HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc765-6 3.31 pm
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As the upholder of the privileges of the House, are you concerned that the Government are increasingly unable to distinguish between the House and the "Today" programme? Dawn was accompanied by another announcement of a massive Government U-turn—it concerned their decision not to take over responsibility for asylum seekers and their dispersal from 1 April—that has serious implications for local councils. I wonder whether I have misjudged them. Have they asked you whether they can make a statement on this important issue?

Madam Speaker

I listen to the "Today" programme, but as far as I am aware the Government are not seeking to make a statement on such an issue today. I made it my business to read the Order Paper and I believe that a number of questions tabled for written answer may give a good deal of information about the subject that the right hon. Lady has raised.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I take no further points of order once I have given a ruling.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have heard the Secretary of State for International Development say in the House on Monday last week that money was not the issue in relation to aid for Mozambique. On Wednesday she said that co-operation between her Department and the Ministry of Defence was good. In view of the revelations of the past few days—it is clear that money was indeed the issue and that the two Departments were at loggerheads—is not it clear that her statements to the House fell well short of the standards of accuracy that you rightly demand? Are you therefore planning to summon her to the Chamber to clarify precisely what went wrong so that, above all, we may be reassured that future aid efforts will not be hampered by departmental in-fighting as this one so tragically has been?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman ought to be aware, if he is not, that the Speaker does not have the authority to summon any Secretary of State. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!] It may be a shame. Although I have a lot of responsibility and authority, I cannot do that. He seeks a statement from the right hon. Lady. If one had been forthcoming, we would have known about it from the Annunciator by 12 o'clock.

Mr. Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You do not have the power of summons, but you have the power to inform the House. Did the Secretary of State for Defence ask to make a statement to the House in light of the fact that British troops have quite rightly been deployed to Mozambique, where no doubt they will show their customary skill and courage, but where they will inevitably put themselves at some risk and perhaps under some threat? He properly appeared on television yesterday to explain the circumstances and to advise the public that the troops had been deployed, but is not it incumbent on him or perhaps a junior Minister to explain to the House as soon as possible what gave rise to that deployment?

Madam Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman asks me to inform the House; that was the origin of his question. I can inform the House that I have not been informed that any Secretary of State seeks to make a statement on any issue today.