Northern Ireland Business

Oral Answers to Questions — House of Commons – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 1987.

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Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest 12:00 am, 19th January 1987

asked the Lord Privy Seal if he has any proposals to reform the conduct of Northern Ireland business; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr John Biggs-Davison Mr John Biggs-Davison , Epping Forest

While the Northern Ireland Office is addicted to the separate statute book, does my right hon. Friend think that it is in keeping with our system of parliamentary government that Northern Ireland legislation should be done, and should have been done for so many years, in the form of unamendable Orders in Council, only briefly debated?

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

My hon. Friend makes the point fairly and he will recall that last February an invitation was issued by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the leaders of the Unionist parties to discuss whether alterations should take place in our system of handling Northern Ireland legislation, and there the matter rests.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

On a point of order Mr. Speaker.

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

I shall deal only with points of order arising out of questions. I shall take the point of order of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) first.

Photo of Mr Raymond Powell Mr Raymond Powell , Ogmore

I know that you will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that this is a point of order directed to you and and I am sure that you will give the matter serious consideration. Today, Welsh Questions started at 2.35 pm and ended at 3.10 pm and seven questions out of 24 were reached. I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to give further consideration, along with the House of Commons (Services) Select Committee, to ensuring that Welsh Questions have the full allocation of time from 2.35 pm until 3.30 pm so that matters affecting all constituents in Wales can be aired once every third week in the Chamber. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, kindly to review the matter so that that can be accomplished.

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

The timing of Questions is not a matter for me——

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

Order. I am dealing with a point of order. The timing of Questions is a matter to be taken up through the usual channels. In fact, we dealt with nine questions. Questions 19 and 24 were taken with other questions. I do try during Welsh Questions, as the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) will see if he looks at the Order Paper, to call every Member who has a question on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman was not rising at a moment when I could have called him.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

On a point of order arising out of questions, Mr. Speaker. You will recollect that during questions the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that the statement that no one with a conscience would vote Conservative was—in his term—a libel. Clearly, we do not wish to raise anything in the House that is sub judice, and it has put my colleagues and me in a slightly difficult position. Since it is clearly, in his opinion, a libel, it might be helpful if he said whether a writ has been issued so that we know whether we can discuss the matter.

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

Order. That is not a matter for me.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for being rather over-keen when you were giving a ruling on the first point of order.

Extremely long answers were given to questions 30 and 32 on the National Audit Office and humbugs. I had questions to the Church Commissioners and to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Could such lengthy answers be recorded rather than read out in full so that hon. Members would not be precluded from asking questions which they have come to the House specifically to ask?

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

It is the luck of the draw. The hon. Gentleman will know that the arrangements as set out on the Order Paper is that questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster take precedence over those to the hon. Member answering for the Church Commissioners on this one day.

Photo of Mr Peter Bruinvels Mr Peter Bruinvels , Leicester East

What about the length of answers?

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

I am not responsible for the length of answers.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) raised an important matter about whether the libel matter is sub judice.

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

Order. This is not a matter for me.

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

Well please try to make it so!

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

When a matter is sub judice, it is then for Mr. Speaker to tell hon. Members before questions, "Do not get involved in that particular matter because it is sub judice." Here we have a statement by a member of the Tory Cabinet, telling us that the allegation is libellous. We want to know from this silent right hon. Gentleman, who is usually so voluable, whether he has issued a writ in respect of this case. Hugo Young writes his column tomorrow, and some of us might even read it, so we want to know. You should know as well, Mr. Speaker, so that you can rule hon. Members out of order, if necessary.

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

Order. It does not help to have more points of order. We shall all know in due course.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been characteristic of the manner in which the Opposition have conducted their opposition in this Parliament that they have used personal innuendo in the Chamber, which is protected by privilege, to make defamatory statements about Conservative Members. For the shadow Leader of the House to condone such behaviour is unparliamentary. Perhaps——

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

Order. This is a clear case of a continuation of Question Time. The House must find other ways to raise this matter.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will be within your recollection that, at the end of last year, you wrote a long and serious letter about telephone tapping. You will have heard the exchanges today at Question Time. I do not doubt the good faith of the answer given by the Leader of the House, but there are problems here, because international calls appear to be being logged—I do not know whether that is the right term. They are made a note of and registered. There may have been a misunderstanding. Could either you or the Leader of the House consider the issues involved in this, or could the Leader of the House make it clear what his answer involves in relation to international calls of which a note is made? Part of the difficulty in all this is the terminology involved. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who is a telephone engineer, says that telephone tapping is the wrong term and one should talk about electronic interference. The niceties of language do not cover the important substance of the issue. It may be that the Leader of the House would like to clear up the position in relation to international calls when he has the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

I am anxious to help the House. I answered the question that was tabled. I am happy to discuss the matter further with the hon. Gentleman.