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Points Of Order

Volume 217: debated on Tuesday 26 January 1993

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.58 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that during the Second Reading of the National Lottery etc. Bill yesterday I raised with you a point of order, as reported in columns 716–17 of Hansard.

My point of order was about the GAH group, which was commissioned by the Government to produce a report on the establishment and operation of a lottery and its impact on other industries. At the time, you said that you would look into the matter. I was especially concerned about an exchange that took place between the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) and the Secretary of State for National Heritage which seemed to confirm that the hon. Member for Crosby was quoting from an article in The Guardian, which itself quoted from the GAH report. In addition, in confirming that, the Secretary of State was in effect quoting from that report.

It is worth mentioning that the GAH group was apparently formed on 8 June 1992—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage, in replying to the debate, referred at column 803 to the GAH group report and gave some detail of what is in it. I feel strongly that, in effect, Ministers were quoting, if not directly—we do not know whether they were quoting directly without seeing the report—from the report.

Although I am sure that I do not need to, I draw your attention, Madam Speaker, to page 382 of "Erskine May". Under the heading:
"Citing documents not before the House",
it says:

"A Minister of the Crown may not read or quote from a despatch or other state paper not before the House, unless he is prepared to lay it upon the Table. Similarly, it has been accepted that a document which has been cited by a Minister ought to be laid upon the Table of the House, if it can be done without injury to the public interests."

The concealment of the report is in itself injurious to the public interest. It is now time that the Government were made to reveal the contents of the report which has clearly formed a great part of their thinking. I maintain that the report was quoted during the debate last night.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter and for giving me an opportunity to respond. I have taken the opportunity to examine yesterday's Official Report. The Secretary of State for National Heritage responded to an intervention from the hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton).

I make it clear to the House that the rule that a document that has been referred to should be laid upon the Table in its entirety applies only when part of it has been read to the House or when quotations have been read from it. Summarising or confirming—the hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) made a point about confirming—the accuracy of other people's summaries does not bring the rule into operation. The Secretary of State did not give a direct quotation from the document in question, nor did any other Minister. There is no obligation to lay the document before the House.

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I accept your ruling unreservedly, but, I suggest that when you used the word "confirming" you opened the door to a Minister asking a sympathetic Back-Bench Member to quote from a document and then confirming it from the Dispatch Box as a means of partly introducing to our proceedings something that should be made totally available.

The words I used were

"Summarising or confirming … the accuracy of other people's summaries".
I do not want to go further than that. The hon. Member for Knowsley, North made the point that the intervention concerned a summary from The Guardian.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice. If a report is the subject of a ministerial statement, would it be possible for hon. Members to be given access to such a report some 30 minutes before the statement? Statements give ministerial interpretations of reports and their findings. It would be useful for hon. Members to be given access to such reports 30 minutes before statements are made.

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the matter, although I do not necessarily support his point of view. He may wish to pursue the matter with the Leader of the House on another occasion.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. At Question Time, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Wicks) in which he quoted Government statistics, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), referring to the statistics, said:

"To the extent that the … figures mean anything".
A Minister has thrown doubt on the accuracy of Government statistics. It is difficult for us to understand how we can have a sensible debate in the House if Ministers do not believe the figures they are giving. That is especially important in light of the fact that we are about to have a debate on health matters. Ministers should make it clear when they speak in which statistics they believe and in which they do not believe.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to make that point, he must do so directly to a Minister through the debate. Perhaps if he catches my eye during the debate he can make that point to a Minister then.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth), Madam Speaker. May I seek your guidance? There is a philosophical question of what is a summary and what is a quotation. I have before me column 716 of the Hansard report for 25 January. The hon. Member for Crosby (Sir M. Thornton) quoted the statistics of 17–5 per cent. and 1,100. The Secretary of State referred to those statistics as quotations from the GAH report. Figures such as those which my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North quoted were obviously quotations from the report. I seek your guidance on whether that might be regarded as a quotation and not a mere summary.

The answer is that it is not a direct quotation; it is a summary. I have gone as far into that matter as I am able. I have dealt with three points of order on the matter today. Indeed, I dealt with points of order on it yesterday evening. I have made it clear that summarising or confirming the accuracy of other people's summaries does not bring the rule into operation. I have tried to be as helpful as I can to the House on the matter.