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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Ms Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that at 8.30 this morning there was a train crash at Hither Green station in my constituency. Indeed, one of the trains involved was probably one that I would normally have used to get to Westminster. Although I am relieved that only nine people were relatively slightly injured and that the emergency services arrived very quickly and dealt with matters as professionally as we have come to expect, more than 1,000 people were on those two trains and many of them were probably standing. Have you heard whether a Minister intends to come to the House to make a statement about whether there will be an inquiry into what happened at Hither Green this morning?

Mr. Speaker: I am sorry to hear that bad news. I have had no contact from any Minister.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful that you can consider this point, of which I have given you notice. On Friday morning, at column 527 of Hansard, the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), gave an undertaking to the House. He said:

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) drew attention to the importance of that undertaking, when he said, at column 530:

At column 531, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) said:

That relates to the motion that appears as No. 3 on today's Order Paper. Some of us consider the motion to be absolutely disgraceful, but that is an issue for tonight, unless, Mr. Speaker, you can give me satisfaction on my point of order. The Minister of State indicated dissent to my hon. Friend, indicating that the motion would not be tabled on Friday. However, it was tabled on Friday, meaning that Back-Bench members of the Committee to whom the proceedings refer, such as myself, who had taken the Minister at his word, did not remain here until the close of business. Having listened to the points of order on Friday, I thought I would have an opportunity to table amendments to the motion today. That has not been the case. Given the Minister's undertakings and the fact that the terms of the motion are outrageous, I ask that the motion not be considered today.

Mr. Speaker: What the Minister said on Friday is not a matter for me. A motion has been tabled, and an amendment has been put down. So far as I am concerned, that is the end of the matter.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last Tuesday, you were kind enough to hear

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an application for a debate under Standing Order No. 24 on the situation in southern Serbia and Macedonia. Since then, the situation in the Presevo valley has got even worse. We now have news that Albanian extremists--the UCPMB--have refused NATO's invitation for there to be Serb troops in the buffer zones. In view of the fact that Peter Feith, Lord Robertson's special envoy, has been rebuffed, that Kalashnikovs--mostly Chinese--are to be found all over the area, and that ground-safety zones are being abused, have you had any request from the Ministry of Defence for permission to make a statement about those dangerous events in the southern Balkans?

Mr. Speaker: No.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. By way of brief background, I have been receiving telephone calls all weekend from Eddisbury farmers about the foot and mouth crisis. Following clearance on one suspected case just two miles from my home, Cheshire remains, as of this morning, a clean county--in stark contrast to the 1967 outbreak, when many farms across Cheshire were devastated.

Given reports that carcases from Devon are going to Cheshire for rendering at the Widnes plant, the backlog of burning on farms, the shortage of manpower, sleepers and coal, the need for the Environment Agency, the Health and Safety Executive and the insurance industry to check everything, and despite the superhuman efforts of vets, we need to know whether there will be a statement to address the serious concerns of Eddisbury farmers. They are receiving reports of carcases, lying on disinfected sawdust only, going through their clean county in lorries with open air vents and loose tarpaulins. Live animals are now coming from Scotland through affected areas in Cumbria to St. Asaph. Without assurances, the farmers of Cheshire, and those of Eddisbury in particular, are deeply concerned that, by such action, the clean county of Cheshire will be affected.

Mr. Speaker: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be reporting to the House this week. That will give the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to raise these matters with him.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt), would you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that the Tories have completely misread the procedure? They have bungled procedurally, allowing the Liberal Democrats to jump in to do what they themselves should have done.

Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman is trying to draw me into the argument.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien), Mr. Speaker. My point concerns the procedure for getting in touch with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in relation to foot and mouth.

I received this morning a phone call from Mr. Jan Rowe, a senior member of the National Farmers Union, about the Blakeney outbreak of foot and mouth in Gloucestershire. It is particularly serious because the person who owns the sheep in the Forest of Dean also has sheep running on the

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two main rubbish tips in Gloucestershire. I understand that hundreds of lorries go to and from those tips each day without any precautions being taken. MAFF will not be able to inspect the sheep until Wednesday.

I immediately phoned the Minister's private office, to be asked by an official, "Have you rung your local animal health office?" I said, "Come on, I am a Member of Parliament. These are strategic issues which need to be dealt with centrally." He then told me, "I will get somebody to phone you back." Nobody rang me back.

I then telephoned the foot and mouth helpline, which is based in Yorkshire. The gentleman who answered the phone said, "It is no good phoning us: we are inundated with inquiries. Our information is way out of date; we are three days out of date on confirmed outbreaks of foot and mouth on farms." I said, "Thank you. You have given me all the information that I need to raise a point of order in the House this afternoon." He said, "I hope you will, and vociferously"--which I am doing now. We need a dedicated person in MAFF to deal with such serious points on foot and mouth--somebody at a senior level who can give us answers.

Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's concerns have been noted.

Maria Eagle (Liverpool, Garston): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following the premeditated and yobbish behaviour of the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) and three of her Whip colleagues, who disrupted Standing Committee F on Thursday, do you have any plans to issue guidance to right hon. and hon. Members, and to members of the Chairmen's Panel, about the power that a Chairman has to direct the Serjeant at Arms to deal with the withdrawal of non-members of Standing Committees if they are disrupting proceedings? Please tell us whether you plan to issue such guidance; page 704 of "Erskine May" suggests that the House has made orders relating to such incidents in the past.

Mr. Speaker: The Chairmen's Panel consists of experienced Members. They do not need more guidance. The Chairman of the Committee concerned showed that he has all the experience that is needed. I would be insulting the members of the Chairmen's Panel if I gave them any more guidance.

Mr. Blunt rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has already raised a point of order. He will have to wait until the end of points of order. Members are rationed to one at a time.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order concerns the behaviour of Members. You are old enough, as I am, to remember the Profumo inquiry. Over the weekend, there have been some serious allegations made in newspapers against the Foreign Secretary and his behaviour in the House. I shall not comment on those allegations. However, as the Foreign Secretary--

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