HC Deb 11 February 1997 vol 290 cc141-2 3.30 pm
Mr. Mike Hall (Warrington, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During Defence questions, I asked a question about RAF Burtonwood. The Minister of State said that no application had been made for an operator's licence at RAF Burtonwood by PDS International Ltd., but I can tell the House that the application for such a licence appeared in the "Warrington Mercury" on 6 February, and that the Ministry of Defence agents were aware of it. I therefore feel that the House has been misled.

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order, as the hon. Gentleman must know. It is a point of argument. The hon. Gentleman might try tabling another question whereby he could make his point known, and have it published again in the Official Report.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Further to the question to the Prime Minister that was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), have you received an application for the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? As he has reached his 65th birthday, he will wish—as a good trade unionist—to give way to a younger and better man.

Madam Speaker

I am not sure what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has done, but such an application does not come to me; it goes to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I understand that the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) also has a birthday today. Although he may not be 65, perhaps we can have a joint pension-book party this week.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I regret that I have not had an opportunity to give you notice of my point of order, which concerns a change of policy announced by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). He told me in reply to a parliamentary question: It is policy, on grounds of confidentiality, for Ministers not to comment publicly on individual applications for entry clearance."—[Official Report, 6 February 1997; Vol. 289, c. 663.] That is a very sudden change in policy. I have been asking such questions regularly over the past few years, and I entirely understand why Ministers wished to change the policy: the replies to my questions have often revealed a catalogue of appalling inefficiency and incompetence, particularly in high commissions and especially in the high commission in Islamabad.

Would you, Madam Speaker—as guardian of the rights of Members of Parliament—investigate how the change of policy has come about, and why the House was not given notice of it, still less any opportunity to debate it?

Madam Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman said, I had no notice of his point of order, and I have not been able to look at the question to which he refers. I am not certain that there has been a change of policy, but I will of course look at the question and the answer that has been given.

Sir Jim Spicer (West Dorset)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have noticed during Defence questions that the Labour party's spin doctors had organised a campaign to get at the integrity and character of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. That is fair enough, because my right hon. Friend can look after himself; but may I refer to a particular remark made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)? He said that, while he was clutching a rifle—and God knows, I would be frightened to death if I saw him clutching a rifle anywhere at any time—my right hon. Friend was clutching a handful of white feathers. We all know the implication of that remark. Is it a parliamentary remark or not?

Madam Speaker

I think that tolerant language is better used across the Floor of the House. I heard the remarks that the hon. Gentleman refers to, but I also heard the robust response by the Government Front-Bench spokesman.