HC Deb 21 December 1988 vol 144 cc452-4 3.50 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your help and guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the question of the Court of Auditors report, which was published last Tuesday, 13 December, not being available in the Vote Office. That is one of the most important EEC documents published in the year, and, according to press reports, it contains widespread reports of fraud, of inadequate cover of expenditure and of illegal expenditure of money passed and approved by the House.

You will know, Mr. Speaker, that "Erskine May" makes it abundantly clear that we should treat such documents as parliamentary documents, and in fact the same guidance is given in the House of Commons guidance.

You will be aware, Sir, that I raised this point at business questions last Thursday. I appealed to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to ensure that this document was made available. There has been report after report in the newspapers, and yesterday in The Daily Telegraph there was a detailed leader article making specific reference to the report. It is a shameful insult to the Court of Auditors that this document should be issued to the press but not to Members of Parliament, and that this document, which is vital to public expenditure, is treated in such a way that Members of Parliament cannot obtain it, although I and other hon. Members have asked for it every day.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Can I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Skinner

This matter is exceptionally important. We have just been discussing a matter which in many ways is connected with fraud in the Common Market. You will be aware that the Court of Auditors report last time, which went before the Public Accounts Committee, stated that there was a Common Market fraud—referred to in this document, too—called the "roundabout scheme". That scheme enables meat to be transferred backwards and forwards over national boundaries—into the fridge, out of the fridge and back into the fridge—with the result that massive amounts of money are made every time that meat crosses a national boundary. It is significant that on this day, when we are complaining about fraud and the Court of Auditors report not being available, we should also be discussing the question of rotten meat. I believe that those two matters go well together.

It is important that the Ministry of Agriculture—as well as yourself, Mr. Speaker—investigates this matter and the way in which this meat is being transferred time and time again—

Mr. MacGregor

indicated assent.

Mr. Skinner

—and look into the fraud while the right hon. Gentleman is at it.

Mr. Speaker

May I first of all congratulate the hon. Gentleman on getting his point of order absolutely in order.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

On a Point of Order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. No.

The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) gave me notice of his point of order, for which I am grateful, because it has given me the opportunity to look into it. I am always concerned when hon. Members are unable to obtain papers which they need for a debate, and I have looked into the matter. I understand that the Vote Office copies of the Court of Auditors report are in transit by air freight. The Library's two copies arrived by post. The Vote Office is making inquiries about its consignment. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will soon receive his copy. I cannot explain why the post was quicker than the air.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder if you have had notice of an intention of the Department of Education and Science to make a statement. If not, my information is that the DES has planted a parliamentary answer which gives notification of the amounts of money on capital expenditure in education. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you have no direct control over Ministers, but I believe that it is important on these issues that the Government should not arrange planted PQs on the last day before a recess, because that gives no opportunity for consideration, especially by hon. Members such as myself, with important constituency interests—we have 500 temporary classrooms in Bradford. I understand that the PQ will announce that the trend in decline in capital expenditure will continue.

It will be impossible for Bradford to replace some of the much-needed temporary classrooms, whose replacement has been desperately needed for many years. Therefore, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will use your influence to stop not only the DES, but the Department of Health, which has also put down a planted answer, from carrying out this nefarious practice, which avoids parliamentary accountability and scrutiny and robs hon. Members on both sides of the House of the right to ask questions of Ministers to discover what they are about.

Mr. Speaker

Again, I have sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. We are coming towards the Christmas recess, and I am sure that what he has said will have been heard by those on the Front Bench. I will now take the point of order from Mr. Favell.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I tried to raise a point of order at the end of the second question during Scottish Questions because you had taken two points of order from Opposition parties —one from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who represents the Scottish National party, and the other from the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) who represents the Scottish Labour party. Is there a special practice during Scottish Questions, or do you intend to return to your usual practice of not taking points of order during questions?

Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, would you make it perfectly clear to the Opposition parties that hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom have the right to be heard during Scottish questions without being shouted down? Those hon. Members who are deeply committed to the Union have a special right to be heard, particularly as the Union is coming under increasing threat from many Opposition Members who seem dedicated to achieving a Socialist state at any cost.

Mr. Speaker

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) was here earlier in the week —I hope that he was—when this matter was dealt with. I will deal with it yet again.

If a matter needs the immediate attention of the Chair, it should be raised immediately as a point of order even during Question Time. If it is a point of order arising out of questions later on, which the hon. Gentleman sought to raise, he knows perfectly well that, as I explained last year, points of order arising out of Question Time are always taken at their proper time, which is now, after private notice questions or after a statement. I am sorry that I did not see the hon. Gentleman, and I apologise to him.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I will take Mr. Dalyell first.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been brought to your attention that the Hansard published today records that, yesterday morning, at 5.45 am, I suggested that the new vice-president of the European Community had rendered the supreme service of silence to the Prime Minister. The House was then suspended by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

You will know, Mr. Speaker, that the Clerk of the Journals has written a letter to say that there is no direct precedent for that action. I wonder if you would care to make a statement on this?

Mr. Speaker

I am not aware that the Clerk of the Journals has written a letter, but there are plenty of precedents; the hon. Gentleman need only look at page 314 of "Erskine May". There are frequently occasions when the Chair considers that an informal suspension would be for the convenience of the House and many examples have been given.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is not the practice for the Speaker to comment on what has taken place when not in the chair. The incident to which he referred was dealt with well by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Mr. Skinner

On that matter—

Hon. Members

No, no.

Mr. Aitken

Further to the important point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), Mr. Speaker. I respectfully urge you to look behind the explanation given to the Vote Office, or whatever source, about the Christmas mail and the air freight schedules. I ask you to concentrate upon the real gut issue, the increasing contempt shown by certain European institutions towards this House and this Parliament.

This important Court of Auditors report has somehow been passed to all the media, yet it has not been possible to pass it to the House of Commons. This issue deserves a protest to be recorded, and I hope that, at the appropriate time, you will make it known, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I will certainly look behind the explanation given. Copies are in the Library and hon. Members may see them, but I shall consider the explanation given to me.