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Points Of Order

Volume 300: debated on Wednesday 5 November 1997

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4.32 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It relates directly to my constituency and is of enormous concern to the people of Devon and Cornwall.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Defence announced that the refit contract for HMS Argyll would go to Rosyth dockyard in Scotland instead of to Devonport dockyard in Devon. That decision is contrary to expectations and is causing widespread concern. Are you, Madam Speaker, able to require the Secretary of State for Defence to come to the House to explain this bizarre decision and to reassure me that it was made for sound commercial reasons and not just because he had come under party political pressure from heavyweight Labour Scottish Members?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I can deal only with procedural matters, not with matters of Government policy. I cannot bring a Minister to the Dispatch Box to give the reasons that the hon. Gentleman requires, but he is wise enough to know that there are other methods—Adjournment debates, parliamentary questions, and so on—by which to raise the matter and to try to elicit some further information.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you draw attention to the need for Members to be a little briefer in questioning Ministers during statements and perhaps even private notice questions? What we saw today was almost an abuse of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) tells me that 48 questions were asked.

I did not count the number of questions, but I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. I have noticed in recent times that questions on a statement, not only from Opposition Front-Bench Members but from Back Benchers, are very long indeed. I sit here and listen to hon. Members making great comments about statements without coming to any point of view or asking a question. The House seems to be moving away from asking questions; hon. Members are too concerned with commenting on the statement that has already been made.

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's point. I noticed that the questioning from the Opposition took longer than the statement. I always keep a record of how long it takes to make a statement and how long it takes to reply to it.