HC Deb 30 June 1992 vol 210 cc713-5 3.32 pm
Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to seek guidance on the way in which the Government responded to the Select Committee on Social Security on the Maxwell pension scheme. Yesterday, there was a notice outside the Vote Office stating, "No papers today". In question 311 on yesterday's Order Paper, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) asked the Secretary of State when he intended to respond. In yesterday's Hansard, the Secretary of State replied: The Government's response to the Select Committee's report is published today."—[Official Report, 29 June 1992; Vol. 210, c. 432.] I went to the Vote Office earlier today, and was told that the report would not be made available to hon. Members until 3.30 pm.

However, journalists received unembargoed copies yesterday. That is a case of sneaking a reply out and cheating hon. Members. It is an abuse of procedures and shows that the much-vaunted style of open government has not reached the Department of Social Security. May I request a statement from the Leader of the House on how it is that a report published yesterday is not available to us but has been made available to the Lobby? What can you do, Madam Speaker, to end such obnoxious practices?

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Let me deal with the hon. Gentleman's point.

What the hon. Gentleman had to say has been heard by those Ministers who are present. I deprecate the practice of documents being made available to the press before they are made available to the House. There are senior Ministers on the Front Bench who will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said. I am sure that, as a matter of courtesy, Ministers with responsibility for such matters will report to me.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are told that the Community's ethos has undergone a sea change towards subsidiarity, yet daily more Community instruments are being rammed down our throats.

The Prime Minister told us today that shop hours are a matter for Community discretion. But more important than that, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given his assent to the possibility that VAT rates could be constrained by European considerations. My right hon. Friend is a good Chancellor of the Exchequer and I hope that he will hold office for a long time, but he might not. My understanding is that the House is responsible for making decisions on supply and that it should not be constrained in what taxes it raises and at what level it raises those taxes.

You, Madam Speaker, may not wish to pronounce today, but it may be advisable for Europeans to know that decisions on taxation are for the House, not for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Madam Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, points of order should relate to matters for which I am responsible, and I am not responsible for what Ministers say, whether in the House or outside.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I must respond to one point of order before I can take any others.

As the hon. Gentleman understands, I will rule if necessary on whether or not tax proposals are in order as and when they are made, but I do not want to make advance pronouncements on a hypothetical situation derived from press reports. When the time is right, I shall pronounce on those matters.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you been notified that the Government will be making a statement to the House on the allegation that the arms embargo against Iran has been broken by the Ministry of Defence in issuing an export licence for the export of machinery which is capable of making gun barrels to a firm in my constituency? That is a matter of interest to members of the public as well as to Members of the House.

Madam Speaker

I have had no such notification from any member of the Government.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will know from your constituency how the primary purpose rule unfairly separates families. Has the Home Secretary, who, conveniently, is in his place, applied to you to make a statement to announce the conduct of a review which the Home Office is now conducting into the cases of spouses who have been waiting more than five years to enter Britain, particularly those with British citizen children? As that review effectively abolishes the primary purpose rule and clearly has important public policy implications, has the Home Secretary sought an opportunity to announce the review into the primary purpose review?

Madam Speaker

I have had no indication from the Government that they are seeking to make a statement on that matter.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

As you are aware, Madam Speaker, Members of Parliament have free access to this place—a right which you would guard with your life, I suppose. But do you have any jurisdiction over the Tory Members of Parliament who were trying to enter the other place today? Tory Whips were using intimidatory tactics to stop Tory Members going to the other place to see Baroness Thatcher being ennobled and taking part in the "Monty Python" sketch. Do you have any powers to stop those Tory Whips preventing those Eurosceptics——

Madam Speaker

Order. I have sufficient responsibilities in relation to the House. Please do not burden me with any more.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Am I to understand from previous exchanges that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, having apparently conceded the important power of the House in raising taxes by accepting a VAT limit of no lower than 15 per cent. for four years, is not applying to you to make a statement of what amounts to a betrayal of the British people and the handing over of power to the Common Market on an unprecedented scale?

Madam Speaker

I have already answered a point of order on that matter. We must now move on—to summer time.