Orders of the Day — Scotland Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 30th March 1998.

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[7TH ALLOTTED DAY]

Considered in Committee, [Progress 4 March]

[SIR ALAN HASELHURST in the Chair]

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State 3:36 pm, 30th March 1998

On a point of order, Sir Alan. According to the Official Report, an exchange of views took place across the Dispatch Boxes on 4 March, and I refer you to it because I believe that it raises a serious point.

I had previously referred to what I understood to be the readiness of Ministers to consider an English Grand Committee as part of the solution to the problem that we were then discussing. The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office said: I tell the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) that we have absolutely no plans to consider an English Parliament or an English Grand Committee. At that point, my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), referring to an article in The Scotsman newspaper of that day, said: What about this article in this morning's press? The front page of The Scotsman stated: The Scottish Office circulated a briefing paper which holds out the prospect of an English grand committee at Westminster as an answer to the West Lothian question. The Minister of State answered: There was absolutely no foundation in that article".— [Official Report, 4 March 1998; Vol. 307, c. 1092. On Monday 9 March, the Minister was asked: what briefing on the establishment of an English Grand Committee of the House was circulated to the Press before the debate on … the Scotland Bill; and if he will place a copy of the briefing in the Library. He answered: I briefed the Parliamentary lobby correspondents on Tuesday 3 March on the background to the 6th day of the Commons Committee Stage of the Scotland Bill. As part of the briefing I made available a lobby note to help the correspondents to understand the part of the Bill due to be debated and the issues which might be raised in the debate. The note, as usual, is not an official Government document and was not intended for publication or reproduction."— [Official Report, 9 March 1998; Vol. 307, c. 81–82.] The note, which was attached to the answer, stated: As to the establishment of an English Grand Committee, it will be for the House to decide in due course whether it would improve the efficient conduct of business to establish such a Committee. There are arguments for and against, but certainly not something to be included in the Scotland Bill. It appears from the answer that it was incorrect to claim that the article, which stated that a briefing paper held out that prospect, was absolutely without foundation.

I rise to ask two questions: first, have you, Sir Alan, had any request from the Minister to make a statement to the Committee today to correct what may have been his unintentionally misleading the Committee? His remarks were certainly not consistent with his subsequent answer.

Secondly, what is the view of the Chair about briefing papers relating to debates in Committee being issued to the press but not to hon. Members? The press apparently has a clearer indication than hon. Members of the Government's view before the debate starts. I ask for your counsel on both matters.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

It has already been made clear on a number of occasions by Madam Speaker that the fullest possible information on all matters should be made available to hon. Members at the earliest possible moment. The substance of the matter is hardly a matter of order for the Chair. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there may be other ways of extracting information from those on the Treasury Bench.