HC Deb 20 February 1987 vol 110 cc1231-2 2.31 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to raise a point of order at this time on a Friday, but the matter has only just arisen and the House needs your guidance.

I can genuinely claim that every hon. Member present will be appalled to hear of an attack made today on Mr. Speaker. You, Sir, more than any of us, will appreciate that respect for the Chair and its rulings have always been seen as central and essential to the workings of the House. It is one of the first lessons that any new Member of Parliament learns. Indeed, in the past the House has treated such attacks with such seriousness that hon. Members have been suspended — and I draw your attention to pages 139 and 159 of "Erskine May".

I have before me an extract from the Press Association tape headed Tory MP hits out at Speaker. I have taken the liberty of providing you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with a copy. It refers to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) who, according to this report, issued a considered statement; it was not a casual comment. Referring to events relating to the Prime Minister in the past year, he said: The Speaker has allowed that to happen and has not lifted a finger to stop it. In relation to attacks on the Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Gentleman states: Why is it then, as soon as a campaign is mounted against him …the Speaker immediately intervenes?… we look to the Speaker to be even-handed in these affairs. The hon. Gentleman continues in that vein.

You will appreciate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that these are serious and possibly unprecedented allegations, especially as they were made outside the House where Mr. Speaker would not have the opportunity to defend himself. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman did not even have the courtesy to notify Mr. Speaker that he intended to make such a personal attack on him and upon the Chair.

In one of today's newspapers a senior Tory is quoted as having told the Government Chief Whip yesterday, We"— that is the Tories— have a lot of thugs on our side. The statement made by the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe seems to confirm that.

I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to give us guidance as to what action the House can take to protect the Chair against such verbal thuggery from petulant junior Members of the House who apparently resent the fact that the other day they had to be reprimanded for unparliamentary conduct.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Waddington)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have not read what my hon. Friend has said, but have only read the reports of it on the tape.

If the reports are in any way accurate, the Government would deplore them. Mr. Speaker commands the confidence of the Government and, I believe, the overwhelming majority of the House. I have no doubt that the correct course of action for my hon. Friend is to seek an appointment with Mr. Speaker to explain what he has said. It would not be right for me to comment further.

Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East)


Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I wonder whether it would be wise for the House to reflect on what the Minister has just said and perhaps give the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) the opportunity to take the advice that has been offered to him. That would also allow Mr. Speaker to reflect on it over the weekend. I am sure that if Mr. Speaker has any comment to make he will seek an opportunity to do so next week. Perhaps that would be the wisest course.

Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not think that this is a matter that should be treated in any sense as a party matter. I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of State for what he said, giving the Government's position. I think that this is a matter of great importance. Respect for the Chair is fundamental to good conduct in the House. It has always been my understanding — I should be grateful if you would confirm this, Mr. Deputy Speaker—that if a Member felt so provoked as to criticise the Chair it would be done only on a substantive motion.

I believe that it is utterly wrong that statements of such a provocative and disturbing nature should be made in the country. I certainly hope not only that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) takes the advice that has been offered by the Minister but that, on Monday we shall have a statement and a full apology from him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman is correct in drawing attention to the seriousness of this matter. Because of that, it might make sense for the hon. Gentleman whose conduct has been criticised to reflect over the weekend on what has been said from both sides of the House, and perhaps he will decide what is the appropriate thing to do on Monday.

Mr. Winnick

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) asked whether the hon. Gentleman in question had informed Mr. Speaker about what can only be described as an outrageous attack on the judgment and integrity of the Speaker. It would be appropriate for the House to know at this stage, regardless of what may happen over the weekend or on Monday, whether the hon. Gentleman, before he made the attack, informed Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I listened to the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), but I am unable to give the House the information that is now sought. No doubt that will be one of the matters that will be reflected upon over the weekend. It might be wise for the House to allow for a period of reflection before returning to the matter.