HC Deb 25 November 1981 vol 13 cc901-2

4.8 pm

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise my perennial point of order about the way in which, with respect, you are being taken advantage of and the House is being treated with contempt by Ministers almost every day in taking liberties over statements. They deprive Back Benchers of the limited time—now about 40 minutes—to participate in debates. Technically, you have the right to disallow a statement, although you cannot very well say "No", except perhaps on a rare occasion.

Although we welcome the statement, the press, radio, and television already had full details of it. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) had a copy of the statement, but I know of no other hon. Member who did. Then we had the Secretary of State from the Department that leaked or gave it to the press coming here to make a statement and taking advantage of the Chair and of Back Benchers.

May I ask whether you, Mr. Speaker, will arrange through the usual channels, and particularly with Ministers, that if Ministers intend to abuse the rules of the House they should at least ensure that hon. Members have copies of reports. I saw copies of the Scarman report in the Press Gallery yesterday. It is a liberty for this Government—though other Governments have done it as well—continually to deprive Back Benchers of their parliamentary rights.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the way in which he has made his point. All of us who have been in the House for a long time are aware that he has drawn attention to something which has gone on for as long as we have both been in the House.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)

Do something about it then.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the system ought to be changed and the media denied the privilege, which they have hitherto enjoyed, of being able to know what the House is to talk about. However, that is not for me to decide. The point of view of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) has been heard and I think that we should proceed to the ballot for notices of motion.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am very much obliged for your reply, with the exception of the final few words when you said that it was nothing to do with you. With great respect, I suggest that you can refuse to allow a statement to be made. You can say to a Minister "I am not going to allow this, because I have read it all in the press."

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many things are theoretically possible, but I would not like to try to do them.

Mr. Stuart Holland (Vauxhall)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is extremely difficult for those of us who represent constituencies in the borough of Lambeth which were directly affected by the events in Brixton to find, when the media rang us last night to ask for comments on the Scarman report, that we could not get a copy without coming to the House at 11 o'clock this morning to collect one.

If the designation of hon. Members means anything, it surely means that they can respect an embargo on a document as much as members of the press can. Otherwise, questioning is entirely one-sided.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. William Whitelaw)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I explained that I followed exactly the conventions that have been followed previously in relation to statements in the House—with one exception. Because of the length of the report I made sure that it was available for hon. Members at 11 o'clock this morning. I thought that that was a considerable concession and I believe that it was the right thing to have done.