HC Deb 18 November 2003 vol 413 cc615-6 12.31 pm
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire):

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you are the spokesman for the House of Commons, would you be kind enough to inform the President of the United States, whom you will certainly see during his visit, that there is great disappointment in all parts of the House that he is not to address both Houses of Parliament? Even at this late stage, would you be prepared to issue an invitation to the President to do so?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

He's not speaking for everybody.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I will be at a state dinner tomorrow night but it would be inappropriate for me to say anything other than, "I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. President." I think that I can anticipate what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would like to say. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) is not speaking for the whole House in this matter. [Interruption.] Perhaps, but it is not something that I want to take up tomorrow night.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise, as I did not have time to give you notice of this point. Under the guise of security changes for the presidential visit, various doors that would normally give Members of Parliament access to their office buildings are being closed. I do not wish to discuss this matter in public, but I hope that decisions will not be taken that will affect Members of Parliament on the basis of present and immediate security considerations.

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Lady is annoyed about the entrance to Norman Shaw south.

Mrs. Dunwoody


Mr. Speaker

I beg your pardon. I am usually a man of the north. I take my guidance from the Serjeant at Arms, whose concern is security at all times—not only for Members but for those who visit the building and, of course, our staff. I must bear all those things in mind when such decisions are taken.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you been informed how many Ministers are being flown back from faraway places at huge expense in a Government panic to try to save their skin in key votes tomorrow? I have heard, although I can scarce believe it, that the Minister for Sport and Tourism is being flown back from Australia to try to prop up the Government in a very controversial vote. Have you heard about that, Mr. Speaker, and if so, will you be asking how much taxpayers' money is being spent to do that?

Mr. Speaker

I have enough to worry about without worrying about the business of the Whips. That matter is for them to worry about.

Norman Baker (Lewes)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your help on a matter relating to written parliamentary questions. You will know that the new system allows Members to prioritise five questions a day. I have to tell you that a large number this week have come back with holding replies. You will also be aware that if those questions are not answered by Thursday, they fall and do not have to be answered at all. Will you please give Departments guidance that priority questions and other questions that have been tabled for answer should indeed be answered before we prorogue?

Mr. Speaker

I am responsible only for the questions, not the answers.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that I asked the Leader of the House at business questions last Thursday if there were any plans for the President of the United States to speak to both Houses of Parliament. On that occasion, the right hon. Gentleman had no news on the matter. Given that the House expects such an event, have you had any notification from the Leader of the House that he intends to make a statement today or tomorrow to explain the position? If not, why not?

Mr. Speaker

The Leader of the House has not been in touch with me on that matter.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), will you give us an undertaking that we will have access to our offices in Norman Shaw north at all points during this week?

Mr. Speaker

It is my understanding that Members' offices will be available to them. Access is the concern, not the offices or entry to them.