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Points of Order

12.31 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your forbearance to enable me to—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We need some order.

Lembit Öpik: I seek your forbearance, Mr. Speaker, to enable me to apologise to the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, for misrepresenting his position in my contribution following his statement on 30 November 2004 regarding the allegation of abuse at Deepcut Army barracks. I accused him on that occasion of referring to the four deaths as suicides. Having studied the official record, I can see that I was wrong to do so. He made no reference to the events at Deepcut in that context. It was in fact the Army that told my constituents, Des and Doreen James, that their daughter Cheryl had committed suicide before the coroner had even reported. The Minister did not do that. As he said to me in his letter:

I agree with him, and as the campaign for a full independent public inquiry into the four deaths continues I hope that I will be able to work effectively with him. I hope that he will accept my apology.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the Minister will accept the hon. Gentleman's apologies, and I thank him for putting the record straight.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will just have witnessed a disgraceful episode in which the Government Chief Whip hurled a substantial book across the Chamber at my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) on the Front Bench. Will you now sort out the Government Chief Whip and throw the book at her?

Mr. Speaker: I have tried to sort out a few hon. Members, but I shall not do so today. I do not want to tackle the Chief Whip; it is Christmas, after all. It would be best if the exchange of Christmas gifts were conducted outside the Chamber.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the point of order that I raised with Mr. Deputy Speaker yesterday at column 1584, in which I pointed out that certain documents had been made available to Government Members, but were not available in the Vote Office before the debate and the vote took place? Mr. Deputy Speaker was helpful in his guidance as to what future practice should be. However, this morning on the radio, the Lord Chancellor said that the documents were available in the Vote Office to Members. They clearly were not available in the Vote Office to Members before the vote took place. Is there
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any way in which we can get the Lord Chancellor to come to this House to apologise for both misleading the House and telling an untruth?

Mr. Speaker: When we refer to a senior Member of the other place, we should use temperate language. The Lord Chancellor did not mislead the House, and my Deputy, Sir Michael Lord, acted correctly and gave the proper guidance. The hon. Gentleman has made an allegation—at this stage, it is an allegation—that material was distributed from the civil servants Box.

Mr. McLoughlin: It was.

Mr. Speaker: I was not in the Chamber at the time, so it is an allegation as far as I am concerned. I have made a Speaker's statement about the conduct of the civil servants Box. The only communications that should be conducted from that Box are via a Parliamentary Private Secretary to a Minister, one document at a time. I shall write to the Lord Chancellor and have instructed my officials to prepare a letter. I will not allow the mass distribution of documents and, if the allegation is correct, I will go as far as withdrawing privileges from civil servants who come into that Box—I take the matter very seriously. The hon. Gentleman has put the allegation to me and I will raise it with the Lord Chancellor.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have pointed out that intemperate comments are sometimes made when hon. Members raise points of order. What is the difference between a point of order raised by the Opposition deputy Chief Whip from the Dispatch Box and a point of order raised by him when he purports to be a Back Bencher? Is that not abuse of his paid position?

Mr. Speaker: No, it is not abuse. If it had been abuse, I would have pointed it out. I have known the right hon. Gentleman for many years, and he has sailed close to the wind on a few occasions in this Chamber.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, much of yesterday's shambles came from the misuse of the programme motion, which meant that adequate time was not available to discuss the matters in question. Is there some means that you can employ to give guidance—if no more—on the imperative need to discuss those incredibly important amendments after the House of Lords has examined them in the proper time on the Floor of the House of Commons to remedy yesterday's disgraceful shambles?

Mr. Speaker: Those matters are for the usual channels. The neutrality of the Speaker is important at all times and I will not be drawn into the arguments posed by the hon. Gentleman.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday's Northern Ireland news reported on a young man who contracted variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease some years ago and who was left by the medical profession as a terminally ill person. However, his parents nursed him and his father
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fought in the High Court to get him particular new forms of treatment. Yesterday, it was announced that the health workers from the hospice and voluntary sector are withdrawing their help because he is no longer terminally ill. Have you received a request from a Health Minister to make a statement in the House both to encourage that treatment and to urge greater caution in diagnosing people as terminally ill?

Mr. Speaker: I am deeply saddened by the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises about his constituent and his family. This is a matter that the Minister would have to take note of. No doubt he will read in Hansard about the matter that the hon. Gentleman raises.

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Phil Woolas): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may be helpful to the House, in response to the point of order raised at column 1584 by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin), to the ruling by Mr. Deputy Speaker and to your own comments today, if I could give the House the assurance that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will of course co-operate fully in ensuring that the facts are properly put on record as to what did happen yesterday with the distribution of letters. We do take these commitments very seriously. Our own investigation shows that the proper distribution methods were undertaken, but we will of course wish to present the House and you, Mr. Speaker, with the full facts to satisfy, I hope, hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Mr. Speaker: I thank the hon. Gentleman; that is very helpful to me.


Criminal Defence Service

Mr. David Lammy, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Peter Hain and Mr. Christopher Leslie, presented a Bill to make provision about representation funded as part of the Criminal Defence Service: 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 14].

Transport (Wales)

Mr. Peter Hain, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Prescott, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Secretary Blunkett, Mr. Secretary Darling, Mr. Secretary Murphy, Ms Secretary Hewitt, Mr. Paul Boateng, Ruth Kelly, Mr. David Lammy and Mr Don Touhig, presented a Bill to make provision about transport to, from and within Wales: 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 15].

15 Dec 2004 : Column 1672

European Affairs

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Jim Murphy.]

12.41 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): Prime Minister Balkenende of the Netherlands will chair the European Council in Brussels tomorrow and Friday. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I will be there representing the United Kingdom. Today, the House has its customary opportunity to debate the Government's priorities before that Council.

The main business—

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