HC Deb 08 May 1991 vol 190 cc742-4 4.42 pm
Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a serious and perplexing matter relating to European Community Standing Committees A and B. I am deeply concerned about those Committees and, inter alia, their modus operandi. This morning, European Community Standing Committee B was adjourned after about 16 minutes—the Minister may confirm that—among some confusion and irritation felt by Committee members. The Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), with characteristic courtesy and good sense, agreed to the adjournment of the Committee.

The irritation this morning was caused by, among other things, the dismally late production of the documents that were to be considered by Committee members. Growing anger and concern are being felt by the permanent members of European Community Standing Committee B about the way in which it is treated in terms of, first, the disgracefully short notice of its meetings and, secondly, the unacceptably late production of the documents.

In addition, I am given to understand that Standing Order No. 102 governing such Committees is to be changed, with no consultation whatsoever with the permanent members of the Committee. You know, Mr. Speaker, that those Committees are engaged in very important work—the consideration of draft directives, regulations and other paraphernalia flowing from Brussels. We deserve at the very least some guidance on this disquieting matter.

Mr. Speaker

I am well aware that documents were not available this morning. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to raise his point of order at some length, because it is important that the matters that he raised are on the record for the Leader of the House to deal with tomorrow, as they are matters for him. Does the Minister wish to say something?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Edward Leigh)

Perhaps it might help the House if I explain what happened and the circumstances. The explanatory memoranda from the Department were made available to the Vote Office when they were published last October and February.

Last week, the report of the Select Committee was delivered to the European unit of the Department of Trade and Industry on Friday. On the next working day, which was Tuesday morning, those papers were delivered to the parliamentary unit at 10.45. There were 100 documents to be photocopied, and they were photocopied. They were delivered to the Hallkeeper's Lodge at 1.15. Those who delivered them were assured by those who work in the Hallkeeper's Lodge that they would be put on the letter board, and I am assured that they were put on the letter board. Therefore, those documents were available to hon. Members by lunchtime yesterday.

If there has been any fault, I am entirely responsible, and I apologise to the House. I have given instructions that in future, even if reports or documents are late coming from Select Committees, the DTI should deliver its documents to hon. Members a full five working days before the Committee meets. I apologise to the House. I am responsible, not my officials.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Not the same point of order?

Mr. Nicholls

My point of order concerns your responsibility for the accuracy of our proceedings, Mr. Speaker. It arises out of early-day motion 775, which is entitled "Alternative to Council Tax" and sets out the inadequacies in Labour's plans. Today's Votes and Proceedings state that 53 of my hon. Friends have also signed it. The difficulty is that the list now includes also the name of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden).

The implications of that are really quite difficult. If the hon. Gentleman now wants to join myself and my hon. Friends, it may be the start of a long overdue process of conversion. Having seen the hon. Gentleman perform in the House over a number of years, I doubt whether he has undergone a conversion. I think that he has probably been slightly careless in signing early-day motions.

The problem is that we know from the proceedings in the House yesterday that you were able to quote for us from "Erskine May" and point out that, in normal circumstances, obvious mistakes can be corrected. One must simply assume that the addition of the name of the hon. Member for Bradford, West is an obvious mistake. The difficulty is that that view may not have any consensus within the House, because we know that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has been complaining loudly about any change to the record whatsoever.

Is there any consensus about what should be done? Have we any way of finding out whether the hon. Gentleman is a convert to the cause or, in the interests of ensuring that the record stays how Opposition Members want it to stay, should it remain as a standing reproach to the hon. Member for Bradford, West?

Mr. Speaker

I have had no intimation from the hon. Member concerned that he has complained about this matter. It may be a mistake; it may not. No doubt we shall hear that tomorrow.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had any intimation from the Department of Trade and Industry or from the Ministry of Defence that they would have wished to have made a statement this afternoon on the news that emerged after 12 o'clock this afternoon, the latest time for raising Standing Order No. 20 debates, that Rolls-Royce is to axe a further 3,000 jobs in Coventry, Bristol, Derby and elsewhere?

I realise that it is possible—I shall try to do so tomorrow—to raise with the Leader of the House the possibility of a debate on this matter, but thousands of anguished families throughout the country will be worried about why those Departments are not at least liaising with that company to talk about diversification and the guaranteeing of jobs, particularly on the day when we hear how air transport is sorely needed all over the world to cope with disasters. Have those Departments approached you, Mr. Speaker, about making a statement to the House about those disgraceful redundancies?

Mr. Speaker

I understand that this news broke after 12 o'clock, which is when I consider such matters. I have not had any information since that time. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raises this matter at business questions tomorrow, when I am sure that he will get an answer; what he has said will undoubtedly be reported to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that, during my brief absence from the Chamber, a Conservative Member with nothing better to do drew attention to the fact that my name appears on early-day motion 775. I am pleased to inform you that that was a mistake and that the Table Office is kindly making arrangements to withdraw my name.

Mr. Speaker

I am not surprised to be given that information.