HC Deb 14 July 2003 vol 409 cc37-9 4.28 pm
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you share my concern that we have had yet another Government announcement on policy that was made to the media before it came to the House? I seek your guidance on the proper procedure when that announcement is a reversal—a fundamental U-turn—of a policy statement already made in the Chamber. You will have seen the press reports over the weekend that the Government are planning not to implement the boundary commission recommendations for Scotland before the next general election. During the passage of the Scotland Act 1998 the reduction in the number of Scottish MPs was an olive branch offered to deal with the overrepresentation of Scotland in the Chamber, and also to go some way towards solving the problem of the West Lothian question. Last week in the vote on foundation hospitals, the Government were saved front defeat only—

Mr. Speaker


Angus Robertson (Moray)

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We will wait to see whether there is a point of order. I must warn the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs Lait). She applied for an urgent question today, which I refused. I hope that she is not seeking a way to reopen that matter. If she has a point of order, I want her to get to the point.

Mrs. Lait

It is with pleasure that I shall get to the point. As this is a fundamental U-turn by the Government, I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Scotland or any other Minister, including the Under-Secretary, have asked whether they can make a statement to this House on this disgraceful change of policy, which will destabilise the devolution settlement and add to the distrust of this Government by the voters.

Mr. Speaker

I sometimes read the Scottish newspapers, and I say to the hon. Lady that she should not believe everything that goes into a newspaper.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A few weeks ago at Prime Minister's questions, the Prime Minister misrepresented my views on the European Union by purportedly quoting me. No. 10 provided Hansard with what it said was a direct quote and it was therefore recorded in inverted commas. I raised the matter with you as you are responsible for the accuracy of Hansard, and you said that, in your judgment, it was for the hon. or right hon. Member concerned—in other words, the Prime Minister—to correct the record himself. I therefore tabled a parliamentary question seeking that he confirm publicly what he had confirmed in correspondence—that he had not been able to find the source of the misleading quote—but he has now replied denying the inaccuracy of the quote, refusing to withdraw the remark and also refusing to correct the Official Report

This is a serious matter because the Prime Minister is the same as all of us in this House and is responsible for his remarks. He has, on his own admission, misrepresented and misquoted another hon. Member—namely myself. I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to take action, otherwise, what is there to protect any of us against the No. 10 spin machine, in all its distortions and misleading guile, and its propensity even when caught out, to refuse to correct what it has said or indeed supplied to the Official Report?

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order about the answer that he has received from the Prime Minister. I am not, however, responsible for the content of written answers given by Ministers. He has set out his argument clearly and it will no doubt be heard. He will have to seek other means than a point of order if he wishes to take this matter further. The Table Office may be able to advise.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for your ruling, but I now have something else that is misleading—a parliamentary answer that conflicts with the private correspondence that I received, which I am reluctant to put on the public record, as it was a private letter to me from the Prime Minister. In correspondence, the Prime Minister himself was unable to give me the source of the quote and therefore conceded that it was misleading and inaccurate. In an official answer to a parliamentary question that is on the record, he now refuses to do that. He refuses to withdraw his remark, to correct what he has acknowledged to be wrong and inaccurate and to amend and correct the Official Report, for which you are responsible. What more can I do when I have a direct contradiction between what the Prime Minister says in private and what he says in public?

Mr. Speaker

I have given the right hon. Gentleman good advice. In this instance, he should go to the Table Office. I would strongly advise that he does that.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. How can we protect the business of this House as set out on the Order Paper by avoiding spurious points of order raised by members of the shadow Cabinet, based on speculation and containing no direct quotation from any Minister? The hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) raised such a point of order after having quite properly been refused by you the opportunity to ask an urgent question. That is a disgraceful abuse of the House and she ought to know better.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman does not have to worry. Points of order sometimes give the Speaker a form of exercise.

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In response to a written question, the Prime Minister answered a question that I had not asked. However, that is not my reason for raising this point of order. My question referred to British intelligence and Iraq, and the Prime Minister's reply referred me to the inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee that is taking place. He concludes: Their report on their findings will be published in due course."— [Official Report, 11 July 2003; Vol. 408, c. 1059W.] Does that mean that if a Back Bencher asks a question that includes the words "intelligence" or "Iraq", we will be consistently referred to a Select Committee whose meetings and report we do not yet know about? Is not that a way of reducing the power of Back Benchers to ask questions of the Executive?

Mr. Speaker

As the Speaker, I am not responsible for such answers.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

On a genuine point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait) mentioned the making of statements outside the House. You, Sir, have often deprecated that, and I wonder if I may suggest a solution. You have charge over the cell at the foot of the Clock Tower. Could you not send to that cell for several hours any Minister who transgresses in future?

Mr. Speaker

I would not comment on that matter.

Angus Robertson (Moray)

Further to the point of order concerning boundaries in Scotland, you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that the reports in a number of newspapers are based on unattributed Government sources who have let it be known that the cut will not be included in the Queen's Speech. Now that there is so much uncertainty about that matter, is it not right and proper that the Government should make a statement about it?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman should not read too much into that. He should perhaps read the newspapers, but he should not always believe them. They sometimes get it wrong, as I know from experience.