HC Deb 21 January 2003 vol 398 cc184-5 1.29 pm
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this week, colleagues raised the matter of Government Departments transferring oral questions to other Departments, and Mr. Deputy Speaker ruled on your behalf. An oral question that I tabled to the Treasury, which was up for reply this Thursday, has been arbitrarily shifted by a parliamentary clerk to the Department of Health. The issue that I raise is different from the one on which the earlier ruling was given because my question refers to a question that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury answered in March 2001.

The matter raised in my question is fully within the footprint of the ministerial duties document because the Financial Secretary is in charge of the Office for National Statistics. When I tried before to table questions on the completion of death certificates, the Table Office told me—correctly, I believe that it was a matter for Her Majesty's Treasury because it related to the ONS. As I do not want to delay the House, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to look into the matter later. It seems to me that we are suffering from the arbitrary decision not of Ministers but of junior hacks—clerks—in Government Departments who do not know the history of the case or what precedents exist, and who do not read the remit of the ministerial duties.

Mr. Speaker

I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration and anxiety, but irrespective of who in the Department instructs the transfer to be made, it is the responsibility of the Minister, and I do not have any control over that.

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Foreign Secretary perhaps inadvertently turned his deaf ear to me when he answered my question and misrepresented what I said. I did not imply that a Government of this country supported the use of chemical weapons in Iraq, but that they supported Iraq while it was using them.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has put that on the record.