Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): I fear that the Leader of the House may not have fully understood the questions about the circumstances this week relating to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I am a new Member and it was my understanding that the validity and accuracy of statements made by Ministers to this House was absolutely sacrosanct. The Leader of the House will be aware that, on Monday, the Secretary of State told the House that no threats were made to the Rail Regulator when they met on 5 October. In public evidence yesterday to the Select Committee, the Rail Regulator clearly said that the proposition that was put to him on that date would have led to his resignation. Will the Leader of the House explain the contradiction between the two statements? If he cannot, does he believe that this is a matter of sufficient importance to require the Secretary of State to return immediately to the House to explain matters?

Mr. Cook: I do not think that there is a single member of the Cabinet who has made more statements to the House or appeared more often at this Dispatch Box since we returned from the recess than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Whatever else the Opposition may complain about, they cannot complain about the opportunities to question him or to put statements to him. So far, I am delighted to see that my right hon. Friend has robustly defended his record. Indeed, it is the record of the previous Government that is on trial, not this Government.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): Will the Leader of the House provide time for a debate on how we can secure greater cross-community support within this country for the coalition's military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan? Is he aware that, on 6 November, I asked the Prime Minister which Muslim leaders in this country had expressed support for that military action, and he was unable to name a single one?

Mr. Cook: There have been statements by the Labour Muslim Council and from hon. Friends who are Members of this House and members of the Muslim faith. They have been quite robust in their statements, to which I refer the hon. Gentleman. However, I fully echo his wish that we build the broadest possible consensus—a consensus not only behind the urgent need to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, but to make it clear that this is not a conflict between the west and Islam but between both of us against terrorism. With that in mind, it is a matter of regret that the Conservative party has not signed the pledge that has been signed by other parties. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked us to build consensus. I cannot think of a better way to build consensus than for us all to demonstrate support for the same pledge.

8 Nov 2001 : Column 377

8 Nov 2001 : Column 379

Points of Order

1.14 pm

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Monday, we had questions to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo), asked about the Patrick Carter report. He said:

In answer, the Minister for Sport said:

I must inform you, Mr. Speaker, that I have checked with the Clerk of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, which is currently conducting an inquiry into this very issue. The report is not available to the Committee. Moreover, it was not placed in the public domain. It would seem that the Minister for Sport has inadvertently misled the House, as it was factually incorrect to say that the report was in the public domain. I wonder whether an opportunity might be given to the Minister to come back to the House, apologise and set the record straight.

Mr. Speaker: These matters are for the Minister himself. The hon. Gentleman has put the matter on the record and I am sure that the Minister will take serious note of what he has had to say.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): On a point of order, of which I have given you advance notice, Mr. Speaker. You have on many occasions been concerned at the way in which Ministers avoid questions. Can I draw your attention to an example that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel to be particularly outrageous? I tabled a question for oral reply by the Deputy Prime Minister on co-ordination of rural policy—something I was told by the Table Office was still very much the responsibility of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office. I then received a letter saying that the question had been transferred to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Sure enough, when the reply came back, it referred to the Cabinet Office co-ordinating machinery, making it quite clear that the original destination for my oral question was perfectly appropriate. That transfer avoided the opportunity for me to put a supplementary question to the Deputy Prime Minister, which he might have found difficulty in answering, having little rural experience. Will you make representations again to Ministers to stop their over-protective civil servants in their private offices and their political advisers deliberately avoiding difficult questions?

Mr. Speaker: As the House knows, decisions about the transfer of questions are matters for Ministers, not the Chair. However, I have examined the question and the answer to which the hon. Gentleman refers and I sympathise with his complaint. In the circumstances he

8 Nov 2001 : Column 380

describes, where the line of ministerial responsibility is not clear cut, I deprecate the transfer of a question tabled for oral answer, which has the effect of depriving the Member of the opportunity to be called to put a supplementary question to the Deputy Prime Minister.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In recent days, I have experienced a total refusal by the Treasury to respond to any questions relating to the administration of Railtrack, even though I have written confirmation from the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions that the Treasury has been involved in discussions on the matter. Furthermore, I have tabled a question not specifically about that circumstance but, in broad terms, to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what circumstances he would provide guaranteed security for the debt of a company limited by guarantee. Once again, that question—although it referred in no way to transport matters—was transferred to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. As Members, do we not have a right to question the Treasury about a matter that clearly has Treasury involvement?

Mr. Speaker: As I have already stated, transfers are not generally a matter for the Chair and the best advice that I can give the hon. Gentleman is to be persistent.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard the answer given to my earlier question by the Leader of the House. The Prime Minister did not give that information in answer to my written question. This is not a matter of a transfer—

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is not my policy to extend questions to the Leader of the House. Perhaps next week the hon. Gentleman can put the same question and see what kind of answer he gets then.


National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill

Mr. Secretary Milburn, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Robin Cook, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Mrs. Secretary Liddell, Mr. Secretary Reid, Mr. John Hutton and Ms Hazel Blears, presented a Bill to amend the law about the National Health Service; to establish and make provision in connection with a Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health; to make provision in relation to arrangements for joint working between NHS bodies and the Prison Service, and between NHS bodies and local authorities in Wales; to make provision in connection with the regulation of health care professions; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 47].

8 Nov 2001 : Column 381


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Town and Country Planning

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Next Section

IndexHome Page