HC Deb 26 June 2003 vol 407 cc1237-8 2.36 pm
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have given Mr. Speaker advance notice of this point of order.

The list of present ministerial responsibilities states that the Attorney-General, the Government's principal legal adviser, is responsible for dealing with questions of international law, EU law, and human rights. It adds that the Solicitor-General deputises for the Attorney-General in this House. I was therefore delighted to see, in the list of questions published on Tuesday 24 June, that I had secured question No. 24 in today's oral questions to the Solicitor-General. I was therefore somewhat surprised to receive a letter stating that my question had been transferred to the new Department for Constitutional Affairs, and that as a result I would receive only a written answer, and would not have the opportunity to ask a supplementary question.

I know that Mr. Speaker, as custodian of hon. Members' interests, deprecates that sort of transfer, especially as my question was entirely in order, according to the list of ministerial responsibilities. Can we have a ruling as to why my question was transferred? I was telephoned by a clerk in the new Department, but I found it very difficult to return his call, as three clerks there share the same name. I was given the run-around by the Department—not the sort of treatment that I would expect to receive.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

I have considerable sympathy for the hon. Lady, given the situation in which she found herself. Of course, the creation of the new Department means that a somewhat transitional situation exists. However, the transfer of questions is a matter entirely for the Government, and not for the Chair.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have received a report of an incident that occurred during questions to the Solicitor-General. The Liberal Democrat spokesman on that subject, the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett), scuttled along the Opposition Front Bench immediately after the Conservative spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), had asked a question of the Solicitor-General. The Solicitor-General was attempting to reply as the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon cut right across the line of sight. Would it be possible for you to advise the Liberal Whip to give a tutorial to his colleagues on how to behave in the House?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

On that particular incident, the result was that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) was not called to put a question. However, in respect of general matters of behaviour in the House, I would wish that all hon. Members would take account of the courtesies. I have noticed that on too many occasions people use the House as a corridor. They are breaking the line of sight and failing to respect the position of the Chair when they enter and leave the Chamber. I hope that all the Chief Whips will take notice of these matters. The standard of behaviour in the House is a matter of great importance. We should uphold it, unless we make specific changes to the rules of courtesy that have been traditional in this place.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to early-day motion 1476, in the name of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) and 48 Conservative Members? It criticises Labour Members who supported early-day motion 799 on top-up fees for not voting for an identical motion proposed by the Leader of the Opposition on 25 June. Among those Members criticised for not acting in line with their previous commitment is my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Everybody in the House and more widely knows that my hon. Friend has had an operation and is under doctor's orders not to attend the House, so that he should be criticised, among other people, for not being here on that occasion seems obnoxious. There is a distinction between Members who abstain because they cannot help but do so and those who abstain deliberately. I am one of those who abstained deliberately, so I am referred to in the early-day motion. I can readily and easily defend my abstaining on that occasion because the motion was tabled by the Opposition in the context of their claim that they would cut the numbers—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that I get the hon. Gentleman's drift—sufficient to know that that is not a point of order for the Chair. However, he has put the matter on the record. Some slip-up may have occurred and I am sure that we all wish the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) well and a speedy return to the House.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have considerable sympathy on the point made by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). Before I deal with that, may I say that I am grateful for his backhanded support for the point that we sought to make.

In drawing up the list, we included all those who signed the early-day motion, but we realise that there are exceptional circumstances in relation to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). We are all very fond of the hon. Gentleman and we are sorry that he has not been in the Chamber. His name should have been excluded and, having discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), we shall take steps, on conclusion of these proceedings, to ensure that an amendment is tabled to that effect.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is equally not a point of order, but I am sure that the House is grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks.