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Points Of Order

Volume 380: debated on Wednesday 27 February 2002

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3.30 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that it has been a long-standing convention of the House that, in the interests of good cross-examination of Ministers, statements are released to Opposition spokesmen well in advance? Are you aware that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions yesterday released his statement only a matter of minutes before coming to the Dispatch Box? Would you—[Interruption.] I am not surprised that the Government Chief Whip does not want to hear this. [Interruption.]

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. Would you deprecate such short notice, and, if it happens again, ensure that the sitting is suspended so that Opposition spokesmen can properly consider what is in the statement? It was quite clear yesterday that the admission that the Secretary of State had misled the British public on the Dimbleby programme was not given to other spokesmen in advance so that they could properly cross-examine him.

It is not a rule of the House but a courtesy that Ministers give as much warning as possible of any statement that they are going to make. I encourage Ministers to do that. [Interruption.] Order. If there is any difficulty or short notice in future, I can use my discretion, but I would rather encourage Ministers to give out their statements well in advance.

There is nothing further to that point of order. I have explained the situation exactly.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during questions on the Transport Secretary's statement, I asked:

"Did he make Martin Sixsmith's resignation a condition of Jo Moore's resignation?"—[Official Report, 26 February 2002; Vol. 380, c. 575.]
The Secretary of State said "No." On "Newsnight" last night, contemporaneous notes were revealed of a conversation between Sir Richard Mottram and Martin Sixsmith on the afternoon of 18 February. I quote directly:
"The bigger roadblock is Byers. He's invested so much face in this that his credibility is very much on the line. He has also made a firm promise to Jo that if she stepped down he would get your head to roll as well so it would be very hard for him to announce that you hadn't completely resigned after all."
That confirms stories in The Sunday Times of 24 February—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying to use points of order to put a case. He is aware of the rules of the House. There are ways in which he can pursue matters, including parliamentary questions or Adjournment debates. He is trying to draw the Chair into the argument that he is advancing. I do not have anything further to say on that matter.

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should pursue this matter. I think that he has finished.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, the House of Lords Annunciators announced the proposed statement by the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions at about 12 o'clock, but the Annunciators in this place did not give such notice until at least half an hour later. Is there anything that you can do to assist us in knowing when such statements will be made?

Bill Presented

Housing Benefit (Withholding Of Payment)

Mr. Frank Field presented a Bill to permit the Secretary of State to withhold payment of housing benefit on grounds of anti-social behaviour in certain circumstances: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on 19 April, and to be printed [Bill 102].