Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:34 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Shadow Minister (Food, Farming and Environment) 4:34 pm, 22nd October 2002

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Thursday, during questions to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, I asked the Minister, at column 459, when the Government were planning to publish their new contingency plans on foot and mouth disease and respond to the various inquiry reports. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Morley replied that the Government were

Xunder way with the definitive strategy and contingency plan".

He continued:

XThat involves a great deal of consultation and discussion. That is right and proper because we want to be open and transparent about this. We intend to bring forward the completed conclusions as quickly as possible and to encourage as much involvement and debate as possible."—[Hansard, 17 October 2002; Vol. 390, c. 459.]

Having heard the Minister's reassurances about openness and transparency, I was somewhat startled to see in The Times newspaper this morning a detailed account of what that newspaper described as the

Xdraft report from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, seen by The Times, that is its"— the Department's—

Xresponse to the two official inquiry reports into the disease".

The newspaper went on to give details of policy proposals such as the use of vaccination and the imposition of duties on farmers to insure against disease, as well as other initiatives such as increased media training for veterinary surgeons and the creation of a dial-in message service called DEFRA Direct.

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether in the few hours since I gave your office notice of my point of order you have been able to ascertain how information withheld from Parliament appears to have got into the possession of The Times? May I also ask whether you have had any approach from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wishing to come to the House and make a statement, either simply to express her shock and outrage at the fact that a newspaper should have been informed ahead of elected representatives of the British public or, even better, to give Parliament a full account of whatever the Government intend to propose?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Speaker of the House of Commons

I have had no such approach from the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman has raised matters that are for a Minister to handle. What I will say is that if there was a leak I deplore that, and I certainly hope that the matter will be investigated.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Conservative, Isle of Wight

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills misled a Select Committee—inadvertently, I am sure—about her promise to resign if literacy targets were not met.

During an Opposition Day debate on 2 March 1999, my hon. Friend Mr. Willetts asked

XWill the Minister commit herself to the Secretary of State's pledge to resign if the Government do not reach their literacy and numeracy targets by 2002?"

The right hon. Lady replied

XOf course I will; I have already done so."—[Hansard, 2 March 1999; Vol. 326, c. 948.]

When the right hon. Lady appeared before the Select Committee of which I am a member on 24 October last year, she was asked whether she would resign if her predecessor's targets were not met. She replied:

XNo, and I never said I would."

Would it be appropriate for her to appear either before the House or before the Select Committee to put the record straight, and to take the action that she promised?