§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, arising out of questions. My point of order relates to the rights of hon. Members and to the confidentiality of the document referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) in his supplementary to question No. 8. I have a copy of a document entitled "NCB Accounts—a Mine of Misinformation". The document is available in two forms. One is marked "Confidential" in red. The other is not marked at all. The document marked "Confidential" in red was given to me by a member of the Select Committee on Energy. Discretion as to whether that document is designated as a confidential document is in the hands of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy. It is within his discretion. In the event of his attaching the designation "Confidential", it means that the document becomes privileged. If the document is privileged, it is subject to the rules as set out in "Erskine May" on pages 153 and 154 where it says that until a Committee has reported to the House it is a breach of privilege for disclosure to be made of anything that took place during the Committee's private meetings, or for any of its papers to be made public.
My point of order is in two parts. Has the Chairman of the Committee abused his position by seeking to designate a document as confidential when it has already been made available to Members of this House and has already been made the subject of a BBC "Newsnight" programme in the middle of last week? This document has already been made public. Could it possibly be said that in designating the document as confidential the Chairman was intending to shackle the members of that Committee and prevent them from commenting publicly upon the contents of the document? Furthermore, in order to finalise my point of order, was my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) placed inadvertently in contempt of this House? Was the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Malone), who rose today to refer specifically to that document and who is a member of that Select Committee, inadvertently or deliberately placed in contempt of this House?
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) did not give me notice that he intended to raise this matter. However, I have to inform the House that, as far as I am aware, no member of my Committee has with my knowledge made this document available. When it was received by the Committee it was marked "Confidential". The Committee was requested to treat it as such. As far as I am aware, we are under an obligation so to do.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have a heavy day and I can dispose of the matter simply, because the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) kindly gave me notice that he was going to raise the matter and I have had an opportunity to look into it. I have made inquiries about the document and I am satisfied that it may be referred to. Indeed, it has been referred to in the House before by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 29 November. An hon. Member must not refer to unreported evidence of a Select Committee, but if a paper has already 350 been circulated to other persons before the Committee sends for it, clearly reference can be made to it in the House or anywhere else.
§ Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am very concerned about the position. I had hold of that document as a Member of the House last Thursday and I used it on three occasions at public meetings over the weekend. I came to the House on Monday evening to open correspondence from the Clerk to the Select Committee and in it was a copy of the document that I had used on public platforms marked "Confidential". It was I who handed it to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).
I have written to you today, Mr. Speaker to ask whether my actions over the past six days have indeed been a contempt of the House and I look forward to receiving your reply.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have already referred in a kindly fashion to the hon. Member for Bolsover. I do not think that any point of order can arise.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Let me dispose of the point of order. I do not think that the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has done anything wrong. I have nothing further to add to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Workington. As I understand it from the Chairman of the Select Committee, and as the House heard, when he received the document it was marked "Confidential".
§ Mr. Skinner
On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you, Mr. Speaker, will look seriously into what my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) had to say, and taking into account the admission of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), it is important that you understand that for many years the Coal Board has been twisting the accounts when it presented reports—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not on a point of order. He is abusing his point of order to make a political point which is not a matter for me.
§ Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, during the Second Reading of the Local Government Bill, I was fortunate enough to catch your eye at 25 seconds to 10 o'clock. I intended to point out to the House how the Bill would deny millions of citizens the democratic right of electing their local representatives. I have no doubt but that the House would have welcomed that after listening to 30 minutes of boring diatribe from the Minister. However, at 15 seconds to 10 o'clock the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household moved that the Question be put, and, rightly, you put the Question. I rushed to the House this morning to read my 20-second speech and I found that it was not in Hansard. Can you put this right, please?
§ Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that I asked a supplementary question to question No. 8. May I apologise to you and to the Leader of the House for misleading the House. The right hon. Gentleman replied to three questions on the mining dispute yesterday, and, unfortunately, I had read only two of them.
§ Mr. Speaker
I will take the point of order if it is entirely different and legitimate, but in fairness to his colleagues in the House, the hon. Gentleman should not take up time with spurious points of order on a day when we have a heavy programme before us.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the difficulties that hon. Members experience in relation to nationalised industries and documents of this kind is that we are allowed to ask questions only of a general nature. We are not allowed to ask questions about the day-to-day administration of any nationalised industry. That has been laid down. In your capacity as Speaker, you will know that there is a severe limit upon the areas about which we can ask questions.
Because of that I raise this legitimate point of order. Lots of information has been given to the Coal Board upon which Ministers have commented at the Dispatch Box, throughout the dispute and before. An important Select Committee was given figures by the Coal Board that have been proved to be false. They were also given to the House. If we are to be allowed only to raise matters of a general nature in relation to the National Coal Board as a nationalised industry and not about the day-to-day administrative figures we should have more reliable evidence.
It is pretty clear from the confidential document that the Chairman of the Select Committee has that, if we are not careful—this is what I ask you to rule upon—we shall be given Coal Board accounts in a twisted form delivered by people from the NCB who are bent and the House will be misinformed. We want to make sure that—
§ Mr. Speaker
Then the hon. Gentleman was not listening. This matter was extensively discussed during Scottish questions and it was suggested that there were two views on the report.