Mr. J. Enoch Powell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek to raise with you a point of order of which I have given notice both to yourself and to the Leader of the House. Owing to the late publication of the Official Report of our Sittings in July, this is almost the earliest opportunity of doing so. As long ago as 2 July the Leader of the House, in a written answer, said that the need for a declaration of financial interests when any hon. Member is asking a question at Question Timeis best left to the discretion of hon. Members."—[Official Report, 2 July 1979; Vol. 969, c. 395.]That statement could be interpreted as being at variance with what many other hon. Members and I understood to be the 647 consistent ruling of the Chair, namely, that the declaration of financial interests is not required by the rules of the House when asking a question at Question Time.
You may consider, Mr. Speaker, that for the protection of all hon. Members, a ruling might be given which places this matter beyond doubt.
§ Mr. Speaker
The right hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy of notifying me in writing that he was going to raise a point of order. I am armed with a reply. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen to my reply and consider where we go from there.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his customary courtesy in this matter. He is entirely correct in his belief that no declaration of interest is necessary in the circumstances that he described. This is not merely the result of rulings which have been made by my predecessors and myself. It stems from a resolution of the House of 12 June 1975 by which the House agreed that in relation to the disclosure of interests during any proceeding of the House, the term "proceeding" shall be deemed not to include the giving of any written notice, such as a question, or the asking of a supplementary question. Hon. Members are therefore under no obligation whatsoever to declare any interest during the course of Question Time.
§ Mr. Spearing
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not aware of the point of order being raised, but as a member of the first Select Committee on Members' interests, which drew up the codes and made recommendations to the House, would I be correct in recalling that the endorsement of the House's view by that Select Committee was on the assumption that all hon. Members would complete the return of interests and send it to the Registrar so that it should be published?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I, too, must express my gratitude to the right hon. 648 Gentleman for the courtesy of sending me a copy of his letter to you, Mr. Speaker. Indeed, he went beyond the bounds of courtesy because he turned me into the Lord President in doing so.
I listened to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, with the grestest interest, and studied it. I see nothing inconsistent between what I said and what you said, Mr. Speaker, although of course you expressed it so much better than I could.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for your ruling, as I imagine is the House.
It could, as you understand, be taken that if a matter is left to the discretion of individual hon. Members—and that is the current ruling on the matter—that would have the effect of annulling the decision of the House, as you reminded us, that at Question Time the declaration of interests is not required.
§ Mr. Speaker
The position is quite clear now. There is no requirement upon hon. Members to announce their interests at Question Time.