§ Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on Monday 30 January I raised a point of order about the status of answers in relation to questions. I drew on several precedents. I should like to make it clear that in raising that point of order I did not mean any slight on the integrity of the Prime Minister, despite the comments of Mr. Paul Johnson in yesterday's edition of the Daily Mail, who clearly misunderstands what the argument is all about. It is about procedure.
I should like to raise a new point of order with you, Mr.Speaker, which relates to your written reply to me—which I received this morning—and to the status of Select Committee recommendations that come before the House. In the reply that you sent to me this morning you wrote:Looking again at the point you raised in the House after my ruling given on Monday 30 January—namely, whether from the standpoint of declaring an interest, the answer to a question should be distinguished from the question itself — I have concluded that this matter would best be considered in the first instance by the Select Committee on Members' Interests, and that you ought properly to raise it with them.That Committee is specifically required by Standing Order No. 107 'to consider any specific complaints made in relation to the registering or declaring of interests.' I would therefore think it entirely appropriate for you to raise the matter in the Committee—to which I see you have now been appointed—with a view to seeing whether that present rules need to be extended.I am quite clear in my own mind that no distinction should be made between backbenchers asking questions and front benchers answering them; and I have already stated that the rules of the House should apply equally to all Members. I am content for the Select Committee to report on the matter in the way they think best.
That Select Committee is now the second Committee —as we must include the Public Accounts Committee— which is in one way or another examining the question to which I alluded to on 30 January. My point of order concerns the extent to which you, as Mr. Speaker, will be guided by the Select Committee's recommendations. If it were to recommend my interpretation, the Prime Minister would have to make a declaration of family interest, if one was due, on the Omani university deal.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely it is the House that decides whether to accept the recommendations of a Select Committee, not Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) has taken the words out of my mouth. Once the Committee has reported, it is for the House to decide what action should be taken on any of its recommendations.
§ Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Select Committee on Members' Interests considers the issue, two Select Committees—the Public Accounts Committee and the Select Committee on Members' Interests — will be considering not only matters of procedure, but the Prime Minister's conduct in relation to the contract in Oman, although the Prime Minister herself, the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary have not provided facilities for the House to discuss that. Can you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that it is unprecedented for three senior Government figures to seek to stop the House from exposing misconduct?
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not say that at all. My letter to the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said that it was appropriate for the Select Committee to see whether the present rules needed to be extended.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is obviously for the Select Committee to decide whether it is right to consider the matter further. However, I am sure that the House would find its further consideration helpful. So that there is no misunderstanding, Mr. Speaker, will you make it plain that any study undertaken by the Select Committee concerns the rules of the House as they affect Members of Parliament? The question of the rules of conduct for Ministers of the Crown is not for the Select Committee, but is uniquely for the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is correct. When I gave my original ruling, I said that I was the custodian of the rules of the House and that they apply equally to Front Benchers and Back Benchers. I have nothing more to add to the ruling that I have given.