HC Deb 12 February 1987 vol 110 cc472-5
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You know how carefully we avoid allowing an hon. Member to refer to another hon. Member in the House as a liar. That is correct, of course. You may have noticed, Sir, that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), who unfortunately has left the Chamber—this may illustrate one of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds); the hon. Gentleman is not here to listen to what I have to say — mentioned the chairman of the Leicester housing committee and referred to him not once, but twice, as a liar. If we are so eager to protect ourselves, perhaps we should extend that protection to people who are not here to speak for themselves.

Mr. Speaker

I have frequently—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was present—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Allow me to deal with one point of order at a time.

I have frequently drawn the attention of the House to that practice. It is a very serious matter in the House to blacken the names of those outside this place who have no means of recourse and to do so under the cloak of parliamentary privilege. Every hon. Member should take the greatest care when referring to people outside this place. Or course, the whole House knows that it would be unparliamentary to use that term in relation to any hon. Member.

Mr. Skinner

Further to the earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise this point in view of the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) and the fact that I was present throughout the lobby which took place in Committee Room 18, which had been organised on behalf of local authorities, many of which were hung councils, some of which were represented by the Conservative party—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must bear in mind that this must he a point of order to me. I was not present and I am not responsible for what is said in Committee Rooms.

Mr. Skinner

This took place in the House, and I should have thought that the Speaker of the House of Commons would be a little concerned at what happened. Tory Members came into the Committee Room and abused local authority representives of all shades and descriptions. Many of the representives then left, only to be followed by another Tory Member, who did the same thing. The net result was that the people at the meeting decided that, because I had stayed throughout, I should receive the accolade of statesman of the meeting.

I am not asking for that accolade from you, Mr. Speaker, but I say seriously in respect of the statement you read out earlier, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) properly referred, and in respect of points of order being raised immediately arising out of matters that have been aired, I believe that you will not in all circumstances hold the line against Front Benchers. You may do so against my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, but I am prepared to bet that that line will never be held when Front Benchers decide to challenge your ruling.

Mr. Speaker

These are hypothetical matters.

Mr. Skinner

I just wanted to put them on the record.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I very much hope that both Front Benches will always give a lead in terms of support for the Chair. I note that the Opposition Front Benchers are nodding.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea. West)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I say immediately that of course we respect your ruling and your position. We certainly agree that it is wrong for hon. Members on either side of the House to try to prolong Question Time via points of order. But I ask you to consider and give your advice on a genuine problem that arises from your ruling. Although many of the interventions made at 3.30 pm by hon. Members on both sides of the House may have been abuses of the intention of points of order — I readily accept that — we now have the difficult situation that arises because Ministers are busy and the Prime Minister is particularly busy. If a statement, several statements or a private notice question follow Question Time, it will be at least an hour before a question can be raised relating to what happened and Ministers, and the Prime Minister almost certainly and understandably, will not be in the Chamber.

To ensure that the new system works properly, what arrangements do you propose, Sir, to ensure that at the appropriate time the Ministers who answered questions and the Prime Minister are available in case points of order are raised?

Mr. Speaker

It is not a new arrangement. I am reverting to an old and tried practice, as I said in my considered statement on this matter. I did not take this course lightly, but carefully considered it and consulted widely about it throughout the week. Therefore, it should be of no surprise to the House to learn what was in my mind on those matters.

What I have done is in the best interests of good order in this House. It is reverting to former practice. What the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) said about having a Minister present to answer cannot, by definition, be a point of order for me. That is the crux of the matter.

Hon. Members have only to look at Hansard to realise that there are constant attempts to use points of order as a vehicle to extend Question Time through the Chair. That is not a function of the Chair, and I do not believe that it is good practice for the House.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

As someone who invariably takes the second slot on points of order—not the first—I, too, accept that there is abuse. Indeed, that matter has been referred to and is being considered by the Select Committee on Procedure. It hopes to study that precise matter next Monday.

I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that there are ways to resolve the matter other than by the course that you have decided to take. Would it not be to the benefit of the House if you put this reversion on a limited basis pending the recommendations of the Select Committee? I believe that within that Committee—where the best form of debate takes place — lies a possible solution to avoid the difficulties that arise at 3.30 pm.

The reason why we have the difficulty with points of order at 3.30 pm is that there is no slot within our proceedings for hon. Members to raise issues that they believe to be important, over and above the Standing Order No. 20 procedure. It is important that Parliament finds some way of giving vent to its feelings. By removing the opportunity to put points of order at 3.30 pm, you are simply putting the lid on a kettle of seething disquiet.

Mr. Speaker

I was interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman said about the Select Committee on Procedure considering this matter. That is news to me. Certainly I have received no request from the Chairman of that Committee even to consider the matter. Mr. Speaker is the servant of the House, and if the Select Committee on Procedure makes recommendations and the House accepts them Mr. Speaker will be bound by them.

I am the servant of the House. I was chosen to be Mr. Speaker by the whole House to keep order and to ensure observance of our rules. If those rules are changed by the will of the House, I will certainly abide by that. I welcome the Select Committee considering the matter, if that is its intention.

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