HC Deb 02 April 2001 vol 366 cc46-8
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be grateful for your guidance. As you are aware, the Prime Minister graciously agrees to come to the House once a week for Prime Minister's Question Time on a Wednesday. As it now transpires that, more than 48 hours ago, certain people outside the House and the Government knew more than the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport about what was happening to the local elections, would it be possible for the House to be kept better informed about important issues by arranging a question time for Mr. Trevor Kavanagh? That would enable us to be better informed of what is going on.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a common courtesy for Members of Parliament who visit another constituency to advise the Member of Parliament for that constituency of their visit? Does not that apply to Front-Bench spokespeople as well? May I advise the House that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe), the shadow Home Secretary, came to my constituency on Saturday and spoke—in my opinion—in a way that was just for the Tory party? She did not tell my constituents the truth about how the Tories cut the police budget in the past and how we have increased it. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, that that discourtesy should go unchallenged? The right hon. Lady was discourteous in not advising me, and neither the local authority nor the police authority knew of her visit.

Mr. Speaker

Any hon. Member visiting the hon. Gentleman's constituency should have the courtesy to inform him, but that is not a matter for the Chair to get involved in. The argument should be settled without involving the Chair.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), Mr. Speaker. Not only have we all been observing over the weekend the extraordinary spectacle of the newspapers carrying reports about the postponement of the local elections, but by consulting Ceefax earlier today, I found out that the Prime Minister apparently made a statement at No.10, instead of coming to the House. Surely it is a grave discourtesy to the House for the Prime Minister, who has made such an issue of moving the elections, to announce the postponement on the steps of Downing street and then fail to turn up here himself, sending the Home Secretary instead, as his running boy, to do the job for him.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that there is a point of order for your consideration, because of the discourtesy to the House. On "The World At One" today, Mr. Trevor Kavanagh of The Sun admitted that he had been briefed, by a source that he has found reliable, that the local elections were to be put off. For The Sun to have carried that headline on Saturday, he must have been briefed on Friday. That is a matter for the House; that news should have been reported to us first. The political editor of The Sun has admitted to having been briefed. Surely that is a discourtesy to the House, which we should address.

Mr. Speaker

I have dealt with that matter. It is not for me to find out where a journalist got his information from. In fact, it is refreshing to know that some journalists actually go and seek information before writing an article.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the helpful explanation by the Leader of the House about the Bill that will deal with the local elections, can you confirm that, in view of the fact that we have not seen the Bill yet—presumably it will have its First Reading either later today or tomorrow, and go through all its other stages on Wednesday—it will be acceptable for amendments to be tabled in advance of Second Reading, so that you can consider whether they are in order for consideration in Committee and on Report? Bills being shoved through all their stages on the same day is becoming a regrettably regular occurrence—something that I hope you would deprecate in normal circumstances. I hope that you will confirm that we will be able to table amendments in advance of Second Reading, because I think that they will be very necessary for such a Bill.

Mr. Speaker

If the Government table a motion to allow the right hon. Gentleman to table amendments, and the House agrees to it, he and other hon. Members will be able to do so.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that in every election that you and I have fought since 1979, statements have been made to the press before announcements have been made to the House of Commons?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to draw the Chair into the argument.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I gave your office notice of my point of order this morning. You have tried to be very helpful to those of us whose constituencies are suffering from the dreadful disease of foot and mouth, and you will know that during the debate on foot and mouth a fortnight ago, the Minister of Agriculture agreed that he would arrange for a presentation on the subject to be given to Members of Parliament. He said that he would do that last week: last week, during his statement, I raised the matter again; he reiterated his commitment and said that he would arrange for the presentation to be made either at the end of last week or this week. I tried to get a date from his office this morning, but was told that no date had yet been fixed. Could you, on behalf of Back Benchers, whose champion you are, find out when the Minister will honour the commitment that he gave the House in your presence?

Mr. Speaker

I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's concerns to the Minister.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the past, when I have raised the matter of statements is being leaked to the media before being made in the House, you have unequivocally condemned that. Accepting the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) about general elections, would you give us your guidance on the matter of a statement being made about the postponement of the county council elections, and whether it would have been the correct procedure for the Ministers responsible for that to have made the statement to the House, and not to have leaked it to The Sun?

Mr. Speaker

I have already dealt with that matter.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Friday, I discovered that a landfill site was to be opened in Fosterville in my constituency, which is an uninfected area, and that it was to receive carcases from an infected area. I discovered all that not from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but from media contacts. I asked the Minister of Agriculture at once to give an explanation of what was going on; I have heard nothing. Over the weekend, I have been contacted by terrified farmers who have land adjacent to the site and who are wondering what is happening. They have no information and are extremely worried that animals from an infected area are to be brought to farms adjacent to theirs. My point of order is this: have you received any request from the Minister of Agriculture to explain his policy to the House? Were you to receive such a request, would you give it favourable consideration?

Mr. Speaker

I have received no such request.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance, not for the first time and not for the last. Further to your earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), and in the light of the fact that no fewer than 12 constituents raised the subject with me in the course of two hours over the weekend, can you confirm so that it is clear beyond doubt that there is apparently a distinction between the announcement of a policy, which should properly by made 1by Ministers in the House before it is communicated to the wider world, and the deferment of an election, which apparently entails no such requirement? What is the basis in "Erskine May" for that apparent distinction?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for debate, not for the Chair.

Mr. Wilshire

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Home Secretary made a statement to the House this afternoon, which the House no doubt found helpful. I subsequently discovered, to my amazement, that earlier today the Home Office had issued to local authorities affected by the elections all the information in the statement made to the House. In one way, that is sensible. However, it means that people outside the House were given information that was not given to the House until 3.30 this afternoon. Should not the guidance given to local authorities be made available to hon. Members at the same time, rather than later?

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's concern has been noted and that Ministers will give due regard to his comments.