HC Deb 28 July 1983 vol 46 cc1361-2 5.23 pm
Mr. Bruce Milan (Glasgow, Govan)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order concerns two written questions on page 646 of the Order Paper. Questions Nos. 159 and 161 are both addressed to the Secretary of State for Scotland and both are planted. I think that they both raise issues which are of concern to you, Mr. Speaker, in that you seek to protect the interests of hon. Members. Question No. 159 relates to selling council houses at a discount. There is existing legislation, but the Government have introduced a Bill which has not yet received its Second Reading, and which will not receive it until after the summer recess. Despite that, the answer given today anticipates the new legislation, overrides the existing legislation and, in effect, assumes that the new Bill will receive its Second Reading when it is debated in October.

Sometimes Ministers anticipate a Bill going on to the statute book once it has received its Second Reading, but in this case it is three months until the Bill will receive its Second Reading. A written answer has been sneaked through in an underhand and deceitful way just before the House rises for the Summer Recess. Ministers are treating the House with utter arrogance and contempt, and I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will say that the interests of hon. Members have not been protected, as they should have been, in that answer.

Question No. 161 is also addressed to the Secretary of State for Scotland and concerns his Department's cash limits for 1983–84. That written question was planted and the answer gives—if I may say so—rather inadequate information. A junior Minister at the Scottish Office has been holding a press conference this afternoon in Scotland, giving details that are not available to the House. I am sure that you take the same view, Mr. Speaker, as your predecessors, who have always said that Ministers should make their statements in the House and not at press conferences outside the House, whether in Scotland or elsewhere. I am glad that the Leader of the House has arrived in the Chamber, and I hope that one of his colleagues will relate the matter to him, so that he can comment. However, I am raising the issue with you, Mr. Speaker, because it concerns the protection afforded to hon. Members.

Both questions are examples of ministerial arrogance in the same Department. Ministers are treating the House with contempt. I wish to register the strongest possible protest, and ask you, accordingly, to protect hon. Members from such behaviour.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to associate myself with the comments by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan).

The Minister has exceeded his powers in question No. 159 in particular, and might be outwith those conferred by statute, and subject, consequently, to a report and investigation by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The House and therefore you, Sir, as Speaker have some part to play in protecting Members of Parliament from such abuses.

In relation to question No. 161, I understand that an oral statement was made yesterday about England. It seems quite impertinent of the Secretary of State for Scotland or his junior Ministers to make statements by way of written answers, or press conferences elsewhere, when other Ministers have the courtesy to come forward and allow themselves to be interrogated and questioned by hon. Members.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that the word "if" is very important in both of the questions. Question No. 159 asks: if he will grant immediate discretionary powers". The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) is anticipating the Secretary of State's reply. It could be that the answer is no. I see nothing wrong in the question as long as the word "if" is used.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps I can deal with that point first. The written answer will have been released, I think, at 4 pm today. I heard the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) use the term "planted question" but I do not know exactly what it means. However, I should like to look into the issue that he raised about question No. 159. In response to his point about question No. 161, I think that hon. Members generally share the view that statements should be made in the House, rather than outside it.

Mr. Millan

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for those comments. The Leader of the House is now in the Chamber. He did not hear the whole of my point of order and will be in some difficulty as a result. However, I hope that he will at least give us an undertaking that he will raise the subject with the Secretary of State for Scotland, particularly in the light of your comments, and that he will ensure that such behaviour does not recur. It is comtemptuous of the rights of Members of Parliament.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

I was not here for the beginning of the points of order, but I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.