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Mr. Forsyth: By announcing something in the House, one announces it to the world, but we shall certainly make sure that the information is circulated. I am extremely grateful to Campsie Spring and the other companies for the responsible way in which they have co-operated with Scottish Office officials in the public interest. The situation must have been terrifying for them, because their products were put in doubt.

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride): Does the Secretary of State agree that the nuclear industry is an important part of the Scottish economy, with the highest safety standards? It is accepted that there may be a need to change operating procedures at nuclear stations. Will the Secretary of State continue to ensure that the incident is not used to undermine the future of the nuclear industry in Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth: I cannot control what people say and how they use issues to advance particular causes, however misguided. I agree that the nuclear industry is important in Scotland and that it has the highest standards. I also believe that, by the nature of the industry, it is not possible for us to be anything other than always on our guard for the possibilities of leakage or other incidents. The management of British Energy is committed to maintaining the highest standards. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern that some people, for their own interests, will no doubt wish to exploit such incidents. In this case, there is no cause for concern about public safety.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): The hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Ms Cunningham) implied that there might be something wrong at Torness. Will the

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Secretary of State take this opportunity to make it abundantly clear that there is no suggestion of anything wrong at Torness?

Mr. Forsyth: As far as I am aware, there is no cause for concern about Torness. I think that the hon. Lady said that we should check the procedures for the delivery of carbon dioxide and other materials at Torness, in line with other nuclear power stations. As I said earlier, that is being done.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): There have not been many statements or private notice questions on almost any subject in recent months. Does not the Secretary of State's presence at the Dispatch Box show that we are dealing with a serious matter? We should always remember that we are dealing with an industry that could be very unsafe. Will he also bear it in mind that his words today show clearly that, in the nuclear power industry, there is only a hair's breadth between getting away with it and having an incident of a major character?

Mr. Ingram: Like in the pits.

Mr. Skinner: It is not quite the same as the pits. My hon. Friend is not concerned about all those miners who were thrown out of work by the Government.

There is another point of view. All hon. Members seem to have accepted the Secretary of State's words as a reassurance. I had better tell him--somebody has to be clear about this--that so dangerous is the industry that I would not take his words at face value on this subject or any other. He would not recognise the truth if it was sprayed on his eyeballs.

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman is exactly the kind of individual whom the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) was concerned about. I am sorry that he has chosen to put forward that point of view. I am not asking him to accept assurances from me. I have told the House that the independent nuclear installations inspectorate will produce a report, which I shall circulate. If the hon. Gentleman still has concerns, I shall be happy to follow them up.

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Points of Order

3.58 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Sir Paul Beresford): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to correct an answer that I gave yesterday in response to a question from the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston).

Referring to Bristol councillors' allowances, I said:


I should have used the past tense.

According to a reply to a question to the chairman of Bristol city council's policy and finance committee, the increase in special responsibility allowances for 1995-96 was from £19,200 to £30,600. That is a 59.4 per cent. increase. A press report on that increase points out that annual allowances for the five chairmen increased from £1,200 to £2,000, which is a 66.67 per cent. increase.

I apologise, Madam Speaker. It was certainly not my intention to mislead the House.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware of the controversy surrounding the remarks of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), which maligned women in general but were particularly insulting to female Members of Parliament. Many hon. Members believe that his behaviour has brought the House into disrepute. Is there a relevant or appropriate Committee to which the matter may be referred in order to resolve it?

Madam Speaker: No. As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, there is no appropriate Committee of the House to which the matter could be referred. As Speaker, I have no responsibility or authority regarding speeches or comments made outside the House. My task is to keep my ears open for comments made in the House--and I think that I have enough to do in that regard without concerning myself with remarks made outside it.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order concerns the rights of constituents to approach Members of Parliament. Some constituents who are concerned about the closure of the Rotherham benefits agency came to my surgery on Saturday, and I shall take up their case with the relevant Minister. However, I was astonished when they gave me a top-level circular that was issued to all Benefits Agency staff threatening them with disciplinary action or dismissal if they contacted Members of Parliament about the matter. I believe that the Benefits Agency director, Peter Mathison, should be made to come to the Bar of the House on his knees to apologise for that threat to the right of British citizens to contact their Members of Parliament. I seek your ruling, Madam Speaker, so that no constituents of mine or of any other hon. Member need fear contacting their Members of Parliament about any issue.

Madam Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me a little notice of the matter. Without necessarily commenting on a particular case, I confirm that I am strongly of the view that constituents should not be prevented by their employer or anyone else in a similar

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position from taking matters of public or personal concern to their Member of Parliament. The House and all its Members are here to represent the people, and we cannot do that properly if people's grievances and complaints are stifled.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston): Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), Madam Speaker, will time be made available for the Prime Minister to make a statement to the House about the disreputable remarks of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans)?

Madam Speaker: If a Minister wishes to make a statement, I have no alternative but to hear it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is not about the racist and sexist clown whose utterances have disgraced this House. Madam Speaker, like your predecessors, you have said on many occasions that statements about policy should be made first in the House. I draw your attention to the fact that today both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Social Security made very important statements about the future of the state earnings-related pension scheme that will affect millions of people in this country. Clearly no statement will be made about the matter in the House today, although the announcement was made publicly and has been reported on radio and television. Does that not demonstrate a contempt for the House of Commons? Madam Speaker, although you are not responsible for whether statements are made, I ask you to let it be known not only to Government Members but to the whole House that statements on important matters of policy such as this--although the measure will not be implemented because the Government will not be re-elected--should be made to the House of Commons first rather than to the media or the general public.

Madam Speaker: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. I repeat that, when there is to be major change of policy, a statement should be made first to the House. I noted the comments that were made this morning, and I made it my business to find out when questions could be asked about the matter. The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that he will be able to put down such questions to Social Security Ministers on 11 March.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that many hon. Members--particularly those on Opposition Benches --feel particularly outraged that today's briefing came from Tory central office and that the announcement was made from Downing street. The Government are proposing an epoch-making change in pensions policy that will affect millions of people. It is an abuse of Parliament if we cannot have a statement in the House about such an important matter, particularly during an election period. If there is to be a string of such announcements in the run-up to the election, I suggest that the Prime Minister cannot have it both ways. If he wants to announce Tory party policies, let him do so from

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central office. He should not be allowed to abuse the dignity of his office by refusing to come to the House to answer questions.


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