Points of Order

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:57 am on 21st December 2000.

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Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment) 11:57 am, 21st December 2000

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In a written answer given to me yesterday—it can be found at column 228W of the Official Report— the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Croydon, North (Mr. Wicks), confirmed that a 15-person delegation from Britain and British overseas territories had attended the November triennial conference of Education Ministers in Halifax, Canada. It was led by Mr. Jack McConnell. He is not a Member of either House of this Parliament; he is, of course, a member of the Scottish Executive, and a Minister in the Scottish Parliament. I note from an earlier parliamentary answer that on at least one occasion a Scottish Minister has led a British delegation to a European Council meeting.

As the House will know, I have an interest in Commonwealth education, and have served as an education Minister with responsibility for, among other matters, international affairs. I was used to leading—I hope, successfully and amicably—multi-territorial delegations to international meetings. While I do not criticise the individuals who made up the delegation to Canada, I regret that no Ministers in the House of Commons ordered their diaries in such a way that they could attend the meeting.

More seriously still, Mr. Speaker, I invite you to consider how we can achieve the accountability to the House of persons who speak in the name of the Government. This is not simply a matter involving unelected civil servants or officials, who can speak, or are responsible, through their Ministers; it is a question of a person, purporting to speak for the United Kingdom, who holds a partial mandate in one part of that kingdom.

Education is a sensitive cultural matter. Although I have not checked, I do not think that the delegation to Canada can possibly have been led by the Education Minister of the province of Newfoundland, let alone that of, for instance, Quebec.

My substantive point is this: whoever was selected, if that person was not a Member of Parliament here, we have no possibility of questioning him here. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to reflect on the propriety and wisdom of the situation that Ministers have created.