HC Deb 08 February 2001 vol 362 cc1085-8 1.21 pm
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during Prime Minister's questions, in answer to a question from the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness, West (Mr. Kennedy), the Prime Minister said that there had been 500,000 extra students in further and higher education since the Government came into office. The video recording clearly shows that he said 500,000, yet in the Official Report, at column 921, the figure has been changed from 500,000 to 5,000. Mr. Speaker, is it in order for a figure to be changed in that way? How may I ensure that the record is changed to show the correct figure stated by the Prime Minister, and that the right hon. Gentleman comes to the House to explain why the record was changed and why his Government have failed to deliver on their pledge to increase numbers in further and higher education?

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the Prime Minister was misreported by Hansard. There was no request from the Prime Minister to alter the figure he gave the House. A correction will be published tomorrow.

Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know from the Order Paper, we are about to be asked to take a decision, without debate, on a new programme motion for consideration in Standing Committee of the Hunting Bill. Is it at all possible for time to be provided for a debate, or at least for a statement from a responsible Minister, as to the reasons why the Government are changing the terms of their programme? That is especially important, given that this is the first occasion on which the Government have had to change programming arrangements in that way. Surely, that demonstrates to everyone in the House that the idea that one can anticipate, in advance of a Standing Committee's proceedings, how many sittings will be needed for adequate consideration of a Bill is utterly mistaken.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let me answer the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington). Perhaps right hon. and hon. Members will not then need to take it further.

Under the terms of the Sessional Order, Questions on supplementary programme motions to increase time for debate on a Bill are put forthwith. The Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3) motion extends the time for the Committee, so what is set out on the Order Paper is perfectly proper.

Mr. Leigh


Mr. Speaker

Does my answer help the hon. Gentleman? Is he rising to speak further to that point of order?

Mr. Leigh

As ever, Mr. Speaker, you have been most helpful. However, given that every other programmed Bill as been ruthlessly dispatched in Standing Committee and sent back to us, I wonder why the Hunting Bill alone has been allowed to meander quietly around the English countryside of the Standing Committees. Has that happened because the Government do not really want the Bill ever to see the light of day?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If any clarification is given about the extra sittings of Standing Committee B, could it be made clear that the motion was introduced by agreement and upon representations from Conservative Members, and that that is the fundamental reason why the sittings are being reprogrammed?

Mr. Speaker

Once again, that is not a matter for me.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have recently learned that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) — [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I need to hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

Dr. Harris

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I learned today that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, has called for my resignation from the Committee, apparently, for opposing the majority report. May I ask you to confirm that members of Select Committees are appointed by the House to scrutinise the Government and that it is not appropriate for the Chairman of a Select Committee, whose job it is to try to create consensus, to make such a decision or, indeed, to express such an opinion? I apologise for giving you short notice of this point of order, but I notified the hon. Gentleman's office about half an hour ago that I hoped to raise the issue with you.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is right. He was appointed by the House, and that appointment will cease only by a decision of the House.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed that the Prime Minister yesterday set a two-year timetable for the abolition of the pound and the merger of this country's economy with those of continental Europe. Given that all the indications are that over the past two years public opinion has hardened from a two to one majority in favour of keeping the pound to more than three to one in favour of keeping the pound, have you received any notification of a ministerial statement, perhaps to be made by the Minister for Europe, on whether or not the hoped for turnaround could be funded—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There has been no such approach to me. I hope that that helps the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to have to rise, but you heard the altercation between those on the two Front Benches during the points of order on the Hunting Bill. May I ask you whether you could advise those Conservative Members who were party to the arrangements on those proceedings that they might consider their position, since the usual channels arrangement depends on the truth being told at all times? My hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) has set out precisely what happened. The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Prior) should clarify the position at the Dispatch Box. Unless they do so today, there may be implications for the way in which the Bill is handled during the next week or two.

Mr. Speaker

I keep well away from matters regarding the usual channels.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should be most grateful to you for your guidance. Would you be good enough to confirm to the House that the fact that the Hunting Bill (Programme) (No. 3) motion, on extending the time for debate, is not eligible for debate in no way precludes us from saying that, although the extension of time is welcome, it is patently inadequate for the consideration of the remaining new clauses and amendments to the Bill?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is getting a bit rusty; that was not a point of order.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for the fact that I have not had an opportunity to give you notice of this point of order, but the information has only just come into my possession. A little while ago, at Education and Employment questions, I asked a Minister about concerns involving the future funding of education business links and was told that the Secretary of State had made an announcement on the matter today.

I have since discovered that the Department issued a press notice on the matter at 10.25 this morning, only an hour before questions to the Department for Education and Employment were due to start. The information was sneaked out, and not in a parliamentary answer. Sufficient time was not given to Members on both sides to become aware of the press notice's contents, and that made it impossible for me and other Members to question the Minister about whether there had been a cut in funding. I believe that there has been a cut of at least 20 per cent. I should also have liked the opportunity to ask whether the additional funding announced will be ring-fenced or will be discretionary funding for the Learning and Skills Council. Is it not the case that you, Mr. Speaker, deprecate the practice of sneaking out in press notices information that should come to the House?

Mr. Speaker

I shall look into the matter.

Mr. Alan Simpson

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I have taken many points of order, and the business of the House takes priority.

Mr. Simpson

My point of order is about the business of the House which we shall have to consider shortly. As a member of the Committee considering the Hunting Bill, I am somewhat confused about how the matter has come back to the House. Presumably it was discussed by the usual channels, who presumably agreed that the House should authorise further time for the Bill's consideration in Committee. I do not understand where the points of conflict and contention arise when such agreements are brought back to the House as a matter of consensus. As a member of the Committee, I would welcome your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on where and how this practice should be properly—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not worry about confusion; I get confused every day of the week. I cannot help him on this point.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does this matter not show the very reason why Programming Sub-Committees should not meet in secret? We have asked that they do not meet in secret, but the Government insist that they do. If the Committees were to be open, there would be no circumstances in which misunderstandings could take place.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) rose—

Mr. Speaker

I must stop the discussion now, because we are now getting into a debate. Let us move on to the main business.