HC Deb 21 November 1977 vol 939 cc1097-100
Mr. Speaker

Before the statement of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, I have a brief statement to make myself.

During the course of supplementary questions on last Thursday's business questions, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made certain remarks which I did not completely hear, and, therefore, I did not immediately appreciate their full implication, though it was obvious to me that the hon. Member's remarks were not relevant to the following week's business, and I intervened to say so.

On reading theOfficial Report, however, it was clear to me that the hon. Member for Bolsover was making a serious imputation against the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), for his words cannot be understood in any other sense than meaning that the right hon. Gentleman might not conduct himself as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee with complete fairness and impartiality. This is a reflection on his integrity.

Had I realised the implication at the time, I would have ordered the hon. Member for Bolsover to withdraw his remarks forthwith. The time has unfortunately passed when I can do this, but I must make it plain that, in my view, they were entirely out of order. Allegations which reflect in any way upon the honour of any right hon. or hon. Member of this House should never be made in this casual way, and an imputation against a Chairman of one of our most senior Committees in respect of his conduct as Chairman cannot be allowed.

Mr. Skinner

It will not have gone unnoticed, Mr. Speaker, that what I had to say in the House on Thursday has not been challenged in any way, in as much that there is a need—

Mr. Speaker

Order. My statement is not open to debate. If the hon. Gentleman seeks to withdraw his statement he may do so. Otherwise my statement is not open to debate.

Mr. Skinner

I will seek to pursue the truth outside.

Mr. du Cann

Would it be of assistance to you, Mr. Speaker, and the House if I remarked on two matters? I was extremely sorry that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was not in touch with me before he said what in fact he said in the House. We talk together. I have high regard for his parliamentary ability. I was in the House during the whole of the day in question, and at the moment that he made his remarks I was upstairs on Select Committee business. He could easily have been in touch with me, but I had no message.

The suggestion that there was in some way a loss to public funds owing to the activities of a company of which I had the honour for a time to be chairman is wholly and completely without foundation of any kind. It is true that the company in question had assistance from the support group organised by the Bank of England at one time. Interest was paid on the loans in question—

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed the right hon. Gentleman, who was the person who suffered, to make a few explanatory remarks. He is in no way challenging anything that I have said this afternoon.

Mr. du Cann

As a result of that, there was a profit to public funds and the loans in question have been repaid in full and were repaid some time ago. If you will allow me to say so, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman's remarks were as unfortunate as they were deliberately designed to be misleading.

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You made a ruling that your statement was not debatable, and the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann) has quite obviously ignored that ruling. It really is impossible that this is allowed to happen. The right hon. Gentleman gets away with it time and time again.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. Statement, Mr. Secretary Rees.

Mr. English

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that your statement—like any other by you—is not debatable. However, am I right in thinking that one may ask you questions about it? If so, could I ask you, Sir, whether, on reflection, you feel that some words that you used—in particular, when referring to impartiality—go a little far?

I should have thought that no Member of the House is impartial. The question is whether Members' partiality is caused by their political belief, by their background or by corruption. I do not think that my hon. Friend meant to imply corruption.

Mr. Speaker

Order. What was said in the House was that the right hon. Member for Taunton should not take the Chair because of certain reasons. Therefore, I put the interpretation on the statement which any ordinary person would.

Mr. Frank Allaun

May I ask you another question, Mr. Speaker? There are many cases in this House when there is no question of corruption but when there is a question of vested interest. For instance, if a man is a director of a company he is supposed—and he does not always do it—to declare his interest. I am not suggesting corruption, but surely I am right in asking you, Mr. Speaker, whether any Member of this House is not entitled to ask "Is a man with a vested interest fitted to do the job?"

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are getting very near to repeating the offence. Statement, Mr. Secretary Rees.

Mr. Tapsell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the terms of your statement, would it not be appropriate for you now to require the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to withdraw what he has said?

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman had listened with care, he would know the answer to that question. Statement, Mr. Secretary Rees.

Mr. Ridley

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has made certain allegations which have just been categorically denied by my right hon. Friend. Is it not correct parliamentary procedure that the hon. Member for Bolsover should now apologise and withdraw his remarks? If he wishes to challenge anything that my right hon. Friend has said, he will have the opportunity to do so. However, in the absence of any denial of what has been said by my right hon. Friend—or of any challenge—such a course seems to me to be incumbent upon the hon. Gentleman, both in honour and in honesty.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The position has been made perfectly clear by me. Statement, Mr. Secretary Rees.