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Points Of Order

Volume 403: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2003

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12.34 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following yesterday's exchanges in the House and the six questions on the use of cluster bombs, have you received a request from a Minister to make a statement on the guidelines issued to the forces on the use of such bombs and of multi-rocket launchers?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 28 November, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry announced that it was necessary to use public funds to underwrite the debts of British Energy in order for that company to keep going. The Department gave as its grounds two needs: security of supply and the safety of nuclear power stations. Two weeks ago, I tabled written questions asking for the assumptions on which that assertion was made. Last week, in written answers to me, the Department was unable to give me the evidence on which the assertion was made, as it was commercial in confidence.

Public money is being used to underwrite a private company and it is impossible for Parliament to probe the basis of that policy because the Government are hiding behind the shield of commercial in confidence. Is there any way in which we can probe the basis on which the Government are using public funds to keep a company going in that way?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. As he knows, the Speaker's responsibilities relate to questions, not to answers. I have no responsibility for the content of ministerial answers. He may wish to consult the Table Office to see whether there is any other way of pursuing the information that he is seeking.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is now nearly a fortnight since the Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office suggested that the Prime Minister would make a statement following his meeting with President Bush. He is now involved in a second meeting with the United States gangster President, yet there is no statement. In the past fortnight, thousands of innocent men, women and children have lost their lives in Iraq, many of them bombed by American planes. Sometimes they have been killed, unfortunately, by British forces. Surely there should be a statement in the House, or has there been a change in the constitutional convention, with the Prime Minister being more accountable to the television media than to Parliament?

It is my understanding that the Prime Minister will make a statement before the Easter recess, and tomorrow is Prime Minister's questions.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), Mr. Speaker. May I ask again for a statement by a Minister regarding the use of cluster bombs? Over past years, there have been many such requests, and we have signed up to the Ottawa agreement. The unexploded bombs that emanate from cluster bombs take on the characteristics of anti-personnel land mines and we should not be using them.

The Secretary of State for Defence has been a regular visitor to the House; he has made statements on several occasions. I clearly recall that he has been questioned on that matter. If he makes another statement, no doubt questions can be put on that matter again.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friends and I tabled a motion that the Anti-social Behaviour Bill that we are about to debate should be committed to a Special Standing Committee. As it has been published only recently, and as there was no draft Bill and only two weeks of consultation, we felt that there was a need to take evidence. We are told by the Clerks, whose advice I take and respect, that it is not possible for that motion to be selected because the motion in the name of the right hon. Member whose Bill it is, the Home Secretary, takes precedent.

When I asked whether it would be possible to table an amendment to the programme motion to allow us to send the Bill to a Special Standing Committee instead of to a Standing Committee, I was told that we could table it but it could not be selected, debated or voted on because the programme motion had to be voted on forthwith. If the Government want a programme motion, how can hon. Members decide whether to have a Special Standing Committee to take evidence? Such a decision appears to be blocked. Surely that cannot be right.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to reply, perhaps he will not have a further point of order. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) asks about what will happen from now on. My concern is today's business—tomorrow's is a worry for another day. I understand that his motion can be decided on only if the programme motion is defeated. It is not for me to give him advice, but if I were in his shoes I would vote against the programme motion; then we could decide on his motion.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for that guidance, but may I make it clear to you that in the Modernisation Committee and when we debated the new arrangements for programme motions in the House, there was no indication at all from any source—neither from the Government nor from anyone else—that this new system would preclude the passage of a motion to commit a Bill to a Special Standing Committee? I believe that we have been led up the garden path on this matter, and I hope that we will have some clarity on how we can prevent this situation from arising in future.

This is a matter that the hon. Gentleman can take up with the Leader of the House. If the hon. Gentleman feels that there is a flaw in the rules of the House, I should point out that, obviously, they are subject to change.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State for Defence has regularly visited the House to advise Members on the progress of the conflict with Iraq. However, each passing day reveals humanitarian issues of a growing size and number, and I wonder whether you have had any indication that the Secretary of State for International Development will be making a statement to the House, perhaps before the Easter recess, on this very important subject.

I understand that there is a strong possibility that the Secretary of State will come to the House concerning this very important matter, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising it.