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Points Of Order

Volume 415: debated on Thursday 4 December 2003

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

1.25 pm

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall) (LD) rose—

Order. Let me deal with a reply to a point of order that was made yesterday.

Yesterday, at column 520 of Hansard, the right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) made a point of order about remarks made, on an intervention, by the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). I undertook to check Hansard and come back to the House if it seemed necessary to do so.

It seems clear that the hon. Member for Ilford, South gave an incorrect year for the quotation which he read to the House. It would have been helpful, to me and to the House, if as a matter of courtesy he had acknowledged the mistake as soon as it was pointed out.

More importantly, I understand that the hon. Gentleman subsequently approached the Officials Box to talk to the civil servants there. I want to make it clear, as my predecessors have done, that the Box is provided solely for officials of Government Departments supporting Ministers in questions or debates. Civil servants using the Box must not take advantage of their position in the Chamber to brief Back Benchers, and Members should not give them any encouragement to break this rule.

Let me add this: the admittance of civil servants into the Box is by my permission. I shall not hesitate to rescind the privilege of any official to attend this Chamber in the Box if I believe that any of the rules that I have just set out have not been followed.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

I apologise to you and to the House, Mr. Speaker? Yesterday, I had a quote that was entirely accurate except that, through a typographical error, it said 1998, not 1988. My intervention was made on the basis of that error, for which I apologise. I tried to check the exact date when I heard the Secretary of State's intervention. At that point, I was not clear about whether it was 1988 or 1998, which is why, in error, I approached the Box. I apologise again to you for that error, Mr. Speaker. Certainly it was not my intention to mislead the House, and I apologise to the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) if I, while accurately quoting what he said under a Conservative Government, gave the impression that he had said it under a Labour Government.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On a separate matter, I want to apologise to you and the House. Quite uncharacteristically, I hope, I protested volubly a few minutes ago, when the Leader of the House, no doubt entirely inadvertently, misled the House as to the nature of my party's policy on local income tax. He suggested that there was a paper saying that the Institute for Fiscal Studies had said that the tax would be in the region of 6p in the pound; it is in fact less than 4p in the pound. I am glad to have this opportunity to clarify the matter.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In today's Order Paper there is notice of a written ministerial statement on employers' liability compulsory insurance by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. A year ago, the Chancellor announced an inquiry into the crisis facing many thousands of businesses as a result of the acute increase in public and employers' liability insurance premiums. Surely, on the day that such an important report emerges, there should be an oral statement.

As it is, we get a written statement sneaked out into the Library at 11.58 am, so Members who were sitting through questions from 11.30 am would not have had a chance to see that important report had they stayed in the Chamber. They may have wanted to comment on the report or make inquiries of Ministers during today's debate. Surely if Ministers are to make written statements, they should put them in the Library at the earliest possible stage.

I understand that the statement was received by the Library at 11.58 am. I look to Ministers to ensure that written statements are delivered to the Library promptly.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter that has arisen this morning, otherwise I would have given you prior notice. At 11 o'clock, the Standards and Privileges Committee published its first report of the 2003–04 Session. I am concerned about the serious allegations made in a newspaper that a Member of this House may have behaved treasonably. In the report, Sir Philip Mawer writes:

"It must be a shared concern of the Committee and of any Commissioner that a Member should not be able to block the investigation of a complaint under the processes approved by the House simply by threatening, or starting, a libel action.… If there appears to be any delay by Mr Galloway in pursuing legal proceedings, I shall seek further direction from the Committee."
Is there anything you can do, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that the work of Officers of the House are not obstructed?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 22 and 29 October in Prime Minister's Question Time, the Prime Minister said that certain information was given to him and to the Taisoeach by General de Chastelain. I tabled three questions about the Prime Minister's statements to try to elicit further information, and when the Prime Minister replied on 6 November he referred straight back to his statement on 29 October. Can you render any assistance in obtaining proper answers from the Prime Minister and other Ministers to parliamentary questions?

The hon. Gentleman should seek advice from the Table Office. The quality of answers given by Ministers is not a matter for me.