Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 9th March 1994.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 3:30 pm, 9th March 1994

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the claim by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster[Interruption.]—that there are a number of "exceptional circumstances" in which it is necessary "to mislead Parliament", and in view of his further claim, in the context of Ministers providing full and accurate information, that Much of Government activity is much more like playing poker than playing chess. You don't put all your cards up at one time", will you tell us whether you have received a request from the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement to clarify that highly damaging doctrine? If not, will you say whether it is consistent with paragraph 27 of the guidance for Ministers, which says that Ministers are to provide as full information as possible about the policies, decisions and actions … and not to deceive or mislead Parliament and the public"? If it is not consistent—[Interruption.]—will you say whether the Minister for open government can remain in the Government when he is seeking to justify such deceptions and half truths?

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I am perfectly capable of dealing with this point of order.

Guidance to Ministers is a matter for Ministers themselves. I ask the hon. Gentleman to refer to what I said last evening, when I ruled on this question in response to a point of order from the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). In case it is of assistance to the House, and I hope it is, I want to quote from page 181 of "Erskine May" on this matter: The opinion of the Speaker cannot be sought in the House about any matter arising or likely to arise in a committee. If a Committee has any matter about which it feels that the House should be aware, it can make a report to the House, at which point any appropriate action can be considered.

In answer to another question that the hon. Gentleman put to me directly, no, I have not been informed that any Minister is seeking to make a statement today.

Photo of Gary Streeter Gary Streeter , Plymouth, Sutton

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could advise me whether or not it is a matter of record that only two Members have been shown to have lied to the House of Commons, both of them Labour Ministers, Sir Stafford Cripps—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I have dealt with that matter. The hon. Gentleman should not now abuse the situation.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Does it relate to the same matter? I have given a ruling. Does the hon. Gentleman have something different to raise?

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

I do not want to refer to the Committee, Madam Speaker, because, as you said, you were kind enough to deal with that matter last night. May I ask you —and my question has nothing to do with the Committee and is not necessarily confined to Ministers—whether you would deprecate any form of lying to the House at any time, whether by Ministers or by anyone else?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I repeat what "Erskine May" so wisely tells me—that the opinion of the Speaker cannot be sought on such matters in the House.

Photo of Mr Michael Bates Mr Michael Bates , Langbaurgh

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Photo of Mr Michael Bates Mr Michael Bates , Langbaurgh

It is indeed. May I seek your guidance, Madam Speaker? Is it not a custom, outlined in "Erskine May", that when hon. Members make statements in the House about another hon. Member, they should give that hon. Member notice of their intention so that he can be in his place to respond?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

It is customary to do so, and it is a convention of the House.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the important statement made by the Minister for open government yesterday, have either you or—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I have dealt with that matter.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

Have either you or Members of the House any way of knowing when Ministers are telling the truth?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I accept the word of all hon. Members in the House.

Photo of Mr Andrew Rowe Mr Andrew Rowe , Kent Mid

On a totally different point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday The Daily Telegraph carried an article that said that, for the first time, a Minister had risen to discuss the question of the Malaysian dispute. The reason for that is that, although my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade had made a speech in the House the previous Tuesday, those in the Press Gallery go home so early that nobody picked it up. It was therefore not until my hon. Friend repeated those remarks on the radio that any notice at all was taken.

My point of order is this. Is there any possibility of your setting up a Speaker's commission to discuss the way in which the House is reported now that the press no longer stay to report ministerial speeches made after about 5 pm?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I am sure that the whole House will give me support when I say that I certainly do not give marks for accuracy in press reporting.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner , Bolsover

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A problem could arise out of your statement on the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). At present, when a Minister is accused of lying to the House, the hon. Member responsible can be thrown out, either for a day or for five days. I suggest, Madam Speaker, that in future, if any of us accuses Ministers of lying, you will be placed in a predicament because you will not be able to throw people out.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

The hon. Gentleman has totally misunderstood my ruling, which concerns Committee proceedings. I am quite prepared to deal with the situation myself when it arises on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would it be for the convenience of the House if the press could obtain a full Hansard report of what is said in Select Committees? Someone telephoned me this morning asking for my comments on what he thought had been said in a Select Committee, having heard reports of what was said that were completely contrary to what my video recorder showed had been said. That person had no way of checking an official report, because Select Committee reports appear some weeks after the words have been said. We could all be running around in circles talking about something that has not been correctly reported.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Committees do their utmost to be helpful and in every case issue transcripts of proceedings as soon as they have been corrected.

Photo of Mr Bruce Grocott Mr Bruce Grocott , The Wrekin

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point relates to the conduct of debate arising from yesterday's statement by the Minister responsible for Government information. The Home Secretary was interviewed this morning on BBC television and was given the opportunity to repudiate clearly his right hon. Friend's statement that it was acceptable in certain circumstances to mislead the House. We are shortly to hear a speech from the Home Secretary on the important question of the prevention of terrorism legislation. How are we to know whether he intends to tell us the truth during that speech?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

That was a pretty convoluted point of order on a matter that has nothing to do with me.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you confirm that it is entirely within the rights of any hon. Member to make a personal statement to the House irrespective of whether the occurrence to which it relates takes place outside this House or in a Committee? If the Minister wanted to clarify the position about lying to the House of Commons, he could come here and make a personal statement instead of trying to wriggle out of the difficulty through the press.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Of course that is correct; but I would have to read the statement and approve it in the first instance.