On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to the circumstances that prevailed after last Wednesday's business was lost. As you know, the Order Paper was published. Indeed, I have a copy of it in my hand. Sixty questions for oral answer were put down a fortnight in advance, 206 questions were put down four or five days in advance for priority written answers, and some were put down a longer period in advance for normal written answers. It now becomes clear that, on either the advice or the instruction of the Table Office, none of the questions has been answered. Surely, with the questions and the Order Paper having been printed, and, without a shadow of doubt, all the answers being printed and in envelopes ready to go on to the letter board for hon. Members who have put questions down, it would have made good economic sense for the answers to be issued.
Because we played stupid games in the House, last Wednesday's business was lost. It would have been sensible automatically to transfer all the questions to the following day and still have them answered. If any hon. Members — [Laughter.] It is not funny, even for Conservative Members. They were also involved. They have put down questions. If they want answers to their questions, they will have to table them again, with all the printing costs that that will involve. Surely that is absolutely outrageous and we should do something about it.
Order. Let me deal with one question at a time.
I thank the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) for giving me notice of this matter, but he must know that, like everyone else in the House, the Table Office is bound by Standing Orders. Let me explain the position to him. Paragraph 9 of Standing Order 17 lays down that, on a day on which the House does not sit because the previous day's sitting has not ended in time, questions down for written answer are deemed to be questions for answer on the next sitting day. By virtue of an express decision of the House on 27 February 1986. that does not apply to questions put down for oral answer, which are accordingly lost.
I do not think that I can do more than to state the terms of the Standing Order to the hon. Gentleman. I have sympathy with what he has said and I suggest that he puts the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure so that, if this happens again, a change can be made.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am interested in your kind explanation regarding written questions because this morning I obtained copies of Hansard for last Thursday and last Friday and there is no evidence that questions down for written answer — I accept the distinction between written and oral questions —have been answered.
I understand that all the questions were answered. There may have been some delay in printing them in Hansard, but they were all answered in the normal way. As I said, I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's position. I hope that we shall not lose the day's sitting again—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Order. If that happens it would be sensible to look at the matter again.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given your role as protector of the rights of Back Benchers against the Government in this Parliament, how can you argue, even before the evidence is presented in the allowed time limit of 180 seconds, that today's business on the European Community should occupy a higher priority in this House than the fate of an 11-week-old baby refused a heart operation? It takes only three minutes to make an application since we changed the rules. How can you argue that this baby and its family and the constituents of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher), who is sitting on the Treasury Bench and whose constituents are waiting for operations in Birmingham, should not have their case put before the House? I can say honestly that I play more or less by the rules in this place —sometimes less reluctantly than other hon. Members. For those who do not understand the rules of this House, the clear implication of a decision that prevents a debate is that someone is protecting the Government's reputation on the Health Service. You, Sir, would not like that allegation to be made about you and the best way to solve the problem would be to make sure that the debate can take place.
Order. I am reluctant to state in the House the details of what was a matter of private conversation between the hon. Gentleman and myself. However, as he has raised the matter, I must tell him that the reason why I turned down his application under Standing Order No. 20 was that it referred to a hospital that was mentioned on Monday. I explained to the hon. Gentleman that, deep though my concern was for his constituency case, there were other ways of raising the matter. The whole House would accept that if we received Standing Order No. 20 applications every time an operation had to be delayed, we should not get much business done.
I have explained to the hon. Gentleman that there are other ways of raising this matter. I hope that he will take advantage of ensuring that the matter is raised in that way.
You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that you said that the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) were not unparliamentary because they did not attack a particular hon. Member, although many of us would find that distinction extremely offensive because it represents the protection of a tiny elite. You will have heard the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick) say that, in spite of the booming economy of the Government, his daughter is unemployed.
Order. The hon. Gentleman has returned to us after some time away from the House, and we welcome him back. However, he must remember that we cannot continue questions on a statement on which every hon. Member who wished to he called was heard. There is no point of order in the hon. Gentleman's remarks. We cannot have a continuation of that.
I am just trying to stop hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Northampton, North making imputations affecting other hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Hallam. The hon. Member for Hallam made it clear that his daughter was in a difficult position because she was unemployed. She should be protected from—
Order. I cannot hear this. It has nothing to do with the matter. Now, Mr. Nellist. May I express my appreciation to the hon. Gentleman if he is going to thank me?
While thanking you, Mr. Speaker, for your statement, could I ask you to reflect later on the fact that the Birmingham children's hospital serves a wide area and that twice in the past seven days Conservative Members in my area have had to save the operations of individual children?
Order. It is unfair of the hon. Gentleman to seek to raise this constituency case on a point of order. As I have told him, there are plenty of other opportunities and I will ensure that he has a chance to put these matters to the House. I cannot take them on a point of order.
Order. I genuinely understand the hon. Gentleman's concern for his constituent, but I cannot take the matter on a point of order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. If he will kindly come to see me privately. I will tell him of the other opportunities that he may have.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. While the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) was on his feet causing trouble, the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong), the daughter of one of your assistants in the last Parliament, shook her fist at the hon. Gentleman. Is it in order—
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been listening to exchanges beween yourself and my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist). The case that my hon. Friend wished to raise was different from the one that arose last week. I would like to know whether you would rule out applications under Standing Order 20 on different cases at the same hospital. Many instances might arise in which it was necessary to try to differentiate between two incidents. To wrap it all up — especially as you are to have a discussion with my hon. Friend — could we not have some recognition of the fact that when there are two different cases it may be absolutely necessary for different hon. Members to make different representations?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you consider the matter, would you bear it in mind that if an hon. Member had complained about a series of cases at one hospital in a constituency, I could fully have understood your point? However, you surely cannot mean that the 57 Members of Parliament in the west midlands who have constituents affected by events in Birmingham will never have the opportunity to raise the matter again. I ask you to reflect on the matter, because a number of hon. Members are involved.
Just to clear the matter for those who may not understand our procedures, I am not stopping the hon. Gentleman raising the matter. I am saying that I cannot allow him to raise it today since it was raised only on Monday in an application for an emergency debate, which unfortunately did not meet the criteria of Standing Order No. 20.