HC Deb 30 June 1998 vol 315 c149 3.31 pm
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you will be aware that very many questions have been tabled to the Foreign Secretary and other Ministers on the involvement of Sandline International in the supply of arms to Sierra Leone. Ministers have refused to answer those questions on the ground that they came within the scope of the Legg inquiry, which they have said they do not wish to prejudge.

This morning, the Foreign Secretary wrote to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee a letter that contains the following two sentences: There was no ministerial conspiracy to breach the arms embargo. There was no connivance within Whitehall to breach the arms embargo. Those assertions not so much prejudge as entirely pre-empt questions that lie at the heart of the Legg inquiry. Will you now give an indication of your views, in the light of the Foreign Secretary's letter, on the propriety of Ministers refusing to answer questions in the way I have identified?

Madam Speaker

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will appreciate, it is not for me to comment on answers to questions that are given by Ministers. I must also make it clear that, unless a matter is reported to me by the Chairman of a Select Committee, I do not propose to alter the long-standing practice of not commenting from the Chair on the proceedings of Select Committees. The matter must be reported to me in the first place by a Chairman of a Committee before I make any statement or any comment about it.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am most grateful to you. Can you give me some guidance? It was obvious to me that the Secretary of State for Health was not aware that the NHS organisation Health Services Accreditation was being disposed of. There are concerns about the process of that disposal. Can you give me some guidance on how he could come to the Chamber and publicly give me some advice on the disposal of Health Services Accreditation?

Madam Speaker

I think that the hon. Lady is attempting to prolong health questions. Perhaps she might care to table a further question to the Secretary of State for Health, or refer the matter to his attention by means of an early-day motion.