The Leader of the Opposition

– in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 1st December 1986.

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Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne 3:43 pm, 1st December 1986

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance, please, about what arose in the House, as recorded in the Official Report, on Friday of last week. When you were not in the Chair the Leader of the Opposition said: I have with me a statement which I deliberately brought into the House". In the following column Mr. Deputy Speaker said: If this is a personal statement, the right hon. Gentleman should send it to Mr. Speaker."—[Official Report, 28 November 1986; Vol. 106, c. 559–60.] Subsequently, the office of the Leader of the Opposition issued a copy of a letter dated 28 November, addressed to you. The final paragraph of that letter reads: With your permission I would like to release the text to the Press. I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, at what time you received that letter and whether you did, indeed, give your consent to the release of that statement? This is described—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Ian Gow Mr Ian Gow , Eastbourne

It is described by the Leader of the Opposition as a personal statement. Do not all personal statements to the House have to be cleared by you? Is it not the case that, by long tradition, the Speaker will give his approval to a personal statement only if what appears in it is approved by him? Is there not, moreover, a long tradition that a personal statement is non-controversial? It would be difficult to imagine a personal statement that is more controversial, more tendentious and, in many respects, less faithful to the truth than that from the Leader of the Opposition.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I think that I can clear up the matter. The Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair at the time was quite correct in saying that it was not a personal statement. The hon. Gentleman, however, is right to say that personal statements have to be cleared with me. The Leader of the Opposition spoke to me at about 3 pm, although I cannot be quite certain of the time. What I said to him was that it could be issued as a press statement.

Photo of Peter Lilley Peter Lilley , St Albans

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When the Leader of the Opposition commented on the point of order that I raised with Mr. Deputy Speaker on Friday, he said that he would be willing to make a personal explanation, either directly to the House or in a written form, taking them as equivalent. We would like to know whether he sought permission to make a personal statement to the House, and if not, whether he will be given the opportunity to do so.

In view of the precedent in "Erskine May" that a right hon. or hon. Member may make a statement on behalf of a Member of Parliament who is abroad, will you give one of the Leader of the Opposition's right hon. Friends an opportunity to make a statement to the House explaining the very grave matters that are dealt with unsatisfactorily in that letter? A vague allusion to five calls made to the Leader of the Opposition's office, after he was in receipt of the full transcript, cannot be satisfactory. We need to know what those conversations——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now going into the merits of the matter. I repeat that Mr. Deputy Speaker was quite correct to say that it was not a personal statement. It is hypothetical whether the Leader of the Opposition will seek to make a personal statement, but it certainly would not be in those terms.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. We have got off on a very bad tack. Every day there are points of order, and I have nothing really to add to what I have said. Does the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) wish to raise a point of order on the same issue?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

In that case, I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order later, so that I can clear up this matter first.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which is connected to the others. You will have realised that when questions were being put to the Attorney-General we reached only one question that had anything to do with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Given all the current controversy, Opposition Members have raised points of order before asking that the Attorney-General should make a statement. Today was the Attorney-General's chance to answer questions, yet in the 10 minutes allocated only one question was reached. That is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. The issue is being debated and discussed in the country, yet the House has a small and limited opportunity to ask about what is happening in Australia.

The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley) suggested that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition should make a statement. What is required is not that he should make a statement but that the Prime Minister should do so.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that the length of time given to ministerial questions is not a matter for the Chair. The Attorney-General answered three questions, of which two were linked.

Photo of Mr Richard Hickmet Mr Richard Hickmet , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The document to which reference has been made arises from the early-day motion which I tabled and which has been signed by 52 of my colleagues. Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, for a so-called personal statement to be made, issued through your office——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. It was not issued through my office, and I have already said that it was not a personal statement.

Photo of Mr Richard Hickmet Mr Richard Hickmet , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Given the contents of the document, Mr. Speaker, will you rule whether it would be proper for the Leader of the Opposition not to hold the House in contempt and to return to explain why he is colluding with those who seek to undermine this country's security, and why he has behaved with dishonour in his relations with Mr.——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to raise a point of order on the same subject?

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

Yes, Mr. Speaker. Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said a few moments ago that, essentially, the Leader of the Opposition had asked for your guidance on the circumstances in which a personal statement might be made. You advised him of that which he should know already, which is that he would have to proceed by way of a press statement. As it was in the Leader of the Opposition's mind that a personal statement should be made, is it not appropriate that there should be some way of enabling him, if not compelling him, to do so, bearing in mind that he has now made it abundantly clear that he has had personal contacts with the agent of a man in Australia——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Those are not matters for me.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the course of the past 10 minutes, you have heard several points of order which follow on from your decision on the Standing Order No. 20 application of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris). It has crossed my mind, Mr. Speaker, and no doubt the minds of many others in the Chamber, that we should be considering again the possibility of having a debate on the issue raised by my right hon. and learned Friend, especially as many Tories want to take part in such a debate. It might be that tomorrow we shall have the unusual event of a joint application being made under Standing Order No. 20, which, if granted, will mean that we shall be able to hear what Conservative Members have to say about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be able to draw the connection between the Prime Minister's involvement in this affair and that parliamentary wimp who acts as Attorney-General.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch

I raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, following the comments of my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley). As I understand it, the Leader of the Opposition said that he had a personal statement to make and that you decided, quite properly, that it was not a personal statement. Surely this means that either the right hon. Gentleman was misleading the House, or he does not know the procedure of the House.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I do not think that there is anything more to be said about that. Every right hon. and hon. Member can occasionally be mistaken in what he or she is seeking to do in terms of what is in order. The Leader of the Opposition was quite correctly pulled up by Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the matter was dealt with in that way. As for the propriety or otherwise of issuing press statements, I think it is fairly well known that nearly every Member of this place issues a press statement nearly every weekend.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

"Wimp" is a reasonably contemporary term, Mr. Speaker, but is it in order to describe any Member of Parliament, including the Attorney-General, as a "parliamentary wimp"?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I do not know whether it is unparliamentary, but it is certainly an undignified and offensive word to use, and I think that it should be withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman, who is a good and experienced Member, and very helpful to the Chair, to withdraw the word "wimp".

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. I ask the hon. Member, please—[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Then I must ask the hon. Member to leave the Chamber.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

No. The word is not unparliamentary. The Leader of the House has said that it is not unparliamentary. I am prepared to substitute "wally" for it.

Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Nothing of substance has been said by Opposition Members about the statement on Friday by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition to merit my speaking, but I take account of the intervention by the Leader of the Opposition[Interruption]—the Leader of the House. He will be the Leader of the Opposition. I am merely anticipating.

I heard the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) refer to my right hon. Friend' s behaviour as "behaviour with dishonour". I do not think that that is parliamentary or acceptable language. I hope that you will be as stern with him as you were with my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Fair is fair and the same must apply to all. Will the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) withdraw any imputation of dishonour?

Photo of Mr Richard Hickmet Mr Richard Hickmet , Glanford and Scunthorpe

I withdraw that statement, Mr. Speaker. In his letter the Leader of the Opposition said——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Thank you very much. Later

Photo of Mr Neil Hamilton Mr Neil Hamilton , Tatton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you know, the Leader of the Opposition is presently explaining to the American people why he thinks the Western Alliance should be dismantled rather than——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. Even if he is, what has that to do with me?

Photo of Mr Neil Hamilton Mr Neil Hamilton , Tatton

It is further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). Although I accept that the Leader of the Opposition has not acted with dishonour, but is not an affront to the dignity of the House that he should be in daily contact with Mr. Turnbull——

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. That has nothing at all to do with me.

Photo of Mr Robert Hayward Mr Robert Hayward , Kingswood

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) willingly withdrew a statement that he made about the Leader of the Opposition, despite the contents of the letter which the right hon. Gentleman has placed in the Library. I did not hear, nor, I believe, did most hon. Members hear, a similar withdrawal by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I think that it was perfectly audible at this end of the Chamber. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) replaced one very offensive word by another which is less offensive, and which I frequently see in the newspapers.

Photo of Mr Michael Brown Mr Michael Brown , Brigg and Cleethorpes

You said just now that, as far as you were concerned, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) had withdrawn one offensive word and replaced it with another offensive word. Will you ask him to withdraw that word?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I did not say that. I did not only use the word "offensive". I said that the hon. Member introduced another word, which I frequently see in the newspapers.