Royal Prerogative

– in the House of Commons at 3:59 pm on 26th January 1988.

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Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield 3:59 pm, 26th January 1988

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise with you a major constitutional question arising from the gross abuse of the royal prerogative by Ministers in the following respects. It is now clear that, by royal prerogative, members of the security services are allowed to break the law. It is also clear that Ministers will exempt people who so do on the grounds of the national security, again using the royal prerogative. It is also clear that Ministers will go to the courts and claim national security and will win judgments, such as that given by the Master of the Rolls, on the groundss of royal prerogative.

In this House, questions on security are refused by the Table on the grounds of national security under the royal prerogative. If hon. Members raise this matter in the House it will be sub judice under the royal prerogative, and if hon. Members draw conclusions from it and use words that are plain in the English dictionary to describe it, they are suspended for using unparliamentary language.

I make my point briefly at your request, Mr. Speaker, but I genuinely believe that the abuse of the royal prerogative by this Government has negated the rights, and responsibilities of the House of Commons, which we elected you to defend. I do not ask you to respond today, but I ask you to consider carefully the points that I have made, which are all founded in established fact and records, and to consider how best the House can defend itself against a major evasion of the Government's manifest constitutional responsibility to the Parliament elected by the people of this country.

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

Order. Before we go any further, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I shall carefully consider what he said, but I should like to have more details about what he has in mind.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I provide the detailed and precise points that we would like you to consider? Sir John Donaldson, the Master of the Rolls, said that law-breaking by the Security Service, MI5, was in the public interest—

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

Order. That matter is sub judice and we cannot discuss it on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You asked for more information—

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

Order. I did not call the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Mr. Campbell-Savours.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I can help you. You may have noticed that over the past seven days I have tabled innumerable questions on the royal prerogative and its use. If you study the answers that have been given, you will notice that there is ambiguity in the replies. I know that you will say, legitimately, that answers from Ministers are not a matter for the Chair. However, I put it to you that this is not a minor question. The answers are significant, in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has suggested, because they have a constitutional importance. There are people throughout the world who are observing those replies because they have implications not only for our Parliament but for other Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth. May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider those answers and make the necessary representations to Ministers?

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

Order. I should have no time to do anything else if I studied all the written answers. I have no intention of doing that. If all the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have raised these matters would kindly put their points in writing, I shall, of course, gladly consider the matter.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is the right of Parliament to ask Ministers about any form of public activity. That is one of the jobs of Parliament. If that was not one of the roles that we play, Parliament would be very much eroded and undermined. I am asking you to rule on a matter of great public importance—our right to question the activities of the security and intelligence services when we believe that there may be serious allegations of law-breaking.

As I understand the law — I am sure that you will correct me if I am wrong, Mr. Speaker — all public servants have a duty and responsibility to uphold the law. Parliament has not given any public servant the right to break the law. I am referring, not simply to the exchanges that we had yesterday, but to wider issues. If there is a genuine feeling in Government circles that the security and intelligence services are in a position to break the law, and that the law that we are all supposed to uphold does not apply to the security and intelligence services, are we, as Members of Parliament, not able to ask Ministers about that? That would mean that the security and intelligence services would be acting illegally and were not being prosecuted for such activities, and we, as well as the press, would be gagged, because we would have no way of questioning Ministers. It is an important issue.

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

Order. I sense that this is a continuation of what went on yesterday. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) addressed his point of order to me.

There is every reason why the Government should be questioned on security matters, as they were yesterday. I cannot rule on a general proposition, but I say yet again that if right hon. and hon. Gentlemen will specify their points in writing, I will look into them.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), referred to one of my hon. Friends as Hitler. I imagine that that is most unparliamentary—

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

Order. The best thing that we can do is get on with the debate on the Army.

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

Order. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to take up the time of his colleagues who want to speak in the debate? If he does, I shall have to bear that in mind.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise with you the question of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, for which you have a special responsibility. The CPA is made up of representatives of all the Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth. I put it to you that there are interests in Parliaments throughout the Commonwealth that mirror the interests that are raised in this Parliament. The issue of the royal prerogative will be debated in other Parliaments.

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

Order. I have already said that if the hon. Gentleman will specify his point, I will consider it.

Photo of Mr Dave Nellist Mr Dave Nellist , Coventry South East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There has been a plethora of allegations, particularly in recent months, about the activities of the security services against past Labour Governments. I know that this is not original, but it is appropriate to this series of points of order. According to the rules of the House, it seems that if something happened in the past, in the 1970s, it is history; if it is happening at the moment, it is sub judice; and if it will happen in the future it is hypothetical. I have been elected, not just once, but several times, by 50,000 people in Coventry, South-East to come here and scrutinise the activities of Ministers. How can I do that with those constrictions on my activities?

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

The hon. Gentleman is bound by the Standing Orders and rules of the House on these matters. There are plenty of opportunities to raise these matters.

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

We have had debates in the past, and there was Question Time yesterday.

Photo of Mr Richard Ryder Mr Richard Ryder , Mid Norfolk

I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn.

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

I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman's questions, because I do not know what he is talking about.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

To save you having to read a lot of documents Mr. Speaker, may I put the point to you simply? If the House and you, Mr. Speaker, accept that anything that the Government define, including theft and murder, as covered by national security cannot be debated, the House and you personally are reduced to impotent witnesses of actions by an unaccountable Government. You do not have to read the papers or any documents or written answers to appreciate the vitality and importance of the point that is being made.

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

Order. I realise the importance of the matter, and I am the first to protect the right of Back Benchers to ask questions, provided that they are within our regulations. I shall continue so to do.