HC Deb 16 April 1991 vol 189 cc163-4 3.33 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given notice to you and to the Secretary of State for Education and Science. It relates to the Government's conduct regarding the School Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill.

The Second Reading of the Bill took place on 27 November. It went into Standing Committee before Christmas and came out on 5 February—two and a half months ago. On Second Reading, the Secretary of State for Education and Science told the House: The Bill contains the agreed policy of this Government". —[Official Report, 27 November 1990; Vol. 181, c. 743.] He said that two of the candidates for the Conservative leadership, including the successful candidate who is now the Prime Minister, were committed to the Bill. In Committee, Ministers pressed for an early conclusion of the Committee stage, telling us repeatedly that they had to have the Bill enacted and on the statute book by Easter. Since the Committee stage, however, instead of coming to the House for its Report stage, the Bill has disappeared into the black hole of indecision that now passes for Cabinet government amidst repeated press leaks that, despite the fact that the Bill was referred to as containing the agreed position of the Government and the personal commitment of the Prime Minister, the Government's policy—

Mr. Speaker

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Straw

I shall come to it in a moment, Mr. Speaker.

I raise the point of order to complain about the conduct of Ministers in explaining away the considerable delay of the Bill. The reason is that the Government do not know whether to follow or to change the policy of the Bill. I realise that that is not a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. The matter for you is whether Ministers have been truthful in the explanations that they have offered to the House on the reasons for the delay.

It is well known that the Government are so short of business that we had an extra week's holiday at Christmas and a further week at Easter. Despite that, the Leader of the House has three times blamed a shortage of parliamentary time for the delay in bringing the Bill to the House, as has the Secretary of State in a letter to me— [Interruption.] Hon. Members may not like this, but it is clear that Ministers, including the Leader of the House, have made statements on the reasons for the Bill's delay that are palpably untrue.

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a reflection upon Ministers and must be withdrawn.

Mr. Straw

I took advice from the Clerks—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not a Clerk. Will the hon. Gentleman please withdraw his remark?

Mr. Straw

I withdraw it.

I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker—and I also took advice on this from the Clerks—whether it is open to Ministers to make statements to the House that palpably do not fit with the facts. It is known to hon. Members that there is no shortage of parliamentary time, but that is the only explanation that has been offered to the House. In those circumstances, hon. Members may well feel themselves to have been heavily misled by Ministers, and so may you, Mr. Speaker. Do you, Mr. Speaker, regard that conduct by Ministers as acceptable?

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am on my feet.

I think that the whole House enjoyed an extra week's holiday. I do not know why it was given or whether or not there was business to discuss. All that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has said has nothing to do with me; it is a matter of dispute that he has with the Government. It is not an issue of order in the Chamber.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have not your predecessors and you, Mr. Speaker, consistently condemned abuse, whether by Back Benchers or Front Benchers, of the point of order procedure of the House to make purely political points that can properly be made in a censure motion or on a Supply day? Such points of order ought never to be countenanced by a Speaker, whether they come from a Front Bencher or a Back Bencher.

Mr. Speaker

Things of that sort are frequently said in the Chamber. In order to know whether a point of order is bogus or not, I have to hear it. I have already announced that I did not think that the subject was a matter for me.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

Whether or not it was a point of order is clearly for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide, but it may be for the convenience of the House if I say that there will be a statement on the matter tomorrow.