HC Deb 08 December 1992 vol 215 cc693-5 3.31 pm
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps you can help me with a point of procedure. You will be aware, Madam Speaker, that the Select Committee on Health intends to publish its document on national health service trusts on 16 December. I have documented evidence showing that someone on that Committee intends to make that confidential report available a few days before—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. This is important. Will those hon. Members who are remaining in the Chamber please do so quietly? I need to hear the hon. Lady. I understand that she is telling me that a confidential document is to be made available.

Mrs. Mahon

I have documented evidence, Madam Speaker, that that report, which is a confidential document, will be made available a few days before the Select Committee decided that it should be made available. Last Wednesday, the Select Committee decided that the document should be made available 24 hours before the press conference.

The purpose of my point of order is to ask for your ruling on that latest leak from the Select Committee, which already has a case before the Select Committee on Privileges. I believe that the Health Select Committee's procedures are being abused, and I would like your ruling.

Madam Speaker

From what I heard of the hon. Lady's remarks—and I find it difficult to hear across a noisy Chamber—the matter to which she referred is not one with which I am familiar. It sounds as though there is some contempt involved, and I ask the hon. Lady to write to me without delay, when I will certainly consider her point.

Mrs.Audrey Wise (Preston)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I refer to a different aspect, though one also related to the Health Select Committee's report. Will she confirm that the purpose of Select Committees is to monitor the Government's work, and will she consider——

Madam Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Lady referring to me when she uses the word "she"?

Mrs. Wise

I apologise, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that the purpose of a Select Committee is to monitor the work of a Government Department, and will you consider and advise us on whether the desperate eagerness being shown by the Government to obtain the report in order immediately to rebut it illustrates that they have no intention of giving the Select Committee's recommendations the careful consideration that it is the Government's duty to give them? Is it not a fact that the Government must reply to a Select Committee report within two months but that the Government intend to reply within two minutes? Is that not illustrative of the Government's complete contempt for the Select Committee system?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Lady has raised matters that must be taken up in that Committee or with Ministers. They are not breaches of our Standing Orders or our procedures at this stage. On the first point made by the hon. Lady, of course it is the task of the Select Committees to investigate as thoroughly as possible the workings of the appropriate Government Department.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I seek your assistance? Late this morning I received an emergency telephone call from a constituent who had a friend who was due to arrive in this country this evening from Lagos. The friend had been refused a visitor's visa by the British high commission in Lagos. I telephoned the high commission in Lagos and was informed that the second secretary refused to take my call. Is that not contempt of the House and obstruction of the work of Members of Parliament?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Lady alleges that she is being obstructed in her work as a Member of Parliament. If that is what she believes, it may well be a question of privilege and she should write to me immediately.

Mr. D. N. CampbellSavours (Workington)

Do you, Madam Speaker, concur that, if the Health Select Committee has taken a decision in deliberative session not to release its report until 24 hours before it is due to be published, no member of that Committee is in a position to reveal the report's contents to any member of the press or of the Government? Will you confirm that?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members put matters to me which are not points of order on which I cannot rule and of which I have no knowledge other than what has been said to me across the Floor of the House. It is unfair for them to expect the Speaker of the House to rule on matters on which he has no information or knowledge whatsoever.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Hastings and Rye)

It is with some trepidation that I raise a point of order further to the issue of the Health Select Committee, but can you, Madam Speaker, advise me whether it is in order for our proceedings at a deliberative meeting of the Select Committee to be regarded as confidential so that no member of the press should be aware of those proceedings?

Madam Speaker

Of course; I would have thought that every hon. Member was aware that hearings in a deliberative form are confidential to that Committee. Are there any more points of order?

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You may have noticed that twice this afternoon during questions there was a failure in the amplification system in the House. On two occasions when hon. Members were speaking the microphones were not open and it was extremely difficult to hear. I have formed the opinion in the course of the last six months that the present amplification system in the Chamber is not a patch on the old one. We were told that the present microphones were of greater sensitivity, but either the microphones are not well placed or they are not being well operated. Could this matter be looked into?

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)


Madam Speaker

Is it further to that point of order?

Mrs. Currie

Yes, Madam Speaker. Is the problem not with the microphones but with the fact that so many hon. Members look alike, which causes difficulties for the operator? Surely, if there were more women in the House who all looked different, the operators would have no trouble.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Lady would not expect me to agree that there are any look-alikes in the House. But, in all seriousness, our equipment has been improved. Inquiries and investigations into it are still being made. I have no problem whatsoever, because I have my own equipment here, but I will have the matter looked into.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask, with what I hope is customary politeness, when you decided to advise the House of a closed question during Prime Minister's Question Time, and whether you intend to continue the practice?

Madam Speaker

It is not my practice to advise the House of a closed question, but I happen to think that, when a question is as closed as the one to which the hon. Gentleman refers, it is a matter of courtesy to remind the hon. Member who is on his feet. Hon. Members often forget that questions are closed, and I think that it is preferable to avoid embarrassment.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, nowadays I am very reluctant to rise on a point of order; the House is noisy enough without me. Nevertheless, I have to say—and I have been saying it for years—that, since the introduction of these damned television cameras and the related hearing equipment, the whole purpose of the engineering control is to avoid any interference with the television output by our own bits of equipment, as you call them. That is the problem: the primary consideration is the audience outside, and hon. Members can go hang if they cannot hear.

Madam Speaker

That was a most interesting comment.