HC Deb 27 October 1992 vol 212 cc882-5 4.31 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise to ask for your assistance and guidance about a difficulty that has arisen, which involves both a Standing Committee and a Select Committee of the House. The difficulty has arisen inadvertently, but nevertheless it exists.

Tomorrow, European Standing Committee B is to consider a motion from the Government on a European Community document on cultural goods, and the Standing Committee is to be asked to endorse the Government's policy on that matter. Last Thursday, the National Heritage Select Committee decided to conduct a speedy inquiry into the matter. If the Standing Committee makes its decisions tomorrow, the inquiry by the Select Committee will be rendered otiose and the Standing Committee will not have available to it the report of the Select Committee. It is intended that the report will be completed and made available to the House speedily, bearing in mind that the Internal Market Council of the European Community is to consider the matter on 10 November.

There is a further difficulty in connection with the document. There are two European Community documents which, although they have been distributed to some members of the Standing Committee, are not available to all members of the Standing Committee. The documents have not been deposited and are therefore not available to members of the Select Committee or to the House in general. That being so, it seems to me and to several right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that advantage will be gained if the Standing Committee can defer its consideration of the document for a few days, to enable the document to be made available to the House and to enable the Select Committee to deliver its report.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, South)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could give me guidance. If it is not possible to defer consideration of the document, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) suggested, and if the meeting takes place, the motion is passed and the Select Committee then makes an adverse report, perhaps even producing new information, would it be in order under Standing Order No. 20 for such a matter to be raised to enable a Select Committee report to be considered? I do not ask you to rule about the merits of the argument, but would it be procedurally possible to ask, under Standing Order No. 20, for a debate to take place in the light of the decision that has been made, but clearly should not have been?

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


Madam Speaker

Is it on the same point of order?

Dr. Godman

Yes, it is on the same matter. Speaking as a member of European Standing Committee B, I feel that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has raised a valid objection to the meeting of my Committee going ahead tomorrow. We have in the past complained about the late circulation of documents to hon. Members. In this case, I am one of those who received his documents timeously, but nevertheless, I would not disagree with the request that the Committee be adjourned until next week or the week after.

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that I have had enough points of order on this matter to enable me to deal with it. I understand the objections raised by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), but he knows as well as anyone in the House that Standing Committees have considerable autonomy. It is for the Chairman to decide to determine the business of the Committee and how it should be conducted, and when the Committee should issue reports.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)


Madam Speaker

Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would let me finish.

It is not for the Speaker to interfere in the work of Standing Committees, and there would be a great deal of objection if any Speaker did so. The hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) gave me a lot of supposition and hypotheses on which I cannot at this stage rule. I do not enter into what may happen if some eventuality takes place: the hon. Gentleman and the House would not expect me to do that.

Mr. Hardy

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am in no way challenging your ruling about the two Standing Order No. 20 applications, but will you consider a further aspect of the matter?

On Friday, the information that I received from the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers led me to telephone the office of the Minister for Energy to draw attention to the failure of British Coal to ensure that the assurances given in this House, and in the other place by the noble Lord Wakeham, were implemented. I was told that those in the office would come back to me, and I am still waiting.

I know that you will have looked, Madam Speaker, at the assurances given to right hon. and hon. Members of this House, but the assurances given by the noble Lord in the other place were rather more generous and helpful than those given here.

In view of that, if you have a further application for a debate of this type, will you take into account the inaction of the Department of Energy in providing the information that I was entitled to seek? Secondly, will you ensure that the assurances given by the noble Lord in the other place are properly taken into account in your decision on these matters?

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that you had to refuse the individual applications from my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands) and for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) but if you put the two together, will you be able to consider that as a separate matter? If that strengthens the argument for a debate, I would be able to explain that the 4,500 mining jobs in my constituency that were lost in the 1980s have still not been replaced and that we have the highest level of unemployment in the country.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that hon. Members are not challenging my ruling. I look carefully at these matters before I come to the Chair.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for not having given you notice of this point of order, particularly as I am a member of the Chairmen's Panel. Could you tell me and the House whether you might consider, under the procedure for a breach of parliamentary privilege, a letter sent out by a senior management executive of British Coal to staff of British Coal, which said—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is a long-standing Member, and I will advise him carefully. I cannot consider any privilege questions across the Floor of the House. I am aware of what the hon. Member is saying. If he will write to me about it, I will consider the matter and deal with it right away.

Mr. Winterton

I am happy to accept, and thank you for, that ruling, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I call on you, as the defender of the rights of Back Benchers and as the final arbiter on the admissability of parliamentary questions, to rule on a point?

Yesterday, during question time, I received an answer from the Solicitor-General that had no connection with the question that I had asked. That was not unusual. Unique about it was the fact that the Solicitor-General said that there was no connection, and in reply to a supplementary question from me, he said: That is the answer to the question that the hon. Gentleman should have asked".—[Official Report, 26 October 1992; Vol. 212, col. 770.] That is an indication of the arrogance and petulance of Ministers. They are now determining the questions we should ask. That seems to represent an extension of the powers of the executive and a denial of the rights and privileges of Back Benchers.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a persistent Back Bencher, will pursue that matter effectively.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have listened carefully to your remarks responding to the requests concerning the two collieries in Wales and Yorkshire. I appreciate that you are not expected to reveal the reasons behind your rulings. Indeed, I have listened for the past 22 years to other occupants of the Chair saying precisely that. I do not suppose that we shall resolve that mystery today.

I fear that we are reaching a sorry pass when some of my hon. Friends are continually referring to the fact that various Ministers have made categoric statements about those 10 pits and we have reason to doubt the accuracy of those statements. We are not supposed to call Ministers liars or to say that they are deliberately misleading the House. Despite that, we are drawn to the conclusion that events are a lot like that.

I am glad to tell you, Madam Speaker, that there is a way out of the problem. The Government have scheduled for next Wednesday a debate on Maastricht, although they are as yet uncertain about the type of motion to table. My proposed solution would solve not only your difficulty but that of the Government, who should withdraw the Maastricht debate and agree to our debating those 10 pits. That might enable us to save those pits and put the Ministers concerned on the line. They would then have to answer for what they have said in recent days. We might at the same time save several thousand miners' jobs.

I urge that negotiations take place immediately through the usual channels. The Government have got themselves into a big hole. The whole problem could be resolved in the way I have described.

Madam Speaker

I am always glad to have the understanding and help of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I wish that he could solve all my problems so easily.