HC Deb 02 February 1999 vol 324 c736
Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order goes to the heart of the rights of Members of Parliament to hold Ministers to account. In October, I tabled questions to every Government Department about the use of RAF and chartered flights. All of them answered, except the Treasury—the Chancellor simply refused to do so. Standing Order No. 22(4), which deals with written questions on a named day, states:

the Minister shall cause an answer to be given". I suggest, Madam Speaker, that under Standing Order No. 22, you have the power to insist that the Chancellor answers my question. The Chancellor is blatantly and brazenly refusing to give factual information about his use of public money. In recent days, his taste for chartered jets and helicopters has been leaked and we can see what he has to hide.

If Ministers are allowed to get away with this trick, they will be able to deny information to hon. Members on any subject that they find embarrassing. Madam Speaker, I hope that you can find some way to stop this deplorable practice—otherwise the rights of the House will be seriously eroded.

Madam Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am not responsible for the answers that Ministers give to parliamentary questions. No doubt, those who are currently sitting on the Treasury Bench will have noted his remarks and may well follow through on that issue.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I say that I have been a Member of Parliament for 20 years and can refer to thousands of replies of a similar nature that I received from Conservative Ministers, except that they were far more devious? They referred to disproportionate costs. Conservative Ministers did that repeatedly when they did not want to answer questions asked by Labour Members.

Madam Speaker

I have nothing to add to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maples).

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

On a different, but related, point of order, Madam Speaker. Is there not a distinction to be made between your not being responsible for the nature, content or quality of an answer being given, and the issue being asked about, which is, as I understand it, that of whether an answer is given at all?

Madam Speaker

An answer has been given—I think that the hon. Gentleman is not quite aware of the situation. I have nothing to add to my earlier comments.