On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I ask for your help—as you are the defender of Back-Bench privileges—in the deplorable deterioration of the parliamentary answers that we have been receiving? I have received an apology from the Northern Ireland Office for giving me entirely wrong information, and an apology from the Department of Social Security for telling me that an answer was in a leaflet in the Library. That leaflet did not yet exist, and it was not printed until a month later.
However, those answers pale into insignificance compared to one that I received to a question that I tabled on 19 November 1996. I was astonished to receive, on the same day, a telephone call from a journalist, who said, "That is a huge sum." I had not yet received the answer. The question was:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the total cost of the police participation in the state opening of Parliament.
The journalist told me that the answer was £284,000.
Later that day, I received a holding answer. The next day, I was told:
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister stated in his reply to the hon. Member … any additional costs of police staff who took part in the ceremony are not separately costed."—[Official Report, 20 November 1996: Vol. 285, c. 621.]
I am holding a letter that was sent from one department of the Metropolitan police to another. The heading is "Parliamentary question: Mr. Paul Flynn, Newport, West." The letter contains the answer that was reported to the Metropolitan police committee, on 15 November—three days before—and provides not only a detailed answer and the total cost, but even further details. It is one of the fullest answers that one could receive.
The Home Office, however, has not yet answered my question, and it has deliberately withheld that information from the House. The Department's reply is a deliberate, calculated untruth. If I were speaking outside the House, I would describe it as a lie.
It is outrageous to treat Back Benchers in that way, forcing us to ask question after question to get information and then deceiving us. I hope that the House can inquire into that, and will consider the Metropolitan police's comment that the spending is excessive and unnecessary.
I have listened with care to the hon. Gentleman's point. He seems to have an argument with the Minister concerned. It is not a point of order, but I am concerned by the issue that he has raised. I hope that those on the Treasury Bench have noted the matter. If the hon. Gentleman gives me the information, I shall see what I can do about it.
n): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During Prime Minister's questions this afternoon, there was a disturbance in the Gallery, which was echoed by confusion on the Floor of the House, as a result of which you exercised your authority from the Chair. I was not able to see exactly what took place amidst that confusion, but will you confirm that your ruling was that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) was expelled from the House for the rest of today's sitting, following which you reprimanded and cautioned those other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who also broke into applause?
Hold on. I can deal with this.
The hon. Gentleman has not quite got it correct. I was cautioning hon. Members—there were more than one of them—who were applauding an interruption. I do not approve of hon. Members applauding an interruption to the proceedings of the House. I gave a caution. I did not use the Standing Order. I am rather more ferocious than I thought I appeared to be. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) seemed rather intimidated and got up and went out. I wish that hon. Members would do that more frequently. I have not expelled him from the House for the remainder of the day. I cautioned him.
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. My interpretation of what you have said is that you were giving a yellow card rather than a red card. As one of those who has had a red card in the past, I appreciate the difference. In terms of order, even in unparliamentary terms, I can think of worse things in the House than applause for a small nation that is suffering genocide—one is school sneaks on the Conservative Benches.