HC Deb 21 January 1988 vol 125 cc1105-8

4.7 pm

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given the reply of the Leader of the House, for which you have no responsibility, may I raise a point with you as Chairman of the House of Commons Commission? Would it be possible, if the Register of Members' Interests is further delayed, for nurses to be allowed to be conducted into the Library so that they can see for themselves the Register of Members' Interests? Would it be possible for the Library to be open for one day so that the Government can show that the register is not being delayed and that the point about hypocrisy and double standards is not being shielded from the public gaze? If, unfortunately, nurses are driven out on strike by the Government's policies, it would be a good opportunity for them to come here and see the background of those hypocritical Tories who are attacking them.

Mr. Speaker

That matter was raised with me yesterday. I said that I would look into the reason for the delay in publishing the register. However, as the hon. Gentleman correctly says, it is available to hon. Members in the Library.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I wonder whether I might take up the attitude that you, Mr. Speaker, intend to take towards points of order. Inevitably, if we believe that the House is not being treated properly, hon. Members—this has happened for hundreds of years and will continue long after we are gone—raise the matter with the Speaker.

Yesterday, I understand that you did not want to take any more points of order, Sir. There was, if I may say so with respect, an important principle— the Government had decided to publish a White Paper without making a statement. The Home Secretary has, from his point of view, defended and justified that. Clearly, we are not satisfied; we were not satisfied at the time and we tried to raise a point of order. I know that a rubbishy article appeared in one of the newspapers saying that you were not exercising sufficient control. As I understand it, the House does not sit for the convenience of the Government —certainly not for the Government alone—and Back Benchers — those of us who hold no jobs, official or otherwise—take the House of Commons seriously. If we did not, we would not spend so much of our time here.

It is rather unfortunate — I hope that you. Mr. Speaker, will take this in the way that it is being presented and not as a criticism—that if we try to raise a point of order, even before we can get a word out, like yesterday, you shout us down, or tell us to sit down—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I corrected that. Therefore, I hope that you will recognise that it is a legitimate way for Back Benchers to raise matters, and if we are refused we shall have to find other ways, such as Standing Order No. 20 applications, which I do not think you would appreciate. I hope that this point is understood.

Mr. Speaker

This matter was raised by an hon. Member yesterday and he was supported from his Front Bench. If the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard he will see that question was not directed to me but to the Leader of the House across the Chamber, and he responded. The point about the written question was a matter of Government business, not a matter of order at all.

I think the House will always support the Chair in dealing with points of order which are points of order, but points of controversy across the Chamber must be dealt with in different ways. If it is legitimate to raise such a matter through a Standing Order No. 20 application, that is the correct way to deal with it, not as a result of a point of order.

I should add that some hon. Members—not many—might be tempted to get in early by raising a point of order, rather than by making a speech in the debate to come. Yesterday, and indeed on other occasions this week, a large number of right hon. and hon. Members wished to take part in our debates. That is equally true today. Points of order delay them and ensure that they do not get a fair chance.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance on a question of privilege and refer you to the precedent—

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman has a question of privilege, he should write to me in the usual way and I will consider it. That is the rule, and has been so for some years.

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you could help the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is, as he has just told the House, a member of the Liaison Committee. I understand that that Committee met in closed session recently to discuss the expenditure of large sums of money for trips and that my hon. Friend gave the vote of that Committee. My understanding is that it is a rule of this House that matters that take place during private proceedings should not be brought to the House until the Committee has reported. I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you could reprimand my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South.

Mr. Speaker

I reprimand him.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker, raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). You will recall that on Tuesday I raised as a point of order the Home Secretary's release of information by way of a planted parliamentary question on the reorganisation of radio in this country. It may come as a bit of a surprise to you from time to time, Mr. Speaker, but I want to try to support the Chair as often as I possibly can. I should like that to be every single time.

However, I should also like to put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that we have the right here to attempt to raise certain matters— for example, when we see the Home Secretary treating the House with what we believe to be contempt — certainly with discourtesy — in the way in which important Government announcements are sneaked in in that fashion.

Although Government business and the business of the House may not be your responsibility, Mr. Speaker — indeed, they are not—when Back Benchers, and indeed Front Benchers, are treated with contempt by Ministers, you, Sir, can certainly use your influence to intervene on our behalf so that we can call Government to account in the Chamber, which we are elected so to do. I should add that I have received complaints from Conservative Members about the way in which the Home Secretary acted on Tuesday.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman should study the Order Paper more carefully—[Interruption.] Well, if he had studied the Order Paper yesterday he would have seen that there would be an opportunity to raise those very matters on questions 6 and 7 today. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that I allowed a full run on that matter. Indeed, every hon. Member who wished to participate at Question Time today on that question was called, including the hon. Gentleman.

In relation to an earlier point of order, I shall have to "unreprimand" the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) because I now see from the Votes and Proceedings which have been shown to me that the Committee of which he is a member has reported to the House. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was, in fact, going to draw that to your attention. I should like to conclude this amicable discussion between us, in which the Committee has been highlighted, by saying that when my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) entered the House he had a reputation for defending people. I would not trust him to adopt that position for me in future.