HC Deb 09 May 2002 vol 385 cc319-20

3.3 pm

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you advise me how to correct a false impression given to the House earlier by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice)? I have tried to contact him, but, regrettably, I have not been able to do so in time. The problem arises from an exchange with the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and it matters because it touches on the careers of senior public servants in this country who are not able to defend themselves in public and who often serve the country for a very long time and very loyally. They have been dragged into this matter, and the very least that we can do is to quote their words correctly.

I quoted precisely from the record in my question of the Secretary of State. From memory, the hon. Member for Pendle said that the Secretary of the Cabinet had told Sir Richard Mottram to make a personal statement. When I asked the Secretary of the Cabinet, Sir Richard Wilson, whether he had instructed or told Sir Richard Mottram to make a statement, he said: He was not acting on my instruction". Clearly, the two men had discussed the matter because they were creating an important precedent for the civil service, but Sir Richard Mottram was not acting on instructions. The problem arises because the Secretary of State chose not to answer the question that I asked. Characteristically, he answered a different question, and that is his problem. We should not, however, drag civil servants into debate in the House in such a way unless we can be very precise. I would like to know if there is any way in which this can be put right.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)

That is not a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman's comments are now on the record.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the course of the Deputy Prime Minister's prepared statement, he made a reference to Conservative party policy on devolution of institutions in Northern Ireland that was wholly inaccurate. It is not a matter of debate but a matter of record that the Conservative party supported the Belfast agreement and continues to do so. It therefore continues to support the devolved institutions. Could you advise the House and the Deputy Prime Minister as to what would be the most appropriate way for him to come to the House to correct the record? I hope that that will be an opportunity for the Deputy Prime Minister to set an example to other Ministers.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Again, that is not a point of order but a point of debate. The hon. Gentleman's comments are on record.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In response to me just now, the Leader of the House indicated that he understood that S.I. 843 dealt only with the carcases of animals. That is not the case. Part 5 deals specifically with live animals. The statutory instrument extends the regulations on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in a way not seen previously. Indeed, some sections deal with the Minister's right, after appeal, to withdraw the notice of intended slaughter. This statutory instrument, which has been put through the House in the most covert way, replicates a large portion of a Bill that lies in another place. The Government therefore felt that primary legislation was needed. I fail to understand why the Government, without proper consultation with the industry or veterinarians, and without proper scrutiny by the House, are now seeking to use the secondary legislation route when, only a few months ago, Ministers told us that they urgently needed to pass the measure through primary legislation. I urge that we have an opportunity to question the Minister responsible before it is too late, and it is past the date by which we have an opportunity to make representations.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I am in no position to adjudicate on what the hon. Lady or the Leader of the House has said. I suggest that she contacts the Legal Services Office to see if her interpretation is correct.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Following these exchanges, could you ask Mr. Speaker whether consideration could be given to providing a routine extension to Question Time to allow time for correction of inaccurate statements by Ministers? It appears that serious inaccuracies are arising frequently in Ministers' statements, and it seems appropriate that they are given an earlier or an immediate opportunity to correct what they have said wrongly to the House. Perhaps Mr. Speaker could consider offering the House that opportunity so that there is not a long delay between the original inaccurate statement and the correction, if we ever get the correction at all.

Madam Deputy Speaker

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is the whole purpose of being able to ask questions and raise points on statements.