HC Deb 26 November 2001 vol 375 cc671-2 3.31 pm
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Could you assist the House? As you well know, the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), does not have a Question Time slot in the Chamber, so could you arrange for him to be present at Health questions on 11 December? Given his comment over the weekend that the health service under the present Government was worse than it was under the previous Government, it seems that he knows more than the Secretary of State for Health about what is going on in the health service in the real world.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, there is a good deal of controversy over the fact that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is not having her contract renewed. The next opportunity to question the Member representing the House of Commons Commission will be Tuesday 4 December, and the question that I have tabled may or may not be reached. Given the controversy and the general feeling, which I have expressed previously, that this person is being sacked because she is carrying out her duties too well, will there be an opportunity for that question and related questions to be answered after 3.30 pm? May I make the point to you, the Speaker of the House of Commons, that there is not much opportunity for Members to ask oral questions on such an important and controversial matter? There may be a case for you to consider whether the question should be answered after 3.30 pm.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who answers for the Commission, will consider the point that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We can be pretty confident that we know the answer to a written question tabled by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick), which is due for answer now, because it was given on the "Today" programme this morning. It is about the conversion of a male prison into a female prison, and on the programme we were given the name of the prison that will be converted.

I asked for a statement on the mismanagement of the Prison Service and its inability to cope with a four-year rising trend in the number of women being sent down. That written question has been used as part of a public information strategy by the Prison Service and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), who is happily in her place on the Government Front Bench, to put pressure on the judiciary not to send as many women to prison and to change their sentences, despite the fact that they are following current sentencing guidelines. Do you agree with me, Mr. Speaker, that that is a wholly improper use of parliamentary procedure?

Mr. Speaker

A parliamentary question should not be revealed until it has been put before the House. I shall look into the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised and come back to him.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am not sure whether I misheard the Secretary of State for Defence during Question Time, but when the matter of casualties in Afghanistan was raised, I thought that he said that he would deal with it at a later date. Casualties are of great importance to the House. I waited to seek to intervene on the matter because I believed that the right hon. Gentleman might have dealt with it at a later stage in Question Time. Have you had any notice from him about when he will make an announcement in the House on any casualties that have been suffered in Afghanistan?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for the Secretary of State, who has, I am sure, heard the concerns expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that the regulation of the hours and working practices of the House are properly a matter for the House? Did you share my surprise on reading first, the headline on the front page of The Sunday Times, "MPs set to get four-day week with shorter hours", and secondly, that this is a proposal dreamt up by the Leader of the House? Should not such proposals be presented first not to national newspapers, but to the Chamber?

Mr. Speaker

This is a matter for the House—the hon. Gentleman is right about that—but I advise the hon. Gentleman, as a new Member, not to believe everything that he reads in the press.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), Mr. Speaker. Could any response to his remarks about women's prisons take into account the fact that whatever is wrong in women's prisons today, we are not chaining down pregnant women?

Mr. Speaker