HC Deb 20 November 2003 vol 413 c965 1.14 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given notice to the Foreign Secretary. Today's Order Paper refers to ministerial statements. There is a written statement in the Foreign Secretary's name relating to Iraq. On checking the statement, I discovered that it relates to decisions made last week on changes made in the coalition strategy in relation to Iraq. I wrote to the Foreign Secretary last week asking him to make a statement in the House about those changes.

You, Mr. Speaker, have frequently emphasised the importance of Ministers making statements to the House, particularly on matters of significance. Has the Foreign Secretary, at any stage in the past week, sought your permission to make a statement in the House about those changes in Iraq? If not, does not airing them in a written ministerial statement that cannot be questioned, on the last day of the parliamentary Session, constitute a gross abuse of the processes of the House which should be severely deprecated?

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I see that the Foreign Secretary wishes to say something, but let me first tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there were two applications for urgent questions, which I refused. It would be inappropriate to allow any discussion of that refusal.

Mr. Straw

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and also to the right hon. and learned Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) for giving me notice of his point of order.

I could not make a statement last week, although I would have liked to, because I was in Washington discussing the policy that led to the announcements by the Governing Council on Saturday. Even had I been here, because we were putting a series of proposals to the Governing Council for it to endorse, amend or reject, it would have been inappropriate to make a premature disclosure about the nature of the discussions before Saturday.

As for this week, I was in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday. I therefore was not here to make a statement, although we kept matters constantly under review. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked urgent questions of you, Mr. Speaker, and you have dealt with them. I considered whether I should make a statement yesterday, but there was much else on the Order Paper. Urgent questions are a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, and not for me. I therefore thought that the House would appreciate a written statement.

Had I been here, I would have been delighted to make a statement at the beginning of the week on the outcome of my discussions and the British Government's involvement in the decisions made at the end of last week. Only my physical absence from the country prevented me from doing so. Whatever else may be said about me, I do not believe that Members on either side of the House would suggest that I do not keep the House informed by means of oral statements whenever I can.