Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 17th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South 4:45 pm, 17th November 1992

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier today, you expressed your desire for shorter questions, and perhaps shorter answers. Would it not be an idea if you used your inimitable tact and charm and let it be known that those who ask long questions or give long-winded answers will not catch your eye? Then the rest of us humble Back Benchers might have some chance of doing so.

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

That is a common-sense suggestion, and I wish that I could take it up. I try to note those hon. Members who make comments and statements rather than asking questions and to bring them to order. If all hon. Members asked questions, I could call many more Back Benchers than I can at present. The hon. Gentleman has made an important suggestion, and I hope that our exchange will be read in the Official Report.

Photo of Mr Eric Clarke Mr Eric Clarke , Midlothian

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am bitterly disappointed that I was not called to speak in questions on the statement. I have been here since Prayers, and I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) says about Back Benchers.

I should like to ask you, Madam Speaker, whether this is to be the end of our debate on the privatisation of water in Scotland. We do not feel that we have had a debate on the matter. It is surely out of order that such a very short time should have been devoted to the document. Can you guarantee that we shall discuss this subject more fully in the near future?

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

I understand the anxiety of hon. Members whom I was not able to call. I cannot call all hon. Members on a short statement such as this. As has repeatedly been said, however, we are talking about a consultation document to which we shall return on many occasions; I shall try to remember the hon. Gentleman when we do.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts , Sheffield, Attercliffe

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to seek a ruling from you, and your guidance. This morning, the leaders of local authorities in England received a letter from the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment effectively terminating the urban programme from April next year. That serious policy change will affect many thousands of people in our most deprived inner-city communities. The House has not heard a statement on that matter or had the chance to ask Ministers questions about it.

The matter could have been referred to in the autumn statement last Thursday, but it was not. Instead, a letter has gone out to local authority leaders. Is that a proper way for the Government to make such a policy change, and, given that such a change has now been made on an issue of importance and concern, will you use your good offices to arrange for a statement to be made at the earliest possible opportunity?

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

As the hon. Gentleman will realise, we are to have a two-day debate on the autumn statement, and he may be able to catch my eye on that occasion.

On the other matter that the hon. Gentleman raised, I have no control over documents or letters sent by the Government, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity during business questions or the debate on the autumn statement to probe Ministers on that question.

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

I have just heard a point of order from the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham).

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

It is further to a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Mr William McKelvey Mr William McKelvey , Kilmarnock and Loudoun

I have not raised a point of order yet.

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

I cannot take all points of order at once. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) will have to wait a moment. I shall first hear the point of order that is further to an earlier point of order.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham , St Helens South

Was it not said many times in the previous Parliament that it was courteous to the House to announce policy changes here rather than by way of letters? Will you, Madam Speaker, make your feelings felt on that matter, too?

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

I have not seen the letter so I have no idea to what degree it entails a change of policy. I take the view, however, that all major changes of policy should be announced to the House first.

Photo of Mr William McKelvey Mr William McKelvey , Kilmarnock and Loudoun

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you advise a Back Bencher who is somewhat concerned? My constituents feel that Kilmarnock and Loudoun are being disfranchised. Over the last five statements and at several Question Times, I have been jumping up and down trying to catch your eye. My constituents can see that on television, and neither they nor I can understand why I fail to catch your eye. If it is something I have done, perhaps you will tell me; if I am dressed wrongly, perhaps you can advise me; or if I have been overlooked, perhaps something will happen in the near future.

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

The hon. Gentleman may be a little short in stature, but he has a great deal of personality, and I do notice him. Perhaps he will report to his constituents that, if some of his colleagues were to ask shorter questions, he might be one of the lucky ones who would be called.

Photo of Michael Connarty Michael Connarty , Falkirk East

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister said that documents would be available in the Vote Office, but when we arrived at the Vote Office, they were locked in a secure place and were released only well after the Minister had sat down and a telephone call was made, I assume, to a security centre to authorise their release. The statement was not available. Could you use your good offices to make sure that, when someone says that a document will be available —1 think the word "now" was used—it is available at that time?

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

Documents are available in the Vote Office at the moment a Minister sits down. That is the usual procedure. On this occasion there was a hiccup. If the documents were locked up, perhaps the key could not be found immediately.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

May I ask with what I hope is my customary politeness towards you, Madam Speaker, why I was not called on the statement made by the Secretary of State for Scotland?

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

A number of Members were not called on the statement, as often happens on statements and business questions. It is not possible to call every hon. Member on a statement or a private notice question. I have also to keep in mind the business of the House. May I also remind the hon. Gentleman of what I said earlier—that this is merely a consultation document and that we shall be coming back to it on many other occasions? I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not go unnoticed then.

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

Another point of order? The hon. Gentleman had not been rising earlier.

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

It has nothing to' do with Scottish statements; that is why I was not rising earlier. Madam Speaker, you will be aware that often Ministers, when asked direct questions, fail to answer them. May I put it on record that, in a written answer yesterday to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who had asked the date of the bringing into effect of the full arms embargo against Iraq, the Prime Minister volunteered additional information and gave all the terms of reference of the inquiry of Lord Justice Scott?

That must be a unique occasion, when an hon. Member gets information that he did not even ask for. It is interesting that the Prime Minister gave the information before the Leader of the Opposition could raise it today. I think it should be put on record; it is a unique occasion.

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

I am sure that the whole House will be enlightened and we will all have had our knowledge increased as a result of what the hon. Gentleman has just said.