HC Deb 12 July 1999 vol 335 cc21-2 3.30 pm
Madam Speaker

Following questions to the Secretary of State for Wales on 7 July, Members raised with me points of order relating to the matters on which the Secretary of State can be questioned following the transfer of powers on 1 July. This issue also applies to questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I should emphasise that I do not wish the rules relating to questions to become unduly restrictive; but a fundamental rule relating to questions is that they must relate to matters for which Ministers in this House are responsible.

I also note that the Procedure Committee, whose report on the procedural consequences of devolution has still to be debated, recently concluded that the rules for questions must recognise the fact of devolution and limit the range of permissible questions to Ministers at Westminster.

Where matters have been clearly devolved to the Scottish Parliament or to the Welsh Assembly, questions on the details of policy or expenditure would not be in order. Where Secretaries of State have a residual, limited or shared role, questions should relate to that role.

Examples of such limited areas of responsibility are: information that the United Kingdom Government are empowered to require of the devolved Executive; matters that are included in UK legislation relating to Scotland; all primary legislation relating to Wales; matters subject to substantive liaison arrangements between UK Government and the devolved Executives; operation of any remaining administrative powers.

In the case of reserved matters that are the responsibility of other Government Departments, questions should be tabled to the relevant Secretary of State. If questions are inappropriately directed to the Secretaries of State for Scotland or Wales, I would expect Ministers to transfer them to the responsible Department in the usual way.

These guidelines follow directly from the decisions of the House in enacting the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998, and will ensure that priority is given to questions on those matters for which Ministers here are responsible. The House will also be greatly helped if Ministers confine their answers to matters for which they have responsibility.

I have offered this guidance to the House to enable the Table Office better to advise all Members on orderly questions. Once the House has had a chance to debate the fourth report of the Procedure Committee and the House has had some experience of the operation of the rules, I shall, of course, review the terms of my ruling.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask whether Lord Steel of Aikwood, as the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, will also put before Holyrood the same stringent guidelines—the mirror image reversed—so that if we obey the rules that you have, understandably, set out, Madam Speaker, the same rules will be obeyed by the Holyrood Parliament? Have there been discussions along those lines?

Madam Speaker

I always inform the House first, and I have just done so. The guidance will be sent to Holyrood now that I have made my statement. These are not stringent rules. I have tried to be helpful to the House and to Ministers. These are simply guidelines until we have the fourth report from the Procedure Committee debated and until we see how things work. Perhaps we can then look at matters afresh. As I have said, I shall review these guidelines.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is there any mechanism whereby you can ensure and guarantee to the House that any legislation brought before the House by a private Member or by the Government is in no way unduly influenced by money changing hands, or by threats of money changing hands in one way or another? Is there a mechanism whereby we can ensure that, so that the legislative mechanism is seen not to be unduly influenced by wealthy people making threats, even to the Government of the day?

Madam Speaker

I have considerable responsibilities, but I fear that they do not go that far. Of course, we have the Neill committee on which we rely a great deal. Perhaps that is a matter that the Neill committee may consider in the coming months.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I am sorry, Mr. Kaufman. I have dealt with the point of order. There can be no further point of order.