POINT OF ORDER – MILBURN'S ENGAGEMENTS – 28 October 2004

Dr Julian Lewis: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have given notice of it both to Mr. Speaker and to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Last week I tabled a question for named-day answer:

"To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list his public engagements carried out in the week from 18 October."

Although I did not receive the customary personal reply in the post, I see from Hansard that it was answered on Monday as follows:

"I refer the hon. Member to the answer I provided to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr Garnier) on 20 October 2004." – [Official Report, 26 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 1053W.]

That answer was raised by my hon. and learned Friend in Business Questions. He had tabled this question:

"To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list his official engagements since his appointment to his present Cabinet post."

The reply was:

"Since my appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I have had a range of official meetings including meetings with Cabinet colleagues relating to my cross-Government role in the co-ordination of Government policy, my responsibilities for the work of the Strategy Unit and the Policy Directorate; my Duchy of Lancaster role; and my membership of the Cabinet." – [Official Report, 20 October 2004; Vol. 425, c. 720W.]

I know that the Chair does not have responsibility for the inadequacy of the content of answers, but I had asked for an account of public engagements for the week beginning 18 October, and was referred to an answer about official engagements given only two days into that week, on 20 October. Given the view that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster – who has so far spent a grand total of four minutes at the Dispatch Box since his appointment – is doing a job which is itself cover for a job running strategy for Labour to win the election, what protection can the Opposition have to hold to account a Minister who does not even give an answer relating to the same period as that specified in the question? We know that this is the sort of treatment that we get from the Prime Minister, but the Chancellor does not have his job yet.

[Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the Chair does not have responsibility for the answers that Ministers give. I suggest that he consult the staff in the Table Office, who may well be able to assist him.]