HC Deb 08 November 2001 vol 374 cc379-80 1.14 pm
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Monday, we had questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), asked about the Patrick Carter report. He said: The House will know that although Patrick Carter's report has been paid for by the public, it has not yet been seen by the public: it remains a secret document. In answer, the Minister for Sport said: Patrick Carter's report was put into the public domain at 5 o'clock on the Thursday that the decision was made. Everyone has been able to read it and arrive at their own judgment, and a considerable number of people have told my Department that the right decision was made."— [Official Report, 5 November 2001; Vol. 374, c. 9.] I must inform you, Mr. Speaker, that I27/4/2549ked with the Clerk of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is currently conducting an inquiry into this very issue. The report is not available to the Committee. Moreover, it was not placed in the public domain. It would seem that the Minister for Sport has inadvertently misled the House, as it was factually incorrect to say that the report was in the public domain. I wonder whether an opportunity might be given to the Minister to come back to the House, apologise and set the record straight.

Mr. Speaker

These matters are for the Minister himself. The hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record and I am sure that the Minister will take serious note of what he has had to say.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

On a point of order, of which I have given you advance notice, Mr. Speaker. You have on many occasions been concerned at the way in which Ministers avoid questions. Can I draw your attention to an example that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel to be particularly outrageous? I tabled a question for oral reply by the Deputy Prime Minister on co-ordination of rural policy—something I was told by the Table Office was still very much the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office. I then received a letter saying that the question had been transferred to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Sure enough, when the reply came back, it referred to the Cabinet Office co-ordinating machinery, making it quite clear that the original destination for my oral question was perfectly appropriate. That transfer avoided the opportunity for me to put a supplementary question to the Deputy Prime Minister, which he might have found difficulty in answering, having little rural experience. Will you make representations again to Ministers to stop their over-protective civil servants in their private offices and their political advisers deliberately avoiding difficult questions?

Mr. Speaker

As the House knows, decisions about the transfer of questions are matters for Ministers, not the Chair. However, I have examined the question and the answer to which the hon. Gentleman refers and I sympathise with his complaint. In the circumstances he describes, where the line of ministerial responsibility is not clear cut, I deprecate the transfer of a question tabled for oral answer, which has the effect of depriving the Member of the opportunity to be called to put a supplementary question to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In recent days, I have experienced a total refusal by the Treasury to respond to any questions relating to the administration of Railtrack, even though I have written confirmation from the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that the Treasury has been involved in discussions on the matter. Furthermore, I have tabled a question not specifically about that circumstance but, in broad terms, to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what circumstances he would provide guaranteed security for the debt of a company limited by guarantee. Once again, that question—although it referred in no way to transport matters—was transferred to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. As Members, do we not have a right to question the Treasury about a matter that clearly has Treasury involvement?

Mr. Speaker

As I have already stated, transfers are not generally a matter for the Chair and the best advice that I can give the hon. Gentleman is to be persistent.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard the answer given to my earlier question by the Leader of the House. The Prime Minister did not give that information in answer to my written question. This is not a matter of a transfer—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not my policy to extend questions to the Leader of the House. Perhaps next week the hon. Gentleman can put the same question and see what kind of answer he gets then.