HC Deb 06 March 2002 vol 381 cc320-1 5.12 pm
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During last evening's debate in the House on whether this Parliament or the Scottish Parliament is responsible for approving new power stations in Scotland, especially nuclear power stations, Opposition parties tried eight times to elicit an answer from the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of State, Scotland Office.

Simultaneous to that debate, the Minister for Industry and Energy was answering that question outside the House. Further confusion arises because most hon. Members understood the Ministers in that debate to say that Westminster would take the final decision, while the Minister for Industry and Energy was saying that it would be taken in Scotland. What protection is there for hon. Members who are involved in a debate in the House when Ministers of the Crown make contrary statements elsewhere? Does not that involve an element of discourtesy? How do we proceed now? Does a form of arbitration between Ministers exist? Do we toss a coin? Better still, could a statement be made to clarify the position once and for all?

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I add my voice as one who is fervently pro-nuclear power stations? There should be clarification; this is an important issue.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

May I tell both hon. Gentlemen that the occupant of the Chair is not responsible for ministerial statements? The point made by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) is, in a sense, a continuation of yesterday's debate. The principal point is that the occupant of the Chair is not responsible for Ministers' statements on such matters.

Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would it be appropriate for the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions to come to the House to explain why he chose to disregard London Transport's advice not to publish the Ernst and Young report on value for money at London Underground because that would undermine the only competitive leverage left in negotiations? Would it be appropriate for him to come here to set out what assessment he has made of the commercial damage caused by his actions?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not for the occupant of the Chair to judge whether those matters are appropriate or inappropriate, and I have no knowledge of such a statement.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of which I have given the Chair notice. Yesterday afternoon I received a letter from the BBC signed by Michael Hastings CBE, who is described as head of political and parliamentary affairs. He has previously been brought to the attention of the Chair for his activities in the House.

The letter relates to the proceedings on which we are about to embark. It says: An inappropriate level of attention has been focused on the BBC and its regulation throughout the Second Reading and Committee stages in the Commons. Mr. Hastings goes on to say: It is our hope that this Wednesday's debate will be more constructive". Referring to amendments that have been tabled for the House to discuss on Report, he says: Amendments have again been tabled which seek to bypass the White Paper and propose an alternative model. The BBC rejects these options. What can one do about the impertinence of a lobbyist who writes to the Chairman of a Select Committee on such matters in an offensive way? Could it be drawn to the BBC's attention that it has no power either to reject or to accept options that are laid before the House, because they are for us to debate and to decide? Is it not particularly unsatisfactory that the House of Commons should be treated in such a way by someone whose organisation is funded by the taxpayer through the licence fee, whose job is funded by the taxpayer through the licence fee and whose letter to me was funded by the taxpayer through the licence fee? Is it not a fact that that person has a vested interest in those amendments being rejected because they would affect not only the BBC, but himself? What can we do to deal with offensive communications of such a nature from a vested interest?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Chair has no control over communications of that kind made by people outside the House. I have no doubt, however, that the BBC will have noted the right hon. Gentleman's comments. I am sure that the House, too, will bear them in mind when it debates the amendments.