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Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the controversy that has arisen in Wales this weekend, after the answer given by

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the Secretary of State for Wales--in Hansard, 20 January 2000, column 589W--stating that not a brass farthing in objective 1 money will be coming to Wales from Brussels, have you had any request to make a statement from the Secretary of State for Wales or from a Treasury Minister on that very controversial matter?

Madam Speaker: I regret to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I cannot assist him today, as I have not been told of such a statement being made in the House.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will notice that some of us become agitated during Question Time when some questions asked by colleagues ramble on and, in my view--after 20 years in this place--destroy Question Time. I believe that Question Time is being ruined by greedy Members. In that light, will you ask your Office to carry out some research into the time that Members now take to ask their questions, compared with years ago when I was younger and when, in my view, questions were much briefer? Questions were far more effective then because Ministers had less time to consider their responses, which were far sharper. It is not altogether fair to criticise Ministers for long answers. If a Minister is asked four questions by one Member, the Minister will reply to all four, so the one follows the other. If we deal with the problem of the questioner, the problem of the answerer will disappear.

Madam Speaker: I am at one with the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he and many other Members will have seen that I become agitated when questions ramble on. Only last week, I suggested that hon. Members might sit in the Tea Room at lunch time and work out their questions so that they would be more specific and more brisk. I cannot ask my Office to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests. I have a small Office, and that task would take up a great deal of resources. However, we have records of this matter for the past few years when I have been Speaker--and for before that--and there is a deterioration every few months. I have reported those records to the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip and the Opposition Chief Whip in the hope that there might be improvements. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's point of order today, as it allows me to reiterate my strong thoughts on this matter.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I entirely understand why your Office does not have the time to do the research. However, there was an interesting article on this matter--by, I think, Mr. Parris--in The Times three weeks ago. He had a lot of figures, which may be of interest to your office.

Madam Speaker: I think that Mr. Parris must have got his figures from my Office.

Mr. Hogg: I apologise.

Madam Speaker: Not at all. I have the records.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for

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Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), Madam Speaker, could I persuade you that his point of order was simply parliamentary by-election balderdash?

Madam Speaker: There is no response to that.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Having obeyed your strictures and worked out my question in advance--

Madam Speaker: Order. This is not a question--it is a point of order. I do not answer questions.

Mr. Howarth: My point is that I have followed your advice, and I hope, therefore, that you will hear this point of order. As you will appreciate, the only way in which Members of Parliament can find out what is going on and hold Departments to account is not by calling individuals before this House, but by calling Ministers to this House. It appears that there is a discrepancy between the information given by an admiral of the Royal Navy and that given by a Minister of the Crown. If the admiral is not lying, the Minister of the Crown is misleading the House. What are we to do about it?

Madam Speaker: I responded earlier to that point of order. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) have been here long enough to know that the Order Paper can be used--I have to spell it out--through parliamentary questions and other means, such as early-day motions, if Members feel that an incorrect answer has been given.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I add to my earlier point by recommending a solution to you? It is that when Members ask more than one or two questions, you rise to intervene and make them sit down. If that were to happen repeatedly during one Question Time, I believe that the conduct of Members in this House would change dramatically, and very quickly.

Madam Speaker: I shall respond to that point, although I do not want this debate to go on. It is not just a question of the number of questions that are asked--it is the very long preambles and the points of view that are expressed. That is what takes up the time, not questions. Members always express an opinion before they get to their question. Can we proceed with today's business? From whom have I not heard a point of order?

Mr. Dalyell rose--

Madam Speaker: I am in a good mood today--carry on.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier, you said that I was not in the Chamber for last week's business statement. You could be forgiven for saying that, but in fact I was here for the end of the debate

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on the millennium bug, having wafted up to my normal seat. However, I left when other hon. Members were called before me.

Madam Speaker: I saw the hon. Gentleman come into the Chamber when the Leader of the House was on her feet and two thirds of the way through the business statement.

Mr. William Ross (East Londonderry): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you agree that questions that are more than about two sentences long give the person responding too much scope? Would not it be better if questions were restricted to a couple of sentences? We would get through business much more quickly.

Madam Speaker: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) made a sound point, but if it is appropriate for erring Back Benchers to be scolded by you and subject to your strictures, should it not be so for Ministers too? Although Back Benchers can be guilty of indulging in lengthy questions and preambles, Ministers often do not have even the square root of an answer to a Back Bencher's question. However, they succeed in taking two or three minutes to demonstrate that important fact.

Madam Speaker: What Ministers say in response to questions is not a matter for me.

Mr. Ken Maginnis (Fermanagh and South Tyrone): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last Wednesday, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said that he was surprised that I chose

As I have never discussed the Royal Ulster Constabulary in private with the Secretary of State, am I to assume that his statement could be deemed to be misleading the House? I did meet him in the company of the Prime Minister and the leader of my party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble). Is that deemed to have been a private meeting? If my approach at that meeting and when I spoke in the House last week remained consistent, is the Secretary of State to be deemed to have misled the House?

Madam Speaker: I cannot determine or interpret what takes place at meetings involving hon. Members and Ministers. I think that the hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Our rules may be straightforward, but would you remind the House that Ministers should reply only on those subjects for which they have responsibility, and that, on the whole, hon. Members should not read their speeches?

Madam Speaker: That is a good rule to follow.

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Orders of the Day

Disqualifications Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

3.43 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill, inter alia, changes the anomaly created by section 36(5) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, which permits a member of the Irish Senate to be a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, but not of any other United Kingdom legislature. It replaces that provision with measures that will bring about a broader and closer relationship between the United Kingdom as a whole and the Irish Republic, by treating Northern Ireland as any other part of the United Kingdom.

The Bill ends the prohibition against members of the Irish legislature--that is, of both the Dail and the Senate--being a member of any legislature in the United Kingdom. They will therefore be permitted to be Members of this House, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill will place the Irish Republic in a position broadly similar to that of Commonwealth countries, whose legislators have been able to join legislatures here. It is a small step towards creating a closer relationship between the United Kingdom as a whole and the Irish Republic.

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