Mr. Wakeham : The present dispute is a matter for cricket authorities to determine. The Government's position is clear. We remain committed to the Gleneagles agreement and seek to discourage sporting links with South Africa.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : Has my right hon. Friend noticed how the Government's policies have increased inward and internal investment in Scotland and thus increased the number of jobs available and brought down the unemployment figures? Does he agree that the apparent political problems in Scotland, resulting in a meeting of all Opposition parties in Scotland tomorrow, could have a destabilising effect and damage confidence? Is it not about time that the House had an opportunity to discuss ways and means of testing the opinion of the Scottish electorate on the future of Scotland and whether Scotland wishes to remain part of the Union?
Mr. Wakeham : I wonder whether my hon. Friend is giving perhaps a bit too much importance to what might go on next weekend in Scotland. We will have to see what comes out of the meeting. I wonder whether the goings on of various Opposition parties are quite as significant as he suggests.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Robert Atkins) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I shall make a statement about personal communication networks. The statement covers Telepoint, greater access to channels for cellular telephones, and new personal telecommunications networks.
First, as the House will know, on 22 September last year, we invited applications for up to four licences to run Telepoint systems. These will allow subscribers to make outgoing telephone calls from public places and other locations, wherever Telepoint base stations have been installed, using their own portable digital cordless handsets.
Based on advice from the Director General of Telecommunications, we have concluded that four Telepoint licences should be awarded. The licences are to be granted to Ferranti ; a Philips-Barclays-Shell consortium ; a consortium involving STC, British Telecom, French Telecom and Nynex ; and a grouping involving the Motorola-Shaye consortium and Mercury. We congratulate them. We expect the first commercial Telepoint systems to be in operation within a few months. We have already made it clear that, at the outset, the new licensees will be free to use existing proprietary equipment to bring systems into operation quickly. But we want to give the user freedom of choice of equipment. So, from the end of 1990, the licensees will be required to support a common standard which will allow the customers of any one service operator to make their own choice of handset from amongst those available on the market. And from mid-1991, or such later date as the director general may determine, the user registered with one system must be able to communicate via the base stations of any of the others.
One specific question which both the Director General of Telecommunications and we have considered with care in the light of representations made has been whether a Telepoint licence should be granted to a consortium involving British Telecom. We have decided that British Telecom should be allowed a minority interest in one of the licences, subject to additional safeguards which will ensure that neither it nor the licensee obtains unfair advantages. A similar shareholding limitation and appropriate safeguards will also apply to Mercury.
We have also had in mind the special needs of the disabled. We shall be requiring the licensees to make available on a commercial basis handsets which make provision for those whose hearing is impaired.
The director general will keep the market under review, and he will advise us of any changes to the regulatory regime which experience shows to be necessary. Where appropriate, he will initiate these himself, using his own considerable powers under the
Telecommunications Act 1984.
Our second announcement concerns the two cellular radiotelephony networks run by Cellnet and Racal-Vodaphone. Strong growth in demand has led to congestion on both networks during peak periods, in particular in the area bounded by the M25.
We are pleased to announce today that the 400 channels, before now reserved for Ministry of Defence use,
Column 1191except in the area of central London, will be made available, subject to certain detailed restraints, over the whole area embraced by the M25. Together with the operators' own further investment, this should help to ease the difficulties which users have experienced, particularly in outer London. We are especially grateful to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence for his co- operation in sharing the spectrum. We hope that, as technology permits, other sharing schemes will be possible.
Those measures will reduce cellular network congestion and allow continuing rapid customer growth. They will not of themselves add to the competition in the market with the potential for customer benefits which competition can bring. In August 1987 we announced the arrangements for United Kingdom participation in the pan-European cellular system. We made clear then that the Government would keep under review the opportunities after the pan- European system has come on stream in 1991 for licensing one or more further national cellular radio telephone operators in other parts of the spectrum. The third announcement is that we are issuing today a discussion document, "Phones on the move, Personal Communications in the 1990s", which we shall be considering with interested parties. Copies are being placed in the Library and in the Vote Office. In that document we propose the licensing of at least two new public mobile telecommunications operators in the early 1990s by which time the pan-European digital system is expected to be on stream. They would operate within the frequency range from 1.7 to 2.3 GHz. Their networks would not be the same as the existing cellular systems but would compete with where we expect cellular systems to be in the 1990s. They would be new networks based on digital personal communicators, so linking and developing both the cellular and Telepoint concepts.
We shall be looking for innovative ideas to be put to us during the three- month consultation period that will follow today's statement and will wish to consult widely, both in the United Kingdom and in the rest of Europe, before finalising the details. Even so, depending on the outcome, from the consultation period we envisage a timetable which could permit the selection of prospective operators by the end of this year to enable the necessary development work to start. The selection would be through a competition on similar lines to Telepoint, again with Professor Sir Bryan Carsberg as the assessor who will advise us on the merits of the claims being put forward. We shall make a further announcement on this after we have decided on the ideas put forward.
We believe that the decisions that we are announcing today, namely the immediate extension of the availability of the 400 channels, the go-ahead for the four Telepoint operators now selected and the invitation to industry to join us in the definition and development of the next generation of personal communications systems at the new frequencies, will mean investment, infrastructure development and jobs.
I am sure the House will welcome this, not only in its own right, but also because it will strengthen the United Kingdom's position as a world leader in telecommuni-cations.
Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan) : We welcome the Minister's announcement today, particularly on Telepoint, because it will give many more ordinary people access to a useful service which, in the past, has been used only by people with expense accounts in industry. This move will considerably widen the market.
The Opposition have always believed that customers' difficulties, particularly with cellular telecommunications, have been a consequence of privatisation. We welcome the fact that the Minister has overruled the Director General of Oftel--at least we assume that he has--and allowed British Telecom a licence to participate in this exciting venture.
I am sure that the Minister is aware that BT has already spent £20 million at its research centre at Martlesham on CT2, which I am advised has a world lead of 12 months in technology, with estimated United Kingdom sales of £1 billion and overseas sales of £15 billion. That is bound to stimulate employment at BT and in manufacturing industry, and we welcome that. However, there are a number of questions that I want to ask.
First, what additional safeguards will be placed on BT and will they be so restrictive as to prevent BT exploiting that 12-month world lead on CT2? The Minister said, based on advice from the Director General of Telecommunications, that the Government have concluded that four Telepoint licences should be awarded. What criteria were used in the granting of those licences and did the Minister follow the Director General of Telecommunication's advice? If not, why not?
We welcome the recognition of the needs of the disabled, but the House will want to know how much extra the hard of hearing and other disabled people will have to pay for the service, particularly since it is based on a commercial service.
I am advised that after the terrible tragedy at Lockerbie the emergency services had great difficulty in using the cellular frequency. Is it not now time that the Department of Trade and Industry looked at the allocation of frequencies in order to mitigate the real problems that exist, and will continue to exist, as a consequence of saturation of the airwaves? Is it not now time that the Department allocated special frequencies for emergency services? We welcome the Minister's statement, but is it not time that Oftel started the same monitoring and setting of performance indicators for cellular telephones as it uses for public telephone boxes?
Mr. Atkins : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome, which I would have expected from someone with his background. He recognises the advantages that today's announcements will give ordinary folk.
The hon. Gentleman asked a number of questions and I shall deal with them in the order that he raised them.
Safeguards for BT will involve a complete separation of businesses. There will be arm's length arrangements for accounts, billing, marketing, personnel, other commercial information and similar areas. In addition, BT will have to offer its network on a fair basis to all Telepoint operators. The consortium in which BT is a minority member must not receive favourable treatment over that received by other Telepoint operators. The Director General of Oftel will take a close interest in how those arrangements are made.
Column 1193We have made our judgments on the criteria set out in the general duties contained in the Telecommunications Act 1984. Those include the provision of services to meet reasonable demand, obtaining effective competition, the quality and variety of services available to the user, research in new techniques and the enabling of companies to operate and compete well overseas. The direct answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about the Director General of Oftel's advice is yes, we took his advice as presented to us in confidence. The hon. Gentleman made a good point about the hard of hearing. We have been impressed by the proposals made by the consortium members. We cannot say at this juncture exactly what the costs will be, but since the handsets are likely to cost £200 or less, we anticipate that, although we do not know the full technological detail about how it will work, it will not be too difficult to provide what is required for the hard of hearing within the cost of existing handsets. However, that remains to be seen as developments go on. This is the first time that I have heard about the problems experienced after the Lockerbie disaster, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I should like to investigate and take advice on that in order to discover the extent of the problem. The hon. Gentleman will understand that, particularly in relation to the cellular network, we have sought to address his point about the spectrum and congestion. The Director General is also addressing that point in terms of the quality of the service that he and my Department are introducing. I think that that covers all the hon. Gentleman's points and I emphasise again that we are grateful to him for the support that I would have expected from him.
Mr. Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : Does my hon. Friend accept that this welcome announcement on Telepoint is proof that freeing the telecom market has resulted in this remarkable innovation and technological advance, giving us a real chance to have a world winning product, which the Government's decision will help to establish? There is also the by-product advantage--if I may call it that--of giving millions of people of modest means the opportunity to have mobile telephones rather than the rather expensive cellular phones. That will be a tremendous help to millions of self-employed people and those who run small businesses who cannot afford the more expensive Cellnet system. We wish the programme every success.
Mr. Atkins : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his warm welcome. It is interesting to extract one simple statistic. The objective was that there should be 100,000 cellular telephone users by the end of next year. There are now 510,000. That is a measure of the demand. That is a sign of how successful privatisation has been.
Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon) : Is the Minister aware that the members of the National Communications Union which I represent will be delighted with his statement? It represents a good opportunity for the future of international markets, but those markets depend on his officials being tough in the negotiations for international standards and making sure that, for once, they look after British interests rather than the interests of other companies, bearing in mind that we have the technological lead.
Column 1194The Minister should not take too much comfort from his hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls). The process would not have been so complicated if British Telecom has not been privatised. In his statement, he referred to the safeguards that Oftel, British Telecom and Mercury think are necessary and to complete financial separation. He is of course aware of the absolute bar to cross- subsidisation of services to which the Telecommunication Act refers, so why are such safeguards necessary?
Mr. Atkins : I must reject the implied suggestion that officials of my Department are not looking after the best interests of Britain in their negotiations in Europe. [Interruption.] I shall rephrase that : there was a suggestion that we were not defending Britain's interests. I reject that because it is clear that one of the reasons why we are world leaders in this field and why Europe is coming to learn the lessons from us is that my Department has achieved such great things in developing telecommunications in many areas and is therefore to be congratulated.
The Director General of Oftel will look carefully at the question of cross- subsidy to make sure that the problem mentioned by the hon. Gentleman does not occur.
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : Does my hon. Friend accept that his welcome statement highlights both a complementary range of liberalisation and services in telecommunications and an increase in competition? Surely he accepts that the fall in the prices of cellular telephones will be accelerated by the developments in Telepoint. Will he continue to monitor the availability of radio-spectrum and band width through the Ministry of Defence, bearing in mind that from time to time specific problems, such as those his Department has already experienced in the case of theatre broadcasting, may occur in other areas?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is right to point to the effects of free enterprise and competition in pushing down the prices of equipment that has become so popular. It is evidence yet again that the Government's policies show that we can lead the world in new technology and provide it at an economic cost.
We are grateful to the Ministry of Defence for releasing what it has and we shall continue our conversations to ensure that, where it is possible, it will do so again, bearing in mind the need to retain emergency service facilities.
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye) : I welcome the increased availability and the exciting national and international growth potential that the Minister has announced today. However, is he satisfied, despite the qualifications in his statement, that leaving the matter to market forces will not lead to a persistence of the problems that we have already had, such as difficulties in accessibility and high tariffs for consumers? Will those problems be dealt with as a result of the statement? In view of the increased space, particularly in the area around the M25, does he acknowledge that we want to spread the available technology further north so as to balance out the regional inequalities? When will we see such technology in Ross, Cromarty and Skye, where, on the few occasions that I have tried it, it has been singularly unimpressive?
Column 1195constituency, or, I suspect, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, although it is very real and to be welcomed. It is generally accepted that Sir Bryan Carsberg has been singularly effective and well respected in the implementation of the licence conditions in the wide range of activities for which he is responsible. I am satisfied that he will continue to watch over this area of development, especially the expansion of the cellular network. That is evidence of the demand and we must ensure that we continue to encourage the operators to provide the service that is demanded by so many people.
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : I welcome in general terms my hon. Friend's announcement about Telepoint. However, is he aware that many people in Chelmsford will be bitterly disappointed that Marconi Communications was not successful in its application for a licence? Is today's decision for four licences final, or will any further licences be offered later if any companies or groups of companies believe that it is viable to apply for them?
Mr. Atkins : The 11 applications that we received for Telepoint were, almost without exception, of a high standard. That is an indication of the demand and shows how well prepared so many of the applicants were to meet that demand. Unfortunately, in every competition, there have to be some winners and some losers, but that does not mean to say that Marconi's application, or any other application, was deficient ; it was simply bettered by others. I cannot make any definite commitment as to when further applications will be accepted but, as the market develops, if the demand is like that for cellular communications, there may be chances in the future for those companies to be involved.
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : I welcome the generality of the Minister's statement, but will he consider the frustration of people who have paid over £2,000 for their telephone receivers and then found that they are not able to use them in certain parts of the country? I am glad that the frustration of people stuck in traffic jams on the M25 will be alleviated. Will the Minister consider the way Vodafone and Cellnet market their products? They give inadequate information to customers about the best systems for particular areas. I have had an unsatisfactory correspondence with Oftel on this subject.
Ten miles north of Cardiff, in the Pontypridd area--where telecommunications will be very important in the next few weeks--portable telephone systems do not work at all. Further north, in my constituency, there is no service whatsoever. When will coverage be extended to the rest of the country? Will the Minister give firm instructions to the suppliers of the equipment that they must give their consumers proper information about the best system for their particular areas?
Mr. Atkins : It is not for me to give such instructions. The market will dictate what is required. It is up to us to ensure, through the Director General of Oftel, that standards are maintained. The quality of service initiative that we have introduced and the pressure from the Director General of Oftel, who is considering the matter at present, together with the increase in channels made available for the M25, will go a long way to improving the
Column 1196service. On the question of the Pontypridd area, I shall ask the Director General of Oftel to report to me in three months' time.
Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) : My hon. Friend's statement is most welcome and brings portable telephones within the price range of many people. Does he agree that, under the old British Telecom state monopoly regime, it is highly unlikely that we would have seen this or many of the other recent extensions of telecommunication services? Does not that prove conclusively the benefits of a much freer market and the competition within it?
Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is right. As I indicated in the statement, and on other occasions, we are where we are because of privatisation. We are the best in the world, the country to which all others beat a path to find out how and what we do. That surely must be the best evidence to demonstrate that this is successful technology which is being provided economically to people at all levels who wish to use it.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Will the Minister assure the House that all the people who will reap the rich rewards which the Department has doled out did not contribute in any way to the financing of the Tory party at the general election? Since this is a growth area for yuppies and property is involved, why cannot the Government impose conditions to make the companies provide telephones for the disabled, particularly bearing in mind that Right-wing extremist councils like Bradford are closing down telephone shopping facilities for the disabled? Could not this wonderful private enterprise provide assistance for people who cannot afford these yuppie facilities?
Mr Atkins : Contributions to the Conservative party were not deemed by the Director General of Oftel to be a criterion on which applications should be judged. The hon. Gentleman's implied criticism of "yuppiedom" flies in the face of the welcome given by his hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) to the availability that this will bring to more people. That is to be welcomed. The hon. Gentleman's question is a sign of how out of touch many members of the Labour party are if they think that, somehow, this is only for wealthy people, when its very raison d'etre is to improve the telecommunications available to ordinary folk at a reasonable price.
Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South) : May I press my hon. Friend further on the question of when Telepoint licences will be expanded? The technology of the service means that the full band width is used by all four operators. Therefore, a fifth, sixth or seventh operator would make no difference to the band width, but obviously would affect the return on capital of the four licensees who will spend a lot of money on establishing the system. Has the Minister given a guarantee to the four licensees that further licences will not be issued within a certain period? Can he assure us that, as soon as competition allows, he will grant further licences?
Mr. Atkins : I cannot add to what I said earlier about the further availability of licences. The four licences, which have been given to wide- ranging consortia, are for a period of 12 years. We hope that that will bring about the availability to which I referred earlier, which has already
Column 1197occurred with cellular telephones. At this stage I cannot comment further on what the future may hold for other applications.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : How many executive directorships will be available as a result of the Minister's statement? How many Tory MPs have left the Chamber since he started speaking to get their names on the Register of Members' Interests? Is not the statement an indictment of the savage, brutal, materialist society in which the Government are concerned about providing telephones for yuppies at the same time as they are depriving local authorities of the necessary finance to provide telephones for the chronically sick, the disabled and the elderly who badly need them to communicate with their friends and families? It is another example of private affluence versus public squalor.
Mr. Atkins : I thought that in recent weeks and months the hon. Gentleman was looking more and more like a yuppie. I am sure that he, being a man who represents his constituents to great effect, will be more than delighted to know that in future many of his constituents can contact him more easily by using the Telepoint service. I know that he will enjoy the extra burden of constituency correspondence and activity that this will give him.
Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) : Will my hon. Friend accept that his announcement, and particularly the Telepoint element, is welcome? Many people have doubts as to why there was a need to limit the franchisees to four. None the less, this shows the benefits of deregulation and a freer market, more geared to consumer needs. Is it not also welcome that the Opposition Front Bench seems finally to see the benefit of a freer and more deregulated market, bearing in mind that the Telepoint service would
Column 1198almost certainly never have come about in the bad old days of a state-owned monopoly telecommunications authority, cossetted by a producer-oriented Government?
Mr. Atkins : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. He is an authority on these matters in the House and appreciates the full extent of what is involved. He makes a fair point about the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) who understands these matters because of his background and therefore has had the farsightedness to recognise what an important and welcome statement this is. I only wish that the rest of the Labour party were as farsighted.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : Will my hon. Friend confirm that the announcement will be welcomed by many small businesses which have benefited from the growth of mobile communications? Can he also confirm that in no way will the announcement deter the Government from continuing their high level of support to technological development in telecommunications, particularly for projects such as RACE and LINK?
Mr. Atkins : We are already ahead of the game in this area. It is my intention, and the intention of the Department and the Government, to stay that way. We have achieved great things as a direct result of the new technology which has developed largely because of privatisation and the release of resources and enterprise following privatisation. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to RACE and LINK in which he well knows there are distant developments which are coming ever closer. Our commitment is strong. The more we are involved in that development, the better it will be for the future in this interesting and exciting sphere.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the permission given to Skyliner Services Limited and Fernley Aeroclean to resume aircraft cleaning operations at Heathrow." This is a matter of considerable urgency because thousands of passengers pass through Heathrow airport every hour. The House is entitled and, indeed, obliged to be satisfied that any possibility of a breach of airport security has been eliminated. It is a matter of considerable importance because of the widespread public concern about airport security in the wake of recent breaches of security, and in particular the tragic circumstances surrounding the Pan Am crash at Lockerbie.
Less than a fortnight ago public confidence in airport security received a further hammer blow as a result of revelations that journalists, posing as cleaners, had gained access to airliners, exposing considerable laxity in the security operations of the two firms that I have mentioned. So important were those revelations considered by the Secretary of State for Transport that he immediately called in the chairman of the British Airports Authority and then came to the House with a full statement in which he announced the withdrawal of passes from employees of the two firms. Yet only 10 days later, without a statement in the House, we read in The Daily Telegraph today that both
Column 1200companies are being allowed to resume operations at Heathrow. The House is entitled to know what dramatic changes have taken place in the companies in the last 10 days to justify the restoration of their normal service. We are entitled to know that guarantees and assurances have been given to the Secretary of State. We are also entitled to know why the right hon. Gentleman believes that, only 10 days after such a breach of security and such a shattering of public confidence, these firms should be allowed to resume normal operations.
In view of the sudden reversal in the Secretary of State's opinion of the competence of both firms, he should be answerable to the House and should justify his decision to allow Skyliner Services Limited and Fernley Aeroclean to resume operations. I therefore ask for an emergency debate in the interests of public confidence and safety so that this important matter may be discussed in greater detail.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the permission given to Skyliner Services Limited and Fernley Aeroclean to resume aircraft cleaning operations at Heathrow." As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20, I have to take into account the requirement of the Order and to announce my decision without giving reasons to the House. I have listened with care to what the hon. Member has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. Therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday I raised a point of order regarding the first oral question, which was about council house sales. Instead of giving me the answer that I wanted which everybody could hear, the Minister referred me to a written question that had been tabled the day before. It must have been tabled very late, as it was the last one on the list. I wanted that answer, because it would have some effect on the business in here and on my supplementary question, and I looked in Hansard. The question was not there. Therefore, it seemed to me that the Minister had referred me to an answer that did not exist. This was completely wrong, and there is a deep principle involved here, as I said yesterday. I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and I know that you have looked into this. I wonder whether you can do something about it.
Mr. Speaker : I undertook yesterday to look into the matter which the hon. Gentleman raised with me concerning question No. 1. I can give the House an assurance that no rule was contravened at any stage, nor, as I made clear yesterday, was the answer given by the Minister in any sense a blocking answer of a kind described at page 342 of "Erskine May".
As I said yesterday, it is not for me to comment upon answers. It was, however, unfortunate that the written answer referred to by the Minister had not yet appeared in Hansard. Perhaps Ministers would be good enough in future to check on this point before giving oral replies of this kind and consider giving a more substantive reply in cases where they discover that the relevant answer has not yet been published in the Official Report.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am grateful for that clarification, particularly on the blocking point. In view of what you have just said about the duty being on the Minister to ensure that the answer has been published, may I ask whether in your interpretation of your ruling on points of order you would be willing to accept a point of order, during or immediately after Question Time, although not continuing into the time allowed for statements? Would that be in order in a situation where, say, my hon. Friend had Hansard with him and received the same answer as he received yesterday, and then checked and found that there was no such information in the published Hansard ? Would that be within the scope of your discretion, which you have said you are willing to exercise?
Mr. Speaker : I take points of order at the proper time, which is after statements. In order to clarify this matter, yesterday the answer, which I had not seen, contained a list of figures. I am satisfied that nothing untoward took place.
I hope that in future, if the situation were to occur again, Ministers would ensure that a substantive answer was given so that the hon. Member concerned would have an opportunity to put a relevant supplementary.
Mr. Flannery : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Grateful as I am for your answer, it still leaves a great and serious problem. It is a strange coincidence that exactly the same question as mine, which had been put in a fortnight before, was from a Sheffield Tory MP and clearly took precedence. It was the duty of the Minister to
Column 1202find out that answer. He has left everybody thinking that he prompted that question in order to avoid answering my question properly.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry that I was slow in getting into the Chamber when you started your statement, and so did not hear the beginning of it. But I can say that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment answered the hon. Gentleman's question he believed that he had properly answered the question and the question had been delivered. It had not been published in Hansard . He was unaware of that fact. The publishing of Hansard is, of course, a matter for the House authorities and not for him. He very much regrets any inconvenience.
I take the point that Ministers should check whether the House authorities have managed to publish the answers in Hansard , and if not they ought to refer in more detail to the answers that they have already given. My hon. Friend regrets any inconvenience to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Alan Williams : I must say how grateful I am, Mr. Speaker, to the Leader of the House for having looked into this and given that information. Can I make the point that every Department has a parliamentary office, which exists specifically for this purpose. Therefore, there should be no problem for any Minister in ensuring that by the time he comes to the House at 2.30 pm Hansard has been checked.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that there is nothing in the rules against one hon. Member putting down a question that another hon. Member has put down, and which has been drawn out for oral answer on a particular day. But I am sure that you agree that it would not really be in the best interests of the House if, as a regular practice, hon. Members looked through what was drawn out for a fortnight hence, and two or three days later put down the same question for written answer. That would bring our proceedings into disrepute. I hope that, although it might not be out of order, you would make it clear that you do not approve of the practice of someone slipping in a written question later which replicates an oral question that is already on the Order Paper.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Sometimes the oral question begets a reply that is very lengthy and, therefore, is probably not best delivered in the form of the Minister coming to the Dispatch Box and reading out a range of figures. If we are to take the Leader of the House's statement at face value, that there was no intention to conduct a bit of sharp practice on my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), surely the best thing would have been for the Minister to have had the courtesy to supply a copy of the written reply to my hon. Friend. The Minister could have gone to the Dispatch Box and said, "I refer the hon. Member to the written reply that I have given him a copy of." That would have enabled us to proceed. There are times when it would be tedious for a Minister to read from a great slab of statistics. If the Minister was intent at the time on meaning no discourtesy, that would have been the best way of handling this matter. But, as it seems to us, this was a bit of sharp practice that went badly wrong.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have often made it clear to Ministers that you do not like long answers. If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had read out yesterday all the figures from 1975 to 1986, which is 11 years of figures, you might well have said that that was a long answer, and complained to the Minister for giving such a long answer.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a fact that when Ministers answer a question which gives statistics they say that it will be printed in the Hansard of the day's proceedings? I should like you to rule whether it is right for a question to be received at the Table Office that has already been tabled for answer on a particular day.
Mr. Speaker : Yes, that has always been in order. I think the whole House would appreciate that, because a question has to be on the Order Paper a fortnight in advance, it would be a dangerous practice to sterilise questions for that period. Something might arise that needed an answer earlier.
I have looked into this in considerable depth because I was concerned that nothing untoward should have taken place in respect of Question No. 1 yesterday, and I am satisfied that it did not.
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this afternoon you heard matters raised with the Leader of the House during business questions about the press conference at the Department of Transport. May I raise further matters that have come to light now, which go against the practice that you have indicated you frown on, in terms of the order of release of information to the House, and outside the House? This morning I made inquiries of the Secretary of State's office and the office of the Minister of State, Department of Transport, about how the central London rail study would be given publicity. I was eventually told that there would not be a statement in the House but an answer to a written question, which was tabled yesterday by the hon. Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler).
I was eventually told that the matter would be made public in the Vote Office, through my pigeonhole, by the board and in other ways at 3.30 pm. I have subsequently learnt that the press were given all this information at 1 o'clock. The press conference was held at 4 o'clock. At 4.30 the document had still not arrived on the board, although the Secretary of State's office had assured me that it would arrive.
On previous occasions, you, Mr. Speaker, have said to Ministers that, although the conduct of their Departments is not in your direct control, none the less the proprieties are that the House is given information before outsiders and the press. Will you say in the strongest terms, and invite the Leader of the House to respond if he is able, that to inform the press two and a half hours before the first likely time of publication of information to the House, and thereafter to fail to comply with undertakings given to hon. Members that they would receive information at that time, is a gross abuse of the relationship of Ministers to the House and should be discouraged forthwith?
Mr. Speaker : I am concerned always that hon. Members receive information at least at the same time as the press and not afterwards, and, if there is an embargo on it, that the press should not use the information or ask questions of hon. Members in the corridors outside about a document that hon. Members have not seen.
I was told at about 4 o'clock that a copy of the booklet entitled "Transport in London" had been deposited in the Library, that 50 copies were in the Vote Office and that a copy would be sent to each London Member.
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the light of developments today in the House, I want to raise with you the question that I raised with you yesterday. You will recall that I put it to you that those six Conservative Members of Parliament who, in the words of the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), were "fingered by MI5" because they might be security risks, might have access to Select Committees which study and examine classified material. I put it to you that we must find some way of blocking access to those hon. Members in the event that they have been blocked by the Whips or the Prime Minister for ministerial appointment. There can be no inconsistency in the position. I took your advice, Mr. Speaker, and I asked the Leader of the House a question. He hid behind the traditional reply that these matters cannot be discussed in the House of Commons. We are now in a position where I go to you, Mr. Speaker, you advise me to go to the Leader of the House and the Leader of the House says that he cannot discuss it ; and yet this inconsistency of approach to classified material remains.
This is a serious matter on which I seek your guidance. Where do I go now-- because I will not let go?