HC Deb 13 February 1985 vol 73 cc343-50 3.37 pm
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

This is the big one.

Mr. Stanbrook

It will be.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you ruled against my submission that certain words used by the Leader of the Opposition, calling into question the truthfulness of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, were out of order. You said:> It is right that we do not impute dishonour to each other, but what the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said was that he did not himself believe it. That is a different matter." —[Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 188.] Now that we have the advantage of reading in Hansard exactly what the Leader of the Opposition said, I respectfully submit that what he said was out of order. The Leader of the Opposition said: The right hon. Lady says now, and she has said to me before, that she was not involved in the decision to prosecute. Frankly, I do not believe the right hon. Lady". The Prime Minister said: I was not involved in the decision to prosecute a particular person." — [Official Report, 12 February 1985; Vol. 73, c. 162.] I ask you to consider that matter, Mr. Speaker, in the light of the precedents in "Erskine May", especially on page 432.

Several precedents are quoted. The most recent precedent involved the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight). The words used by the hon. Member for Fife, Central were: I doubt the word of the hon. Member for Edgbaston. Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine was in the Chair as Deputy Speaker and it was reported that he said: I find it difficult to distinguish between doubting someone's word and calling him a liar." — [Official Report, 15 May 1980; Vol. 984, c. 1789–90.] That is in "Erskine May" and is under the heading "Charges of uttering a deliberate falsehood". In view of these precedents, I respectfully suggest that what the Leader of the Opposition said about the Prime Minister's truthfulness yesterday was out of order. I ask you to consider the matter, Mr. Speaker, now or later as you wish, and to rule that, the Leader of the Opposition being out of order, he should withdraw.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, you were present for all the proceedings and as a result of a point of order by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) you made a decision there and then which was apparently to the satisfaction of most hon. Members who were present, otherwise there would have been further points of order. The hon. Gentleman wishes to challenge that ruling, and that is a matter for him.

I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that one does not have to go as far back as the incident in 1980 because there are plenty of examples, if you care to look them up, in which many hon. Members have doubted the veracity of statements made by other hon. Members. That does not apply simply from the Labour side to the Conservative side; it happens the other way round as well. Perhaps you will reflect that the most glaring example happened in July last year, when I asked whether it would be in order for somebody to say that the Prime Minister would not recognise the truth if it was sprayed on her eyeballs, and I got away with it.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that we can agree in part with what the hon. Gentleman has said. We have our differences and on both sides of the House we are accustomed to harsh criticism, which is inherent in our tradition of free speech. I have sat in the House for 11 consecutive Parliaments. Only the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan) has sat here longer. I cannot recollect in those 35 years an occurrence such as that which we witnessed yesterday, when the Leader of the Opposition accused the Prime Minister of not telling the truth and then failed to substantiate the charge.

I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, before you give your ruling, that what the right hon. Gentleman did—he may have done so unwittingly, and I hope that he did—cast a slur not merely upon my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister but on every hon. Member, because it touched on the honour of every one of us. When we speak, from whatever side of the House, we may be mistaken, we may have been misled, we may not express ourselves clearly, but the assumption is that we are speaking in good faith, and that is the only basis on which the House can operate.

I would respectfully suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has only one course. He can put down a motion in which he apologises to my right hon. Friend, or he can table a motion which goes a long way to substantiate what he says, which would lead to a debate in this House or an appropriate committee of inquiry. The situation cannot be left where it is, because the right hon. Gentleman has pointed the finger at every hon. Member, and that would be intolerable.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear!

Dr. Brian Mawinney (Peterborough)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. In col. 1789 of Hansard of 15 May 1980, not only did the hon. Member for Fife, Central, (Mr. Hamilton) talk about doubting the word of my hon. Friend, the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston, (Mrs. Knight), as referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), but he used exactly the same words as the Leader of the Opposition used yesterday. He said "I do not believe." In col. 1790, I asked Mr. Deputy Speaker for a ruling about whether that was tantamount to calling my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston a liar. Mr. Deputy Speaker ruled that it was tantamount to calling her a liar and he called upon the hon. Member for Fife, Central to withdraw. To his credit—although he said that he did not do it with full gracious heart—in col. 1792 the hon. Member for Fife, Central obeyed the Chair's injunction and withdrew the comment. Since the words on that occasion are identical to the words used yesterday, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to bear that similarity in mind.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Robert Atkins (South Ribble)

Tell us about video nasties on the train, George.

Mr. Foulkes

Further to the point of order. Before you reconsider your ruling, Mr. Speaker—if you intend to reconsider it on the basis of submissions made—would it help if I gave you a list of the occasions when the Prime Minister has not told the truth on this issue, starting—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is just what we want to avoid in a highly charged situation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Order. I ask the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) not to use that phrase, because that is just the difficulty that we are trying to avoid—[Interruption.] Order. If hon. Members will allow the hon. Gentleman to hear me, I ask him not to use phrases of that kind, because that is just the kind of accusation that we are seeking to avoid.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. May I help you by giving you a list of a number of occasions upon which incorrect information was given by the Prime Minister on this matter, starting with her reply to Mrs. Diana Gould on the BBC programme "Nationwide"?

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), Mr. Speaker. It will be within your recollection that yesterday my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General corroborated on a separate occasion the information which he gave to the House. To my knowledge, neither the Leader of the Opposition nor any Opposition right hon. and hon. Members have impugned the honour of the Attorney-General, notwithstanding the fact that he confirmed what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had said. My point of order relates to that of my hon. Friend and the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). Surely it is not acceptable to the House for one right hon. or hon. Member to make a clear allegation that another right hon. or hon. Member was not telling the truth, his justification for so doing merely being that he has decided of his own volition that he will not withdraw his comments unless and until he receives an explanation on a wholly different point, which clearly is a point of argument, and an argument which can never be proved.

Mr. Allen Adams (Paisley, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. given that in the past two or three days right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have accused each other of—shall we say—terminological inexactitude — [Interruption.] well, whatever—perhaps it would be appropriate for you on Monday to call my early-day motion, which would divide the House on the basic issue that we should, from our own ranks, establish a Select Committee with powers to call persons and papers to determine who has been telling the truth and who has not over the past two or three weeks. Is it not as simple as that?

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Reference has been made to me and my behaviour on a similar occasion. In all fairness to Conservative Members, they said that I graciously accepted the Chair's ruling. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I invite them to do the same with your ruling of yesterday.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I accepted your ruling yesterday, and that is how it stands — [HON. MEMBERS: "Who are you?"] That is the usual reaction from public school louts. I should like to make you aware, Mr. Speaker, if I may, that we are aware of what is going on in the House today —the media have informed the general public that the heavy gang on the Conservative Back Benches mean to do a great deal more of this. I thought that you should be made aware of that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Member still being helpful?

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I hope that my intervention will be helpful. Before you make any ruling on the issue that has been raised, will you take into consideration the political circumstances in which the question has been raised? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Is it not clear that Conservative Members are now putting up a smokescreen to avoid the issue that two Ministers came to the House of Commons and deliberately misled the House of Commons, and that was upheld—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is an experienced Member, and he knows that the phrase "deliberately misled" is not a parliamentary expression. He must not use it.

Mr. Heffer

I shall leave out the word "deliberately", but they misled the House of Commons. The whole business by the Opposition is an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are the Opposition."]—on the part of the opposition on that side of the House, to deflect attention from the real issue, which is that people are trying to get away from the decision that was made in the court, and that the Ministers involved should resign. That is the issue. The issue is not the attack on my right hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Norman Buchan.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South)

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I believe that if you had called me earlier, you might have defused the whole matter. May I ask a simple question? Has the Secretary of State for Defence or one of his junior Ministers approached you for the opportunity to make the appropriate statement to the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I want to say to the House in all seriousness that when this House chose me as its Speaker it expected me to be totally impartial and to do my duty, however uncomfortable and however difficult that may be, and yesterday I had to do that. It is not for me to get involved in any political discussions that are going on across the Chamber. I say to the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) that I did not know the full details of his point of order, but I, too, looked up the precedents. I must say to him that they are not similar. I do not intend to go into the exact reasons why that was, but yesterday I was watching very carefully, as the House would have expected me to, to ensure that no accusations of lying or any other unparliamentary words were used. It was not my judgment that the words which were used—"I do not believe it" or "I do not believe you"—were an unparliamentary expression. That is an expression which is used in the House almost daily. I ask the hon. Member for Orpington who raised that point of order to calculate carefully what he is seeking me to say about an expression of that kind. I stand by what I said yesterday.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has it not been the rule of the House for more years than any of us can remember that on points of order the doctrine of the first occasion applies—that either one raises the point of order when the event happens, or one loses the right to do so? What one does not do is dig it over a day or more later when one had the occasion, if one chose to be present in the House at the time, to raise it then. Do not the events of today reinforce the wisdom of that rule of the House?

Mr. Speaker

I shall answer that at once, because the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) is a constitutional expert; I think that the whole House accepts that. Of course, he is absolutely right. It is one of the rulings that I could have given today. Indeed, I was minded to do so, but since I knew that yesterday's exchanges were likely to be raised, I thought that I would put the issue in its proper perspective at once so that we do not have any more of it.

Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Billericay)

On a new point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from the Leader of the Opposition to make a statement denying charges that, during the Ponting trial, his office received information from councillor Lynne Oliver, a Labour councillor in Islington and a member of the Ponting jury?

Mr. Speaker

Of course I have not. I hope that the House will not seek to involve the Chair in what is after all a highly political matter. That is not my role.

  2. c348
  3. Molesworth (Peace Chapel) 526 words
  4. cc349-50
  5. Employment of Young People 983 words
  6. c350