§ Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I seek your help in sorting out some confusion that has arisen over the Government of Wales Act 1998? Last year, in the other place, Lord Willoughby asked whetherthe Welsh assembly will not have the power to revoke the beef bones legislation because it will be subject to joint consultation with the Minister of Agriculture?The Minister replied:Because the powers remain joint, the assembly alone will not be able to revoke them."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 1998; Vol. 590, c. 226.]However, last week, the Secretary of State for Wales was asked whetherthe National Assembly for Wales will have the power to (a) modify and (b) lift the ban on beef sold on the bone; and if he will make a statement.The Minister replied:Yes. The power under which the Beef Bones Regulations 1997 were made will be transferred to the National Assembly for Wales."—[0fficial Report, 21 April 1999; Vol. 329, c. 599.]May we have a statement so that, a week ahead of the Welsh elections, the Government can explain the confusion arising from their Welsh devolution legislation?
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I cannot be called upon to assess the accuracy or otherwise of statements made by Ministers. 1 am sure that he knows how to pursue this. He may call for a statement himself.
§ Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On 22 February 1999, the right hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked the Minister for the Armed Forces an oral question on Gulf war syndrome and claims for war pensions. He said:The Minister will know that, according to convention, after six or seven years, the onus of proof switches against the claimant—that is, the veterans. Will he assure the House today that that will not occur in the case of Gulf war veterans?The Minister answered:I am pleased to confirm that his interpretation is correct on this question."—[Official Report, 22 February 1999; Vol. 326, c. 12.]
In evidence to the Select Committee on Defence this morning, the Minister was unable to confirm that that statement was correct. To some extent, he withdrew from it. He assured the Committee that he would, at some unspecified date, make the policy on compensation clear to the House. I did not believe that that was adequate. He should give a fuller explanation to the House. I told him that I would raise the matter as a point of order this afternoon. Can you advise me and the Minister of the correct procedure for correcting an incorrect answer to the House?
§ Madam Speaker
As the House is aware, I do not comment on the proceedings of Select Committees. I certainly do not intervene in matters of political controversy or the interpretation of ministerial statements. I have not, as yet, received a request from the Minister to make a statement today, but I feel certain that, if any inadvertent error has been made, it will be corrected at 344 the earliest opportunity. I am sure that Ministers will have noted my remarks and will ensure that a correction is made, if necessary.
§ Mr. Andrew George (St. Ives)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The House will know that the marine accidents investigation branch's confidential draft report into the loss of the Margaretha Maria 18 months ago with the loss of four of my constituent's lives was leaked to the press yesterday. Leaving aside concerns about that tragic loss, the report appears to raise serious questions about the stability of all similar beam trawlers. Given the obvious anxiety in fishing communities, has the Minister responsible said whether he will make a statement?
§ Madam Speaker
I have not been informed of any Minister seeking to make a statement on that matter.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In the light of the bombing of Surdulica, have you had a request from any Minister to clarify whether there was personal agreement by a senior British Minister about the targeting of that cotton town, or whether a system is still in operation whereby, before any NATO targeting is agreed, a senior British Minister has to be consulted?
§ Madam Speaker
I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I have received no request from a Minister to make a statement on such a matter. However, he barely needs reminding—nor does the House—that the Prime Minister has been at the Dispatch Box for half an hour today. It was open to many hon. Members—Back Benchers as well as Front Benchers—to put questions to the Prime Minister on that issue.
§ Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Despite your previous requests for short questions during Northern Ireland questions, that did not happen today. We were in fact treated to a whole series of mini-speeches, with the consequence that we managed to reach only Question 5. Do you agree that that is quite inadequate, Madam Speaker? Is there anything that you can do to ensure that there are shorter questions and, preferably, much shorter answers front Ministers?
§ Madam Speaker
I am delighted with that point of order. I always urge the House to put short and brisk questions to Ministers. That is especially the case during Northern Ireland questions. I notice that we deal with very few questions on Northern Ireland issues. The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that we reached only Question 5 today.
However, Northern Ireland questions are especially difficult to handle, for the simple reason that I want to call Members from all parties in the House to put a question to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. That means that not only Government Back Benchers but members of the Opposition Front-Bench team must be called, as well as Members from the hon. Gentleman's party and those of other parties representing Northern Ireland. I always insist on calling as many people as possible on those questions. We are always slow with Northern Ireland questions, but I do urge Back Benchers to be rather more brisk than they have been in the past. I am sure that I shall also receive the co-operation of the Northern Ireland team on the Treasury Bench.