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Points Of Order

Volume 408: debated on Thursday 3 July 2003

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2.9 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Have you had an indication that the Secretary of State for Health wishes to come to the House to apologise for remarks that he has been reported as having made in today'sDaily Mail? It is reported that he has told the Minister for Children, whom I have criticised for her failure to protect vulnerable children when she was leader of Islington council:

"The only reason the Tories are getting so het up about you is that they were all abused as children."
That is, at best, tasteless and, at worst, despicable. I understand that my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Health—[Interruption.] I do not know why hon. Members are shouting at me; this is a very serious matter. I understand that my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Health has written to the Secretary of State about this. If the Secretary of State for Health meant that point to be serious, I strongly object, on a personal level, and I ask for an apology. However, if he intended it as a joke—

Order. The hon. Lady is developing this into a debate. I can deal with the point of order that she has raised. She asks whether I have had any notification that the Secretary of State for Health plans to make a statement to the House, and my answer is that I know nothing of that.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many hon. Members will have been interested in the Retirement Income Reform Bill, which I am conducting through the House. Owing to a misprint in the Order Paper, its remaining stages are listed for tomorrow—4 July—but the true position is that it will be considered on Report on 11 July. So I would not want hon. Members to come to the House tomorrow, expecting an exciting time, when they will have to wait until next Friday for that treat.

May I take this opportunity to deal with an issue in relation to the Hunting Bill, which is currently back in Standing Committee? I do not want to open up the arguments about the merits or demerits of the Government's case on hunting, but to draw to the attention of the House and ask your advice about, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the wider abuse of the parliamentary process. Clearly, what is going on Upstairs is not a technical abuse because the House can order its affairs in the way that it chooses, and it has done so, but we are having to deal with a completely rewritten Bill. The Bill that we are discussing Upstairs has very little to do with the Bill that the House considered on Second Reading or in Committee earlier. I accept that the arithmetic—[Interruption.]

Order. I can deal with both points of order that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised. I shall take them in reverse order. On the second point, issues relating to that Committee are entirely matters for its Chairman and nothing whatsoever to do with me, as occupant of the Chair. On the first point, owing to an administrative error, the Retirement Income Reform Bill was placed in the future business for consideration on Friday 4 July, as he said. It should have been placed in the future business for Friday 11 July, as item 4, after consideration of the Female Genital Mutilation Bill. The future business will be corrected in tomorrow's Order Paper. The Votes and Proceedings correctly state that the Bill is to be considered on Friday 11 July.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During the debate on the Hunting Bill on Monday afternoon, the official Opposition spokesman—he was pressed several times on this—said that the Hunting Bill was a waste of parliamentary time. In fact, he also said:

"It is a total and utter waste of time."—[Official Report, 30 June 2003; Vol. 408, c. 74.]
Yet we read in theFinancial Times yesterday, the day after debate, that
"the opposition said a future Conservative government would make the parliamentary time available to overturn the ban."
May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether it is incumbent on official Opposition spokespeople not to dissemble in front of Members or misrepresent their position, or to mislead Members?

I suspect that the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises are matters for debate, both inside and outside the House, and are therefore not matters for the Chair.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the statement on Iraq, the Minister of State for International Development said, "I have today placed in the Libraries of both Houses details of the reconstruction work being undertaken in Iraq." When I checked, the Library had not received that list, and it was only on my prompting that it contacted the Department and received it. May I ask—through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—whether Ministers could be a little more prompt and, when they say that they will place documents in the Library, they do so?