HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 c191 2.17 pm
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that yesterday was the last day for questions to be tabled to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I tabled a question to the Secretary of State, which was drawn as Question 3. Today the Department informed me that the question had been transferred to the Department of Trade and Industry. That obviously denies me the chance to put a supplementary question to the Secretary of State during oral questions.

This is important, Mr. Speaker, because of a serious issue relating to a company in my constituency that recycles the vast majority of car batteries in this country—some 99 per cent. There is a great danger that the company could be under threat as a result of a decision made by DEFRA. When I challenged the Department, it told me that the matter was not its responsibility, but that of the DTI. Not one Minister in the DTI is registered in the book of ministerial responsibilities as having responsibility for recycling, but earlier this year the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs answered two questions on the issue from my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman). The questions, which related directly to the recycling of batteries, were answered on 10 and 12 March.

What protection can you give Members of Parliament, Mr. Speaker, when Departments are deliberately trying not to answer legitimate questions tabled in the House?

Mr. Speaker

Decisions on whether to transfer questions are for Ministers, not the Speaker; but when questions relate to matters for which more than one Minister is responsible, or when responsibility is ambiguous, I expect Ministers to be very cautious about transferring oral questions.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are about to have an Adjournment debate on Iraq, under Standing Order No. 24 and the succeeding Standing Orders. While that might have been appropriate a week ago, there has been a significant development since then.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to refer to his standing as a candidate.

Mr. Salmond

I might be a leader after the Prime Minister is not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ooh!"]

The development is the Leader of the Opposition's decision that he can no longer support the Government's substantive position on Iraq. Under these changed circumstances, are there any remedies open to us under Standing Orders—or is it within your discretion, Mr. Speaker—to test whether the Prime Minister retains the confidence of the House on this issue, just as he has lost the confidence of the people?

Mr. Speaker

An application under Standing Order No. 24 has to be made to me before the Speaker's Conference in the morning.