Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 3:36 pm on 20th March 1997.

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Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton 3:36 pm, 20th March 1997

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for not having given you greater notice of the matter; I was notified only at 2.27 pm of your provisional selection. I notified your secretary immediately to say that I would try to raise the matter.

There is an amendment on the Order Paper tabled by members of the Procedure Committee of all three parties following a unanimous decision by the Committee on the naming of Standing Committees. It is a simple amendment which suggests that Standing Committees dealing with public Bills should be known as Public Bill Committees so that the name shows the meaning of the Committee.

There is hardly any need for a debate—indeed, it was at the suggestion of the Leader of the House that such an amendment was tabled. Would you, Madam Speaker, between now and the moment when the matter comes before the House, reconsider the issue? Senior Members serve for many months on Committees considering matters of no real benefit to themselves. When they come forward with a unanimous view and that view is not allowed to be tested in the House, it is immensely depressing. Members may be discouraged from serving on Committees in future.

There is no need for a debate on the matter; there is merely a decision to be made. Apparently, the only opposition is emanating from the Chairman of Ways and Means. The House should be allowed to make the decision and I hope that you, Madam Speaker, will allow that when you reconsider the matter.

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

I considered the matter carefully this morning. I do not give reasons for the non-selection of amendments. I appreciate very much the work that the right hon. Gentleman and his Committee have done on procedure; it is very much unsung. He has, however, hit the nail on the head himself. He said that the House should be allowed to decide the matter. Under our procedures this afternoon, the House will not be allowed to debate the matter. When it comes to changes to Standing Orders, it is absolutely right that the House has an opportunity to debate the matter. I have given a reason for my decision; it is right that I should do so because it is an issue that concerns the entire House.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I have your help? I understand that the Minister for Railways and Roads has issued a press statement relating to the widening of the M25. I complain on two counts. First, when the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney), was Secretary of State for Transport, he made a statement in the House about the widening of the M25. Subsequently, Ministers reneged on that statement in the House—I do not say that provocatively—when they amended the decision.

Under the cloak of the great sweep of history taking place today, the Minister for Railways and Roads is issuing a statement, although he is not coming to the House to do so, announcing that the widening of the M25 between junctions 12 and 15 should be increased to 10 and 12 lanes. I also believe that he will announce it by way of an answer to a parliamentary question that I asked.

When I came into the Chamber, there were no replies for me on the board, yet the press and journalists are aware of the announcement. That is wrong on two counts. First, the Minister should tell the House and the people—especially the people of Surrey—about the widening proposals and not try to sweep them through under the smokescreen of today's constitutional events. Secondly, if he is using my parliamentary question to make the announcement, I should have had the courtesy of a reply and the press should not have had it first. To be fair, Madam Speaker, I am not certain about the latter, but I suspect it.

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

The hon. Member should not raise the matter if he is not certain about it. How can I answer a point of order on something about which he is not certain? Of course, I deprecate the fact that any Minister makes a statement by press release before letting the House know, either through an answer to a question, as the hon. Member said, or at the Dispatch Box—it is up to the Minister concerned. I can make no comment on the fact that the hon. Member suspects that the Minister is going to do something.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

I did not fully elaborate on the fact that Cabinet rules are operating. The Minister of State, Scottish Office rightly referred to that in the House yesterday, when he said that he could not make any executive decisions because the general election had been called, yet that constitutional principle is being breached by the Minister for Railways and Roads this afternoon.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton , Macclesfield

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Am I not correct in assuming and stating to the House that, even after the date of the general election has been announced, it is in order and in accordance with the procedures of the House and Parliament for a Minister to answer parliamentary questions? I believe that that is what has happened.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Sadly, yes. The House will miss me. May I make as my last contribution, Madam Speaker, after 31 years of the most distinguished service, a valuable contribution to the proceedings of this august Chamber? When I first came here—

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

"Friends, Romans, countrymen".

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Shut up, you silly little boy.

When I first came here 31 years ago, the custom was never ever to thank the Speaker for catching someone's eye. Can I implore you in the next Parliament—I do trust and pray that you will be where you are now—to instruct Members not to go through that rather placatory practice of thanking you for simply doing your duty? This is a new development and it really is not a very pleasant practice.

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

I would not dream of agreeing to what the hon. Gentleman says.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller , Ellesmere Port and Neston

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A report was published this morning—not the one that has already given rise to some heated exchanges—by the Select Committee on Science and Technology, on the cloning of animals from adult cells. That report raises a number of important issues and seeks to reassure the public in the context of the fears that have been expressed in the media. Part of that report referred to the funding of the Roslin institute—an important scientific institute—by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In the report, the actions of MAFF were described as being damaging to British industry and science—

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

Order. Just a moment. I am very tolerant today, but the hon. Gentleman is trying me a little. He must come to his point of order and what I can do about it and not rehearse what is in the report.

Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller , Ellesmere Port and Neston

I appreciate that, Madam Speaker, and sympathise with your difficulties. Given that the report describes MAFF as "cavalier and blinkered" and we have been told that some of its actions—we have been told this only informally—are to be addressed, would not it be appropriate for a Minister to come to the House to tell us what action he intends to take to address those criticisms as a matter of urgency? The public are deeply concerned about the matter.

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

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that, regardless of what he thinks is important—no doubt the issue is important—if a Minister had intended to make a statement, it would have said so on the annunciator screen by 1 o'clock. I call Mr. Banks.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Thank you, Madam Speaker. We shall all miss the wise counsels of that wonderful old thespian, my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds). Have you received a request for a statement from a Foreign Office Minister about the Portuguese police's disgraceful and brutal treatment of Manchester United supporters in Oporto last night? No one would defend riotous behaviour, but by all accounts, Manchester United supporters were set upon in the most appalling way. All British citizens, regardless of whether they are football supporters travelling abroad, are entitled to protection. Is there any way in which we can get a Minister to the House, so that we know that some form of inquiry and protection for our citizens abroad is being put in place?

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

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that Ministers do not request to make a statement; they tell me that they are going to make a statement. I have not been informed by any Minister that a statement is being made on that matter today.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I rise not to express my disappointment at the fact that Question 2 of Prime Minister's questions, which I tabled, was not reached, but in respect of the debate on Standing Orders. Although I understand the reason why you have not selected the amendment—I am one of the signatories to it—does the way in which the motions are set out on the Order Paper mean that we shall have the opportunity of debating the main points? The Standing Orders that are being amended have not been debated, and a number of motions refer to an order of 19 March.

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

The House agreed yesterday that there should be no debate on those Standing Orders.

Photo of Mike Gapes Mike Gapes , Ilford South

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that among the Bills on today's Order Paper is the Holocaust Denial Bill, which had its First Reading on 29 January, its Second Reading without opposition on 28 February and went through Committee unamended on 12 March? Given that there has been widespread support on both sides of the House for the Bill, could you persuade the Government, even at this late stage, to ensure that it gets on to the statute book before the end of this Parliament?

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

I should like to think that I have some powers of persuasion, but I fear that, in relation to the Government, I have no persuasive powers at all.

Photo of Mr John Gunnell Mr John Gunnell , Leeds South and Morley

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that you have commented on a matter that was raised today as if it were unresolved? Sir Gordon Downey has written to make it absolutely clear that, as far as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition's office is concerned, there is no question of it being a matter of dispute. He states in his letter, which I think you have already raised in response to the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw): I shall be advising the Committee that in my view there is no case to answer. Surely that should not be linked with Sir Gordon Downey's great regret that his report has not been published and cannot be published during the election campaign, as the report makes clear.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I point out that I have subsequently written to Sir Gordon Downey, and my understanding is that the investigation into the Leader of the Opposition's office over the £2 million of blind funds is still under way, still an open issue and can be raised during the election campaign as a very valid question about the Leader of the Opposition?

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

It is not a matter for me if the matter has been referred. I note the point made by the hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell). I have seen some correspondence in relation to that myself.