HC Deb 03 February 1998 vol 305 c859 4.26 pm
Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I tabled a written question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, asking when the Government expect to publish the conclusions of the Office for National Statistics review of unemployment statistics. In the past hour, I have received from the Treasury the answer: I shall let the hon. Member have a reply as soon as possible. However, just as I was receiving that reply from the Treasury, a press conference was being conducted at which the Treasury was providing the results of the review of unemployment statistics.

May I ask you, Madam Speaker, to remind Ministers that they have an obligation to answer openly and frankly questions from hon. Members? It is very disappointing that an answer is available at a press conference, but that it apparently cannot be given to a written question.

Madam Speaker

I shall do more than that. If the facts are as the hon. Gentleman describes them, it is to be regretted that he has not received a substantive answer to his question. I intend to look into the matter as soon as I leave the Chair.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You are the sixth Speaker whom I have had the privilege of serving, and the one about whom there has been the least complaint—not least because you have permitted two private notice questions on Iraq. [Interruption.] Some people might think that war is more urgent than Welsh devolution—but I leave that.

My point of order is this. In a statement in today's edition of The Times, Mr. Marc Weller, the deputy director of the centre of international studies in the university of Cambridge, says: Preventative wars directed against the future military potential of a state are unlawful. Have you, Madam Speaker, had any request from a Minister to state the legal basis on which military action is threatened in Iraq? The background is that, this morning, I talked to four separate international lawyers, three of whom said categorically that military action in these circumstances is unlawful. Before we go any further, and at their convenience, the Government should make a statement on the matter.

Madam Speaker

I fully understand and appreciate the hon. Gentleman's deep anxiety. Indeed, he and I had an exchange this morning, when I let him know that I could not be helpful to him today. The Government have not told me that they intend to make any further statements. As the hon. Gentleman knows, later this week the President of the Council will be announcing next week's business. Perhaps he will seek an opportunity to press for a statement or a debate on the matters that he raised.