HC Deb 14 December 2000 vol 359 cc821-2 1.31 pm
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I, through you, ask the Leader of the House whether she will reconsider her response to my request for a debate next week on the appointment of the electoral commissioners? Section 3 of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 requires an address to the Crown from the Commons for the appointment of commissioners. Does it not therefore seem highly appropriate that the Commons should address the subject?

Mr. Speaker

Does the Leader of the House wish to comment?

Mrs. Beckett

I was almost about to venture into your territory, Mr. Speaker, by wondering whether that was really a point of order. I take the hon. Lady's point, but I fear that, as she will realise if she recalls what next week's business is, it will not be easy for the House to find time for such a debate—nor, indeed, do I immediately perceive the necessity for one. However, I certainly undertake to draw her remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that the local transport plans were announced at 11.30 am today. That was when you came into the Chamber, so clearly you will not yet have been asked about a statement so that we could discuss the plans with Ministers. I wish to bring to your attention a problem in my constituency. Since 8 o'clock this morning, the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate has been telling people about the local transport plans; surprisingly enough, the news was not leaked to the press as normally happens in such circumstances. While he was announcing that we would get our road scheme, at 11.30 the county council was told only that the scheme had "provisional" acceptance, and no funding has been announced for the next five years, but only for the five years after that.

Obviously there has been spin without substance, but surely it is a serious matter for you, Mr. Speaker, when Members of Parliament are bypassed and misleading information is given out to our constituents by prospective parliamentary candidates of the party in government.

Mr. Speaker

I shall look into the matter and come back to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that yesterday we had the first use of the ludicrous new voting system that the House has to suffer. Can you clarify for us what procedure you have laid down in case there are spoiled ballot papers? Who will be the scrutineer? Who will determine whether a ballot paper is valid? If there is a dimpled or otherwise dubiously marked ballot paper, who will decide what it means—and will there be any method of appeal, because in close votes those ballots could become extremely important? The House would appreciate your early guidance on this matter, so that as our pencils hover above the appropriate boxes we will all be very careful.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order, perhaps I may first answer the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth). The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) may not then need to raise a point of order.

The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst always brings important matters before the House and the Chair. I shall look into this one and make a statement next week.

Mr. Winnick

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you look into the matter, can you guarantee that it will be dealt with internally and that under no circumstances will you consider asking anyone from Florida to do the checking?

Mr. Speaker

I give the hon. Gentleman that assurance.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that I have had cause to raise before. For the second time in the past 18 months, the Paymaster General has had to sit through fully 60 minutes of Treasury questions without an opportunity to answer any question herself. I am aware from first-hand knowledge that the Minister is frustrated by that state of affairs, which gives at least an impression to Members and the outside world of deliberate sex discrimination. Can we be assured, therefore, that there will be no repetition of that appalling state of affairs?

Mr. Speaker

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no discrimination on my part. He is a regular attender at Question Time and has heard me say before that we should have brief questions and brief replies. Perhaps then we could get to the Paymaster General.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, at the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, when a Minister was questioned about the United Kingdom online annual report, the question arose of the availability of that document in written form. It had not been submitted to the Library in written form, and only a summary and a CD-ROM had been placed there. I understand that a Speaker's ruling already exists that any document ordered by a Minister to be placed in the Library must be in a hard copy, and that it is not possible to lay a document before the House in electronic form only. I should be grateful if you investigated the need to extend that ruling to the proceedings of Select Committees and the documents discussed at them. Yesterday, members of the public who attended the Trade and Industry Committee were unable to gain access to the documents that we were using.

Mr. Speaker

I will look into that matter and the status of the document. I hope that that is helpful.