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Points Of Order

Volume 164: debated on Monday 18 December 1989

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4.27 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is widely expected that the ombudsman's report on the Barlow Clowes scandal will be available to hon. Members tomorrow. As you will know, the report is especially important to me as the first Member of this place to ask the ombudsman to undertake an investigation. In a letter that I have received from Sir Anthony Barrowclough, he tells me of his intention to

"arrange for all 650 Members to be notified, on the day the report issues, that a copy of the report will be available for him (or her) to collect from 3.30 pm that day (from the Vote Office)."
The letter also states:
"I understand from the Department of Trade and Industry that the Government will be publishing its response to the report at the same time."
If the Secretary of State is to make a statement in response to the ombudsman's report simultaneously with its publication, will that not put hon. Members in difficulty? We shall presumably have to choose between obtaining the report from the Vote Office and listening to the Government's response in the Chamber. Nor will there be any opportunity even to try to influence the Government's response. Indeed, we shall not have seen the report, which has been known to Ministers for some weeks, before the Government give their response. Is there any help or guidance that you can give to the House on this important matter, Mr. Speaker?

First, I am not aware officially that a statement is to be made tomorrow. I understand, however, the difficulty which has been mentioned. I have no doubt that the Leader of the House, who is on the Government Front Bench, will have taken note of what the right hon. Gentleman has said. There may be—

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

No. I have not finished yet.

There may be other opportunities during the week— perhaps during the Consolidated Fund debate or during the Christmas Adjournment debates—to deal with this matter.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Having received a letter similar to that referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), I wrote immediately to the ombudsman and asked for sufficient copies of his letter for all my constituents who have been worrying over many months in a similar way to the constituents of my right hon. Friend. I asked the ombudsman to ensure and guarantee straight away that there would be sufficient copies so that each of my constituents could have one.

All those who have contacted me over the weekend have stressed that they want to see exactly what the ombudsman has said. They want their own copies of the report. As it appears that we cannot question individual Ministers because of the independence of the ombudsman, is there some way in which you, Mr. Speaker, on our behalf, can draw to the attention of the ombudsman the importance of Members of Parliament, who seek to serve their constituents, being provided with sufficient copies to give to indivdual constituents?

I understand that the report will be laid tomorrow, and it will then be available in the Vote Office. I am not certain that it is within my responsibilities to ensure that every constituent who has been affected should receive a copy, but no doubt sufficient copies will be available for hon. Members to pass on.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter of which I have given you prior notice, through the Clerk Assistant, about the Property Services Agency and Crown Suppliers Bill. The matter is urgent because the Bill begins its Committee stage tomorrow, and I well understand that a motion needs to be moved if the Bill is to be committed to a Special Standing Committee, at which there can be hearings, before we begin our discussions in Standing Committee.

This matter involves £10,000 million for the PSA and £3,000 million for the Crown Suppliers. That amounts to billions of pounds, so the matter cannot be peripheral. It is highly desirable that the Government make arrangements, as they can do very easily, to withdraw the Bill from Standing Committee and instead have two or three hearings under the Special Standing Committee procedure. The new head of the PSA should be heard, and so should the trade unions—

Order. We have a very busy day ahead and I think that I can deal with the hon. Gentleman's point. The relevant motion was not moved last week when it could have been moved. Any hon. Member could have moved the motion, but that did not happen. There is nothing that I can do about it now.

May I explain why it was not moved? At that time, it was not clear that the Government would not answer parliamentary questions. They said the trade union evidence was tendentious, but when asked what was tendentious about it, they replied in general, and would not be specific. There needs to be a proper inquiry of two or three sessions before we discuss the Bill in Standing Committee.

The hon. Gentleman may well be right hut, unhappily, the opportunity has been missed. Perhaps on future occasions what the hon. Gentleman has said about motions on the Order Paper relating to the Special Standing Committee procedure should be borne in mind. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is to serve on the Committee, so he can raise these matters when it meets.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter about which I have given you notice. It appears that today the Government have made a major and detailed statement on the future of the Export Credits Guarantee Department, via a written answer to a parliamentary question. They have done so despite the fact that the Select Committee on Trade and Industry asked the Minister to make a statement to the House, and despite the fact that the matter is of great interest to many hon. Members. The written answer appears to have been originally designed as an oral statement because it ends with the words, with which we are all familiar, "I commend them"—the changes—"to the House".

The privatisation of a large part of the ECGD and the weakening of our export promotion drive when Britain has a projected £20 billion trade deficit is obviously a matter of great concern to hon. Members. I wish to protest most strongly about the statement being made in the form of a written answer rather than as an oral statement that could be properly questioned and debated.

The hon. Lady gave me notice of that matter. The terms of the written answer are not a matter for me. I do not know whether the final sentence that she mentioned should have been there. I fully understand the wish to the House to have numerous statements, but we have to consider the pressure on our time for debates. Today, no fewer than 40 right hon. and hon. Members seek to participate, and if we have numerous points of order, some will, I fear be disappointed.

The hon. Gentleman is a Front-Bench spokesman and he ought to have some regard for his colleagues.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The non-statement to the House involves 770 jobs in Cardiff. I seek your guidance, as a somewhat unusual device was used. At 12.15 pm today, an officer in the private office of the Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry attempted to buy off the demand for a statement by asking hon. Members representing south Wales with an interest in the 770 jobs at the ECGD insurance services group in Cardiff to attend a meeting at his department at 4.30 this afternoon. That is a revolutionary way of conducting government, as I had always understood that this House was the Parliament of the British people.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

The trouble is that it is disgraceful to have decisions thrown at us in this way. I do not like taking up the time of the House any more than my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). If the Government were not trying to scrap jobs, ignore hon. Members on both sides of the House, ignore the firms which want the ECGD to continue in existence, and ignore the chamber of commerce and all the advice, we would not have to waste the House's time with points of order. I hope that the Government's attention can be drawn to that.

The hon. Gentleman knows that it is not a matter for me whether oral statements are made. However, I am sure that those who are responsible will have heard what has been said.