HC Deb 19 July 1993 vol 229 cc21-5 3.30 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had any request from Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to report to the House on the delicate negotiations being conducted by Mr. Rolf Ekeus on behalf of the United Nations in Baghdad?

Madam Speaker

No, I have not been informed that any Minister wishes to make a statement.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hope that you will be able to help. On the first page of today's Order Paper there are 13 Welsh Office questions. Seven of them are from Conservative Members and six are from Labour Members. There are 38 Welsh Members.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

My mother is Welsh. [Interruption.]

Mr. Powell

On numerous occasions, I have been reminded that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. One of your predecessors, Viscount Tonypandy, used his influence to inform the House that Welsh Members have only rare opportunities to put questions to the Secretary of State for Wales, usually on a Monday and usually once a month.

Surely you could use your influence, Madam Speaker, either to change the computer to a Welsh one or to persuade Members who do not represent Welsh constituencies not to ask questions. Today, five Conservative Members and three Labour Members were called in the 35 minutes. However, 11 Welsh Members who were in their places did not have an opportunity to put their questions to the Minister. Will you use your ingenuity to devise a different system, so that Welsh Members have at least an opportunity to present their constituency problems?

Madam Speaker

I make it quite clear that I am not prepared to tamper with the ballot or with the computers in the House to see that some Members rather than others receive priority.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I have not finished.

On today's Order Paper, only 22 questions were tabled for the Secretary of State for Wales. Usually, 30 questions are printed. Insufficient questions were handed in to the Table Office.

Hon. Members


Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. A substantive point has arisen. The Secretary of State for Wales has umbrella responsibilities for subjects such as education, roads, housing, local government and the Welsh Development Agency, which is of considerable importance. He is responsible for a whole gamut of subjects. Because Conservative Members with English constituencies put down questions, they dictate the subjects that are to be answered. Notwithstanding the fact that we can put supplementaries, that limits the areas that can be discussed. That limits the oversight of the functions of the Welsh Office and its democratic answerability.

Is there any way in addition to Question Time—which clearly English Members want to get in on—such as additional time for questions in the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff, in which Welsh Members can get answerability from the Welsh Office?

Madam Speaker

I can answer the hon. Gentleman only by saying that he did not table a question today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Order. Indeed, 50 per cent. of his parliamentary party were called to put supplementaries.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Who is next? I am now crossing the Chamber and I call Mr. Bruce.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Can we have some form of clocking on and off, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has often suggested? Two weeks ago, very few Welsh Labour Members turned up for social security questions, despite their being of interest to their constituents. They were thus not here to table Welsh questions for today and have only themselves to blame.

Madam Speaker

Whether or not we clock on, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am not going to be the convenor.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During Welsh questions, you ruled as unparliamentary the expression "stool pigeon", as it is your right to do. The matter can be confusing at times. I refer hon. Members to pages 381–2 of "Erskine May" so tht they can decide what is an unparliamentary expression.

"Erskine May" used to contain a list of unparliamentary words such as "blackguard", "curmudgeon", "dog", "rotter", "cad" and the and all the other words that we could apply collectively to Conservative Members. That list has now been removed, but it would help the House — I hope that this is a helpful point of order—if that list were reinstated. I have a number of words that I should like to run by you, and it would be helpful if they could appear in "Erskine May".

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has often used picturesque language. However, I feel that certain expressions are wholly unacceptable in a House of grown-up individuals who should be able to express themselves without using mediocre language.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), Madam Speaker. There is a genuine sense of anger about what has happened today. The views expressed by my hon. Friend reflect the views of many Labour Members when English Members of Parliament come here, not to pursue matters of concern to them, but to shield the Secretary of State from questions put by Welsh Members.

I very much endorse the view expressed by my hon. Friend Ogmore because of the first five questions on today's Order Paper were tabled by English Members with no constituency interest in Wales. Six of the top 10 questions were tabled by English Conservative Members. Only three Welsh Members, during Welsh Question Time, had the opportunity to raise matters with the Secretary of State relating to questions that they had tabled.

I ask you, Madam Speaker, to give careful consideration to the suggestion by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and others. I believe that there is now a case either for extending Welsh questions—perhaps transferring the forum in which we can ask them—or using your good offices with the usual channels to get the Government to accept that, unless they are prepared to ask English Members voluntarily to desist from disrupting Welsh Question Time, the only conclusion must be that the Secretary of State is not prepared to face questions from Welsh Members.

Madam Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman wants to extend Welsh questions, that is a matter for the usual channels, and he must take up the matter there. He also raised a point about the ballot. If the ballot system is to be changed, that must be agreed upon by the whole House. He knows that questions are not selected by me or by the Minister; they are selected by ballot.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that, however many hon. Members representing English constituencies tabled questions. during the whole of Welsh Question Time only one Member from the Opposition Benches was called who did not represent a Welsh constituency. The remainder of supplementary questions were from Welsh Members.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I tabled a question, which became Question No. 9. I was only the third Welsh Member in the top 10, but we did not reach even Question No. 9. I did not seek to be called to ask a supplementary question on an earlier question, because I assumed that we would at least reach Question No. 9. In view of the imbalance, may I suggest that you should have endeavoured to move on, so that Members representing Welsh constituencies were called?

Madam Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman reflects and reads the Official Report tomorrow, he will see that that is precisely what I did. If hon. Members take a long time to ask questions and Ministers take a long time to answer them, we shall not get through the Order Paper.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. We should not mince words. As millions and millions of pounds of United Kingdom taxpayers' money goes to Wales for regeneration—and Wales is doing awfully well—we are entitled to a say—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for me. I remind hon. Members that they are taking precious guillotine time.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I was the person who called the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) a "stool pigeon" but, on your instructions, I withdrew my comment unequivocally. There is a feeling, however, that, because of his inadequacies, the Secretary of State for Wales is being protected, and that his Parliamentary Private Secretary or someone else is running around looking for a person consumed with ambition to table questions in order to protect the right hon. Gentleman, the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency and all the others—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order for me. I do my best to protect the hon. Gentleman to ensure that he does not get into difficulties, and I asked him to withdraw. I am very much the hon. Gentleman's protector, and I shall take care of him in future, too.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

You will be aware, Madam Speaker, that I have spent some years in the House and, indeed, that I am a member of your Chairmen's Panel. It seems to me that Welsh questions have become rather farcical. I remind you that my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) said that, when in your Chair, Mr. Speaker Thomas, now Viscount Tonypandy, told English Conservative Members that he was reluctant to call them, and that Welsh questions had been instituted so that Welsh Members could question the respective Welsh Ministers, which I thought perfectly good advice.

Madam Speaker

As I said earlier in answer to a point of order, if the hon. Gentleman reflects and reads the Official Report tomorrow, he will see that that is what has happened. I can understand his disappointment. He had tabled Question No. 12; if hon. Members and Ministers did not take so long over their questions and answers, we might proceed much more quickly through the Order Paper.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen)

I was one of the victims of this afternoon's Question Time. I drew Question No. 11 but, unfortunately, six of the first 10 questions were from English Conservative Members. My question was highly topical, being about the Welsh Development Agency, and other hon. Members would have liked to contribute.

May I draw your attention, Madam Speaker, to comments by the former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for The Wirral (Mr. Hunt), at a sitting of the Welsh Grand Committee in Cardiff on 8 March this year? He also acknowledged that there was a democratic deficit in Wales, and envisaged a larger role for the Welsh Grand Committee. Simultaneously, the Secretary of State for Scotland was talking about an enlarged role for Scottish Question Time. Would you please look into these possibilities?

Madam Speaker

These are not matters for me. They are matters for the Procedure Committee, and the hon. Gentleman might like to take his points there.

Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I assure you that my question on the Order Paper was not planted by anyone else? It reflected my interest in heart disease. If Opposition Members are not interested in the state of the health of the Welsh nation, they should be.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam Speaker

Order. We will now make some progress. I have a statement to make which I am sure will he of interest to hon. Members.