HC Deb 22 June 1998 vol 314 cc706-7 3.43 pm
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have previously taken a robust line on the answering of written questions. May I draw to your attention an answer that I received on Friday—four days after I tabled it? I asked the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what were the aims and objectives of his policy on tourism and what the achievements of those policies had been since 1 May. He had four days to answer that question, and the reply I received was that he would reply to me as soon as possible. It seems to me a little odd that, when plenty of notice was given, a Department of a Government with such an enormous majority in the House of Commons was unable to answer in four days a written question on the aims and objectives of the Government's policy on tourism. Could you, Madam Speaker, have a word with the Leader of the House and ask her to instruct Ministers that, when possible, answers must be given on the due date?

Madam Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an indication of his point of order. I have dealt with such matters on a number of occasions—I think that the last time was on 11 June. My advice to Ministers on answering written questions is exactly the same as the advice I give on answering supplementary questions to oral questions. As the hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate, the satisfaction of the questioner cannot always be guaranteed by the answer. Sometimes hon. Members are not happy and are quite disappointed with the answers they receive. That has always been the case. The hon. Gentleman is concerned that it took four days to answer his question. Many points of order are raised by hon. Members who complain that it takes a long time to answer questions. I do not know whether four days is a long time, or four weeks. I cannot guarantee that all hon. Members will be satisfied by the answers to their questions, but there are several senior Ministers on the Treasury Bench, and they will have noted what the hon. Gentleman has to say.

Mr. Soames

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not wish to push you any further, but I am used to being terribly dissatisfied with the answers that I receive, and it is not that of which I complain. I am complaining that I did not get an answer. Four days after I had tabled the question, I received no answer as to the aims and objectives of a Government Department. That seems grossly casual and disrespectful to Parliament.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just to put the record straight, I remember dealing with the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) when he was an Agriculture Minister and the lives of four farmers were placed in jeopardy because of the Coalite matter. I made representations to the hon. Gentleman, his senior Minister and all the rest of the gang. It took me six months or more even to get a meeting. When I brought a busload of people from Bolsover, the hon. Gentleman complained because there were too many.

Madam Speaker

I think that that answers the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames).

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on an investigation by Grampian police fraud squad into allegations of abuse and fraud against a Moray councillor who also happens to be a candidate for the Scottish Parliament. Have you received a request from any member of the Scottish National party to come to the House to clarify these important accusations, so that we set the record straight once and for all?

Madam Speaker

No, I have not received such a request from any hon. Member.

Rev. Ian Paisley (North Antrim)

Further to your statement earlier, Madam Speaker. I apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson), but he did write to tell you that he would be unable to be here.

The only matter that perturbs me is that the Editor of Hansard now has the right to say that nothing is going to be left out from or added to what is said in the verbatim report. I wonder whether an affirmation such as "yes" is not something that should be in the report. I appreciate the fact that you issued the letter. It is a good thing that we have that letter, and I know that my hon. Friend agrees with me. However, it will perturb some hon. Members if the sole authority rests with the Editor of Hansard to say whether he has edited a speech in such a way that it is as strong as it was at the beginning.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have gone as far as I can in giving my ruling, which was very clear. I also took into account precedents before I gave the information to the House, but I have heard what the hon. Gentleman is concerned about.