HC Deb 21 October 2002 vol 391 cc37-9

4.26 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had a request from the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement clarifying the press reports that have created great anxiety among a number of people whose lives may be affected and who have to make preparations for a call-up of reservists? Surely there should be a statement in good time because, if that is to happen, people who have jobs as doctors, engineers or teachers will have to make some preparation and should be given maximum warning.

Mr. Speaker

I have had no approach from the Minister.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the problems outlined so clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), the risk to the public and to the economy, and the difficulties faced in the Fire Brigades Union dispute, yesterday I contacted the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to ask whether he would make a statement to the House. Have you heard anything from his Office to indicate that he will make a statement later today or tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

I have not heard from the Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Deputy Prime Minister is not to make a statement, have you received an indication that any Minister is likely to make a statement on the important issue of the firefighters' strike?

Mr. Speaker

All I can say is that Ministers do not seem to be contacting me.

Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the various points of order that we have heard from Conservative Members, have you had any notification from the Leader of the Opposition or from the Liberal Democrats that they want to use the Opposition day debate on Wednesday afternoon on the Government's mismanagement of the national lottery to pursue this subject?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) made a compelling case on a matter in respect of which the Prime Minister—belatedly, and astonishingly belatedly—has called the Cobra committee together only today. Do you recall, in your long years in the House, a Minister not coming to the House of Commons to make a statement on such a matter of the gravest and most fundamental national importance? If no Minister has burnt the wires to you over the weekend, will you ensure that Ministers learn from you that you think they ought to do so?

Mr. Speaker

In my long years in the House, the Speaker has never been drawn into an argument.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the Government's abject failure to come to the House to make a statement on this extremely worrying potential strike, may I appeal to you to use your discretion in the selection of certain topics for Adjournment debates to give due consideration to this important matter?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can make an application in the usual way.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for giving only very short notice of my point of order. On Wednesday last week, the Secretary of State for Transport made a statement to the press and media on some 92 schemes involving 145 million in a rolling programme to tackle congestion and improve safety at junctions across England's trunk roads and motorways. I made inquiries in the Library on Wednesday, but the only document available was a print-out from the Highways Agency website. There was no parliamentary announcement—neither a statement nor a written answer—and no possibility of holding the Secretary of State to account. I declare an interest, as one of the crossings is in my constituency. The local media phoned me, but I had no information to give at that time. Is that a proper way to make such an announcement? There was no democratic accountability, and there is no record of the matter in Hansard.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady gave me some notice on the matter. I can assure her that the Secretary of State has, in this case, met his obligations to the House.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following on from the point of order made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), it is a fact that about 19,000 members of Her Majesty's armed forces are being diverted to take over from the firemen when they go on strike. Will you tell the House whether you would warmly welcome the Secretary of State for Defence seeking your permission to make a statement? It seems astonishing that the House is not able to consider a matter of such urgency. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) made clear, it is of great concern not only to the ordinary people of this country, but to our armed forces, which may be called on to take part in operations elsewhere in the world, which, although they are not more serious, are certainly much more in line with what they are trained to deploy for.

Mr. Speaker

Clearly, a Secretary of State does not require my permission to make a statement. He has only to inform me, out of courtesy, that the statement will be made.