HL Deb 07 March 2002 vol 632 cc397-8

3.36 p.m.

Lord Saatchi

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Leader of the House for allowing me to ask whether he would mind elaborating on his reason for refusing a Private Notice Question this afternoon concerning the sale of the Treasury silver. I thank him for that. A Treasury spokesman is quoted in a newspaper today as saying that the sale is going ahead.

I am sure that the Leader of the House remembers that on 29th October the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said: surely it is proper that any decision should be announced to Parliament rather than to anyone else". The noble and learned Lord will also recall the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, saying that my noble friend Lord Strathclyde had correctly expressed, the view of the House that the items should be withdrawn from sale".—[Official Report, 29/10/01; col. 1174.] If the Treasury is so anxious to achieve savings and efficiency, as its spokesman says today, why does it not look to the administrative expenses of the Chancellor's own department which are due to rise, on his own budget forecasts, not by £100,000, the value of the silver, but by £500 million over the next four years?.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn)

My Lords, I believe that the procedure for Private Notice Questions is well known to your Lordships. It is set out at paragraph 4.101 of the Companion: A private notice question (PNQ) gives Members of the House the opportunity to raise urgent matters on any sitting day". This matter is not urgent. Indeed, the basis on which the Question was put—and as always I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Saatchi—was a cutting from the Daily Telegraph, a copy of which the noble Lord gave to me.

I have made it plain—and I hope that the House approves—that my inclination is always to assume that PNQs should be accepted. I believe that I have faithfully abided by that.

When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, sought a Private Notice Question to be heard on 29th October last year, the proposed sale was the next day. It seemed to me—and I know that the House agreed—that it was right to give time for the noble and learned Lord to raise that matter. It was raised.

Since then, my noble friend Lord McIntosh has answered a number of questions, one being as long ago as 12th February. That is the best part of a month ago. One of his answers on 12th February to, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, was that, the Government concluded in the light of representations that open-market sale was not appropriate in that case". That is the Privy Council silver. He continued: Arrangements are being made for a sale confined to institutions willing to display the items to the UK public".— [Official Report, 12/2/02; col. WA139.] I am acting here only, I hope, in the interests of the House. Having looked at the Companion it seemed to me that this matter could not conceivably be described as urgent. It seemed to me right in the interests of the House that we adhere to the proper procedures and I hope that the House will support me.