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Points Of Order

Volume 294: debated on Wednesday 21 May 1997

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3.31 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. [Interruption.]

Will hon. Members please leave quickly and quietly? We have business to do.

Have you had any requests for a statement on the saving of Bart's—if it is true, I welcome it—which has so far emerged in briefings to Back Benchers, among whom, I cheerfully remark, the local Member of Parliament has not been included? That seems as unsatisfactory a method of instructing Parliament on the issue as the original written answer about the closure. Until we have the opportunity to cross-examine Ministers, we cannot break out the champagne.

I am not aware of any statement or comment on the issue that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. His point of order gives me an opportunity, for which I am grateful, early in the life of the Government to remind those on the Treasury Bench that any statement on a change of policy should be made first to the House, not outside and not to Back Benchers. The House needs to know first of any change of policy and I hope that those on the Treasury Bench take my words to heart and inform any Ministers concerned.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In the interests of advancing the Chamber into the civilised world, may I suggest that you think seriously about changing the rules so that hon. Members can read questions if they wish? When hon. Members were asked to speak without reading pieces of paper, it may have been a way to demonstrate their public school upbringing, but they now have the ability to read and should be allowed to read questions without being barracked by other hon. Members in the Chamber.

That is not a point of order for me. If the hon. Gentleman wishes our procedures to be changed, the Select Committee on Procedure will soon be established and he can refer the matter to it.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Are you aware that at 8 o'clock this morning Liberal Democrat Members attempted to put in more prayer cards than there were hon. Members from that party present? I am sure that you will wish to deprecate that. Will you make it clear to Liberal Democrats, and to any other hon. Members in the Chamber who do not know, that prayer cards can be put in only by the hon. Member involved and not by anyone else?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House, especially new Members, that prayer cards can be put in only by the Member concerned. Members must be present in person to do so. I certainly deprecate the use of other Members to put prayer cards in place.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A moment ago, you made a welcome statement about the rights of Back Benchers and the need for policy announcements to be made in the House. May I ask you to go further? Yesterday, an important announcement about policy change in relation to the Bank of England and the City of London was made, but no briefing papers about the statement were available in the Vote Office. Should not that be put right?

Briefing papers and documentation in the Vote Office have always been a question for the Minister concerned, not for the Speaker. I am concerned to ensure that when statements are made, they are made in the House, and not outside—but, as I said, documentation is the responsibility of the Minister concerned.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Two minutes ago you will have heard the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) make a derogatory remark about people with a public school education. Do you not agree that it is a usual courtesy of the House to give notice of such remarks? The hon. Gentleman might have advised the Prime Minister before he made that point.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) would have had writer's cramp this morning if he had tried to write to all hon. Members with a public school education, so we need not worry about that question.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Before I came into the Chamber for the debate, or rather, for Question Time, ready for the debate on the referendums, I asked the Vote Office for the papers from the Government about what would actually be set up by the referendums—that is, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly. I was told that there was none. Was that an oversight by the Vote Office, or have the Government really not given us any information about what we are to discuss in relation to the referendums?

All that we have to deal with today is the usual question of the Bill before us. No doubt the hon. Gentleman has had it for some time, has thoroughly digested it and is ready to speak on it when I call him.

Just a moment. This is getting to be like a jack-in-the-box, with everyone bobbing up and down. Who is next?

Order. We do not take further points of order. I have dealt with that matter, and we shall now deal with the Bill. There are no further points of order once the Speaker has responded.