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Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:14 pm on 14th February 2000.

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Photo of Dr Brian Mawhinney Dr Brian Mawhinney Conservative, North West Cambridgeshire 4:14 pm, 14th February 2000

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Because of the significance of the Deputy Prime Minister's statement, I slipped out after he had made it, only to be told by the Library that it does not have copies of Lord Justice Clarke's report. I am not accusing the Deputy Prime Minister of deliberately misleading the House, but would you undertake, on behalf of Members on both sides of the House, to look at the arrangements for the delivery of such documents either to the Vote Office or to the Library when statements are made, so that Ministers do not mislead the House and Members have a chance to read the documents?

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

As the right hon. Gentleman says, no Minister or Secretary of State has misled the House today. However, in recent times, there have been examples of Ministers saying, in all good faith, that a document is available, only for hon. Members to find that that document is not available.

I hope that all Departments of State will heed my comments today and see to it that those who are responsible for serving Ministers do their job. They must see to it that the documents that should be available are made available, and that the Minister is properly supported. It is rather disappointing to me that, of late, that has not been the case.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on the subject of General Pinochet and what is or is not sub judice as far as the House is concerned.

You will recall that when, during oral questions this afternoon, I questioned the Home Secretary about a letter that his Department had sent to Pinochet's lawyers on 5 November, he said that he was unable to answer because it now formed part of the legal proceedings; however, he made a statement to the House that was derived from the exchange of letters at that time. Given that he made that statement, I should have thought that the Home Secretary must answer hon. Members' questions on the matter. I realise that there is a court case in which a decision is expected imminently. Then, will we be able to question the Home Secretary on the details of that correspondence?

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

As the hon. Gentleman knows, if he goes to the Table Office and attempts to table a question, he will be given guidance. I am concerned to ensure that hon. Members are able to ask questions about that issue in respect of the medical evidence and the policy of the Secretary of State. However, I am also concerned to protect our proceedings in respect of the sub judice rule.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I point out that "Erskine May", page 383, makes it clear that there should not be reference to such matters if it appears that there is a real and substantial danger of prejudice to the proceedings"? The proceedings in the matter we are discussing are continuing: the three High Court judges have deferred judgment until tomorrow or Wednesday. Germane to their deliberations is the question of whether or not the Home Secretary was correct to withhold the findings of the panel of medical specialists whom he appointed. Notwithstanding your letter to me of 10 February about early-day motion 340, in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), will you ensure that, on the matter of questions, the staff of the Table Office are extremely careful to make quite certain that no prejudice is caused to proceedings currently in train?

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

The staff of the Table Office are, of course, rightly cautious, but I know that they are very helpful to hon. Members when approached on the tabling of questions. I know, too, that the Home Secretary is concerned about the sub judice rule and about the role he plays in the House. Today, he was certainly in perfect order when answering the questions put to him on that matter.