HC Deb 02 November 1995 vol 265 cc403-4

4.3 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I realise that what Ministers say is not a matter for you. You have made that clear, as have your predecessors, on a number of occasions. If a Minister, be it the Prime Minister as in this case, or any other Minister, has made a remark about a Member that does not happen to be true, one would have thought that, once that had been brought to his attention, he would come to the House and say so.

On Tuesday, in reply to my question about French nuclear tests, the Prime Minister said: the hon. Gentleman is consistent in his views. He has been a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and he is".—[Official Report, 31 October 1995; Vol. 265, c. 96.]. I make no reflection whatever on CND. I have a great deal of time for the organisation, certainly when it sticks to the particular business for which it came into existence. However, the fact is that I was never a member. I checked with CND in case I was on its membership list. Not surprisingly, the answer was no. I then telephoned No. 10 on two occasions. I spoke to a private secretary, who was very courteous and said that he would look into the matter.

On further occasions yesterday when I tried to speak to the private secretary, he was always out. So I went across to No. 10. I was allowed through on my Member's pass and I delivered a note to the door at 5.10 pm. I have not heard since from No. 10. It may not be a matter of great importance to you, for all I know, Madam Speaker, but the Prime Minister must know by now that what he said on Tuesday was not the position.

Surely, just because the right hon. Gentleman is Prime Minister does not mean that he should not come and correct a falsehood that he said to the House, I am sure inadvertently. What he said does not happen to be true and I see no reason why the Prime Minister should not come here and say so.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has corrected the mistaken impression himself. I am glad that he has taken the opportunity of so doing. I have often cautioned the House and all Members in it, whether they are Ministers or Back Benchers, that we have tremendous privileges here in freedom of speech and in speaking out, but those privileges have to be tempered with responsibility. Before we make accusations about each other across the Floor of the House, we all ought to get our facts right. It would enhance our debates here if we did that, and had more respect for the individual than I find has been shown generally in our debates in recent times.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On 19 July I put a series of questions to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment on the issue of the headlamp scheme. At the end of the Session I received replies that said that I would receive answers on 16 October. On 16 and 17 October I received some answers. Eight of the answers said that the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), had asked the chairman of the Teacher Training Agency to write to me. I still have not had answers to those questions.

Do we have a right to answers to our questions, or can they simply be lost in an executive agency? Or is the Education Minister so uncertain about whether the Prime Minister will announce education policy himself that he is unable to give me answers?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Questions must be answered within the rules of the House. Now that the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter with me, I shall be pleased to take it up on his behalf and see what I can do to be helpful.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) asked you yesterday whether the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) had yet written to you to substantiate the allegations that he made earlier in the week. Are you able to tell us yet whether you have received any such letter?

Madam Speaker

I have not received anything from the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw), but I am informed by him that a letter is on its way.