HC Deb 03 July 1998 vol 315 cc631-2 9.34 am
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

Madam Speaker, may I raise a point of order on a matter which is causing grave concern and anger to the Opposition, and which, I suspect, in the light of previous statements you have made, will cause you considerable frustration? It is a matter of abuse of the House by the House not being told first of important changes in Government policy.

It is a well-known fact that the Government are hoping on Monday next week to make a statement to the House on changes to the Child Support Agency. It is also now a well-known fact that yesterday there was systematic briefing of journalists of what the Government proposed to say in their statement. That briefing has been reflected in this morning's newspapers, in all broadsheets, typified by the front page of The Guardian. Furthermore, there was some briefing of Sunday newspapers yesterday. There will be further briefings today of Sunday newspapers, and on Sunday, in the morning, the Secretary of State for Social Security will be taking part in a television programme, during which she will further be outlining the proposed changes to the CSA.

The House will not hear these changes until 3.30 pm on Monday at the earliest. You have often said, Madam Speaker, that you deprecate the House of Commons not being told of this sort of thing first. May I ask you what can be done to ensure that the House is not abused in this way, and that it is told first?

Furthermore, in the light of a number of statements that you have made, what can be done to stop the frustrating situation in which you voice deeply held views yet no one seems to take a blind bit of notice of what you are saying?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, the Child Support Agency, ever since it was introduced in 1992 by the Tory Government—[Interruption.]—with all-party support, has been found wanting over long periods.

I reckon that thousands of parliamentary questions have been tabled about the agency. I voted to scrap it several years ago. However, many of us have been involved in a campaign to get rid of it. I have been taking part in that consultation. I have raised the matter within the parliamentary Labour party. I have raised it at every opportunity. I have raised the matter inside the House and outside. I have made representations even to somebody in the House of Lords, which is a big step for me, to get rid of the CSA.

I find it fanciful that we cannot finish up with something in the newspapers when a gang of Labour Members, and perhaps some Opposition Members, are anxious to get rid of the agency. I am looking forward to the statement on Monday. I hope that some of the briefings and leakings are not as they have been put forward. I hope that the statement will be even better than what we have heard so far. I am waiting to be surprised on Monday.

Madam Speaker

No doubt there is considerable press speculation on an issue such as this, where there has been much public debate over a number of months. Nevertheless, if there has been direct leaking and briefing of policy changes, I deprecate it most strongly. The House is fully aware of my firm views on this matter.

I am most anxious that, if there is any new policy or any change of policy, properly elected Members of this place are told first before any section of the media. I cannot deprecate strongly enough the leaks and the briefings that go on, perhaps behind our backs, in such matters. I have taken all steps possible through all the channels available to me, and I shall continue to do so, to ensure that all such policy matters come before the House before any section of the media.

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