HC Deb 14 December 1994 vol 251 cc941-3
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm to the House that statements by Ministers are made by your indulgence and that there are at present no Standing Orders that regulate the making of statements? Would you consider the production of a Standing Order that ensured that Ministers knew the scope within which statements may be made? Would you say that if a Minister wishes in effect to make a speech on a matter that is more effectively dealt with by debate, he should do so under Standing Order No. 22 on a motion for the Adjournment of the House, or—he would be better placed in this instance—by bringing the matter to the Welsh Grand Committee, where we could have a proper debate on what has been described, for the first time as I can recall, as a Welsh budget?

Madam Speaker

Statements made by Ministers are not made by my indulgence. I have no authority whatsoever in relation to statements. I am simply told by the Department concerned when a Minister wishes to make a statement.

The other two matters raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman are matters of procedure. There may be a great deal in them, and perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman might like to put the points to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, as they relate very much to Standing Orders.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. You heard the Secretary of State say that he wanted this Welsh budget to be compared with the Budget. At the time of the Budget, the Vote Office normally has all the press releases associated with it. We have heard that there are about a dozen press releases emanating from the statement, but not one press release is available in the Vote Office. Through you, Madam Speaker, may I ask the Secretary of State whether he intends to issue press releases, as the Chancellor does?

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for me. The hon. Gentleman is trying to use me as Speaker to put questions to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will let the House or individual Members know his response.

I ask hon. Members not to use me as Speaker to put questions to Ministers, as that should be done during questions.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order relates to Foreign Office questions. As a result of his legendary arrogance and unpleasantness, the Minister of State—the right hon. and learned Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg)—had an uncomfortable time during Foreign Office questions, and I must ask you on a point of order to make the right hon. and learned Gentleman's time more uncomfortable still.

You will recall that a few months ago, I had cause to write to you about a question that I asked the Minister of State, to which he replied that he found my views odious, and sat down. [Interruption.] Conservative Members evidently find that proper parliamentary procedure. That says much about them—indeed, we know the record of the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) in the matter.

This afternoon, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), a widely respected Member of Parliament, asked a very long and detailed question of the Minister of State, who stood up and said words to the effect that my hon. Friend was a loony and sat down. I ask you, Madam Speaker, on a point of order, as I did on the occasion when the same thing happened to me, to assert again that Ministers of the Crown have a responsibility to answer parliamentary questions raised by all Members of Parliament at Question Time. I hope that you will take a dim view and the gravest exception to that pattern of behaviour from the Minister of State.

Madam Speaker

I do take considerable exception to the manner in which that question was answered. For my part, I should not have used the word that the Minister did to describe the manner in which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pursues issues in the House.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow pursues any issue he takes up truly at great length, truly in great detail and with great determination, but certainly with the greatest courtesy. I believe that not only does he have the right to a proper response, but he has the right to have that response given to him in a most courteous manner.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I add that this is not, of course, a blanket criticism of all Ministers? I must say that, on Monday night, the Foreign Secretary thought it proper to give me 25 minutes of his time on the very issue in his room. The courtesy of the Foreign Secretary is in contrast to the discourtesy of the Minister of State.

Madam Speaker

That suitably ends the matter.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is one pleasing aspect to my point of order, because it gives me the opportunity to repeat, yet again, my thanks to you for the admonishment that you directed at those on the Treasury Bench on Monday and for the efficacy of the advice that you offered me yesterday.

Following your advice, Madam Speaker, I contacted the private office of the Secretary of State and I reminded that office of the commitments made by two Ministers on three occasions in March and April this year. Those promises were two-pronged. First, Ministers promised to place summaries of the representations on the Cleveland order in the Library. Of course you saw the paucity of their response—just a paltry five paragraphs on a scrap of paper, supplied two days ago and four days late.

The second half of the commitment was that individual representations would be made available, if requested. I must be honest and say that the Minister for Local Government and Planning followed that up by saying: unless the writers intended their views to be treated in confidence."—[Official Report, 20 April 1994; Vol. 241, c. 532.] This afternoon, I received a reply from the Secretary of State, who said: I am bound to regard representations as not intended for publication unless there is a clear indication to the contrary. The Government have already said that they have received more than 300 representations and I do not believe that those 300 writers would not want us to know about them. The Secretary of State has agreed to contact the local authorities to ask their permission to allow me to see their submissions—copies of which I have in profusion. Surely it is not unreasonable to ask the Secretary of State to contact those who made the other 300 representations, which the Government claim they have received, so that I am allowed to see them.

As a pupil of the Jesuits, and with all due respect to my teachers, I think that that twisting of words adopted by the Government is unacceptably Jesuitical in the House.

Since you, Madam Speaker, supported my appeal on the first half of the commitment and pointed out that those on the Treasury Bench were being unacceptably lethargic, I ask you to support my request that those Ministers honour the second half of that commitment to make individual representations available to the House.

Madam Speaker

This is the third successive day on which the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter with me on a point of order. I recognise his frustration over the issue, but it is not a matter on which I can help him any further. I know that he was promised a summary of the representations received. He has had that, although he does not consider the response adequate. He was also told that individual representations would be made available, unless the writers intended their views to be treated in confidence. I understand that the Minister's view is that that proviso applies to the representations to which the hon. Gentleman wishes to have access. That cannot be a matter for me.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I suggest that that matter raises an important issue which is relevant to all hon. Members? If we are to believe answers that we receive from Ministers and answers printed in Hansard, we need to pursue the matter slightly further. If it is not possible for the Minister to fulfil the commitment that he made not just to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), but to a Conservative Member, the Minister should not have made those promises in the first place. Either Ministers were wrong when they gave their answers in March and April this year or they have gone back on promises, which are clearly recorded in Hansard, to Members on both sides of the House.

Madam Speaker

Ministers are responsible for the remarks that they make in the House, but I am glad that the hon. Lady has placed her comments on record, where all members of the Government can see them.