HC Deb 19 October 1994 vol 248 cc277-8 3.30 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Are you aware that this morning the Home Secretary joined the Lord President of the Council, the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Education, the Paymaster General for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Under-Secretary of State to launch a Green Paper on drugs? I can appreciate the embarrassment that this has caused the Home Secretary, because the document appears to accept the need for a comprehensive strategy to tackle drugs and drug-related crime—a strategy which he rejected during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill.

Would it not be appropriate for a statement on such an important issue to be made in this Chamber, so that we can test the document and question whether there has been a genuine change of heart by the Government? Is this not a discourtesy to the House, and a further example of the sort of behaviour by Ministers that you have deprecated in the past?

Several hon. Members

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Does it relate to the same point of order? [Hon. Members: "No."] As the House knows, I am always keen for any important statements of policy made by the Government to be made to this House first. I have seen the document, which is of a consultative nature, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands. It is, of course, up to the Minister concerned to decide for himself whether he wishes to make a statement to the House or to use some other method.

I do, however, understand hon. Members' keenness to question question Ministers on this subject. I hope that it will not be too long before the issue comes before the House in such a form that we can all consider it and hear answers to some of the questions that hon. Members are seeking to ask.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday, the Home Secretary announced an additional £2 billion expenditure on anti-crime closed circuit television schemes for England and Wales. Today, I repeatedly contacted the office of the Secretary of State for Scotland asking whether he intended to make an equivalent statement for Scotland—only to be told that no one there knows what the position is.

Have you, Madam Speaker, been approached by the Secretary of State for Scotland to be told that he intends to make such a statement to the House about Scotland? If not, is it within the rules of this unitary Parliament that Ministers should be allowed to announce anti-crime schemes, paid for by taxpayers' money, for one part of the United Kingdom but not for another?

Madam Speaker

I have not been informed by any Minister that he seeks to make a statement, but my recollection is that Thursday follows Wednesday, and that Thursday is the day when the Leader of the House announces the business. The hon. Gentleman may be lucky then, although I do not promise that he will catch my eye.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Article 9 of the Bill of Rights protects the right of this House to regulate its own proceedings, including the conduct of its members. There are all sorts of historical reasons for that, and no one is likely to dispute the fact that we, not the courts, should do this. It is also most important for the reputation of Parliament that, in regulating our own procedures and the conduct of Members, everything should be seen to be above board, and that there should be as little secrecy as possible.

The point I want to raise with you, Madam Speaker, is as follows: if a Committee has been duly appointed by the House, as it has been, to look into the conduct of two hon. Members, are we in a position to tell the Committee that we are dissatisfied with its sitting in private, and that we believe that it should sit in public for most of the hearings?

Obviously, when it comes to discuss its conclusions, it must do so in private—no one disputes that—but I for one, and many of my hon. Friends, are deeply disappointed that the Committee of Privileges has decided to sit only in private. Are we therefore in a position to tell that Committee that we believe that most of its proceedings should be public?

Madam Speaker

There has been no official report yet to the House; what I have seen has been from the media. As the hon. Gentleman and the House know, all our Committees, including the Privileges Committee, regulate their own affairs. They must be left to resolve the matter. The hon. Gentleman must not look to me as a court of appeal. We have established very important working Committees in the House, and they must be left to conduct their own affairs in carrying out the task with which they have been entrusted by the House.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I draw your attention, Madam Speaker, to written question 222 on today's Order Paper? The hon. Member for Dorset, South (Mr. Bruce) asked the Secretary of State for Education if she will make a statement about Stratford grant-maintained school. That school is in my constituency, and there is a lot of controversy surrounding it. Would it not be courteous for the reply to the question to be given to the constituency Member concerned, rather than his having to wait until it is printed in the Official Report? It is matter of courtesy, upon which you could advise Ministers.

Madam Speaker

I often have to remind Ministers and Back Benchers that there should be a high degree of courtesy in the way in which we deal with each other in the House. I have always thought that, if an hon. Member tables a question that relates to another Member's constituency, that Member should be informed. I hope that what the hon. Gentleman has said has been heard by the Minister, and perhaps he will be sent the typescript answer to the question. We now must move on to the ten-minute Bill.

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