Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 2nd November 1992.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Secretary of State (Foreign Affairs) 3:30 pm, 2nd November 1992

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the huge exodus of refugees now taking place into a narrow corridor in central Bosnia and a war that is increasingly turning into the near genocide of the Muslim population, and in view of the fact that British Government policy for safe havens inside Bosnia is now totally discredited, I rise to ask whether you have received a request from Ministers to make a statement on this issue.

A dreadful and brutal civil war, in which we are irrevocably involved after our recognition of Bosnia as a sovereign state, is now reaching a terrible climax. Two million refugees have now been driven out by the odious and dreadful practice of ethnic cleansing. In view of the prospect that this army of the dispossessed will form a focus of unrest and violence for decades to come at the heart of Europe, may I ask you to use your good offices to secure a full ministerial statement at the earliest opportunity?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I have not been informed by the Government that any Minister is seeking to make a statement on this issue.

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie , Sheffield, Heeley

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On the appropriate day I submitted a question to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster regarding the tenants charter. The following day it finished up, as we call it, in the frame. It was the third or fourth on the list. The day after that it suddenly disappeared. That is done at the whim of a Minister. He or she can decide whether the question should appear on the Order Paper. I finished up with a written question to the Secretary of State for the Environment, and yet —I do not grumble about this—on the Order Paper today the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) has a question relating to the patients charter. His question strayed into matters relating to British Rail. Again, there is no problem at all about that. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) asked a question about the disabled—again, there is no problem at all about that—and my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mrs. Jackson) asked about the rights of pensioners.

There are two issues. First, why do Ministers have the power to take something off the Order Paper, thus depriving hon. Members of the opportunity to ask an oral question? Secondly, what is so different about the tenants charter? Does it have a lower status than other charters?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustrations. No doubt they have been heard by those who sit on the Treasury Bench. However, I must draw to the hon. Gentleman's attention what is said by "Erskine May,' the bible of our parliamentary proceedings—on page 286, if my memory serves me correctly. It is a long-established principle that decisions about the transfer of questions —the point of order that is raised with me—rest with Ministers. It is not a matter on which the Chair seeks to intervene. Nevertheless, I draw the attention of Ministers to the frustrations of hon. Members who believe that they are doing the right thing in tabling questions.