HC Deb 27 January 2003 vol 398 c580 4.17 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you and many hon. Members will have seen in the weekend press extensive coverage on the Government's imminent announcement about the contract that is to be placed for two new aircraft carriers. As you know, the order in which questions for oral answer appear on the Order Paper is not a precise science. Of course, I do not accuse you of having any involvement in the matter, which is decided by random selection. However, amidst many questions about Iraq today, there was one about procurement, and it is most unfortunate that it was withdrawn even as proceedings here were under way. I cast no aspersions on the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson), whose question was withdrawn; it may be that he was caught on the train, or whatever. None the less, will you do two things for me? First, will you make inquiries to ensure that no pressure was brought to bear—

David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Have you met him?

Mr. Howarth

I have to say that I think that it is most unlikely; I regard the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok as a friend and he is a very fine man.

Given the controversy about the contract, I hope that no pressure was brought to bear on the hon. Gentleman, although I think it unlikely; otherwise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you make it clear to hon. Members that, if they can give the House as much notice as possible, it is a courtesy to the House that makes the planning of such questions rather easier? For the benefit of those who sit elsewhere in the Chamber, I hope that we can put it on record that the reason why the House was unable to discuss the issue is that there was no opportunity to do so.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

I am not sure that I am in a position to rule on pressure—or non-pressure—that is brought to bear on hon. Members. However, I appreciate that it is unfair for many reasons when questions are withdrawn in the way in which the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) described. He has put his point firmly on the record.