Points of Order

Electronic Devices (Madam Speaker's Statement) – in the House of Commons at 5:18 pm on 12th March 1997.

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Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West 5:18 pm, 12th March 1997

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I gave you notice of this point of order yesterday, and I have also given notice to the relevant Minister. It concerns events of last Thursday, 6 March, several hours before a planted parliamentary question was answered, and eventually printed in last Thursday's Hansard, at column 727.

Several hours before that answer was given, at about 2.15 pm, the press officer of the Conservative party in Wales was ringing up health correspondents of the media in Wales, telling them that she knew the contents of that parliamentary answer and how it would bale out the Dyfed Powys health authority, and offering the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), for interviews.

Those events appear to indicate some collusion between the Conservative party in Wales and the Welsh Office—collusion which betrays the rights of the House. I should be grateful for your guidance on that matter, Madam Speaker.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I have made inquiries myself, which indicate that the information contained in the answer to which he refers was indeed disclosed to the press a short time before it was available in the House. How that happened is a matter for Welsh Office Ministers to determine, but it should not have happened, and there must be no recurrence.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not attempt to catch your eye during the statement by the Secretary of State for Health. May I raise a point of order that is not on a personal matter but concerns the traditions of the House, which many hon. Members imbibed when we were elected?

The tradition is that Ministers of the Crown, and indeed other hon. Members, should not launch specific attacks on local authorities and on their committees without supporting in detail the entire case. Does it do Parliament much good if we are seen on television to attack local authorities in some detail, without allowing them to put what in most cases amounts to a second side to the story? Usually there is another side to the coin.

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

I know of no tradition or convention preventing Ministers from criticising local authorities. Even if such a tradition or convention existed, it is not a rule of the House, and could not be enforced by the Chair.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I heard your announcement in response to the points of order on the use of electronic devices, and I very much welcomed it. However, there seems to be one issue which I think is important, although it is only a detail and may seem to be a small matter. You have said that it would not be practical to monitor the use of electronic devices that may be in a pocket or handbag or on a wrist. However, I think that it would be helpful if you were to tell the House, as an extension of your statement, that you would not be immediately minded to call an hon. Member to ask a question or make a statement if you were to see him or her referring to an electronic device.

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

I should hope that I have sufficient common sense. I take on board the hon. Gentleman's point, but I hope that he might leave that matter to me.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am only too well aware of the pressures of business in the House and of the very difficult job that you have in allocating time to speak to hon. Members. However, you will understand that, 18 lives having been lost from E. coli in the Lanarkshire area, people will be wondering why Lanarkshire MPs did not have an opportunity today to question the Minister—particularly after his arrogant and indifferent display and apparent accusation of hysteria against many of the families who are still grieving.

Is it in order to ask you whether you are aware of any plans for further debate on this very serious issue, so that those of us from Lanarkshire who have lost not only constituents but friends can challenge the Minister over what can only be described as his incompetent, negligent and guilt-laden presiding at the Ministry of Agriculture

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

Order. I am sure that constituents in Lanarkshire will understand that it is not always possible to call every hon. Member. I know that, because of his position, the hon. Gentleman has been called many times after such statements. I regret that I was not able to call all hon. Members on today's statement, but I think that we had a very good questioning of it.