HC Deb 16 February 1995 vol 254 cc1143-4

4.7 pm

Ms Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week, I tabled a question for written answer to the Secretary of State for Transport in which I asked to be furnished with information about the amounts paid by his Department in consultancy fees to 10 named companies during the process of rail privatisation. A similar question was answered in great detail in July 1994. However, the reply that I received was that individual fees to individual companies were a matter of commercial confidentiality. I was furnished only with the information that the grand total was £17.1 million. This is the second time in as many weeks that the Department of Transport has abdicated its responsibility and accountability not only to the House, but to the British taxpayer as it is spending taxpayers' money. I would be grateful for advice on how I might proceed with this matter. Would it be possible for you, Madam Speaker, to raise the issue with the Ministers concerned?

Madam Speaker

First, I tell the hon. Lady that I have no responsibility or authority to raise the matter with the Ministers concerned. It is not my responsibility. I have no influence on the working of Government Departments; that is a matter for Secretaries of State. However, I understand hon. Members' frustration when Government Departments are inconsistent, as I know this one to be, in the method used to answer questions.

Perhaps I may give a little advice to the hon. Lady. I asked her to try to raise an earlier problem on an Adjournment debate. I know that she attempted to do that, but she did not pursue it. I leave that matter with her for the moment. The hon. Lady may also raise the matter with the Table Office staff, who can often be helpful in such matters.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In Northern Ireland Questions this afternoon, we saw another example of what we consider to be the deliberate tactic of both major parties of loading the Order Paper so that it has the effect of pushing Northern Ireland Members' questions virtually off the Order Paper. I know that that is not something with which you can directly deal, Madam Speaker, but I draw your attention to questions 5 and 6, which are virtually identical. I think that I am right in saying that, as originally tabled, there was also another pair of identical questions in the first 12 questions, although, through the withdrawal of one question, that is no longer the case.

I wonder whether it is possible for the Table Office at least to try to restrain hon. Members who ask virtually the same question, so that there would not be so many non-Northern Ireland Members tabling questions and, consequently, a better chance of Northern Ireland Members putting questions on the Order Paper in the same way as Scottish and Welsh Members have their questions answered.

Madam Speaker

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no loading of the Order Paper by any party. There is a ballot for the order of questions. The hon. Gentleman can see that ballot taking place. I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustrations, too, but today, out of eight members of his party who were present, seven, including the hon. Gentleman himself, were called. That is not a bad record.

I was extremely disappointed at the lack of progress that we made in Northern Ireland Questions today. It was particularly poor. We reached only question 8. I want brisker questions to Ministers in that Department and I want brisker answers, too. It is totally unfair that we cannot move faster down the Order Paper at Northern Ireland Questions.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You might not be aware of it, because of your position in the Chamber, but a habit seems to be developing at the beginning of Question Time. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) enters the Chamber, a small group of hon. Members hiss as he comes in. Although we accept that there will be some noise and to and fro in debates, that habit is not very pleasant. I hope that you will deprecate it and ask all hon. Members to desist from it.

Madam Speaker

I certainly deprecate such behaviour. I will watch particularly carefully next week. If I see or hear anything untoward happening, I will put a stop to it without delay.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In Northern Ireland Question Time, I tried to raise a point of order and ask for your guidance. It was in relation to the fact that the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms Mowlam) referred to football hooligans starting a riot in Dublin. It would have been perfectly in order for the Prime Minister, during Prime Minister's Question Time, or for the Home Secretary to have referred to that matter, but it surely should not have been raised during Northern Ireland Questions, as no one from Northern Ireland, as far as I know, had responsibility for that riot.

Madam Speaker

There is more than a grain of truth in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. That matter certainly did not relate to Northern Ireland Questions; it was a matter for the Prime Minister or for the Home Secretary. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber a few minutes ago when I deprecated the fact that we do not move sufficiently speedily through Northern Ireland Questions, and that is because such extraneous matters are often raised at Question Time.

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