§ Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You will recall that, at columns 476-77 last Thursday, in relation to the statutory instrument Local Government Finance (England) Special Grant Report (No. 105) on Invest to Save Budget Round 4 Projects and Local Government On-Line, I raised the fact that, as at half-past 3 on Thursday, the relevant statutory instrument was not printed and was not in the Vote Office. The Chairman of Ways and Means gave a ruling at the time:
"It follows that there should be at least one copy in the Library. If, as the hon. Gentleman says, a supply of fully printed copies is not yet available in the Vote Office nine days after the laying of the document. that is indeed most regrettable."—[Official Report. 18 July 2002: Vol. 389, c. 477.]
That was a pretty strong ruling. I subsequently discovered that a copy was not even in the Library, which must be pretty close to contravening the rules of the House.
We discussed the statutory instrument in Standing Committee at 4.30 pm today, and we discovered that it had not even been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. That seems to be pretty close to breaking the rules of the House, if not actually breaking them. It is certainly breaking the spirit of the workings of the House.
This is an extremely sloppy way of working the part of the Government. I raised the matter in Committee on a point of order. I asked for the instrument to be postponed. but the Chairman ruled that he was empowered to consider only whether it had been properly considered by the Committee. I would like you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to rule that the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister should follow better working practices when laying statutory instruments in the House. It was not even an urgent statutory instrument. It could have been laid in the House in the autumn.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal)
I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I believe that that procedure is not unprecedented.