HC Deb 11 December 1984 vol 69 cc939-40 5.27 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that last week at Scottish Question Time there was considerable debate on teachers' pay. That matter has been raised on a number of occasions since and there is to be an Adjournment debate tonight. I am advised that at approximately 4.10 pm the Secretary of State for Scotland put in the Library the answer to a written question from the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). I am equally advised that he held a briefing beforehand with the Lobby to advise it of his written answer. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you do not have the power to make a Minister make a statement, but is it courteous to the House and within the procedures of the House for a Secretary of State to discuss that matter with the press before his written answer is available to hon. Members in the Library?

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The reply that the Secretary of State gave and placed in the Library is not worth wasting the time of the House on. The whole thing is a lot of rubbish. It is not worth wasting the time of the House by making a statement.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I first dissent from the view taken by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing)? The answer given by the Secretary of State for Scotland was full of ambiguities and could be considered by many to be a bit of a con trick. Nevertheless, it would have been advantageous for Scotland if that answer had been given in the House so that we could have put many important questions to him. Last week, Scots Members were placed in a difficult situation, as indeed you were, Mr. Speaker, by the lack of a statement. Something must be done in future to make the Secretary of State for Scotland answer for his important decisions to Members representing Scottish constituencies.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When Ministers of the Crown are constantly and continuously making fairly important decisions that will involve widespread disruption in classrooms in Scotland in the form of written answers rather than statements on which they can be cross-examined, it must surely be within the power of the Chair to protect the rights of Back Benchers and somehow to bring influence to bear to stop that practice in future.

Mr. Speaker

The House well knows my view. I stated it yesterday and I state it again today. The House of Commons should always be told before the press. If there is an embargo on those matters they should be held up until the statement has been made, if a statement is to be made.

Whether written answers are given is not a matter for me. There is an Adjournment debate tonight and no doubt those matters will be aired then.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I shall take the point of order of the hon Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Mr. Skinner

This is a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been drawn to my attention that there is more than a little controversy over Stansted airport. I am not involved in any way, but I listen to what is going on and I know that representations have been made for statements to be made by the Government and for leave to table private notice questions, for example. However we shall not go into that because—[AN HON. MEMBER: "What is the point of order?"] Mr. Speaker decides whether there will be private notice questions.

We understand, Mr. Speaker, that you are placed in a difficult and sensitive position. However, the Secretary of State for the Environment is involved in the Stansted issue. Apparently he has said that he is not having anything to do with the decision-making and that has been given to his No. 2, "Supergrass" — the Minister for Housing and Construction. It is reported that Mrs. Jenkin has said on behalf of her husband and for herself, "We do not want the airport here." I should like to know who will make the decision. I think that you should call the Secretary of State to account, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter on which I cannot, and perhaps should not, rule.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Further to your previous reply, Mr. Speaker. On previous occasions when I have raised with you the issue of the Secretary of State for Scotland making statements to the press before he has issued them to the House, you have said that you disapprove of the practice and that it should not happen. May I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker? What sanction does the House have when the Secretary of State, in spite of your ruling, continues to flout the advice and continues to treat hon. Members with contempt?

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)


Mr. Speaker

Order. An important debate is to follow points of order and in fairness to those who wish to take part in it, I shall deal only with this issue. I shall take that course unless the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has something vital to raise with me. It is not a matter for me whether written answers are given or are not. If a written question is tabled, it will receive an answer. That cannot be a matter for me, and I cannot offer any advice on it.