HC Deb 09 December 1997 vol 302 cc811-2 4.27 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to have to ask you for a ruling, but this morning, from the news bulletins, and especially from the "Today" programme, one would have gathered that we would have two statements in the House this afternoon, not one. We were told in some detail what the Government will propose in a White Paper on freedom of information.

As soon as I got to my office, I rang the Chancellor of the Duchy's office; asked whether there would be a statement, and was told that there would not; and asked whether a White Paper would be published today, and was told that it would not be published. Again, we have government by leak and innuendo. I put it to you that it is intolerable that we should hear on the radio what purports to be an accurate account of an important item of Government policy, instead of hearing it in the House. I should be grateful for your guidance.

Several hon. Members

On a point of order.

Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must wait for my answer, and not be so impatient.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Dr. David Clark)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to apologise most sincerely to you and to the whole House for what appears to have been a premature disclosure of some features of the freedom of information White Paper which I hoped to present to the House this Thursday. I should like to assure you that I myself had no part in this, and no knowledge of it. No one is more annoyed than I that these details should have emerged, and I believe that it is a disservice to the House.

Although it could be informed speculation, we cannot discount the possibility that it may have been premature disclosure from within Government. Therefore, I am taking this matter very seriously, and I have set in train the task of looking further into the circumstances surrounding the reports.

Madam Speaker

I am grateful to the Minister.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Could we have sensible points of order, please?

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

This is a genuine point of order, Madam Speaker. We have listened to exchanges for approximately an hour on the NHS White Paper. At the same time, a booklet relating to the health service in Scotland, "Designed to Care", has been published. However, we have not had a statement from the Scottish Office on the document, although hon. Members appreciate that there are different aspects of the health service in Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister responsible for health in Scotland have been briefing the press all day, yet Scottish Members have not had an opportunity to question the issues contained in the document. It almost seems as if the Scottish Office has published a document which should be called "Designed to Ignore Scottish Members of Parliament".

Madam Speaker

The hon. Lady appears to be asking me whether I have heard from the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is seeking to make a statement on the document to which she has referred. I have not heard that a statement is to be made, but I am sure that those on the Front Bench will have noticed what she has said.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. You did not ignore Scottish Members of Parliament.

Mrs. Ewing

We are the only two Scottish Members here, Tam.

Madam Speaker

Of course I do not ignore Scottish Members—they are part of the whole in this House, as far as I am concerned. I call them whatever the statement may be, and whatever Question Time it may be.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you heard from the solicitors acting for the late Robert Maxwell and currently acting for the Paymaster General about whether there is any legal impediment preventing the Paymaster General from coming to this House to make a personal statement about his financial affairs? In particular, we should like to know whether there was any impropriety in his dealings with the late Robert Maxwell's companies.

Madam Speaker

I have had no communication from solicitors. I am rather delighted that I have not.