HC Deb 17 January 2000 vol 342 cc555-6 3.31 pm
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had any indication that the Government intend to make a statement on the lifting of the European Union arms embargo on Indonesia? That is a contentious issue in the House. The Indonesians owe us £1.5 billion in export credit guarantees. Theirs is still an unstable regime. The United States, by contrast, is refusing to lift the embargo until the Indonesians co-operate with the war crimes investigations, and until the refugees return from West Timor to East Timor. It is important that the Government explain why they have supported the lifting of the embargo, whereas some other EU countries have opposed it.

Madam Speaker

I have to tell the hon. Lady that I have not been informed by a Minister that the Government are to make a statement on that issue. Those on the Treasury Bench—perhaps I should say the Government Front Bench, because some of the media do not know what I mean by Treasury Bench—will have noted the hon. Lady's concern, and we may hear something in due course.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Has the Secretary of State for Defence asked to make a statement setting the record right as regards his statement last week on the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights on homosexuals in the armed forces? He stated: British Governments have always complied with such rulings".—[Official Report, 12 January 2000; Vol. 342, c. 287.] As recently as 1988, a British Government derogated unilaterally from a ruling under the European convention on human rights relating to the interrogation of prisoners.

It may be the Secretary of State's intention to come to the House to make it clear that the handling of such issues by earlier Governments is not the problem: it is the fact that the Government decided last year to incorporate the convention into British law—

Madam Speaker

Order. I fear that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to prolong an exchange that we had last week. That is not a point of order, and he will have to pursue his interest by other means.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received any requests for a further statement from the Home Secretary on the condition of General Pinochet? Last Wednesday, the Home Secretary made a statement to the House in which he outlined his view that Senator Pinochet was not fit to stand trial. There seemed to be some discrepancies in that statement, according to a report in The Observer yesterday; and today the Home Secretary has placed in the Library a letter from Professor Grimley Evans.

I have an early-day motion asking for the release of the medical information, and there is a request from the Spanish authorities for an independent medical examination of Pinochet. This man is accused of serious crimes against humanity under the terrorism convention, and I believe that it would be right and proper for the Home Secretary to return to the House to make a further statement, so that these discrepancies can be explored.

Madam Speaker

I have not heard that the Home Secretary is to make a statement on that issue today, but if I recall correctly, the last time the Home Secretary was at the Dispatch Box on that issue he said that he hoped to make a statement to the House as soon as possible.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week, you issued guidance to Ministers, in particular, suggesting that answers should be shorter so that we could get through more questions. In giving his first answer today in Home Office questions, the Minister of State took 11 minutes to say precisely nothing, as he seemed incapable of replying to the question put to him by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). May I ask you, Madam Speaker, in the interests of education and training for Ministers, to provide details and data relating to particularly long questions, and guidance so that Ministers' performances may be improved?

Madam Speaker

I must say that I noted that that first question took quite some time. I should like to run seminars on how to answer questions, but also, sometimes, on how to ask them. I hope that the House will note both that those on the Government Front Bench should answer questions far more briskly, and that Back Benchers should take it on themselves to sit in the Tea Room at lunchtime and go through their questions so that they are precise and do not ramble on. Many are Adjournment debates rather than questions.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is always very brisk with his questions.

Mr. Dalyell

Perhaps I could make the first contribution to your seminar, Madam Speaker, by asking whether you have received a request that Question 36 should be answered. It dealt with the issue of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, and asked whether there had been any progress since our ambassador went to Tripoli.

Madam Speaker

The Home Secretary did not indicate to me today that he had selected that question to answer. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is done from time to time at the end of Question time. I am afraid that he must bide his time, and perhaps table the question again in another form. He is very ingenious, and no doubt capable of doing that.