Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:31 pm on 18th December 1990.

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Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley 4:31 pm, 18th December 1990

On a point of order which refers to Question Time, Mr. Speaker. Are we entitled to ask a general policy question which does not affect an individual? Are we entitled to ask whether a change of policy on the award of hereditary baronetcies has taken place?

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

That is a hypothetical question but if the right hon. Member will submit a question, the Table Office will certainly consider it with care. However, I draw the attention of hon. Members to "Erskine May" page 288, which says: It has been ruled that the Prime Minister cannot be interrogated as to the advice that he may have given to the sovereign with regard to the grant of honours, or the ecclesiastical patronage of the Crown or the appointment and dismissal of Privy Councillors or the dissolution of Parliament.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it possible for the Vote Office to make copies of the helpful report of the proceedings of the European Council available to all hon. Members so that we are aware of the official conclusions of conferences, which are published in Brussels and are made available from time to time? I have a copy here. Would it not be helpful and avoid doubt about what was agreed if copies were made available through the Vote Office? Will you look into that?

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

That is a matter for Ministers, but I shall look into it.

Several Hon. Members:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

I should just like to say one happy thing. May I wish the right hon. Member a very happy 70th birthday? Will that be a substitute for other points of order?

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

On that happy note, may I take this opportunity to wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year? I am sorry to return to the point of order previously raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) about Question Time, but I do so having read "Erskine May" in the interim. I ask for your guidance. Having read "Erskine May" on titles, it is my understanding that it would be legitimate to ask the Prime Minister a general question on how his expressed philosophy in one area may conflict with his actions in general in another area—the creation of hereditary titles or peerages. As we have both now read "Erskine May", would you agree with such a ruling?

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

A general question to the Prime Minister is one thing, but the question asked at Prime Minister's Question Time was not a general but a specific question. That is why I ruled it out of order.

Photo of Mr Anthony Favell Mr Anthony Favell , Stockport

May I support the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor)? It is most important that the conclusions of these conferences are made available to the House. They go to the very root of the powers of the House, and it is important that we know what the Commission's conclusions are, so that we can question them at the earliest possible moment. This affects you, Mr. Speaker, as much as everyone else.

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

I am well aware of that, and I certainly agree with the proposition. The matter is for those on the Front Bench. The Prime Minister is sitting there, and I am sure that he has heard what has been said.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

Further to the point of order of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), Mr. Speaker. On 9 June last year, I introduced a ten-minute Bill to abolish the granting of honours for political purposes to stop the practice whereby, after 20 years' service and with full pay packets, Tory Members automatically receive a knighthood. I was deeply critical of the way in which the Prime Minister of the day was using the honours system. In giving advice to the Queen—

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

Order. What is the point of order for me? The hon. Gentleman's ten-minute rule Bill fell.

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

Well, it did not get on to the statute book and fell when Parliament was prorogued. What is the point of order for me?

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

As I understand your ruling, Mr. Speaker, it is out of order for us in any way to criticise the advice that a Prime Minister gives to the monarch about granting honours. I was deeply critical when I proposed the introduction of my Bill. What is more, the House gave me leave to introduce it. I was supported by many hon. Members throughout the House. Although honours may technically be awarded by the Queen, we all know that advice is given by the Prime Minister. Just as it is in order to criticise Cabinet Ministers who may technically—

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

Order. This is not a debate. Will the hon. Gentleman come to the point at once, please? We have a busy day ahead of us.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

It is simple, Mr. Speaker. Earlier today, you said that it was out of order to criticise the Prime Minister

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

Order. I told the hon. Gentleman, and the whole House heard it, that it was out of order for the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) to ask a specific question about a specific honour. If the hon. Gentleman wants to introduce another ten-minute rule Bill, I suggest that he does so.

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash , Stafford

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say rapidly that the presidency conclusions are in the Library of the House of Commons and are available to hon. Members? I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said about the need to ensure that every hon. Member knows about them in good time.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance. I recall that, in your earlier statement about the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) to the Prime Minister, you said in effect that we were not allowed to bring the royal family into controversy. Did you mean the house of Windsor, the house of Thatcher, or both?

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

The whole House knows that we stand by our own arguments, and do not call in aid members of the royal family. There is a distinction between general matters raised with the Prime Minister or matters raised generally in debate, and the rules for Question Time. I repeat page 288 of "Erskine May": It has been ruled that the Prime Minister cannot be interrogated as to the advice that he may have given to the sovereign with regard to the grant of honours".

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

On this point, Mr. Speaker. We are all sorry to risk your wrath, particularly at this festive time, but as I understand it, there are five honours which the sovereign can give without advice from the Government. They are the Knights of the Garter, the Knights of the Thistle, the Order of Merit—

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

Order. That may be true, but it has nothing to do with me.

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

Well, what has it to do with me?

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

If I may forget Christmas charity, Mr. Speaker, if you will not listen to the point, how can you rule? I make the point that the sovereign awards certain awards, including the Royal Victorian Order, without advice from Ministers. Is this House to say that "Erskine May" is set in stone and will not move on with the times in which we live?

Your ruling, Mr. Speaker, was surely to the effect that all other honours are given on the recommendation of the Prime Minister of the day. Hon. Members should be able to question a Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be, about the honours that are given, except for those that are purely within the royal prerogative. If we cannot do that, "Erskine May" is not a document for us to use but bears down on the liberties of the House.

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

Remembering that we have a busy day ahead, perhaps I might say to the hon. Member and others who are concerned about the matter that I must put into practice the rules as they are. If the House wants the rules changed, that can be done as a result of a suggestion being made to the Procedurer Committee. I am sure that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), of all people, would not wish me to change the rules according to my instincts or prerogative.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you recall that, when you were in the House in another capacity and when Harold Wilson was giving honours out here, there and everywhere, criticism was expressed by hon. Members on both sides at a time when certain people were due to be nominated on lavender notepaper, and afterwards when another list was submitted to the Queen?

This is a matter of freedom of speech. The present Prime Minister has declared that he is in favour of a classless society. That must mean the abolition of the honours list. But having declared that, the right hon. Gentleman gives Dennis Thatcher an honour that will be collected by Mr. Thatcher's son when he has passed on. There must be something wrong if we cannot talk about that.

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

On a completely different point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that yesterday, at a meeting of the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee, an attempt was made by a majority of Members on 20 occasions to raise the question of an interest rate cut and, if necessary, a devaluation of the pound. I understand that all the requests—

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

Order. I trust that the hon. Member is not seeking to raise on the Floor of the House what went on in a Select Committee. He knows the rules. That cannot be done until the Select Committee has reported.

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

Perhaps I might put it to you in another way, Mr. Speaker. Is it proper for the Chairman of a Select Committee on 20 separate occasions to rule out a request for a Division?

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

What is not proper is for the hon. Member to raise on the Floor of the House what went on in a Select Committee until that Select Committee has reported.

Photo of Dr Mo Mowlam Dr Mo Mowlam , Redcar

On a completely different point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to clarify whether it is within the ambit of the House that the rules of sub judice can be interpreted so generally that I can be refused by the Table Office permission to table early-day motions or written questions relating to the Government Actuary's Department and the responsibility of the Treasury, which knew as far back as 1986 about the problems at Levitts?

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

The hon. Lady must submit her questions to the Table Office. If they are refused, she may wish to see me about them, and I shall certainly look at them.

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

On a happy point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

Is it the hon. Member's birthday, too?

Photo of Mr Harry Ewing Mr Harry Ewing , Falkirk East

A short while ago, you congratulated an hon. Member on the Opposition Benches on his 70th birthday. You merely looked, when doing that, in the general direction of the Bench on which I am seated. Also seated on this Bench are a number of my hon. Friends who, I am sure, are wondering, as I am, to whom you were referring. Would you care to make it clear that you were referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees)?

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

I was referring to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees). But I would say to any right hon. or hon. Member in the House who has a birthday today: happy birthday.