by Chris Ames
In the following exchange in the Commons yesterday, Alex Salmond’s criticism of David Cameron seemed to get support from Speaker John Bercow:
Alex Salmond (Gordon) (SNP): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may recall that, last Thursday, there was considerable disquiet across the House about the seven-year delay in the publication of the Chilcot inquiry and the fact that the Government chose not to make a statement on that. You invited those on the Government Front Bench to consider that position, but I now understand that the Prime Minister has declined to make a statement. This involves matters that are clearly the Government’s responsibility, including claims that the Cabinet Secretary delayed the release of documents, and matters that relate to the national security timetable, which has been built into the release of Chilcot. Given the need to avoid such a disgraceful situation occurring again, in the light of the seven-year delay, can you confirm that it would have been in order for the Government to make such a statement without prejudicing the independence of the inquiry? Do you also agree that the decision not to do so—given the considerable offence caused to the 179 service families waiting for answers from the inquiry—is a matter for the Prime Minister alone?
Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I am happy to confirm that it would have been entirely orderly for a statement by a Government Minister to be made on this matter. The right hon. Gentleman is an extremely experienced parliamentarian, and he knows that that is an entitlement of a Minister but that it is not an obligation that the Chair can impose upon a Minister. In the absence of an offer of a Government statement, he will also be well aware that there is a range of options open to hon. and right hon. Members who seek to elicit from the Government a statement of their current thinking on the matter in question. He does not need me to provide him with the toolkit, but I am happy to confirm its existence.