§ Mr. Prescott
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for reasons of which I have given you, Mr. Speaker, prior notice, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,the admission by British Petroleum of payments to political parties in Italy.The House is aware that the recent allegations made in a Grenada television programme that British Petroleum had made payments to political parties in Italy has been admitted by BP—on the last day's sitting of the House before going into recess. That is that such payments were proportional to the direct financial benefits received, which by any definition amounts to political corruption.
The matter is specific in regard to British Petroleum Company Limited, as the Government are the custodians and owners of the majority of shares in that company and it is viewed abroad as a Government-owned or Government-controlled oil company.
This matter is of crucial importance for a number of reasons: that the Government-appointed directors had no knowledge of the payments—according to their statements—and consequently the question of the Government's policy and Parliament's accountability is raised, especially in view of the recent reports that the Government may be considering selling the majority of shares in BP and that it would appear that the oil companies, of their own admission, have secured a breach of the Treaty of Rome.
It is urgent that we debate this matter, as this very week the Italian Government may fall, due to payments that have been 194 made, and this House should make clear that it in no way condones these actions.
As the House of Commons Select Committee on Nationalised Industries is unable to investigate this matter, unlike other countries that are able to conduct investigations, and as the Leader of the House said on the day before the Easter Recess, 13th April, that he thought that the House would surely want to return to the subject after the recess, I think that time ought now to be provided, as the Government have had time to reflect upon the statements and the House has made clear its wish for an opportunity to debate the matter and to express its own view.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,the admission by British Petroleum of payments to political parties in Italy.As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take into account the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reasons for my decision. I have given careful consideration to the representations that the hon. Member has made, but I have to rule that the hon. Member's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order, and therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.
§ Mr. Peyton
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you would give some consideration to this point? The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who has just sought to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9, has taken the opportunity, at some length, to repeat some fairly defamatory and offensive comments about two very great oil companies. These allegations were very well dealt with by Sir Frank McFadzean, the Chairman of Shell, over the weekend, and I think that it is a great abuse of the rules of order that hon. Gentlemen who feel so little enthusiasm for British concerns of this kind should be allowed to get up and repeat, unchecked, such monstrous comments.
§ Mr. English
It is a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It would be unfair—as I hope you would agree—if a right hon. Gentleman from the Opposition Front Bench alleged of one of his honourable colleagues in this House that he had said something additional to what has already been said, with less protection from defamation, in the Press and on television.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many hon. Members on the Government side of the House felt that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) made his application under Standing Order No. 9 in the most moderate way possible. Is it not an abuse of the House for hon. Members to cast aspersions, in the way that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) has done, when my hon. Friend was doing his duty to the House and the country in raising a matter such as this?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that honour has been satisfied on both sides, because hon. Members take responsibility for their own statements in this House. As long as they are within the rules of order, my task is to listen.