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Mrs. Marion Roe, supported by Mr. David Amess, Mr. Graham Brady, Mr. Simon Burns and Mr. Jonathan Sayeed, presented a Bill to require health service providers to provide patients with a standard consent form; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 30 March, and to be printed [Bill 30].
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South): I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, could comment on a situation in which a constituent who was employed by a public body wrote a letter to his Member of Parliament, detailing the way in which he had been treated by that public body and issues that could affect the service delivery of the public body. Surely it is wrong to use the detail of a constituent's letter for the purposes of proposed disciplinary action against him. Surely it undermines the confidence of constituents in their Member of Parliament's ability to represent their interests without fear or favour.
Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As my hon. Friend has explained, a distinguished surgeon in the Coventry area who is in dispute with the local health trust wrote to my hon. Friend, copying the letter to me, stating his reasons for disagreement with the health trust, in particular his natural temporary loss of confidence in the management, with whom he was in dispute. It seems that the trust has used that letter, quoting from it, in its assessment of the situation, to adduce from it why the surgeon should not be reinstated in his position. That surely cannot be acceptable to any Member of this House. We should receive letters from our constituents in confidence. We should be able to seek information and views on them and represent the interests of constituents without the correspondence, which surely is confidential, being used against their professional interests, even to the point of denying their ability to earn their living. We would be grateful for your advice, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) for letting me have notice of his point of order. It does not appear to me that the House's privileges have been infringed by what we have heard. It would not be appropriate for me to make any comment on the detailed circumstances of the case. Nevertheless, I have two general observations to make arising from it. First, I would deplore any activity, particularly if a public body were to be involved, that was intended to deter a constituent from contacting his or her Member of Parliament. Secondly, Members should always bear it in mind that the House's privileges do not, as a rule, protect constituents who write to us seeking advice and help.
Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you, as the guardian of the rights of Back Benchers, which are increasingly few, to have a word with the Prime Minister about the way in which questions are answered? I asked the right hon. Gentleman a question today of fundamental importance about when he, to put it frankly, was less than honest in a television--[Interruption.]
Mr. Soames: That is certainly an original ruling, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.] I intend no disrespect to the Chair. I am trying to get an answer from the Prime Minister. He said on television that he had voted in favour of the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, when, as usual, he did not even bother to vote. He also said on that television programme that the Bill was lost because the House of Lords threw it out. It never even reached the House of Lords. I must ask you what opportunity exists for hon. Members to receive honourable answers to important questions, when we are about to debate a matter that touches on the fundamental civil liberties of hundreds of thousands of ordinary people. You are the guardian of our rights.
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I am the guardian of the rules, and the rules of the House do not allow me to put words into a Minister's mouth. I am not responsible for the answers that the Prime Minister or any other hon. Member gives in the House. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman must seek to table questions or get round the Order Paper in whatever way he can.
Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. You may be aware of the continuing fiasco of the Government's incompetent handling of teachers' performance-related pay. Last night, Madam Deputy Speaker properly deferred debate because, as a result of the Government's so-called modernisation, there was not sufficient time to consider the matter. Have you been informed by the Government when they intend to bring the matter back? The House deserves the right to debate this fully.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many hon. Members wish to speak in today's debate. Are you minded to impose a 10-minute limit on speeches to ensure that the maximum number of right hon. and hon. Members have the opportunity to contribute?
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet): Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), Mr. Speaker. You have ruled, in accordance with custom and practice, that hon. Members do not lie or mislead the House. We all accept that, but the quid pro quo must be that where it is shown that a right hon. or hon. Member has inadvertently made a mistake, he should be asked to withdraw his statement. The Prime Minister's statement is on the record in Hansard of July last year. Has he offered to withdraw it?
Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have listened to your advice, and I shall table questions relating to the answer that I received from the Prime Minister today on a matter that concerns many hon. Members on both sides of the House. If the answer that I receive to my written question does not tally with the answer that he gave me today, what am I to do?
4. The following shall not apply in respect of proceedings in Committee of the whole House--
(a) Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000, and
(b) Sessional Order D(5) (Single question on successive provisions of the Bill) made by the House on that day.--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]
There will thus be a joint debate on the first four clauses of the Bill together with the three new clauses and associated selected amendments. The Committee will have the opportunity at 10 o'clock to vote successively on each of the three options contained in clauses 1 to 3, before dealing with the consequential matters relating to the clauses. I appeal to members of the Committee to restrain themselves in the length of their speeches, if they catch my eye. The point has been made that a great many people have a deep interest in the matter. To allow as many as possible to contribute, and to cover all shades of opinion, I hope that all hon. Members will adopt brevity as their guide.