HC Deb 11 May 2004 vol 421 cc155-6 12.31 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your assistance? Over the past 24 hours, there has been a glaring inconsistency in statements made from the Dispatch Box by two senior Cabinet Ministers on a matter of great importance. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence, referring to the report from the International Committee of the Red Cross, said:

May I make it clear that there was no concealment? The report to Ambassador Bremer was passed to Sir Jeremy Greenstock, then to the military representative in Iraq and from there to the Permanent Joint Headquarters."—[Official Report, 9 June 2004; Vol. 421, c. 33.] Earlier, in answer to a question, the Foreign Secretary told us that the report was not passed to Sir Jeremy Greenstock. That inconsistency is highly damaging in the current situation. I ask for your advice, Mr. Speaker, as to what action might be taken for it to be clarified as soon as possible.

Mr. Speaker

Before the Foreign Secretary rises on a point of order, I must point out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is not for the Chair to deal with any apparent inconsistencies between Ministers' statements. Of course, he can always table other parliamentary questions.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you, in any event: this is not a glaring inconsistency. I made it clear that the report was received by staff in Sir Jeremy Greenstock's office, and I fully endorse what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence said—that there was no concealment, and that the report was passed on to the military representative in Iraq, and from there to the permanent joint headquarters. However, I will ensure that a clarification is made to the House, later on today or tomorrow morning.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Foreign Secretary said that the report had been sent to the Foreign Office but had not been relayed to him, whereas yesterday the Secretary of State for Defence said that it was sent to the permanent joint headquarters, where it has apparently lain for some three months. We need more than just a clarification: we need a statement about the progress of the document. From which hand to which hand has it passed, in Iraq and in this country? What has happened to civil servants, in either the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office, who apparently did not consider that the report was important enough to go to Ministers? We really need a full explanation of that.

Mr. Speaker

These are not matters for the Chair.

Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness) (Con)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise a totally separate matter. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Education and Skills announced key policy changes to the delivery and working of the modern apprenticeships scheme, an essential and important education policy area. The announcement was made not in this House, but in a department store in Oxford street.

I am aware, Mr. Speaker, of your enthusiasm and keenness to have policy announcements made in this Chamber first. Have you received any approaches from Ministers to make a statement to the House about this change to what is a key area of policy? If not, is there anything that you can do to put pressure on Ministers to make such a statement, so that hon. Members can exercise their democratic right to ask appropriate questions on this key policy change?

Mr. Speaker

I have to be careful on this point. The hon. Gentleman says that it was a policy change, but I will have to look and see whether there was a policy change. All Governments are keen to try to train apprentices, and Ministers have to be able to make public announcements if there has been no policy change and the announcement is consistent with present Government policy. I will look into the matter.