§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is uncannily ironic that my point of order should follow the exchanges that have just taken place, as it relates to what is intended to be the biggest pension robbery in British history, the robbery of the British Rail pension fund.
In the other place this afternoon, the Government have now suffered two defeats on the pension fund issue in the Railways Bill. The other place has confirmed the view taken by many Members in the House last night and by the chairman of the British Rail pension fund about the conduct of the Government in reneging on assurances that had been given, and in seeking to gain the powers of Ministers to make changes to the pension fund—
§ Mr. Wilson
The conduct of the Government in seeking to make those changes has been rejected by the Lords this afternoon in the same way as it was rejected by Opposition Members last night.
Can you use your good offices, Madam Speaker, to bring the Leader of the House to the House as soon as possible to make a statement about the proposed conduct of business hereafter and, preferably, could there be talks to abandon the whole unwanted Railways Bill as the threat to railway pensioners arises only as a by-product of that dreadful Bill which has no support in the country?
§ Mr. Skinner
Yes. As the two pension proposals have been defeated by the votes of Members in another place, taking into account the composition of the House of Lords—the ratio of Members taking the Whip is about four Tories to one Labour—would it not seem credible to argue that, as the Government have a massive majority there and a majority here in the House of Commons, now that the Lords have defeated them twice, surely it makes sense that the Government should accept the decision that has been made, so that we can get on with business?
§ Madam Speaker
Then I shall return to the hon. Lady when I have replied to the hon. Member for Cunningham, North (Mr. Wilson).
I have had no official news as yet, but, as the House knows, we have a long parliamentary day and no doubt we will hear how to proceed in due course.
§ Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Why has the Department of Trade and Industry document, "Clean Coal Technology: Options for the Future" not been placed before the House? It states:Coal can continue to play a significant role well into the twenty-first century".369 Surely that is a supreme hypocrisy on the day when Calverton colliery is closing and the coal industry has been decimated. Do the Government intend to make a statement on the matter? Is it right that the document should be issued to the press, but not placed in the Library of the House?
§ Madam Speaker
I have not had sight of the document and I cannot be certain whether it is the sort of document that is normally laid before the House until I have seen it. I can say to the hon. Gentleman that I have not yet had any notice of any more statements which Ministers are about to make today.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Item 13 on the Order Paper is a proposal under statutory instrument to impose VAT on orange juice. I know that it is informal, unofficial and does not exist, but earlier this week we had our party Whips and there was no indication at that stage that the matter would be debated. There was a debate in a Statutory Instruments Committee earlier this week on the subject, but today is the first time that many hon. Members have been aware that the matter is coming before the House this evening.
I dare say that, if it is on the Order Paper, it must be an order, but it seems that there should be some other procedure whereby such important matters cannot suddenly be flung on the Table at the last minute. Hon. Members should have adequate warning that issues of such significance are about to be put before the House.
Can you, Madam Speaker, look into the background of this matter? If the procedures are not proper for matters of this significance, perhaps it would be possible for the Procedure Committee to look into them so that in future such matters do not come before the House with minimal notice at the last minute. Because you know so much more about these things than I do, Madam Speaker, may I ask whether we can debate the motion later this evening, or do we purely vote on it?
§ Madam Speaker
It is not a matter which can be debated later this evening. It has already been before the Statutory Instruments Committee in the normal way, but it is not on the Order Paper for debate this evening.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The matter is the subject of a dispute which is subject to appeal to the House of Lords. It would appear that this order is being rushed through while the matter is sub judice. Is it not a matter about which we should be concerned?
§ Ms Coffey
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On 15 October a letter from the Secretary of State for Social Security was circulated to all right hon. and hon. Members which stated that it was not true that the Child Support Agency was concentrating primarily on those who were already paying some maintenance. However, I understand from reports in the press that the chief executive of the agency said exactly the opposite to the Select Committee on Social Security.
370 In view of the irreconcilable nature of these two statements, could you, Madam Speaker, use your good offices to ask the Minister to come to the House to reconcile them? I feel strongly that it is important for Members of the House to have accurate information, and we do rely on Ministers to give us that accurate information.
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Lady is aware that I have no authority to require a Minister to come before the House and make a statement. I am given notice when a Minister wishes to do so. Of course, as the hon. Lady may be aware, and if she is not I will be happy to give her some guidance if she would like to come and see me, there are various other methods by which she herself can raise these matters in the House.