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Points of Order

3.33 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 4 December I received from the Secretary of State for Transport an answer to a written question of which I had given the Department prior notice, in which I sought to clarify what a specific piece of legislation stated in relation to car parking fines—an issue that I have tested successfully in court. As I have not received an answer concerning what the law is in relation to private operators of local authority car parks fining or attempting to fine people, what advice would you give me, Mr. Speaker, as to how to clarify what the law of the land is?

Mr. Speaker: I would strongly advise the hon. Gentleman to go to the Table Office and persevere, to make sure that he gets the reply that he is looking for.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention and that of the House to the parliamentary convention whereby one Member advises another when he or she visits another Member's constituency? In particular, may I draw your attention to the fact that the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), also known as the Leader of the Opposition, visited my constituency over the weekend without having the courtesy to let me know? My constituents were quite happy to welcome him—indeed, most of them were pretty oblivious to his visit—but they were surprised that he offered no apology for the damage that he did as Employment Secretary, which led to increasing unemployment in the area, or for the crime that took place as a result of that damage when he was Home Secretary.

Mr. Speaker: I replied in depth to a similar point of order made by the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), and I urge all hon. Members to read that in Hansard, where it is recorded for the benefit of every hon. Member.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on Wednesday I raised with the Prime Minister the issue of hospital-acquired infections, which kill more people every few months than died in New York on 9/ll. One would normally be gratified if within a couple of days the Government had come out with a policy response—except that the Secretary of State for Health chose to announce his new policy for dealing with this terrible problem on the "Today" programme on Friday, a day when the House was not sitting, and does not appear even to have tabled a written ministerial statement today. Would you advise me whether you have received any request from the Secretary of State to come to the House to give Members an opportunity to question him on that policy to establish whether it is, as I hope, a substantive contribution to one of the most serious issues facing our constituents, or whether it is, as I fear, another ineffective gesture? Will you confirm this is an

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issue of immense importance that should be treated not as the NHS's dirty little secret but as a dirty great issue that is of concern to us all?

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let me reply to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley).

I recall the right hon. Gentleman raising the matter, which is obviously important to him. I shall not be drawn into the argument, but when a Minister has an important matter to announce, I expect it to be announced in the House. Tomorrow is Health questions, when the right hon. Gentleman may catch my eye.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not following my usual practice of giving your office notice of a point of order.

It may have been brought to your attention that in the Scottish press this morning there is much discussion of the issue of certification of Bills, as to whether they pertain simply to England or to Britain as a whole. I do not wish to make any party point of this, because it was raised quite properly by the Leader of the Opposition on his visit to Scotland, but I raised this question with Mr. Speaker Selwyn Lloyd many years ago, and he said benignly that he and his office would consider the matter. Well, I suspect that they are still considering it.

My point of order is this. In the light of what is said in the Scottish press this morning, and in the light of what the Leader of the Opposition has said in Scotland—he is quite entitled to say it—I ask that, after consideration, there should be some statement from the Speaker's Office saying how practical or otherwise it is. I do not ask for an immediate answer; I merely hope that the consideration that Mr. Speaker Selwyn Lloyd began will be brought to some kind of fruition.

Mr. Speaker: I inform the hon. Gentleman that I have a responsibility to certify Bills that relate exclusively to Scotland. I hope that that is of some help to him.

Mr. Forth: Further to the point of order made by my right hon. friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley), Mr. Speaker. Do you share my frustration that on the wireless this morning we heard the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry answering questions about consumer credit, and on the Order Paper today under written ministerial statements, I find that very matter: "consumer credit, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry"? Why do Mr. Humphrys and Mr. Naughtie get to question the Secretary of State on the radio, while we do not get the same opportunity here in this Chamber? Something is going badly wrong, Mr. Speaker, and it really is time that a grip was got on the matter, so that we stop this appalling habit of Secretaries of State and Ministers answering questions on the radio, but refusing to come here to answer them in the Chamber.

Mr. Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman brings to my attention a matter in relation to which Ministers are

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clearly acting within the rules of the House. A written statement has been made, and I have no other powers in this matter.

Mr. Dalyell: Further to the point of order that I raised earlier, Mr. Speaker. In the light of your reply, would it be impertinent to ask whether your office was approached on the question of certification in relation to the proceedings of the House on foundation hospitals? Was the Speaker's Office ever asked for a ruling on this matter?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman should remember my words. I referred to Bills relating exclusively to Scotland, and I do not think that foundation hospitals featured in a Bill relating exclusively to Scotland—far from it.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to reflect on the reply that you have just given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth)? Surely, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, like the Secretary of State for Health on Friday, answered questions on the radio before a statement had been made to Parliament. I thought that a statement to Parliament should be made first, before a statement to the news media.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think it is important for us all to remember that the idea of having written statements, on which you have expanded several times, was that it would regularise a habit of tabling written questions that were planted. However, it will be difficult for the House if people use the arrangement as a means of avoiding making statements that should be questioned. I know that you would deprecate that, and I hope that that will be made clear.

Mr. Speaker: I say to the hon. Lady and to the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) that the health statement and the statement on trade and industry that have been mentioned are two different

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matters. On the health statement, I repeat that the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) had expressed deep concern as early as Wednesday about the matter to which he referred. I would hope that a Minister would come before the House and not only make a statement but give the House an opportunity to question it. On the other matter, a written statement was given to the House. Therefore, as a custodian of the rules, I can say that there has been no breach of rules. If the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) feels that this matter should be tightened up, it is up to her and others to take it before the appropriate Committee.

Mr. Forth: Further to the previous point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I may say so, I think that that is a very helpful ruling on your part. Without it, surely Ministers could start to take refuge in hiding behind the written ministerial statement procedure, knowing that they could not be questioned in the House. If are not very careful, Ministers could see that procedure as some sort of substitute for making a proper statement here and subjecting themselves to questioning. I am sure that you will want to make it clear that you would not expect them to use that dodge.

Mr. Speaker: I am glad that my replies are helpful; I would only hope that the points of order will be helpful.

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