Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 5:29 pm on 29th November 1993.

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Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State 5:29 pm, 29th November 1993

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice about the responsibility of Ministers to the House for their actions. How can I ensure that the Secretary of State for Scotland takes responsibility for what, in recent days, has been, by any account, a serious scandal reaching right into his office? Today's momentous statement arose directly from a leak to a newspaper yesterday, and it was right and proper that the House should have heard that statement and had the chance to question it, but revelations in Scottish newspapers at the weekend about the existence of certain documents and the statements of the former chairman of the Greater Glasgow health board are in many ways comparable in their seriousness.

It is four weeks since the general manager of the Greater Glasgow health board, the largest health authority—

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

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman make his point of order to me, please?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

The Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for the department that covers the Greater Glasgow health board. It is four weeks since the dismissal of the general manager, but we have not heard a word from the Secretary of State on the matter. It is three weeks since the Scottish Office re-employed the gentleman concerned, yet we have heard nothing. The revelations at the weekend, which as I said are comparable to those that led to the statement today, point directly to the complicity of Scottish Office Ministers in the termination of the employment of the general manager of the Greater Glasgow health board.

Surely hon. Members have a right to hear the Minister who is in charge of that department, who holds high office. There should not be a lengthy period of silence, with no opportunity for hon. Members to learn what events led to these accusations being made.

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

The hon. Gentleman is aware that I do not give procedural advice across the Floor of the House; nor have I been told that a Minister is seeking to make a statement. The hon. Gentleman might seek the information that he requires from the Table Office. If he comes to see me, I might be able to help him on procedural matters, but I should have thought that he, as a long-standing Member of the House, would be aware of how to proceed with such matters in the House.

Photo of Mr Peter Mandelson Mr Peter Mandelson , Hartlepool

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week, the Secretary of State for National Heritage announced changes to the Broadcasting Act 1990 that would allow mergers and takeovers between large ITV companies. Those changes would raise serious issues and would transform the face of ITV. Hon. Members were not given an opportunity to express their views, because the Secretary of State did not make a statement.

I gather that the House will not debate the amending order before the new year. Despite that, Carlton Communications and Central Television announced today, in advance of Parliament discussing and determining the matter, that they will go ahead with their merger. The immortal words of the Carlton spokesman were that they did not feel that there was any need to hang around, because the vote will go through anyway. That is preposterous and unacceptable to the House. I should be grateful if you, Madam Speaker, would express your concern about the matter and tell us what you can do to protect and safeguard the rights of the House.

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

I think that the hon. Member is aware that an affirmative resolution is required to change the present legal position on mergers between television franchise holders. Talks being held outside do not, of course, affect the rights of the House, and whether a breach of the law has occurred is a matter for the courts. Hon. Members will have an opportunity to debate the matter in due course.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The proposed merger between Carlton and Central Television directly affects every hon. Member who represents a midlands constituency. Central Television is a midlands-owned company, with midlands-owned production facilities. Carlton is a London publishing company; it is not a producer.

Inevitably, genuine fears are being expressed by many people in the midlands that there will be an increase in the job losses that have already occurred among skilled production staff and that there will be no prospect of the midlands being a centre of television excellence because of the inevitable drift to the south, which is the purpose of the break-up of the industry. The consequence of the Secretary of State for National Heritage not having made a statement is that there will be a dribble of different proposed mergers and takeovers between now and Christmas and beyond, with no prospect of proper parliamentary scrutiny.

This matter affects hon. Members on both sides of the House and the many constituents whom we represent, and before the break-up of the regional television structure, which has served Britain well, there should be proper scrutiny of the proposal.

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

The hon. Gentleman should raise these matters at business questions. He is seeking a statement in the House and answers from the Secretary of State, not an answer from me. I have dealt with the original point of order. He must now pursue the matter at business questions.