§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs is today reported as saying that the Department of Trade and Industry permanent secretary is engaged in a "coup" against him, and that civil servants have "sabotaged" his work. I have given notice to the Minister of my intention to raise the matter as a point of order, but I understand that there is a meeting of DTI Ministers today in London.
Have you, Madam Speaker, received notice from the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs of a statement about the total breakdown of trust between the Minister and his civil servants? The President of the Board of Trade has recognised that it is a matter for the House, as she is reported as saying that,if the matter was raised by Opposition MPs, she would be forced to defend her civil servants and denouncethe Minister's remarks.
The matter is now public. Where is the President of the Board of Trade? Will she apologise publicly for the action of her Minister? It is an issue of ministerial accountability and of good manners. Civil servants do not have rights of audience. I submit that the matter is one for the House.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you please advise the House what protection is available for officials and civil servants when they are so publicly and viciously attacked by a Minister in their own Department? Furthermore, what trust can the House have in replies that we receive to our parliamentary questions and in debates when a Department is at war with itself—with Ministers set against civil servants and vice versa? Surely it is a matter that must be cleared up very promptly, so that our confidence in the system of parliamentary questions and accountability can be restored.
§ Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. As a member of the Standing Committee that recently considered the Competition Bill, I was aware that the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs was frequently unable adequately to answer the points raised in that Committee's debates.
§ Madam Speaker
Let me first deal with the point of order. I tell the hon. Member for Christchurch 1120 (Mr. Chope) and the House that I have not seen the report to which he referred. He asked whether I have been informed that a Minister is to make a statement. I have no information that any Minister is about to make a statement on the matter.
§ Mr. Salmond
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is another side to the matter. Last week, there was a report in the press naming the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs and the Minister of State, Scottish Office as having been voted by civil servants the worst Ministers in the Government. It is therefore not true that there was not a civil service opinion in the matter.