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Points of Order

5.2 pm

The Minister for the Regions, Regeneration and Planning (Mr. Richard Caborn): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) raised a point of order of which he had given me notice, about the fact that I had not accepted a request from him to discuss the Hertfordshire structure plan. I could not be in the House yesterday, as I was on a bilateral visit to the Netherlands on United Kingdom presidency business.

I have written to the hon. Gentleman today to explain the position. It is a long-standing practice that Ministers with responsibility in planning cases do not meet individuals, whether they are Members of the House or not, to discuss local planning issues, whether those concern individual applications or wider issues such as development plans, that may come before them for decision.

That is because any such meeting could be held to prejudice the Secretary of State's decision making and render decisions liable to challenge in the courts. That is why I declined the hon. Gentleman's request for a meeting to discuss the specific issues related to the Hertfordshire structure plan, as I would have declined, and consistently do decline, similar requests from Members of the House from all parties.

A request for a meeting about general policy issues, such as that which I received recently from a group of Labour Members on the green belt in general, is an entirely different matter. In the light of that, I have offered the hon. Gentleman a meeting to discuss general policy on the green belt.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) rose--

Madam Speaker: I am not allowing a debate, as the Minister spoke on a point of order, but the hon. Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) originally raised the matter and I recognise that fact.

Mr. Page: I accept the Minister's generous offer to debate the matter and the individual aspects of concern on planning, which I have raised several times before in my letters to him.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker: No, no further points of order. That was a specific point of order related to the incident--

Mr. Wilkinson: This is specifically related to the planning matter that my hon. Friend raised.

Madam Speaker: That has been dealt with. If it is a different point of order--

Mr. Wilkinson: It is not a different point; it is the same.

Madam Speaker: In that case, the Minister has made the point of order--

Mr. Wilkinson: It is the same point, Madam Speaker.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 528

I sought, on behalf of the London Green Belt Council, of which I am the elected president, to take a deputation to the Minister's parliamentary and Government colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment--

Madam Speaker: Order. I asked the hon. Gentleman whether it was another point of order and he insisted that it was not, but was related to the first point. Does the hon. Gentleman's point relate to Hertfordshire?

Mr. Wilkinson: It does indeed, Madam Speaker. It relates specifically to Hertfordshire county council's structure plan, about which the London Green Belt Council has serious reservations, and wanted to make the general points of policy that are important to our membership to the relevant Minister. On both occasions when I made a request in writing well in advance, we were refused, not on the specific grounds that the Minister has now given--that a meeting would prejudice the quasi-judicial position of the Minister--but with an obfuscatory answer that provided no clarification whatever.

Madam Speaker: I am pleased that the Minister has now been able to clarify his position on such matters.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Standing Order No. 22(4) provides that


On Monday this week, I tabled seven questions for answer today by the Foreign Secretary. They are all simple factual questions, easily answered, yet I have received no answer. May I ask, Madam Speaker, what steps you can take to enforce the Standing Orders of the House?

Madam Speaker: Not having been given any indication that the right hon. and learned Gentleman intended to raise that point of order, I want an opportunity to look at the Standing Order. I am sure that he is correct about it, because he seems to have it in front of him, and I would like to do the same. I will let him know as soon as I have been able to look at it and at the questions that he put, and make inquiries.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) rose--

Madam Speaker: Is it a point of order?

Mr. Skinner: Yes, Madam Speaker. When you examine that business, will you take into account the fact that, during the past 18 years of Tory government, there were literally hundreds of occasions when Tory Ministers refused to answer questions on time? Let us have a level playing field and not give the impression that, somehow, something new has occurred, when the same thing happened over and over again. It was done even by that recidivist, the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), when he was Home Secretary.

Madam Speaker: I am always grateful for advice and guidance.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 529

Orders of the Day

Scotland Bill

[2nd Allotted Day]

Considered in Committee [Progress, 28 January].

MR MICHAEL LORD in the Chair]

Clause 18

Presiding Officer

5.6 pm

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West): I beg to move amendment No. 36, in clause 18, page 8, line 42, after 'deputies', insert


'or such other number of deputies as the Parliament may determine.'.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Lord): With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 196, in page 8, line 42, after 'deputies', insert


', provided that the election of the Presiding Officer is carried by the votes of not less than two thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament and, within each region by the votes of not less than two thirds of the number of constituency members and not less than two thirds of the number of regional members of the Parliament.'.

No. 13, in page 8, line 42, at end insert--


'(1A) The Parliament may change the title "Presiding Officer" to such other title as it considers appropriate.'.

Government amendment No. 218.

No. 14, in clause 19, page 9, line 15, after 'Parliament', insert


', who may be known as the Clerk of the Parliament or by such other title as the Parliament considers appropriate.'.

No. 145, in clause 19, page 9, line 16, leave out 'Corporate Body' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 197, in clause 20, clause 20, page 9, line 23, leave out 'Corporate Body' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 146, in clause 20, page 9, line 24, leave out first 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 147, in clause 20, page 9, line 24, leave out second 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 148, in clause 20, page 9, line 25, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 149, in clause 20, page 9, line 27, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 150, in clause 20, page 9, line 31, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 151, in clause 20, page 9, line 35, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 152, in clause 20, page 9, line 36, leave out 'corporation's' and insert 'Estate's.

No. 153, in clause 20, page 9, line 38, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 154, in clause 20, page 9, line 40, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 155, in clause 20, page 9, line 42, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

29 Jan 1998 : Column 530

No. 156, in clause 20, page 10, line 1, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 157, in clause 20, page 10, line 3, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 158, in clause 20, page 10, line 6, leave out 'corporation' and insert 'Estate'.

No. 45, in clause 41, clause 41, page 18, line 5, leave out 'First Minister' and insert 'Scottish Premier'.

No. 85, in clause 41, page 18, line 5, leave out 'First' and insert 'Chief'.

No. 15, in clause 41, page 18, line 10, at end add--


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