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Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 17th May 1995.

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Several hon. Members:

rose

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

Wait a moment. I have a point of order from the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor).

Photo of Mrs Ann Taylor Mrs Ann Taylor Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Shadow Secretary of State

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I seek your guidance on what action should be taken by the House on the fact that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) used the name of the hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) to table an amendment to the Gas Bill? Even more important than that is the fact that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare may have done that to avoid drawing attention to the fact that the amendment related to his financial interests. From what the hon. Gentleman has said, the Committee sitting may not be the only occasion on which that happened.

The House has taken action against the hon. Members who took cash for questions, but it now appears that we need to investigate the issue of cash for amendments, because any such action is clearly in breach of the existing rules in "Erskine May".

I appreciate that you, Madam Speaker, may not be able to rule fully on the matter yet, but you will be aware of the growing expectation that the matter may have to be resolved by a reference to the Committee of Privileges, as the Prime Minister indicated this morning. The House would be grateful if you could say how best we should now proceed.

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

I already have a letter alleging breach of privilege in this matter. The House knows that the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Sir J. Wiggin) is not in the country at the moment. In spite of that, I am seriously examining the situation and I shall do so with all speed.

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain , Neath

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you can advise me what protection I have against the allegations of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan)—I have given him advance notice of this point of order—made in my presence despite my repeated denials, that I collaborated with the "Dispatches" programme and The Guardian over this matter. I emphatically deny that allegation: I had no contact with either during the sittings on the Gas Bill. I put it to you, Madam Speaker, that that allegation is an attempt to produce a smokescreen and to divert attention from the gross abuse of the House's procedures by the cash for amendments scandal that has developed.

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

Does the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) wish to respond?

Photo of Alan Duncan Alan Duncan , Rutland and Melton

I am grateful for the opportunity to do so. Through you, Madam Speaker, I invite the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) to celebrate the near anniversary of his first apology to the House by apologising now to me for saying things about me in the Standing Committee which he knew to be untrue, in the knowledge that he could take advantage of qualified parliamentary privilege and in the knowledge that those comments would be broadcast afterwards with no recourse on my part.

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

I cannot deal, across the Floor of the House, with personal grievances between hon. Members. They ought to be resolved between those hon. Members, rather than being raised on the Floor of the House. It is a disgrace that they are brought to me in this way.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. When you come to consider the ruling that you make on the matter that has been raised, may I invite you to think carefully about it? Your ruling may have historic importance, and may be studied over many centuries. We are not merely discussing the possible conduct of an individual Member of Parliament, which is normally dealt with by a secret meeting of the Committee of Privileges and a minor suspension and then left; I put it to you, Madam Speaker, that we are discussing a new challenge to the authority of the House.

Your predecessor, Madam Speaker, dealt with the King when he tried to interfere. I believe that commercial interests are now trying to dominate the House of Commons by other means. There are 14 pages of offices that are disqualified from service in Parliament—including that of Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds—on the ground that they might be under the control of the King: the mere fact that they are royal appointments excludes them.

When you give your ruling, Madam Speaker, it should go beyond the conduct of the individual Member of Parliament and begin to open up matters of much deeper importance that it is not appropriate for the Nolan committee to consider, because it is not answerable to the House. It is for the House, and only for the House, to legislate to deal with any abuses that may arise.

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

I take what the right hon. Gentleman has said very seriously.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have no desire to become embroiled in a personal row between my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). However—

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

Order. I have given my ruling, and I will have no more of this across the Floor of the House. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a different point of order, I will hear it; but there must be no references to points of order that have already been made.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

With respect, Madam Speaker, one of your duties as Speaker of the House

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

Order. I am well aware of my duties in the House. I will give the hon. Gentleman every chance: let me repeat that, if he has a genuine point of order on another matter, he may raise it, but he must not raise again issues on which I have already given a ruling.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale , North Thanet

Will you use your influence, Madam Speaker, to prevent hon. Members from using parliamentary privilege to smear the reputations of other hon. Members?

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

I believe that hon. Members should be sufficiently mature to conduct their business in a proper and decent way, and that the Speaker should not have to intervene in altercations between Back Benchers.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to raise a separate matter from that raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain). I hope that you will appreciate that it does not relate to a specific case.

What concerns me—and, obviously, must concern you, Madam Speaker—is the reputation of Parliament as a whole. I emphasise that I am not referring to a particular case. I am concerned about the impression that is created—understandably—that this Parliament is hopelessly sleaze-ridden. Is there any way in which we can demonstrate that many of us—many Opposition Members, certainly—have no outside financial interests? Is it not important for people to recognise that we are not all on the make? We are not all acting as consultants, lobbyists and so forth.

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

That is barely a point of order for me, but I am sure that it will be not only touched on but, perhaps, developed during Thursday's debate.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn , Newport West

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I raise an entirely different matter—what appears to be the manipulation of Question Time for party political advantage? There have been two examples.

You will recall, Madam Speaker, that in his answer to Question 15 this afternoon the Secretary of State for the Environment gave no information, referring my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Ms Quin) to the answer that he gave my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Ms Ruddock) in response to Question 3. We should ask why those questions were not linked.

Questions to the Church Commissioners are allotted only five minutes, and normally only two or three questions are answered. That was the case on Monday: only three questions were answered. The Department linked Question 1 with Question 4, and Question 3 was not put to the House. It so happened that Question 4 was put by a Conservative Member. When Ministers link questions they say, "With permission, Madam Speaker", so I presume that it is a matter for you, Madam Speaker. Can you ensure that such linking is not used to silence hon. Members' questions?

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

I am sure that the House is well aware that I do not give permission for the linking of questions. It is nothing to do with me and it is up to the Minister involved to decide whether questions are linked. I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench have noted what the hon. Gentleman has had to say.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On an entirely different matter—have you received a request from a Defence Minister to come to the House and make a statement on the raid that took place earlier today on the offices of Greenpeace? The raid took place on an application to the court from the Ministry of Defence after the non-proliferation treaty had been completed in order not to draw attention to the fact that Greenpeace has been campaigning vigorously for nuclear disarmament and states that the Trident nuclear missile system is itself a proliferation.

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

If a statement were being made today, we should all have known about it by 1 o'clock as it would have been shown on the annunciator screens.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It arises out of the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn)—

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

Order. There can be no other point of order. I do not give permission for the linking of questions—that is done by Ministers. If the hon. Gentleman has a new point of order, of course I must hear it.

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

In that case, the hon. Gentleman should not have stated that it was related to a previous point of order.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

Madam Speaker, I want further clarification on a matter on which I want you to give a ruling. As permission is sought, if an hon. Member shouts "Object", is it true that the Minister cannot link the questions?

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

That is not the case. Ministers have got into the habit over many years—long before I became Speaker—of saying, "With permission". They do so when they link questions and when they make statements, but they do not require my permission to do so. Perhaps we can leave it at that and get on with the ten-minute Bill.

Photo of Mr Roger Knapman Mr Roger Knapman , Stroud

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is probably true that members of the Labour party are safe from allegations of sleaze, because who on earth would employ them outside this place?

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

Order. If the hon. Gentleman has a point of order, I want to hear it straight away.

Photo of Mr Roger Knapman Mr Roger Knapman , Stroud

The hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) has twice in the past 12 months made allegations of sleaze and has rightly had to come before the House to grovel and apologise to you, Madam Speaker. How many times can an hon. Member do that? If the hon. Gentleman has already had to come before the House twice, having made misleading allegations, should he be allowed to do it yet again this afternoon?

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

I hope very much that hon. Members will bear in mind what I have said today and take it seriously.

Several hon. Members:

rose

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

I am taking no further points of order. The electorate and the British public outside the House expect better behaviour and better conduct from the House. It is about time that every Member of the House realised what is expected of us and behaved accordingly. We must now proceed to the ten-minute Bill and I shall take no further points of order from anyone today.