HC Deb 10 December 1992 vol 215 cc1010-1 4.11 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you are most concerned to ensure that major Government decisions are announced to the House so that hon. Members have the opportunity to question Ministers. Today, the Secretary of State for Employment has announced that she is abandoning Government funding of trade union ballots and of training for trade union officials. The Government fund the training of the other side of management but are not, apparently, willing to fund the training of the people who will be on the other side of the negotiating table. The funding of trade union ballots, which Lady Thatcher introduced, is apparently to be abolished by the present allegedly more concerned Government.

A statement should have been made on these important matters, either today, when there is no statement other than the business statement, or on Tuesday, when the Secretary of State replied to our Opposition day motion on unemployment, and when again there was no statement. The decision was clearly made then, and it seems to us to be wholly unreasonable that the Secretary of State is not willing to explain why the Government have reached these appalling decisions.

Madam Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman will understand, there has been no breach of our Standing Orders or of our procedures. The matter therefore is not one for the Speaker.

Mr. Dobson

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Your predecessors and you yourself have been keen to ensure that hon. Members have the opportunity to question Ministers on such matters. There will not be any opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Employment until well after Christmas. That is at variance with normal practice, even if it is not out of order.

Madam Speaker

I have made it clear on a number of occasions in this House that I deplore statements being made outside the House rather than to hon. Members. I stand by that. When major changes are made, they should be announced first in the House so that a statement can be questioned. But, as the hon. Gentleman and the House know, I have no authority on these matters, which is why I simply said, so as not to waste the time of the House, that there had been no breach of our Standing Orders or of our procedures. I have previously made my views known very clearly on these matters. Perhaps, if the hon. Gentleman had been present for business questions, he might have put that question to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Dobson

Further to my point of order, Madam Speaker. Business questions were within two questioners of coming to an end before I received the information that I have now. I am, however, grateful to you for once more saying that it is best for Ministers to come and face the music.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Do you not agree, Madam Speaker, that one of your prime roles is to ensure that there is good order in the House? Do you also accept that, if the Government continue not to take any notice of your warnings to them that when they are making important statements they should make them in the House and not to the Press outside, the only recourse for Opposition Members is to raise points of order and to make a fuss? That does not, on the whole, reflect well on the House. It seems to me that it is very important that, rather than forcing the Opposition into such tactics, the Government should take note of your warning and make sure that on every possible occasion they make statements to the House.

Madam Speaker

Only today, 12 answers have been given to written questions by the Government. It is outside my control whether the Government give written answers to questions or make oral statements in the House. I have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Do not the complications that are caused for the Chair arise from the fact that, when major statements are made in this way outside the House, hon. Members go to the Table Office, for which you have responsibility, and put questions down—about trade union ballots, say—not knowing that a major change has taken place? Complications can ensue for any hon. Member who tries to table a question on something that has changed on the day without his knowing about it.

That is where the Chair becomes involved, because a Member can take that question that is turned down by the Table Office to the Speaker. I think that the Government ought to bear in mind the fact that, when major changes take place, those complications are created. The trade unions now have only one recourse—to refuse to hold these ballots which the Government decided upon years ago.

Madam Speaker

Order. This was a parliamentary answer. It is not for the Speaker to work out the criteria for what is major and what is not major in these matters.

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