat. To maintain the level of spending, the 1992–93 budget would have to be £339 million instead of £302 million. There has been not an increase of 30 per cent. but a cut of 11 per cent.
It is not only claimants who would benefit from the removal of the cash limits. The job of social fund officers would be infinitely more satisfying if they could exercise real discretion. The report said:During the exercise in which they had made social fund decisions in the absence of budgetary constraints, some officers reported feeling that a burden had been lifted from them. They felt a previously unknown freedom to interpret the Directions rather than to work with a tightly prescribed priority list. In a telling phrase, they would be 'able to fit things into the Directions as opposed to making things up to fit'.The "tightly prescribed priority lists" referred to here are drawn up by each district office, and tell social fund officers what kind of thing they can make payments for without exceeding their cash limits.
In many parts of the country, the priority lists have become so restrictive that even the most basic needs can no longer be met. A typical example, recently reported to the Child Poverty Action Group, was provided by the East Lowlands district in Scotland, where last month the budget was 11 per cent. overspent. As a result, that district is no longer making budgetary loans for space heaters, pots, pans and crockery, essential home repairs and maintenance, removal expenses, push-chairs or prams, floor coverings, tables, chairs, and many other things.
To make matters worse, the guidance on priorities issued by district managers is often unlawful, either because it takes the form of directions rather than of guidance, or because it conflicts with the Secretary of State's directions and guidance, excluding payments to whole categories of people who ought not to be excluded. Surveys of local guidance and priority lists carried out by my office in 1990 and 1991 showed that this was happening in most areas.
Similar complaints are made each year by the Social Fund Commissioner in her annual reports. Her latest report, published last week on the same day as the York survey, says that many local office priority listsgive cause for concern. This may be because they are mandatory, and prescribe the decision for the SFO to make, or because they seek to exclude cases from consideration under Direction 4(a)(iii)"—which allows payments to ease exceptional pressures on the applicant and his family—or because they use client groups to determine priority without consideration of individual circumstances.The commissioner makes it clear that such guidance must be ignored by social fund officers. But how can they be expected to distinguish between lawful and unlawful 1240 guidance issued by their district manager—and what would happen to a social fund officer who had the temerity to set himself or herself up as a judge of the legality of the manager's guidance?
There is a simple solution to these problems: do away with the cash limits and allow social fund officers to decide applications on their merits within a clear set of rules. Local priority lists, which are often artificial, would then disappear, removing the illogicality.
However, that suggestion implies that there is, in fact, a clear set of rules governing the social fund. There may be a place for discretion in the social fund, but there is also a need for clearly defined entitlement to payments for needs which are predictable and definable. That is the course advocated by the Social Security Advisory Committee in its report "The Social Fund—a new structure" published in March.
§ Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)
It is hard not to contrast the six Labour Members who have turned up today with the massed ranks of them who turned up earlier in the week to vote for a whopping rise in their expenses.
Did not the social policy research unit say that 50 per cent. of people agreed with the idea that loans were a fair system, that three quarters were satisfied with the level of the loans made, and that two thirds were satisfied with the level of repayments?
§ Mr. Flynn
The hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Hendry) will be relieved to know that the extra money that comes to my office will greatly assist in paying a proper London wage to those who worked on publishing the document that I have used, and on providing an alternative to the masses of civil servants on the Government side who provide fictitious press releases for them. The Opposition are woefully underfinanced for challenging the Government, with their virtually infinite resources. We make no apologies about the extra money.
I am about to finish my speech and I look forward to what the Minister will say. However, the information that the hon. Member for High Peak cited earlier was highly selective, and amounted to a distortion of the report. I encourage him not to dwell on a brief which has undoubtedly been provided by the Whips, but to read through page after page of the report, and then to read all the other reports on the state of the social fund.
The social fund is friendless now. Before it was introduced, the Fowler review, on which it was based, was universally condemned. Sadly, all the worst fears of those who attacked it have now been realised. It is a lottery. What matters is not what people's problems are or how serious their needs, but where they live, the disposition of the local social fund officer, or the current state of the budget in the office. Apart, possibly, from the poll tax, the social fund is the greatest failure that the Government have ever produced. It stands condemned by all.
I do not expect a radical response from the Minister this morning, or a commitment to a thorough reform of the social fund, but I ask him to spend some part of the next three months, while Parliament is in recess, studying the great mountain of unanimous evidence that the social fund does not work. My last word to him this morning is that perhaps he might think about the views of the people who use the system. They are the most vulnerable and the least 1241 articulate people in society—those least likely to complain. Yet, as recorded in the document, they found the experience of applying for a social fund grant or loan unfair, depressing, ridiculous, humiliating, terrible, and degrading.
§ The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) on his success in obtaining the debate, and on his sustained interest in the social fund. That interest does not always make my life comfortable; nevertheless he pursues it with great assiduity. Although the social fund represents only a small part of overall social security provision, it is right that the system which seeks to provide exceptional help for people in exceptional circumstances should be subject to sustained interest and scrutiny.
I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said about the social fund. I disagreed with almost all of it, and shall try to respond to some of his arguments during the next quarter of an hour.
As I have made clear on several other occasions, we have before us the Social Security Advisory Committee's report on the fund, and the social policy research unit report, which has provided the opportunity for our discussion, has been published.
I shall first tackle the "conspiracy theory" about the publication and handling of the report. There has been no undue delay—I totally reject that suggestion. The Government commissioned the report and paid for it. The terms under which it has been handled are exactly in accordance with long-standing provisions for research contracts which, to the best of my knowledge, have been followed by Governments of both parties in recent years.
The process followed on this occasion is the same as that followed on other occasions. The precise day on which the report was published was a matter of the Government deciding on which days various announcements were made. We had to find a slot in the process, as anyone who has been in government clearly will recognise. There is nothing underhand or improper, and nothing that has not followed all other occasions on which such reports have been commissioned and produced. There is no mystery and no undue delay, and certainly no conspiracy is involved.
Since the research was carried out, a number of things have happened. First, substantial extra resources have been put into the Social Fund in recent years. Secondly, we have tackled some of the administrative shortcomings of the operation of the Social Fund to make it more responsive to the needs of our customers. If I have time, I shall come back to that in detail. The report must be seen in the context that time has moved on and policy has moved on since the research on which it is based was carried out.
§ Mr. Flynn
We are familiar with the argument. Research has to be carried out over a long period and the Government then say, "Things have changed since then." That is why the conspiracy theory has many fans among Opposition Members. For how many months has the Minister had the report? Would it not have been better to 1242 publish it immediately? We could then have had a far more appropriate discussion because it would have been nearer the time at which the study was carried out.
§ Mr. Scott
We commissioned the report, and the normal process on such occasions is that a final draft of the report is sent to the Department. Officials consider that draft to see whether the researchers have fulfilled their commission. Various discussions then take place between our officials and the researchers. Any gaps that need to be filled are filled so that the report is a proper piece of work when it is finally published. I congratulate the social policy research unit at York on the competent and professional way in which it carried out the report. I make no secret of the fact that I shall study the findings carefully. I simply point out the valid fact that, since the research on which the report was based was carried out, a number of changes have taken place in the system.
I will talk for a moment about the principles behind the social fund. Schemes for making payments for unusual and exceptional needs are at the margins of the overall provision for social security. The social fund represents less than 0.5 per cent. of the social security budget which, as hon. Members will realise, is running at more than £70 billion for this financial year. Meeting individual, exceptional and irregular needs, which is what the social fund is about, is even more difficult and a great deal more sensitive than addressing the general problem of providing for regular needs.
Over the past 50 years, many attempts have been made to find a fair solution to the problem. Until the social fund came into existence, previous attempts under Governments of both political persuasions had ended in failure. I return to a point made by the hon. Member for Newport, West in which he fell into a trap. He failed to distinguish between the task of the social security system as a whole to meet regular needs, which can be met by a regulated pattern of provision through regular—normally weekly—social security benefits being paid to meet those needs, and the exceptional and unusual needs which occur infrequently and unexpectedly in relation to specific individual circumstances. Manifestly it is a more difficult and sensitive task to respond to those needs than to respond to the generality of need. When the hon. Member for Newport, West reflects on the contents of his speech, it is important for him to draw the distinction between the two distinct types of need in society.
We set off down this route in 1934 with the Unemployment Assistance Board establishing a principle of exceptional assistance. The problems of defining what can be legitimately classed as exceptional need and how payment should be made have been subjected to continuous scrutiny and debate ever since.
The hon. Member for Newport, West no doubt recalls that Beveridge in the 1948 reforms made provision for the payment of discretionary exceptional needs payments administered by the National Assistance Board. Like the single payment system that followed, payments under the scheme spiralled from one payment for every 10 people on benefit in 1949 to one payment for every three on benefit in 1979. That process showed clearly that the scheme was no longer addressing exceptional needs but was becoming part of a more general provision.
Opposition Members will be as familiar with this feeling as are Conservative Members. Many people who were in low-paid employment saw people who happened to be on 1243 benefit getting large grants for needs which may have been there but for which people in low-paid employment had to provide out of their earnings. Many people perceived that to be an unfairness in the scheme.
In 1977, the Supplementary Benefits Commission thoroughly reviewed the scheme. Its report makes good reading and I commend it to the hon. Member for Newport, West if he has not yet turned his attention to it. It covered the problems, the abuses, the anomalies and the basic inequalities which were being produced by the exceptional needs payments system of the time. Many proposals were made and many solutions were offered.
The regulated single payment system came into effect in 1980 and started with high hopes of remedying some of the problems of the exceptional needs scheme. By 1986, it was clear that the single payment scheme was wholly out of control and revised regulations were introduced. It became clear shortly afterwards that a more radical approach would be necessary.
I do not know the extent to which the hon. Member for Newport, West speaks for his party on the future of the social fund. If he intends to go back to a system analogous to the old single payments system, he should remind himself why that system fell into disrepute and had to be abolished. After 1980, the cost was doubling every two years in real terms, out of all proportion to the increase in the number of people on benefit, to the level of unemployment or to any other measure. The payments were unfairly distributed. Four fifths of the money went to fewer than one in five claimants in 1987. In 1985, the scheme cost only one twentieth of supplementary benefit decisions and for half of all appeal hearings. The system continued to be unfair to people on low pay who had to budget for many of the things that people on benefit were able to obtain with large sums paid for out of the taxes that employed people were paying.
The system was open to manifest abuse. Before the changes to the regulations in 1986, one local office, for example, serving 21,000 customers received 4,000 claims for bedding within a few weeks and 2,500 claims for furniture within four days. There was also frequent abuse of the help available for deposits to secure accommodation.
§ Mr. Flynn
I did not mention the old system and my party's policy does not suggest that we go back to it. The right hon. Gentleman's attack on the old system is well known and well rehearsed and I have heard him deliver it at least 20 times. We are discussing a serious attack on the social fund. Will he now deal with it?
§ Mr. Scott
I intend to deal with it, but it is impossible to consider its future or any changes that we might make to it without first examining alternative schemes that have been tried before and the origin of their failure, which has been manifest. The Labour party manifesto seemed to have something along the lines of the single payment scheme in mind—a return to a total grant scheme in which all loans would be converted to grants. The distinction between that and the single payment scheme is only marginal.
I note that opponents of the social fund no longer speak of replacing it; they talk of restructuring it or of altering its balance—not of undermining the fundamental principles of the fund.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
Does the Minister believe that those with equal need should have equal entitlement? If he does, can he refute the fact that equal entitlement is not available under this scheme?
§ Mr. Scott
Costs under previous schemes spiralled out of all control, so before the right hon. Gentleman commits himself to a return to them I advise him to have a word with whoever is shadow Chief Secretary to discover whether he or she is prepared to commit the party to uncontrolled provision in this area. All experience shows that such schemes are open to manifest abuse and to spiralling and uncontrolled costs.
I could go on talking about the failings of the single payment and exceptional needs payment schemes, failings which the social fund was designed to deal with and which it has dealt with largely successfully. One of the failings of the old single payment system was that those who fell one side or the other of the terms of a particular regulation received payment, or not, as the case might be. Introducing an element of human judgment and discretion overcomes that problem to a considerable extent. Of course, a limited budget means that some people will not get grants, perhaps because they live in one place and not another, but local budgets administered and profiled by local managers, and operated by social fund officers, add an element of discretion and of the ability to meet local needs in local circumstances.
The social fund is not so flawed as to need immediate replacement. Any careful reading of the SPRU report supports that analysis. The SPRU provided a complex, detailed, competent, professional and comprehensive report on the workings of the fund. It took more than two and a half years to conduct the work leading to the report. It interviewed more than 2,000 people, many of them in depth. It is impossible to summarise the findings of the report in a brief Adjournment debate. No doubt there will be opportunities when the House returns in the autumn to take a more careful look at it. I shall certainly spend a large chunk of my summer recess absorbing the report and learning what lessons I can from its authors. The hon. Gentleman analysed it in a rather superficial way—digesting the report requires days and weeks, not a single morning.
The report says that many people are being "substantially helped" by the fund; that there are high levels of satisfaction among many groups who receive awards—naturally there is rather less satisfaction among those who do not; and that, interestingly enough, there is a general acceptance of the idea of loans. When we launched the fund, not many of us expected such a high level of acceptance.
Not only have we improved the administration of the fund but we have put a great many more resources into it to reflect the pressures on it. In the next few weeks and months, I shall be examining with great care the conclusions of the authors of the SPRU report to determine whether we need to make any changes. On the fundamental principles of the social fund, I am unshakeable: it is far better than any of its predecessors, and it does a good job for millions of people.
§ Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This morning's Financial Times contains what appears to be a report of the Bingham inquiry which seems to have found its way not to Members of Parliament but to members of the press. Have you received any notice from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he is to make a statement about the report to be published by Lord Justice Bingham; or have you received any assurance from the Leader of the House that once the report is published, and if it contains the sort of information that appears in the Financial Times, Parliament will be recalled to discuss it?
When this matter was raised last week with Madam Speaker, she deprecated the way in which the Bank of England chose to send copies of its report to members of the press instead of to Members of Parliament in the first instance. Will you ensure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a copy of the Bank of England's letter is placed in the Library of the House? I understand that the Governor has apologised to the Speaker for the behaviour of the Bank of England.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point of order, but it is now too late for statements. I shall draw his latter remarks to the attention of Madam Speaker.