Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Exempted business),
That, at this day's sitting, the Teaching and Higher Education Bill [Lords] may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Betts.]
Question agreed to.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you are sensitive to the rights of Back Benchers and of Parliament. May I draw your attention to the fact that statutory instrument 1998 No. 1673, which is on today's Votes and Proceedings, is not available in the Vote Office? You will agree that that is, to say the least, unfortunate, and an unforgivable omission by the responsible Department. Members of Parliament are entitled to be able to go to the Vote Office to obtain papers listed.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The instrument was laid on Friday, and "Erskine May" tells me that, when such drafts or instruments are laid, copies should be made available as soon as possible. Perhaps the Government will see to it that the instrument is made available.
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.
I have dealt with that point of order.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have for some years been trying to get Departments to answer letters from Members of Parliament within a sensible time. A week ago, I put down a series of questions to all Ministers asking how long it was taking them to reply, what targets had been set, and how often targets were being achieved. Seven days later, I have had answers from several Departments to the effect that they will write to me shortly.The more complicated matter on which I seek your advice is that several Ministers have referred me to an answer given today by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, it is 10.20 pm and I have yet to receive that answer. Neither the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster nor his deputy knew that they were supposed to be answering that question. Members of Parliament are being referred to an answer that is not available. Can you help the Minister or me by saying how Ministers should reply to parliamentary questions and letters from Members?
I think that there is a further point of order.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) has just brought the matter to my attention. I will look into it, and I will let him have a reply within 24 hours.
Is this a separate point of order to the previous one, on which I gave a ruling?
It is about the statutory instrument, which names a constituent of mine. A point of order has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill), but it relates to my constituent, and this is the second time that the same thing has happened.
The point relates to the Food (Cheese) (Emergency Control) (Amendment No. 2) Order 1998 (SI, 1998, No. 1673).
Yes, and it is my constituent's livelihood that is at stake. In May, when the order was first laid, there was the same failure to notify the House or me. An apology was given by the Minister of State, Department of Health, who said that that failure resulted from the urgency of the matter. That was two months ago.The Government have had plenty of time to work out whether the matter is urgent. The second order that is laid pursuant to this should be notified to me as the constituency Member of Parliament and to the House. I put it to you, Madam Speaker, that this is not simply a discourtesy, but a contempt of the House. I suggest also that it is a discourtesy to you that this continues to occur despite verbal apologies from the Department concerned.
It is hardly contempt of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman claims that it is contempt of the House, I must have that in writing. I hope that I have given something of a reprimand in making the point that, as the statutory instrument was laid on Friday, "Erskine May" tells us that it should be available in the Vote Office. I ask for that to occur before the rising of the House tonight.