HC Deb 18 October 2001 vol 372 cc1324-5 1.44 pm
Mr. Clive Soley (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure you will agree that the use of anthrax against the elected representatives of the United States constitutes an attack on the heart of democracy. Do you agree that this House, which is at the centre of our democracy and is widely respected here, in the United States and abroad, should send a message through you to your opposite number in the United States to offer our support at this difficult time? I remind you that it is only 60 years since this House had to be temporarily closed. Afterwards, democracy not only returned but went from strength to strength around the world. I suspect that a suitably worded message of support from you would be very well received in the United States at this difficult time.

Mr. Speaker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. I shall certainly send such a message. It may be helpful for the House to know that, after the terrible events of 11 September, I wrote to Speaker Hastert and Mayor Giuliani. I explained the solidarity that Members of this House feel with their American colleagues and the close bond between this House and democratic institutions in the United States. I have noted that Ambassador Farish has been present in the House to hear our debates. I have invited him to Speaker's House, where he will have an opportunity to meet hon. Members from all parts of the House.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance and some clarification. Earlier this afternoon the mechanism was used of a written question being extended beyond Question Time to enable us to have a statement from a Minister. My colleagues and I very much welcome that despite the confusion over the lack of information. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for using this mechanism on a number of occasions recently because it enables the House to get a statement from a Minister very rapidly. However, there are two major problems on which I seek your guidance, if not now, then on some future occasion.

First, unlike when a normal statement is made, Members on the two Opposition Front Benches do not get prior notice of the contents of this kind of statement and that caused some confusion today. Secondly, and more formidably, at the moment it appears that the mechanism can be triggered only by a Government Back Bencher and a planted question. Clearly, Opposition Members should also have that opportunity. Will you reflect on that and see whether we can find some way in which this mechanism can be used more widely?

Mr. Speaker

I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman has had to say and come back to the House on the matter.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You often advise hon. Members and Ministers to give rapid or at least brief answers. Today we only got as far as Question 10, and, without mentioning any names, you may be aware that a particular Minister gave excessively long answers. I wonder whether you could write a gentle note or, wherever you meet Ministers from time to time, have a gentle word with particular Ministers. I realise that this is becoming a rather long and lengthy point of order; nevertheless long, lengthy answers, although they may be helpful, prevent Back Benchers from asking questions.

Mr. Speaker

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should try to get through the Order Paper, but to get further down the Order Paper I need the co-operation of the House. I would not single out Ministers who give lengthy replies as some Back Benchers ask very lengthy questions. In my opinion, the short, sharp question often gets a short, sharp reply, but I am happy to put it on record that I am very keen to get down the Order Paper.