HC Deb 13 May 1996 vol 277 cc641-4 3.31 pm
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I fear that the Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service, who I see in his place, inadvertently misled the House when winding up the debate on the civil service pension scheme on Tuesday 7 May. At column 130 I said: Is not the real reason the Government's wish to privatise Paymaster? Without the order, a privatised Paymaster could not tender for the contract. Without that substantial contract, Paymaster would be a far less attractive proposition for privatisation. In his closing speech, the Parliamentary Secretary said: That has nothing to do with the payment of pensions to former civil servants. The proposals in the order concern entirely the administration of the scheme for current civil servants and are nothing to do with Paymaster's function of paying out benefits and pensions to retired civil servants."—[Official Report, 7 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 130–36.] The Parliamentary Secretary paid me the courtesy of writing to me to draw this to my attention, but I thought that as he was here answering questions today, he should take the opportunity to put the record straight.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service (Mr. David Willetts)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I confirm that the order which the House approved last week does cover all aspects of the administration of civil service pensions. I regret that my winding-up speech did not make that point clear. As you know, Madam Speaker, I have placed in the Library of the House a copy of my letter to the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) which clarifies the point.

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)

On a similar point of order to that of the right hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), Madam Speaker. At last Thursday's oral questions, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was recorded as saying that an oyster farm in my constituency had been closed because of an unacceptable risk to human health."—[Official Report, 9 May 1996; Vol. 277, c. 361.] That is not the case, because the farm meets the requirements of the European directives, but did not comply with the gold-plating by MAFF officials. I wonder if the attention of the Editor of Hansard could be drawn to that fact.

Madam Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would also like to draw his point to the Minister's attention. It is hardly a point of order for me, but it is a matter for the Minister.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had any information from the Department of Trade and Industry about a statement on the announcement by the gas regulator that some 10,000 British Gas TransCo jobs, many of them located in my constituency, may go as a result of her arbitrary new pricing decision? Frankly, the consumers and the employees of British Gas are caught between Cedric the pig and the unaccountable Clare "Spotted-dick"—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is not a matter for me. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise that matter on an Adjournment debate, I shall be glad to consider any application he makes. All hon. Members know that if a statement is to be made by the Government, a notice appears on the annunciator screen by 1 o'clock so that we are all aware of it.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We were all grateful to you for your statement on 19 January 1995 in response to a legitimate complaint from the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). In that statement, you said that a Member whose constituency is directly affected by an answer should be informed of the answer at the same time as the Member who has asked the question and the press. You also said that It would also be a useful courtesy if any Member tabling a question directly affecting another's constituency—something which should not be done lightly in any case—took care to inform that Member of the action that he or she has taken."—[Official Report, 19 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 862.] This morning, I had a two-and-a-half-hour meeting with the staff of Salisbury tax office to try to stave off its closure by the Board of Inland Revenue. The staff told me at 12.30 today that a parliamentary question had been tabled by the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). Despite my parliamentary questions and ministerial correspondence, he felt it necessary to do that. He did not inform me and I confirmed with his office as soon as I arrived in the Palace of Westminster that he had not sought to inform me. The hon. Gentleman tabled five parliamentary questions about my constituency without contacting me. If he had, I would have advised him to get in touch with the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), whose tax office is also threatened with closure.

Will you, Madam Speaker, confirm the views that you expressed in January 1995?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has given the House the date when I made that statement and the column reference, which is 862. That statement still stands and it is very firm. Members who table a question directly about another Member's constituency, which should not be done lightly, should in any case take care to inform the other Member in advance that they are going to do so. Such matters should be resolved between Members and should not come to the Chair of the House, especially after firm statements have been made about how we should conduct ourselves in the Chamber.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)


Madam Speaker

Is the hon. Gentleman going to apologise for his colleague?

Mr. Hughes

I have not spoken to my colleague, but may I accept what you say and explain one point to the House and to you, Madam Speaker, which may require you to adjudicate again and we may be able to respond in the way that you have indicated? My assumption is that my colleague, who is our Treasury spokesman, will have asked questions about a tax office in—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order. I made it clear in 1995 that if questions are to be asked, which should not be done lightly, the Member should be informed. The hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) was informed about the questions when he saw them on the Order Paper. That is not the way to behave. I will hear no more points of order about that matter because every Member knows how strongly I feel about it. We shall now get on with our business.