HC Deb 13 January 1998 vol 304 cc144-5 3.31 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for detaining the House, but, as you know, Select Committees are held to be extremely important, not only to the House but to the wider public, because they are the forum where hon. Members come together to seek common ground on which they can address complex issues. I wish to draw to your attention the "Agenda" programme, broadcast on Radio 4 last Saturday, which dealt principally with the tobacco industry and problems of the circumvention of British tobacco duty.

During that programme, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who I understand is Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, and to whom I apologise for not having given notice in raising this matter—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is no discourtesy intended. The point that the hon. Gentleman made during that broadcast was that he saw no point in having a dialogue, as he put it, with representatives of the tobacco manufacturers.

As you know, Madam Speaker, this is an extremely important issue, not just for the House but for the public. We have had considerable debate on tobacco advertising, on which the Government have altered their policy in response to a very substantial donation to the Labour party. In this case, do you not think that it is inappropriate for the Chairman of a Select Committee to deny access to a key Committee of the House for people who have an important point to raise on behalf of 15 million of our constituents—more people than voted for the Labour party at the recent general election?

Madam Speaker

No. What I know is that it is up to hon. Members to make the comments that they wish to make, and it is not for me to inhibit those comments in any way. What I also know is that the hon. Gentleman should have given notice to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) before raising this matter. I have not seen the "Agenda" programme; I was not in the country at the time.

Mr. David Faber (Westbury)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In reply to my question during Question Time on the training of the Indonesian police force and any plans that the Government have to help and to give training assistance, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), said that I had misunderstood a reply that had been given by the Secretary of State for International Development. The previous question asked by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) had clearly referred to both training and assistance being given to the Indonesian police force. This is a crucial matter, as the Government are making great play of their ethical foreign policy, particularly with reference to Indonesia. Either the right hon. Lady has misled the House, albeit inadvertently, or the policy has changed.

Madam Speaker

What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Faber

The point of order for you is that I should like either the Minister or the Secretary of State for International Development to make a statement. Either she has been overruled or the policy has been changed.

Madam Speaker

Statements by Ministers are not a matter for me, but no doubt Government Front Benchers have heard what the hon. Gentleman has had to say.