HC Deb 28 January 1998 vol 305 cc351-2 3.30 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You and your predecessors have often ruled that questions should relate to the work of Ministers. Is it acceptable for questions to be asked that relate to their private lives? Many of us consider such questions to be unacceptable and trivial. I ask you to rule—as you have on other occasions—that questions should relate to Ministers' political work, rather than to matters that do not relate in any way to their political responsibilities.

Madam Speaker

I follow the questioning on these issues carefully, and I am very concerned about it. Such questions were allowed today—which I believe was absolutely correct—and they were properly answered. It is right for the House to hear the questions and to know of the concerns, but also to hear the answers—as we have today.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As this is only the third time in 22 years that I have raised a point of order, I hope that I cannot be accused of abusing the privilege that we are given in that regard.

Since the beginning of October, I have been trying to lead an all-party delegation of local councillors from my constituency to the Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to debate and ask about the green belt and planning requirements. My request has been refused.

At the beginning of December, I asked the Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning, the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), whether I could bring an all-party delegation of Hertfordshire MPs to discuss the same matter. On 20 December, I received a letter stating that, as the matter was now not to be called in: It would not be appropriate for me to offer you or other Hertfordshire Members a meeting as it is now for Hertfordshire County Council to progress.

You will understand my surprise, Madam Speaker, when I learned within 24 hours that Ministers in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions were holding a meeting for Labour Members of Parliament only, to discuss exactly the subject that I wanted to discuss. I consider that an example of double standards, and it has prohibited me from representing my constituents who are definitely worried about what is happening.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman gave me some indication of his point of order, and I am grateful to him for so doing.

It is a generally accepted convention of the House that Members should have the right of access to Ministers to discuss constituency issues that lie within the responsibilities of those Ministers. While Ministers may, for good reasons, postpone a meeting from time to time, in my experience it is extremely rare for a request for a meeting to be refused altogether, and I would deplore such an occurrence. At the end of the day, however, that must remain a matter between the Minister and the Member concerned—but I hope that the Minister may reconsider.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am a member of the Standing Committee considering the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill—Standing Committee C. After four days, we are still only on line 2, as a result of the conduct of the Bill's supporters.

I think that I can cope with that without your aid and comfort, Madam Speaker. What really concerns me is the fact that other Bills will be prevented from being enacted because of the filibustering of those hon. Members. What worries me more is that some of those Bills are supported not just by Labour Members but by new Labour Members who may not realise that Bills that they have taken such care to present to the House are being blocked by their hon. Friends.

May I refer you, Madam Speaker, to some of the Bills that ought to be on the statute book and which are being blocked—

Madam Speaker

No, I can read the Order Paper.

Mr. Garnier

I am looking at pages 278 and 279 of today's Order Paper.

Madam Speaker

I read it this morning.

Mr. Garnier

I thought you might have done, Madam Speaker. Those pages contain some worthy Bills that are supported by Labour Members, and they are being denied passage to the statute book because of the conduct in Committee.

Madam Speaker

I have to concern myself with the Committee to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred in his point of order. I am sad to learn about the lack of progress in that Committee, and I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues are working hard to make progress on the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill so that it reaches the statute book. Is not that correct?

Mr. Garnier

Yes, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

If there is a serious delay in Committee, its Chairman must report the matter to me and I shall seek to deal with it. However, my view now is that I want to see some progress in that Committee, so that other hon. Members can have their Bills taken forward.