HC Deb 12 January 1988 vol 125 cc169-72
Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Following yesterday's outrageous events in the Chamber, perhaps you heard on the radio yesterday afternoon the hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Hughes) saying that, although he had been suspended from the House, he intended to repeat the incident as soon as possible.

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is strictly hypothetical.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order has nothing to do with the statement or today's questions. I shall raise it now. I gave notice to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), that I was going to raise this point of order because it concerns him. In raising this point of order, I want to make it clear that I cast no aspersions whatsoever on his integrity. I have the highest regard and the greatest respect for him, but last night, in his winding-up speech, he declared an interest in a company. I raised the matter briefly on a point of order. The Minister has an interest in a company called Hamilton and Kinneil Estates Ltd. There is no doubt that that company and other similar companies would benefit when the legislation debated yesterday is enacted. It is unprecedented for a Government Minister to be responsible for legislation—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I heard what the hon. Gentleman said last night. It is not a matter for me; it is a matter for the Select Committee on Members' Interests and for the Committee of Selection.

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

It is a ministerial rule.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not responsible for the ministerial rules. The hon. Gentleman should address his comments to the Select Committee on Members' Interests.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I am sure you are aware, you are held in deep respect by the House, but the House is also of the opinion that, on some occasions, you have a very difficult job to do. Many hon. Members, particularly on the Conservative side of the House, would like to help you in the execution of your duties. With that in mind, I am putting to you this point of order, and am seeking your advice.

Yesterday, an hon. Member—I believe that he is an hon. Member of this House, although, like most other hon. Members, I have never clapped eyes on him before —contrived to get himself suspended from the sitting of the House. It seems that there is a growing band of imitators of that venerated eccentric, the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—

Mr. Speaker

Order. What can possibly be the point of order for me? The hon. Gentleman started by saying that he would like to be helpful. He is now being most unhelpful.

Mr. Marlow

I am coming to the helpful point. It appears that it is possible for hon. Members to see themselves as martyrs without even having to pay for a box of matches to set the conflagration alight. If hon. Members who were suspended lost their pay—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot go back to what was done yesterday. I say to the hon. Gentleman and to the whole House that I do have a difficult task. It would help me and the whole House enormously if hon. Members stuck strictly to the rules and conventions of this House.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Reverting to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), about a Minister declaring an interest, could I draw your attention to the fact that some time ago I sought permission to place in the Library of the House the rules of procedure for Ministers. They state clearly that Ministers with departmental responsibilities must divest themselves of their financial interest in companies which would benefit from their administration.

At the time, you ruled that it was not in order for that document to be placed in the Library, but I draw the matter to your attention because, with great respect, it is not a matter for the Select Committee on Members' Interests. Under those rules, the Minister quite properly declared an interest. What is at issue is whether the Minister, in having an interest, is in breach of regulations laid down by the Crown through the Prime Minister in respect of the duty of Ministers to Parliament. Would you therefore look back at my earlier submission and consider whether that document, which every Minister receives, ought to be made available to the House so that hon. Members know the rules that govern Ministers in the conduct of financial business in which they have an interest?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall certainly do what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

There are nine of them.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall certainly do what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, but I am not responsible for the ministerial rules. They certainly exist and the matter should be taken up with those who are concerned with them.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Just before Christmas, you had the misfortune, in some ways, to apologise to me and I readily accepted that apology. Today I want to apologise to you because I do not feel that it is good for Parliament if hon. Members shout out from sedentary positions, as I did. In that spirit, could you please do something about the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman and can only say that what went on between us was misrepresented in some quarters. Shouted interjections across the Chamber, from whichever side, do not help our proceedings and I hope that, during the remainder of this Session, and of this Parliament, we may continue along the parliamentary lines of good behaviour.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I welcome what you said in reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn). I crave your assistance because the Committee of Selection will be meeting on the Housing (Scotland) Bill and, due to the lack of Tory Members from Scotland, it is probably inevitable that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) will be a member of the Committee, or will be nominated. I ask for your assurance that no selection will be made for the Committee until you have made a pronouncement on this vexatious matter.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me. I am not responsible for the Committee of Selection, but I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has just said will have been heard by the Patronage Secretary.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)


Mr. Speaker

I am sorry I did not call the hon. Member to put a question on the statement.

Mr. Wells

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. May I remind you of your words about the frustration of sitting on the Back Benches of Parliament, particularly in this Parliament, and bring to your attention the fact that the frustration could have been mollified a little if hon. Members representing constituencies which paid regional development grants and other imposts had been permitted to take part in the debate on the trade and industry statement made today?

Mr. Speaker

Again I say to the hon. Member that I know it is a life of great frustration on the Back Benches, but what may be a disappointment one day could perhaps be a happiness on another.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you accept that an hon. Member who has broken the rules and has paid the penalty by being suspended should nevertheless have his reputation defended? Will you accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Hughes) yesterday acted from the highest motives? Is it relevant, in view of some of the remarks that have been made, for the point to be understood that my hon. Friend was concerned about an eight-month-old child who desperately requires open heart surgery?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is unfair. I have no idea what motives are in the minds of Members when they speak. I regret what happened yesterday. I accept, as the hon. Member has just said, that ours is a life of very great frustration, and frustration takes all kinds of forms.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Something that you said earlier may be misinterpreted. You said, when my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) raised the issue of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), serving on the Committee to consider the Housing (Scotland) Bill, that that was not your responsibility. I cast no aspersions, but are you sure that, in that you are responsible for the conduct of the House, you are not concerned as to whether the Committee of Selection chooses people who, very honourably, as in the case of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, have declared an interest? Furthermore, should the Crown rules on the conduct of Ministers be made available? The Crown rules have not yet been put in the Library. Should not you, as the Speaker, responsible for the conduct of the House, insist that those rules are put in the Library so that we can know where we are in relation to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West who is a Government Minister responsible for highly controversial legislation?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I understand the point that has been made. It is not for the Chair to dictate to the Select Committee who should be appointed. I say again that what has been said will undoubtedly have been heard on the Government Front Bench.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is a regular attender here and is called regularly, but it is unfair for him to seek, under the cloak of a point of order, to achieve an answer to a question that he would have wished to put to the Minister. If it is a matter for me, I will deal with it.

Mr. Skinner

If we can clear up the misunderstanding that occurred earlier, Mr. Speaker, I was trying to point out to you that at the end of the day it is a matter for you as to whether parliamentary questions can be laid in the Table Office. That was the point I was trying to establish.

I want to draw to the attention of you and the House that we shall have a new set of rules on grants being made regionally and selectively. If we take a line through the nationalised industries, Ministers are not responsible for day-to-day administration. However, it was possible for any Member of Parliament to put down a question on grants that were obtainable or otherwise in his or her constituency, which would be accepted by the Table Office and the Minister would be responsible. But it is not the same with the day-to-day administration of nationalised industries.

I want to draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, what may arise out of the changes in the Minister's statement and ask whether it will still be the same. Will hon. Members be able to ask, by a parliamentary question or otherwise, whether some consultancy in their area has obtained a grant or failed to obtain a grant? Will the element of day-to-day administration apply in this case as it does in nationalised industries, or will we have a free run? Many of my hon. Friends fear that the abandonment of the financial guidelines will mean a period of graft, corruption and backhanders.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member will have heard, as the whole House heard, that a Bill will be presented today. I have no knowledge of what is in the Bill, but I have no doubt that the matter raised by the hon. Member will be relevant to the debate on it.