HC Deb 27 January 1998 vol 305 cc147-8 3.30 pm
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In Social Security questions yesterday, in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), the Secretary of State said: We sought and considered the advice of the Government Actuary … and we changed the rebates … we sought that advice and acted properly on it."—[Official Report, 26 January 1998; Vol. 305, c. 5.] I raise the matter because it is now clear that she misled the House, no doubt inadvertently. The Government Actuary's report recommends rebates higher than those announced by the Government, who also announced greater reductions in the contracted-out money purchase schemes than were recommended.

It is clear that the Government did not in fact follow the Government Actuary's advice. Have you, Madam Speaker, been informed by the Secretary of State that she intends to come to the House to put the record straight and, if not, can you advise me, as I am a new Member, what action can be taken to correct the record?

Madam Speaker

Indeed I can. I heard the hon. Gentleman out because I believe that he is not raising a so-called point of order facetiously but is quite serious, whereas most points of order that I hear are not serious. I want to tell him very clearly that it was not a point of order. [Interruption.] It is very important. It was not a point of order. Hon. Members may no doubt often disagree with what Ministers say and with the answers that they give, but I cannot rule on the matter that the hon. Gentleman has put to me. He, and any other hon. Members who are concerned about Ministers' answers and think that they are misleading, should use the Order Paper to bring the matter to the attention of the entire House and of the media. It is not a point of order, because it is not a matter on which I can rule. I hope that I have been helpful.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. For good reasons, I am sure, the shadow Secretary of State left Health questions halfway through, and I am certain that he made his apologies; but he has commented in the past to his fellow Conservatives that their party could not win when it came to the national health service. Given the low priority that they give to questions, leaving only one shadow Minister on the Front Bench, I wonder whether Conservative Members have approached you requesting a shorter Question Time.

Madam Speaker

The shadow Secretary of State for Health had another appointment, and he apologised to me quite properly because he had to leave the Front Bench.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Again on a health matter, could you be like others who chair our courts, such as magistrates, and help Back Benchers to hold the Government to account a bit more? We were clearly told through the general press and through direct information from the Department of Health that we were to have the statement on public health today.

Madam Speaker

By the press?

Mr. Hughes

First, by the press, and secondly by civil servants in the Department. In the event, we are not having a statement. Sometimes, quite understandably, there are delays, but I ask you to be more like a magistrate who, when the Crown Prosecution Service suddenly finds that it cannot proceed with the work of the day, must at least come and explain why the matter has been put off to another occasion.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman and the entire House know when statements are to be made because they are on the annunciator screen soon after 12 o'clock. He should not worry about the press or anything else. When a Minister is to come to the Dispatch Box and it is on the annunciator screen, the House knows that there is to be a statement.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties currently have large postbags about the Road Traffic Reduction (United Kingdom Targets) Bill and the Breeding and Sale of Dogs Bill, both of which are to be debated on Friday this week. I have been trying for some time to get copies of those Bills, so that I can write to my constituents about my views on them. Unfortunately, neither has been printed yet—the Bills are not available. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are."] I wonder whether you can make inquiries as to why we still do not have them.

Madam Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair, of course. It is the hon. Member promoting the Bill who produces it for printing. There are murmurs in the House that these Bills are ready. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might like to check again, but I will do so as soon as I am able to leave the Chair. It is for the hon. Member who has the Bill to see that it is printed and made available to others.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You may not have heard, but the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), used what I thought was a most inelegant abbreviation; inelegant at the best of times but, in terms of parliamentary conduct, thoroughly unbecoming of a Minister of the Crown. Could you rule whether "sweet FA" is parliamentary language?

Madam Speaker

I am not certain whether it is unparliamentary, but it is certainly most undesirable. I hope that hon. Members, and particularly Ministers of the Crown, will use better language in the future in the House.

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