HC Deb 03 May 1995 vol 259 cc335-6

4.8 pm

Mr. Mike Watson (Glasgow, Central)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On 19 April, I submitted a question for Question Time this afternoon. It was accepted by the Table Office. I put it into the draw, and it was drawn as No. 10. It then went to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Only yesterday, in a letter dated 2 May from the parliamentary relations unit at the FCO, I was given notice that it had been transferred to the Overseas Development Administration.

I find that a matter of concern on two points: first, that it should have taken so long to transfer the question—literally until the day before questions were due to be answered, so that I was left high and dry; secondly, that the content of the question, which related to the Palestine National Authority, should have been treated as a matter solely for the ODA.

On those two issues, I wonder whether it would be possible for you to investigate? I feel that such action should not be taken under the name of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Madam Speaker

On the latter point, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman understands that it is for Ministers to determine whether a question should be transferred. However, I regard it as self-evident that any transfer of a question, especially an oral question, should be made as quickly as possible.

In this instance, I consider that the hon. Gentleman has a legitimate grievance. The transfer of an oral question that has been on the Order Paper for two weeks to be made the day before the question was due to be answered is quite unacceptable. I expect the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to apologise to the hon. Gentleman and ensure that such a practice does not recur.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In a written answer, the Prime Minister has unilaterally announced significant changes in the rules governing the disposal of papers from No. 10 Downing street. He states that private and perhaps political papers may be retained by the Prime Minister when he retires, but that public papers must remain the property of the state.

The Prime Minister's private billets doux will perhaps not command much interest as a lottery prize—

Madam Speaker

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Mr. MacShane

Given the great public interest in this matter and the interest of historians in full access to all papers from No. 10 Downing street, is it in order for such a decision to have been announced in a written answer, instead of being reported to the House in a statement?

Madam Speaker

The short answer is yes. The House knows that it is for Ministers themselves to determine how statements are made. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to the point about the personal files of previous and present Prime Ministers and others, I should like to announce that, if anyone such as the Prime Minister is interested in selling personal files, there is a car boot sale in Bolsover on Sunday.

Madam Speaker

I shall bear that in mind; I happen to be free on Sunday.

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