HC Deb 16 January 2003 vol 397 cc835-6 1.17 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you help the Leader of the House and, indeed, the whole House in pointing out that there is a distinction between the obligations on Ministers and what they do and say with regard to the House and the different role played by Opposition Members? The Leader of the House seemed to suggest, quite extraordinarily, that Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen had the same responsibilities as Ministers. Mr. Speaker, you must surely help him to make the distinction, which he has failed to make, that there is a real responsibility on Ministers to pay proper regard to their attitude to the House, whereas, frankly, the rest of us, as mere Members of Parliament, can pretty much say whatever we like when we like.

Mr. Speaker

I have said in the past that I have no responsibility for the content or quality of the replies of any Minister, including the Leader of the House. However, certainly in any of my statements about Ministers' responsibilities, I have said that the responsibilities are far different for those who hold Opposition posts. I shall say no more on that matter.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you be willing to look into the issue of the delays that now occur in the translation of ministerial written replies into the Official Report? At about 6 o'clock yesterday evening, I received a long-awaited written answer from the Department of Health—it goes back to November—informing me that the Government spend £53 million a year on promoting the consumption of fruit and vegetables. I had hoped that that answer would appear in today's Official Report, but it does not, and it is not on the Internet either. That seems to be part of a new pattern that communications between Departments and Hansard—it may be for another reason—result in Hansard not producing written answers in a timely fashion.

Mr. Speaker

I would suggest that it would be better for the hon. Gentleman to take the matter up with the Editor of Hansard, if that is where the complaint lies, before raising it with the Speaker.

Mr. Chope

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, my complaint is not with the Editor of Hansard. My suspicion is that Departments are not communicating the information to Hansard.

Mr. Speaker

In that case, the hon. Gentleman should try the Minister first. When I was a shop steward, I used to say that people should take matters up with the manager before they went to the shop steward.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, we regard you as our shop steward in this matter because it relates to not one but several Ministers and certainly not to the Editor of Hansard. In recent weeks, since the introduction of the new system, there have been several cases of a written statement not being made available in the Library or in the Vote Office. Indeed, I have drawn that to your attention, Mr. Speaker. Could you, in the nicest possible way—in your usual extraordinarily tactful way—as our shop steward, make representations to the Government that if they are not ready to make a written statement available to Members of the House they only have to wait another day and then do so?

Mr. Speaker

The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) has written to me on that matter. Perhaps I may be given the opportunity to reply to the hon. Gentleman.