Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd May 1988.

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Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow 12:00 am, 23rd May 1988

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I gave notice that I wished to raise, under Standing Order No. 20——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman did not give me notice. I received a telephone call from him. The hon. Gentleman obviously did not get my message.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I cannot hear it. The hon. Gentleman sent me a telephone message, but I have received no written notification of an application under Standing Order No. 20. My Office sent a message to the hon. Gentleman, but he obviously did not receive it. Mr. Madden.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

No; I have called Mr. Madden.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise with you an issue of importance that concerns all hon. Members. It is the refusal of the DHSS to answer, by way of parliamentary questions, questions that we would wish to ask about the operation of the social fund, which is now established for every DHSS office. The Minister for Social Security and the Disabled, in a magazine article in April, made it clear that the DHSS is receiving, through a new computer network, a wide range of information about the operation of the social fund. Therefore, I was disturbed, when I tabled a number of questions on 12 May, to be told that the information was not available. I was further disturbed to be told, in reply to other questions, that the DHSS does not intend to answer any questions about the operation of the social fund and will instead put information in the Library on a monthly basis.

I was told on Friday that the information about the first month's operation would not be available for two weeks. I ask you to reflect on that situation and to consider asking the Department of Health and Social Security to reconsider its policy decision. It is important that all hon. Members should have an opportunity to ask questions about the operation of social funds in their constituencies and should have the right to have those questions answered by the DHSS.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about this matter, but I am not responsible for Government policy. It is not for me to ask the Government to change their policy. That is a question that the hon. Gentleman should put to the Leader of the House at the appropriate moment, possibly on Thursday.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Can I ask you to reflect on the ruling that you have just given to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in light of the fact that I have an agreement with your Office—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I do not normally state this in the House, but, for the benefit of the House, may I say that Standing Order No. 20 applications must be raised on the day in question. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) sent me a telephone message about an article that appeared last Friday. Today is Monday. No point of order arises.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

I have not made my point of order yet.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

The hon. Gentleman asked me to reflect upon the answer that I gave to the hon. Member for Linlithgow. I have done that.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Can I make my point of order?

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich

Further to the ruling that you have given to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), the problem facing hon. Members is that we have been told that information that we know is available to the Government is not to be made public to the House of Commons. I understand that you cannot be held responsible for Government policy, but, when we are told that, for example, information about housing benefit cannot be given to hon. Members when we know it exists, it makes it impossible for us as Members of Parliament to carry out our duties. I ask you to reconsider your ruling.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I cannot add anything to what I have already said on this matter, but the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip are here and I am sure that the two points that have been raised, which are matters of concern to the House, have been noted by those responsible. I am not responsible for such matters.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a point of genuine concern about the matter. This is not the only example, although it is a bad example, of information which is essential for any hon. Member to carry out his duty being available to Ministers, but not being provided through parliamentary questions. There is another example in the case of poll tax registration in Scotland. I understand that the Government have information about the slowness of registration in the Strathclyde region, but will not give that information to hon. Members. There is a point of principle for you in relation——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman must come to his point of order. I do not think that I can be held responsible for matters of principle, although I am responsible for points of order in the House.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The point of order is that the Government are responsible to the House and, therefore, you have a responsibility to ensure that questions which are properly tabled and in order are accepted by the Table Office and answered by the Government. You have a duty to protect the interests of Back Benchers. That is the question of order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Undoubtedly, I have a responsibility for questions that are tabled, but I am not responsible for the answers that are given.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

No. I shall take no further points of order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will allow me to say that there are 22 hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate. He is not one of them today. Hon. Members are anxious to proceed and, in the interests of the House, we should do that.

The House should understand that applications under Standing Order No. 20 must be received on the day in question and not refer to something that has happened previously.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

You are changing your ruling.

Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My understanding is that it is not possible to raise a Standing Order No. 20 application on a Friday, and consequently my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) did not have an opportunity to make his application then. He and other hon. Members who represent constituencies that are vast distances from this place find it difficult to submit a written application on a Monday. I should be grateful if you would reconsider your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I apologise to both the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Matters that arise on a Friday can be raised again on a Monday by means of the Standing Order No. 20 procedure. It is clear that, unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman did not receive the message that I sent to him on this matter. He conveyed a telephone message to my Office but in that message he did not specify the subject that he wished to raise. Instead, he drew attention to an article that appeared in the press last Friday.

Several Hon. Members:

rose——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I think that we should move on.