Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 19th March 1997.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I have a loud point of order, Madam Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Short, we hope."] Following the Prime Minister's answer yesterday to the question about the Commissioner for Standards, and knowing that you have said from the Chair in this Parliament that you were very keen that all Members' interests and reputations and that of the House in general be protected, may I ask your advice as to whether there is any way in which, by your direct or indirect authority, if the Commissioner for Standards indicates that he can complete his report before Parliament is dissolved, the House, in the proper way, can have the opportunity to consider it; and, more important, whether there is any way in which the interests of Members, whether or not they are featured in the report, can be protected?

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

I think this is a similar point of order.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker—I am sorry that I have not been able to give you notice—I have been giving consideration to the point that has just been raised, on this basis. The prorogation of Parliament is entirely for the Crown and the Prime Minister, and does not relate in any way to your responsibilities; but the House continues to sit, as a House of Parliament, until 8 April.

During that period, Sir Gordon Downey, along with the Clerk of the House and the Editor of Hansard, remains an Officer of the House, and you, I put it to you, have the authority to instruct an Officer of the House to make available information that he has gathered at the request of the House, even though the House is prorogued and not able to meet.

Madam Speaker, you did make a great statement, in my opinion, about the standing of Parliament and the relationship of this matter to the standing of Parliament in the public mind. As we approach an election, that question will undoubtedly be a factor in the public mind, so I would ask you to consider very carefully whether you do have the authority, as I believe you may have and do have—and would be ready to exercise that authority—to allow the wishes of this Parliament to be fulfilled: namely, that Sir Gordon Downey's intentions be acted on, inasmuch as his report be published even though the House and the Committee were not able to consider it.

Photo of Bernard Jenkin Bernard Jenkin , Colchester North

It does, Madam Speaker. I put it to you, contrary to the view that has just been expressed, that we are dealing here with the livelihoods of hon. Members. What we want is a dispassionate and fair appraisal of the facts of the case. Can that really be achieved by the Opposition parties forcing the issue now for their own political purposes?

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. It will be within your recollection that, during business questions and at other times, some very specific, rather narrow questions have been asked, particularly about Mr. Mohammed Al-Fayed. Does the Committee, or do you, have the power to order the publication of an interim report on those narrow questions, as opposed to the wider issue that may be absorbing most of the time and energies of the Committee? Are you entitled to require the publication of interim reports?

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

It relates indirectly—

Several hon. Members:

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

Order. I must ask all hon. Members to resume their seats. I am not asking for points of order on this matter, but if Members have genuine points of order for me, I want to hear them. I do not want to hear any false ones; this is a very serious matter. I am almost ready now to respond, but I will hear any further genuine points of order that hon. Members may have.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

My point of order, Madam Speaker, relates to the Standards and Privileges Committee and to its work on this report. The real issue is that that report is holding up other reports on at least three Labour Members. There are allegations that filibustering has been going on during preparation of the report in question, so that the reports on the three Labour Members cannot be considered.

As I understand it, new complaints cannot be considered by the Committee, but on today's Order Paper there is an early-day motion signed by 47 Labour Members who are benefiting to the tune of £1 million in sponsorship and support from the Co-operative Movement. I should like to refer that to the Standards and Privileges Committee, but I do not believe I can, because the Committee is no longer scheduled to meet.

Several hon. Members:

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

Order. I can deal with that point of order immediately. If the hon. Gentleman has any such complaints they should go to the Commissioner for Standards—right away.

Several hon. Members:

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

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

I cannot go on with these points of order, as I am now ready to respond. Does anyone have a new point of order? I see the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) trying to catch my eye; he is a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

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

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The comments of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) are a fabrication.

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

I have already dealt with those comments. If the hon. Member for Dover has any evidence, he knows how to proceed.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. On 14 October last year, you made a statement to the House in which you called these allegations "very serious", and said that they had undoubtedly worried the public as well as the House itself. You went on: I would not be doing my duty as Speaker if I allowed this situation to pass without saying that I believe very strongly indeed that these matters must be resolved as soon as possible."—[Official Report, 14 October 1996; Vol. 282, c. 463.] I put it to you that the issue does not simply concern the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), who incidentally has stated that he wants the report to be published as quickly as possible. The House has been affected by continual allegations of sleaze, and it is important for the reputation of the House, not for the benefit of any single Member, that, before Parliament comes to an end, the report should be duly published. Are we to go into a general election campaign with this matter hanging over us?

Several hon. Members:

rose

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

Order. I am now ready to respond to these points of order; I shall take others later.

The House itself established the Standards and Privileges Committee, and required it to undertake an inquiry into the allegations of Mr. Al-Fayed. Only the Committee can be the judge of whether it can produce a report on those matters. Hon. Members may regret that it has been unable to do so, but I know that it is not for want of trying, and I pay my own tribute to the Commissioner for Standards, the Chairman and members of that Committee for the hard work they have put into their consideration of this and other matters.

As to the suggestion that the Committee should continue its work after prorogation, I have to tell the House that, constitutionally, it is simply not possible. Although the Committee has the power to sit during a normal recess, the effect of prorogation is to terminate all the current business of Parliament, including the work of Committees. I refer hon. Members to page 60 of "Erskine May", which says: The effect of a prorogation is at once to terminate all the current business of Parliament. There is nothing that I can do as Speaker to alter that.

In answer to a direct question, I have no authority, either, to instruct the Commissioner to publish his report. That report must be given to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.

Photo of Mr Hugh Dykes Mr Hugh Dykes , Harrow East

On a different point of order, Madam Speaker. I was wondering whether you could give me guidance on whether you have received any messages from Ministers at the Department of Health about the possibility of holding an urgent debate on the dire situation at Edgware general hospital, given that the position there is rendered more perilous by the delays of Barnet hospital's new developments and the problems at Northwick Park hospital. As you know, I have been trying to raise the matter in the past few days in some form, including an Adjournment debate. I should be grateful for your guidance.

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

The hon. Gentleman has raised that point of order with me twice today. I have not been informed that a Minister seeks to make a statement on the matter.

Photo of Mr Keith Hampson Mr Keith Hampson , Leeds North West

I seek your ruling, Madam Speaker. It is not a matter for the Commissioner for Standards. Is it not correct that, if hon. Members table an early-day motion, they should declare their interest? Having been sitting here, I have been unable to check with the hon. Members concerned, but I believe that the early-day motion was tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson), who has interests with the Co-operative Movement. Early-day motion 682 calls for the Government to protect the Co-operative Movement. None of the Labour Members who tabled it, most of whom have a direct interest with the Co-operative Movement, have declared their interest on the Order Paper.

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

It is normal to put an "R" at the side of an early-day motion and, if there are interests to declare, those should be declared.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

Further to the earlier point of order, Madam Speaker.

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

The hon. Gentleman knows that I do not take further points of order once I have given a ruling, and I have made a clear ruling, which was very carefully worded.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

This is another aspect, Madam Speaker. Would you inquire whether it is at all feasible for the House of Commons itself to decide to postpone prorogation?

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Colleagues have referred to the Register of Members' Interests and standards, and have pointed out that, in declaring Members' interests, we should name those who have provided funds for us. A number of hon. Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, stated that they had a blind trust in which they were receiving money—

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

Order. I have dealt with all those matters—[Interruption.] No, I am not going to allow the hon. Gentleman to go on. If he has anything to complain about, it should go through our procedures to the Commissioner for Standards.