HL Deb 27 July 1983 vol 443 cc1542-4

3.37 p.m.

Lord Denham

My Lords, at a convenient moment this afternoon my noble friend Lord Cockfield will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the Stock Exchange.

My noble friend will then repeat a Statement on Revised Cash Limits 1983–84.

This will be followed by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne, who will repeat a Statement on the Gibraltar Dockyard.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I promise that I am not making a habit of raising business questions, but there does seem to me to be today a matter of some parliamentary importance, quite apart from party interest. The noble Baroness the Minister of State at the Foreign Office has twice—first, to my noble friend Lord Oram and then to myself, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley—promised to make a response to the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place concerning the scientific units in the Overseas Development Association. Today the Minister of State at the Foreign Office responsible for the Overseas Development Association held a press conference at noon, when was revealed the Government's response to the budgets of the scientific units. Is this not a prevention of the responsibility of government? Should not the Minister of State have come to Parliament and had his statement repeated here, so that it could be properly examined by Parliament before the public, and so that questions could be put to the Minister concerned?

The White Paper was issued at noon today. It is in the Printed Paper Office, but I understand from what the noble Lord the Chief Whip has just said that there will be no statement on it as we were, at least by implication, promised. Therefore, Members of Parliament in both Houses are deprived of the opportunity of considering the Government's attitude to this important report and of putting their questions to the Government.

Viscount Whitelaw

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for having informed my office that he wished to raise this matter. I hope the noble Lord will think it reasonable if I draw on my experience in another place, as well as my very short experience here, to explain to him the position. I am most anxious to do this because I should wish neither him nor the House to think that I was in any way guilty of any discourtesy in this matter, and I do not think that I am.

First, I assure the noble Lord that, on my understanding, no press conference was actually held at twelve o'clock. I understand that a press conference had been planned, but, equally, I understand that that press conference was not held. It is not for me to speculate on why the press conference was not held, but I do not think it was. As to the question of making a response, I am sure that the noble Lord will agree that a response to a report of a Select Committee of another place does not necessarily involve an oral Statement being made, either in another place or in this House. In fact, I have made many responses in another capacity to various Select Committee reports and no one expected me to make an oral Statement in another place, nor for it to be repeated here. Therefore, I think that a response can be made without an oral Statement.

At to the question on oral Statements, the problem is that every Leader of the House in another place has to look to the priorities of the time of the House and the number of Statements that may be required. As the noble Lord will notice, today four Statements are being made in another place. In accordance with custom, three are being repeated here at the request of the Opposition, and I think that that is the proper way in which to proceed. Therefore, I should like the noble Lord to think that I am following the precedent in these matters. When Statements are made in another place, if it is the wish of the Opposition, they will be repeated here. But, of course, unless the main Minister concerned is a Member of this House, it is clear that the initiative for making an oral Statement must come from another place. I hope that I have not bored your Lordships, but I am very anxious to show that I am trying to follow the precedents and doing what I believe to be right for this House.