§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have repeatedly put on record your opinion that, when a statement is made in the House, as last Thursday the Leader of the House assured us that the Secretary of State for Wales intended to do on his long-awaited valleys initiative, the Minister should make that statement at the Dispatch Box before it reached the press. You may also recollect, not least because I sent you a copy, the guarantee by the Secretary of State for Wales on 23 May:I shall certainly make an announcement in the Chamber, although I shall also be making announcements in the Valleys."—[Official Report, 23 May 1988; Vol. 134, c. 6]Today, I have heard that, in addition to briefing editors today, tomorrow, at 10.40 am, the Secretary of State will launch his valleys initiative with a great fanfare and press jamboree in Tonypandy in south Wales, a full five hours before he can possibly tell the House—a typical attempt to precondition the attitude of the press before questions can be raised by hon. Members.
As this is a brazen, blatant discourtesy to you, Mr. Speaker, in view of your constant rulings, and to the House, in view of its long-standing conventions, will you lend the weight of your office to our demand to the Leader of the House that that press conference and further press briefings be postponed until after the statement and questions in the Chamber?
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman kindly mentioned this matter to me in advance of his point of order, therefore giving me an opportunity to look into it. I have no authority to postpone press conferences, but I understand that the information to be given in Wales will be released in the Vote Office tomorrow morning—[Interruption.] Order. This will give hon. Members a chance to study it in time for questions to the Secretary of State in the afternoon.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The undertaking given by the Secretary of State for Wales was no offhand answer. It actually appears in Hansard as a corrigendum to the Official Report:I shall certainly make an announcement in the Chamber, although I shall also be simultaneously making announcements in the Valleys."—[Official Report, 24 May 1988; Vol. 134, c. 302.]According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "simultaneous" means "at the same time".
The Secretary of State said that he would be making a statement in the Chamber at the same time as he made a statement in the valleys. No one knew how he was going to do that in two places at the same time, but that is his problem. Nevertheless, he gave an undertaking to the House that he would make the announcement in the Chamber. We ask you, Mr. Speaker, to give all the weight you can to our representations, to make sure that that statement is made in the Chamber, as the Secretary of State volunteered and promised.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House well knows my views on this matter. I believe that the House of Commons should always be given information in advance of the press or anyone else. However, it is not within my power to 39 postpone a press conference. I am sure that what has been said will be carefully noted by those on the Government Front Bench.
§ Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have consulted five dictionaries, in case I did not understand the word "simultaneous". It seems quite clear that it means "at the same time", in the same way as simultaneous translation means more or less instantaneous translation. Therefore, I suggest that the Secretary of State for Wales has misled the House by making that statement during Welsh questions.
Making a statement and holding a press conference in Wales, even though the right hon. Gentleman may be leaving the details in the Vote Office, is not the same as making an oral statement to the House before making that statement in Wales. I have no objection to Ministers making statements in Wales: it is good that Ministers occasionally make their statements in the areas that will be most affected. However, the Secretary of State for Wales has made a promise in the House simultaneously to make a statement on the valleys initiative, about which those of us who represent the valleys are deeply concerned and rightly, we want to be the first to comment and question him. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use all your good offices to make sure that he does not make that statement before we have an opportunity to hear it and to question him on it.
§ Mr. Skinner
Is it not normal practice that, when a Minister or anybody else misleads the House, they are expected to make good and redeem that statement? Is it not worth noting that the White Paper on public expenditure produced in February this year shows on page 35 that planned public expenditure for Wales will fall over three years? Perhaps the reason why the Secretary of State will not come to the Dispatch Box is that he will be criticised on the amount of expenditure. Instead, he is going to the valleys to try to kid them, when he is cutting the money.
§ Mr. Speaker
The House well knows my views on this matter. I am sure that what has been said has been noted.