On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in reply to an intervention by me, the Secretary of State for Energy denied my allegation that Members of Parliament were being refused information in their own constituencies about the numbers of people receiving the new fuel benefit. The Secretary of State said:
On 20 December I wrote to the local offices in my constituency requesting such information. My letters were passed to the regional office in Birmingham. Later I received a reply dated 21 January from a DHSS office in London telling me that the local information that I was seeking was not available. It claimed that the information about those who would receive the benefit locally could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. On 24 January I wrote to the Secretary of State for Social Services complaining about the reply and claiming that Members of Parliament were entitled to know the number of people in their constituencies who were receiving the benefit. There are two points of contention here. It seems to me that the Secretary of State for Energy misled the House. I do not blame him, but the Secretary of State for Social Services was sitting next to him and he may have prompted the reply. Secondly, why should we be refused information? It is all very well for the global figure to be given, but surely we are entitled to find out the number of people in our own constituencies who are claiming and receiving the benefit that the Government boast about."There is no secret about the figures. They are available."—[Official Report, 29 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 1150.]
I allowed the hon. Member to make his point of order. It was not strictly a point of order, because there is nothing that I can do about it. I am concerned with the rules of order within the House. The hon. Member must pursue that matter with the Department and through the means generally available to hon. Members.
I apologise for pursuing the matter, Mr. Speaker. I well understand that if I want information I should seek it in the normal way. Obviously, before today I did not raise the matter on the Floor of the House. I did so—rightly, according to procedure—through correspondence. However, it seems to me that if the Secretary of State gives information—indeed, if any Minister gives information—that is not true he should apologise to the House. The fact is that this House has been misled. I have already quoted from the Secretary of State's speech yesterday, when he said
Whether they should be available or not can be pursued through correspondence, but the House has been misled."There is no secret about the figures. They are available."—[Official Report, 29 January 1980; Vol. 977, c. 1150.]
Order. The hon. Gentleman made his point quite clearly. I fully understood the point that he made, but there is nothing that I can do about it. It is not the first time, by any means, that people have thought that Ministers' answers are not satisfactory.