HC Deb 10 March 1993 vol 220 cc948-50

4 pm

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have, as a matter of courtesy, informed the President of the Board of Trade that I should be raising this point of order with you this afternoon.

As you will recall, the President of the Board of Trade used yesterday's Opposition day debate on manufacturing, industry and unemployment to make his first on-the-record response to the Select Committee on Trade and Industry's report on British energy policy and the market for coal. I believe that that was a grave discourtesy to the Committee, which was not given advance notice of the President's intention to comment on the report, although I understand that the press were.

The matter was raised at our Committee meeting this morning. The Secretary of State will be receiving a letter, which questions not only his discourtesy but his rather selective, inaccurate and inadequate analysis of our report. It was also discourteous to the House, which has repeatedly been promised an opportunity to debate the Select Committee's report and the Government's response when the Government eventually publish their repeatedly delayed White Paper on the coal crisis.

In order to prevent such an incident recurring and to fulfil the Government's commitment to the House, the Select Committee and, indeed, the miners, it is vital that the Government publish their White Paper and give notice of their intention to devote a full debate to both reports without delay. Anything else would be unacceptable to the British people.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker; I seek your guidance. The record of the President's statement is published in column 824 of yesterday's Hansard, but clearly it is incorrect. In a reference to the report, he said that the gas and nuclear industries were considered but that the Committee had made no recommendation. That is clearly incorrect—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not discuss policy with me. He must raise with me a point of order with which I, as Speaker, can deal.

Mr. Clapham

I raise the point to correct the record.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman cannot correct the record of the House through me. He must find other methods of doing that.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

Will you take note, Madam Speaker, that there is considerable bitterness and exasperation in the coalfields of Britain that well nigh half a year has passed since the President of the Board of Trade made his announcement? There is deep anxiety, but, despite the fact that the coalfields have been waiting desperately for a statement from the Secretary of State, he chose not to inform anyone, except the press, that a debate on manufacturing industry would be devoted to the future of the coal mining industry. Will you please consider whether the right hon. Gentleman has acted responsibly in this matter?

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. If I am given an opportunity to reply and do not have any further points of order, I hope that I can reply adequately to the points raised so far. However, there are two hon. Members standing who wish to raise points of order on this matter. I hope that they are points of order with which I can deal.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

I seek your guidance, Madam Speaker. The President of the Board of Trade's statement, recorded in column 824, is not incorrect —I understand that he made the statement as printed—but it is at variance with the Select Committee's recommendations. Can you advise us how we can get a statement from the President of the Board of Trade—by means of a private notice question or by any other method— to qualify why he tried to mislead the House yesterday?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When the President of the Board of Trade made a statement on 19 October about the 31 pits, you, Madam Speaker, were in the Chair, and heard it along with the rest of us. A select Committee was told to do the job at the same time as the President of the Board of Trade's own investigation. The Select Committee has met and reported, but we have not debated the contents of the report in the Chamber.

The point of order for you, Madam Speaker, is this. My hon. Friends on the Committee have not had a chance to discuss the report in the Chamber, yet the President of the Board of Trade decided to do his own hatchet job on it yesterday. The Select Committee was told by the House to do that job, and the President of the Board of Trade should not have abused his position yesterday. That is the question that should be answered, and that is why he should be brought here to answer.

Madam Speaker

May I respond to one or two of the points of order that have been raised? As some hon. Gentlemen know, it might be better if they raised the matter with the Leader of the House at business questions.

To take the serious point of order raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), I place on record the fact that the report of the Select Committee to which he referred is, as he knows, in the public domain. Even so, it is wise for the Select Committee to take up the matter with the Secretary of State, and I am delighted to hear that it has done so. For the moment we must leave the matter there.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you are aware, last night some English Labour Members sought to defeat some rating and valuation orders which apply to Scotland. Had those orders been defeated in the Division Lobbies, that would have added significantly to the costs of Scottish industry and caused unemployment in Scotland. As you are aware, there are more such rating and valuation orders on the Order Paper today, one of which—the draft Oil Related and Petrochemical Plants (Rateable Values)(Scotland) Order 1993—relates directly to my constituency —[Interruption.] If that order were defeated, rates for oil companies would be increased by about 85 per cent.—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot argue with me about the contents of the order to which he refers. If he will raise a point of order with me, I shall try to deal with it.

Mr. Robertson

I should like to ask whether you have had any intimation that the Opposition intend to divide the House on the orders, defeat them, and so put up costs?

Madam Speaker

I have no idea at all what is likely to happen this evening, just as I do not have much indication of what the House will do on most evenings. It would be most helpful to all of us if we knew.