Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:55 pm on 5 February 1998.

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Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border 4:55, 5 February 1998

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on two issues. Fifteen days ago, I had a debate on the transactions of the Paymaster General. Following that Wednesday morning Adjournment debate on 21 January, I tabled down a series of priority written questions to the Chancellor; the first such questions I had tabled in about 12 years. So far, 15 days later, only one has been answered. I think that I am right in saying that if Ministers in the previous Government had behaved with such callous indifference to the House, Labour Members would have rushed in here, protesting and seeking emergency debates. I have waited patiently to see when my questions would be answered; only one has been.

What can be done to ensure that Ministers answer questions from Opposition Members? We rarely put down priority written questions, but when we do it is not for fun or amusement—it is because a serious issue is at stake. We should like Ministers to answer them occasionally. [Interruption.] Labour Members are laughing in arrogance. That is typical of the arrogance of the Government.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The right hon. Gentleman must pursue the matter with the Minister concerned.

Photo of David Maclean David Maclean Conservative, Penrith and The Border

On a related point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If Ministers continue to refuse to answer, I shall come back to the matter. The related point is that the one question that the Chancellor answered was one in which I asked for a definition of a blind trust. He said that it was a trust under which the Minister is not informed of changes or investments or the state of the portfolio".—[Official Report, 2 February 1998; Vol. 305, c. 459.] I wrote to the permanent secretary at the Treasury—as did the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley)—to ask for his definition of a blind trust. He said: We agreed with the Paymaster that a trust would be one where he would receive no information about changes in investment or the state of the portfolio of assets and would make no suggestions for changes in the portfolio. I have one answer from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and a different answer from the permanent secretary at the Treasury. What can be done to bring the Chancellor to the House to give us the whole truth on this question, or to bring the permanent secretary to account?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That is not a matter for the Chair. It looks as if the right hon. Gentleman now has two Ministers to pursue for answers.