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Points Of Order

Volume 405: debated on Monday 12 May 2003

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4.34 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there anything that you can do, even at this late stage, to protect today's business? You will be aware that we were already in the unacceptable position of being asked to process all stages of an important and potentially controversial Bill, which will affect democracy in part of our United Kingdom, between 3.30 pm and 10 pm.

Yet today, Mr. Speaker, with the usual casual attitude that the Government have sadly shown towards Parliament and this House of Commons, a statement was put on which, however important, was not that urgent, thus reducing further the time that we have to consider the Bill at hand. Can nothing be done even now to give the House more time—proper time—to perform a Second Reading, a Committee stage and a Third Reading of a Bill that is of the greatest importance for our democracy in this United Kingdom, so that we can properly consider it? The Government's attitude to this House of Commons has become unacceptable, and the casual and deliberate placing of a statement on a day such as this, further to reduce our opportunity to examine legislation, is the latest regrettable example of that. Please, Mr. Speaker, what can be done?

I think the right hon. Gentleman's main complaint is about the statement by the Foreign Secretary, not the statement by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short). As Speaker, I have no say in those matters. When a Minister says that he wishes to come before the House to make a statement, I have to accept that statement and the House has to hear it. However, the right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that I did not run the statement for a full hour, but for 40 minutes, with the clear understanding that we have other business before us. The right hon. Gentleman asks, "Can anything be done?"; the answer is, not by me.

I have a point of order on the personal statement, Mr. Speaker. On 10 April, I raised a point of order on whether the Secretary of State for International Development would publish, as she could have done at her discretion, the advice of the Attorney-General, as the Prime Minister did on the legality of the war against Iraq in reply to a question that I put to him earlier. In her statement, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Clare Short) referred to the fact that it would have been better had the Prime Minister accepted the Attorney-General's advice. She could have used the ministerial discretion to publish that advice. My point of order is that that advice could still be made available and should be placed in the House of Commons as soon as possible.

Once again, that is not a matter for me. It is for Ministers to decide whether they put that advice into the public domain.

On a point of order on a matter that relates to you and of which you are fully aware, Mr. Speaker. The number of hon. Members who read questions at Question Time is obvious to me, the House and yourself. It is my understanding that questions should not be read and should be given, if you like, from the heart. I am sure that you would wish to remind all hon. Members that we are not here to read out questions, but should put our questions to the Secretary of State or the Minister and wait for an adequate reply.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. Supplementary questions should not be read from notes. Hon. Members sometimes use aids, but I would not encourage that practice. The hon. Gentleman is right that questions should be asked without notes.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely this is an unusual occasion because we are to discuss something—the right of people to exercise their franchise—that does not come before the House except, perhaps, once in a century. Surely the Government should have respect for this day and, given the very little time that we have, protect it. Although we appreciate that you gave only 40 minutes for the Foreign Secretary's statement and did not call everyone who stood, as a representative in this House of people from Northern Ireland, I find it an insult to them that, in this mother of Parliaments, we should have time taken away from our discussion of something that cuts across the root and foundation of democracy.

I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but at the risk of repeating myself, it is for me to ensure that the rules of the House are carried out. I do not make the rules of the House; the House makes the rules and I am the custodian of the rules. However, I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's comments.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In what circumstances is eavesdropping by official agencies on Members of Parliament's telephone conversations allowed?