Ministers (Rules of Procedure)

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 13th January 1988.

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Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield 3:31 pm, 13th January 1988

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I raised with you, as I have with you and your predecessors over a number of years, the question of the rules of procedure for Ministers. I asked you whether, in the light of the incident that occurred at the end of the debate on the Second Reading of the Housing (Scotland) Bill, it would be possible for them to be published. You very kindly provided me with a letter saying that the narrow conditions applied to Ministers in respect of their interests were published in the report of the Royal Commission on standards of conduct and are in the Library.

The point I wish to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, is a rather broader one, as I thought I had made clear yesterday. In 1982 and 1986 I tried to get the rules of procedure put in the Library. I am not querying your decision when you said that it could not be done. I then submitted them in an appendix to the Treasury Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service which declined to publish them in an annex. I greatly regret this.

I am not querying any of the rulings, Mr. Speaker, but we shall have a debate on Friday on official information. No doubt you will confirm your decision not to put the rules of procedure in the Library, so I want to put it on the record that this puts us in a very grave difficulty. I believe that the House should know under what restraints certain hon. Members are placed by their obligations to the Crown. I should be grateful if you, Mr. Speaker, would accept what I say as a submission of considerable constitutional importance, although I do not query your ruling that they cannot be published.

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

I have written to the right hon. Gentleman. He quoted from only part of my letter. It may be for the convenience of the House if I confirm, because other hon. Members are interested in this matter, that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) put a question to the Prime Minister on 26 November 1987, and she confirmed that the guidance was unchanged. The detailed rules were set out in full in Hansard, at columns 292–93, on 20 March 1980, and these are readily available to hon. Members.

Later

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for confirming the ruling in your letter. I intend to publish the rules of procedure and claim privilege in so doing.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

On the subject raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), and me, it may be within your knowledge, Mr. Speaker, that two questions have been accepted by the Table Office, asking the Prime Minister to clarify the rules of conduct of Ministers and specifically to put financial and other interests in the Library, and asking what steps she has taken to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), has complied with the rules governing ministerial conduct, with particular reference to the divestment of financial interests, in so far as they relate to his dealings with the Housing (Scotland) Bill, and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Would it not be for the good order of the House, Mr. Speaker, if, until those answers are given by the Prime Minister on Friday, no final steps were taken to set up the composition of the Standing Committee on the Housing (Scotland) Bill? My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East and I believe that there are serious considerations, even forth of Scotland, on the matter. This really goes to the heart of conduct in the House of Commons. If the ministerial guidelines have been changed, the House should surely be told.

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

The hon. Member has put down a question on the Order Paper which is in order and will be answered. As to his second point, he should make representatons to the Chairman of the Committee of Selection.