HC Deb 06 March 2000 vol 345 cc835-7

Queen's recommendation having been signified—

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 52(1)(a), That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of—

  1. (a) any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State for or in connection with the carrying out of his functions under the Act;
  2. (b) any expenditure attributable to arrangements made by the Secretary of State under the Act for the making of contributions towards the costs incurred by persons in complying with requirements under the Act to obtain or disclose any communications data;
  3. (c) any expenditure attributable to arrangements made by the Secretary of State under the Act for the making of contributions towards the costs incurred by persons in complying with notices given under the Act for the disclosure of keys to protected information;
  4. (d) any allowances payable under the Act to the Interception of Communications Commissioner or the Covert Investigations Commissioner; and
  5. (e) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums which are payable out of money so provided under any other Act.—[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Question agreed to.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier this afternoon, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) raised the issue of asylum seekers. Can I ask for your considered view on what has happened since then and, if appropriate, for a ruling from Madam Speaker?

A report suggested that today there would be a parliamentary answer from the Home Office on asylum seekers. At 6.54 pm, the Home Office faxed to my office an answer by the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), to a question that was first answered on 6 December in reply to a question from the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman). I understand that the Home Office told the Table Office that it had supplied an answer today because the original answer was inaccurate and had had to be corrected. It was not inaccurate; at the time, it was entirely accurate.

What has happened is that the Government have changed their policy and, under the cover of an earlier question and an earlier answer, they have sought to put out an answer with no notice to the House in the normal way. I happen to know that that is because the Home Office failed on Friday to arrange for a question to be tabled which it could answer. Because it did not manage to do that—to use a phrase that has become common to describe business as usual—there was another cock up in the Home Office, and it has had to find a subterfuge.

There is one other matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. Let me deal with the first matter before I deal with the other one.

Mr. Hughes

It is linked.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Let me deal with the first matter, because I might be able to help the hon. Gentleman. The Home Secretary is present and will therefore have heard the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I do not wish him to respond at the moment; it is an issue for another occasion. I have no doubt that Madam Speaker will note the hon. Gentleman's words and that the matter will be looked into. I can give him that assurance.

Mr. Hughes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The other matter that arises is that the Home Office has provided a long parliamentary answer. However, it is bizarre in various respects, not least because, in the middle, it turns from being an answer and becomes a press release. It suddenly gives no factual information but starts giving what—

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Hughes

Will you bear with me, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I cannot bear with the hon. Gentleman. He is now beginning to express an opinion on these matters. He must relate his point of order to the Chair.

These matters will be considered. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly welcome to approach the Home Secretary—perhaps after these proceedings—and he can lay a complaint before Madam Speaker. That is the best that I can do at the moment. I must get on with the business before us, which the House, and not me, has decided.

Mr. Hughes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point that I would like you or Madam Speaker to consider for a ruling is whether the answer provided is an appropriate parliamentary answer. It moves from reporting facts to describing what is or is not a sensible policy. If you could rule on that, I would be very grateful.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for me. I have given the hon. Gentleman a strong hint as to what route he can take.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When I raised the issue earlier, I asked Madam Speaker whether she had received a request for a statement because a major U-turn on Government policy was announced in the media this morning. Madam Speaker responded to me that there were a number of questions on the Order Paper that could be answered. I think that it is fair to say that we took that to mean that they were new questions and not an old one that was about to be re-answered. Could I ask Madam Speaker through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether she will reconsider the procedures to see whether she finds them satisfactory?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Madam Speaker will note what the right hon. Lady has said.