HC Deb 27 June 2000 vol 352 c728

4 pm

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice in relation to a written answer, reported at column 373W of yesterday's Hansard.

I put a written question to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions that was prompted by an exchange that took place during Report on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill on 13 June. At that time, the Minister for the Environment said that he had taken advice on the implications on the Bill of the Human Rights Act 1998 and, indeed, of the European convention on human rights.

I know that one cannot ask a Minister or a Department for the advice itself, but the response of the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), to my written question was simply that the Government do not disclose the legal advice that they receive nor the source of such advice.—[Official Report, 26 June 2000; Vol. 352, c. 373W.] It would be helpful, Madam Speaker, if you could advise me whether the source of advice external to the Department should be a matter of disclosure. I do not want to know what was said; I simply want to know who advised the Department so that we may judge the quality of the advice.

Madam Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for kindly supplying me with the question and answer to which he referred. As he knows, I am not responsible for the responses given by Ministers to questions. I can only suggest that the hon. and learned Gentleman is sufficiently ingenious as to table other questions or to raise the matter through the Order Paper in other ways—by such means he might be able to obtain the information he seeks. I understand and take his point; he does not want to know the advice that was given—he wants to know its source. He may find other methods—in questions or other exchanges on the Floor of the House—whereby his question will be answered.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Sometimes, ministerial answers provide a block on further questions of a similar nature. As that answer was unprecedented—as far as I am aware—can we be sure that, until the Government provide some justification, it will be possible for Members to seek information from the Government on this and other issues, and that the Government will not use the answer as a way of blocking similar questions?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House for a long time. He and I both know exactly what is meant by the Government blocking further questions. I have not dealt with such a situation for some time, although in my early days as Speaker I had to do so. I cannot give him any guarantees, but I am aware of the point he makes.