HC Deb 26 November 1991 vol 199 cc796-8 3.25 pm
Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, I shall take points of order, but will hon. Members please bear in mind the fact that there is to be an important Scottish debate in which many hon. Members wish to participate?

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you please inform the House whether the Secretary of State for Scotland has given notice that he intends to make an oral statement to the House this week about the three applications for self-governing trust status from three Scottish hospitals? I have a constituency interest because one, the Royal Scottish National hospital, is based in my constituency. The Minister of State who has responsibility for health matters in Scotland is on public record as saying that the Secretary of State would make a public announcement before the end of this month. If there is to be a parliamentary announcement, that leaves only today and tomorrow, bearing in mind the fact that, on Fridays, most hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies will be back at work in their constituencies.

Therefore, I ask you, Mr. Speaker to try to ensure that the Secretary of State comes to the House to make an oral statement, because this place is already rife with suggestions that there may simply be a statement to the media with or without a reply to a planted written question, which would be completely unacceptable in terms of parliamentary accountability. Will you, Mr. Speaker, try to ensure that we have an opportunity to question the Secretary of State on this important matter either today or tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman and the whole House know that it is not up to me to require a statement to be made to the House. I have a rather different function. However, as the Secretary of State for Scotland is on the Treasury Bench, I am sure that he will have heard what has been said.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I should like to seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on how, in the light of the point that has just been made, hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies can get Ministers to treat the principle of their accountability to the House of Commons with some degree of respect. They tell us that the House of Commons adequately serves the interests of the people of Scotland, but they make statements outside the House.

We have a Second Reading later today of a Scottish Bill, but two other Bills that are being considered in Committee at the moment, on the council tax and the schools tax, relate to Scotland and should be separate Scottish Bills, but they are not. We do not have a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, and can question that unaccountable bunch of Ministers only once a month. Is there anything that you can do, Mr. Speaker, to try to ensure that Ministers are effectively brought to account in the House?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter of order for me. The arrangement of business is a matter for the Government and the usual channels. It is not my responsibility.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

May I be allowed to remind you, Mr. Speaker, of two of the replies given to the House earlier today by the Secretary of State for Employment? Not once but three times, the right hon. and learned Gentleman clearly sought to interfere with the way in which the Select Committee on Employment deals with its business. On the third occasion, the right hon. and learned Gentleman actually invited the Leader of the Opposition to advise the Labour members of that Committee.

Do you agree, Mr. Speaker, that Select Committees are, by their very nature, Back-Bench Committees and that their role is to scrutinise the work of the Executive? Therefore, would it not be outrageous if any Minister or, for that matter, any Leader of the Opposition—I am sure that my right hon. Friend is too wise to do this—should seek to interfere with the work of the Select Committees? Might we, as a House, be encouraged to tell the Secretary of State to keep his paws out of the work of the Select Committees?

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Is it really further to it?

Mr. Cook

indicated assent.

Mr. Speaker

Very well; I shall deal with it.

Mr. Cook

It is further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, because my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) anticipated the point of order that I was seeking to raise with you. Further to what he has said, do you agree that for a Select Committee to have decided to ponder the proposals of an Opposition should they achieve power after the next election would be an abuse of parliamentary resources and parliamentary time?

Mr. Speaker

I am not responsible for what goes on in Select Committees—

Mr. Tom Clarke

Oh yes, you are.

Mr. Speaker

Well, it is not a matter of order here— [Interruption.] No, it is not. It is not a matter of order in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Monklands. West (Mr. Clarke) has stated the factual position. Select Committees are independent and consist of Back-Bench Members. This is a matter for them.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter which I was unable to raise with you earlier, and request a statement. A serious matter has come to my notice at the Christiana Hartley maternity hospital in Southport, where there has been an unfortunate disposal of foetuses from aborted children, to which the staff have objected. I wonder whether I may seek your indulgence to request a statement from the Secretary of State for Health on that most important matter.

Mr. Speaker

Again, that is a matter for the Secretary of State for Health. There is an Adjournment debate on that very subject tonight, and if the hon. Member is present, he may be able to participate in it.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Has the Secretary of State for Health said whether he intends to make a statement to the House on the leaked documents about the trusts? You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, of the great interest in the matter and that one national newspaper is on the verge of naming the American—

Mr. Speaker

Order. As the hon. Lady knows, that matter is before the Privileges Committee. We cannot pre-empt anything that it will decide about the matter. The matter should not be raised on the Floor of the House now.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any indication whatever that the Attorney-General intends to make a statement to the House on the decision by the European Court of Human Rights? The Government have lost an important case. They tried to stop three newspapers publishing extracts from "Spycatcher". The European Court has ruled that the Government were wrong and has awarded costs against the Government.

On several occasions, Mr. Speaker, you have deprecated the discussion of matters outside the House—obviously this matter will receive much comment—while the House of Commons does not have the opportunity to debate them. Much money has been spent out of public funds, and this sorry saga has continued for six years. Surely the Attorney-General should come here today or on Wednesday and make a statement about how much money the Government have spent on the case, and why they decided to involve themselves in this farce in the first place, and to give Members of Parliament the opportunity to give their views.

Mr. Speaker

All the points of order raised with me this afternoon have been matters which are the responsibility of the Government. They are not my responsibility. I can, therefore, only repeat what I have already said in reply to previous points of order. The point that the hon. Gentleman raises is a matter for the Government. I am sure that it will have been heard by them.