Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 1:32 pm on 9th February 2005.

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Photo of Tom Levitt Tom Levitt PPS (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, Secretary of State), Department for International Development 1:32 pm, 9th February 2005

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to raise a point of order, of which I have given your office notice. Anyone who reads the third report of the Standards and Privileges Committee and the debate that was held on the Floor of the House last night cannot fail to conclude that the subject of that report, Mr. Sayeed, did not properly apologise to the House for his conduct as the report required. Indeed, Sir George Young, who chairs the Committee, said as much in his report.

The response of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire was, effectively, "I did not do it but I will apologise anyway". Surely that was a discourtesy to the House. Is this a matter on which you will rule or on which the House needs to take a stand? If it is referred back to the Standards and Privileges Committee, does there have to be a complaint of its own standing or can the Committee carry on the investigation?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I notice that in his speech during the debate, the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee made the following comment:

"The Committee on Standards and Privileges will need to reflect on whether" the hon. Gentleman

"has responded fully to our recommendation that he apologise fully to the House in the light of some of his qualifications".—[Hansard, 8 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 1465.]

I am content to leave this matter to the good judgment of Sir George Young and his Committee.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you or your office received any requests from the Prime Minister's office for the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a statement on the subject of the wrongful convictions of those who were blamed for the IRA bomb attacks in Guildford and Woolwich? You may be aware that it was widely reported on television this morning that Mr. McGrady would be seeking to catch your eye, and apparently after discussion with the Prime Minister's office anticipated that such an apology would be made.

The hon. Gentleman was not able to catch your eye—we all know that it is not always possible—but we now learn that the Prime Minister has made such an apology. It is reported on the BBC website that Mr. Blair said:

"I am very sorry that they were subject to such an ordeal and injustice" and that this apology was made in a statement recorded for television. Surely, if apologies of this nature are to be made, they should be made here, in the House. The House deserves rather better treatment than this.

Photo of Patrick Cormack Patrick Cormack Conservative, South Staffordshire

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that I speak for many in the House in saying that you handle these matters impeccably. Nobody should be able to announce on the radio that a certain question is to be asked to the Prime Minister and answered in a certain way, and I would like to thank you for upholding the dignity of the House.

Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can I ask you to confirm, in ruling on the point of order raised by Mr. Carmichael, whether there is in fact no procedural obstacle to the Prime Minister notifying you that he would wish to make a statement on this subject at the close of business today, or indeed later this week during Parliament's proceedings? May I suggest to you, Sir, that many of us in all parts of the House would welcome the opportunity to listen to the Prime Minister make such a statement and to question him on it afterwards?

Photo of Rt Hon David Trimble Rt Hon David Trimble Leader of the Ulster Unionist Party

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I endorse entirely everything that Sir Patrick Cormack has said, but also make the point that had such a statement been made by the Prime Minister in the House, that would have enabled other hon. Members with constituents and people they know who have also suffered from injustices to question the Prime Minister as to why he has been so selective in his recollection of matters?

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I follow up the matter raised by Mr. Trimble? I agree with that, in the sense that there are thousands of victims of IRA terrorism and other terrorism in Northern Ireland whose cases are going by default and whose voices are not heard. A statement as suggested would have allowed the opportunity to question the Prime Minister on the continuing delay in the appointment of a victims commissioner.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

What I can say to Mr. Carmichael on this point of order is that the Chair is now being drawn into the argument as to whether the Prime Minister should make a statement or not. It is for the Prime Minister or any Minister of the Crown to seek to make a statement before the House, and as right hon. and hon. Members know, when a Minister seeks to make a statement, the request is rarely refused. I therefore do not want to say any more on this matter. The Prime Minister will be able to read Hansard in the same way as everyone else and will have heard what has been stated.

I thank Sir Patrick Cormack for his support in this matter. Perhaps it is an opportunity to say to hon. Members that no one is entitled to demand to speak at Prime Minister's Question Time except when I call them, so no one is entitled to make a statement, prior to PM's Question Time, that they are going to raise this, that or the next thing. I think that we can safely end the matter at this point.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am totally and absolutely convinced, if I may say so, that your attitude is right in terms of the House of Commons, but I may have incurred your wrath because I appeared for five minutes at 7 o'clock on ITV, and on Sky later on, on precisely this subject. I promise you it was on the basis that there was going to be an announcement anyway. Whether it was at Question Time was not quite clear, but there was the certainty—I think in good faith—among the media that there would be an announcement.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

All that I can say is that the Father of the House once again has my admiration for the fact that he is willing to wander the streets of London and go into television studios at 7 in the morning.

Photo of Ian Paisley Ian Paisley Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to associate myself with the remarks that have been made in your support. I think that you have had the dignity of the House and the laws of the House at your heart, and certainly you are in complete control. We all know that, and we have to bow to that. You are infallible when you are in that Chair.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers Conservative, Gosport

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the heart of my point of order are value for money in Government contracts, the suspicion that the Government have unfairly subsidised Swan Hunter, and their frankness in answering questions on the subject.

The matter is well known—I raised it on the Floor of the House on 4 November in debate and four Labour Members criticised me for my comments. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Defence "utterly rejected" my comments. So the issue of subsidy to Swan Hunter is known to Ministers and the House. I tabled a parliamentary question asking for the amount of support given by the Government to Swan Hunter. The Minister of State's reply was:

"The Ministry of Defence does not provide financial support to the defence industry."—[Hansard, 11 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 381W.]

The response to a separate question to the Department of Trade and Industry said that the DTI had given just one grant of £1.2 million to Swan Hunter. There the matter may have lain had there not been further discussion and questions.

The Government are now saying two different things. To my hon. Friend Mr. Howarth, the Minister of State repeated his statement:

"The Ministry of Defence does not provide financial support to the defence industry."—[Hansard, 4 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 1178W.]

But in reply to Mr. Hancock, he said:

"I regret that a clerical error in the Ministry of Defence led to an answer being laid which had been overtaken by events."

We now know that on 10 December the Government agreed to give a further £84 million to Swan Hunter. One has to ask: when is a pre-election bung not a pre-election bung? I am afraid that the answer seems to be when it is an

"£84 million" adjustment to

"the contract with Swan Hunter following value for money considerations".—[Hansard, 3 February 2005; Vol. 430, c. 1017W.]

The fact is that the Minister told me, on the record, that the Ministry of Defence has not supported Swan Hunter, yet it has, in fact, given it a further £84 million. Would it not be appropriate for the Minister to come to the House to respond to this point of order?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I have examined the answers given to him and other hon. Members. It is clear to me that the original answers to the two questions asked by the hon. Members for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) did not give a full or up-to-date picture of the facts relating to the contract in question.

I remind Ministers of their duty to give accurate information to this House and to correct any errors at the earliest opportunity. I also remind them that pursuant answers should be used only to correct errors of fact or printing errors in an earlier answer. They should not be the vehicle for a wholly new answer. I have asked the Table Office to check closely with Departments the nature of the correction to be made before authorising the use of such pursuant answers in future.