HC Deb 03 March 1988 vol 128 cc1170-3

4.8 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Yesterday, I received a letter dated 29 February, a copy of which I gave to your secretary last night, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer relating to my point of order of 23 February, as reported in column 160.

I assume, though the Chancellor does not make it clear, that he is referring to paragraph 17 of Sir Peter Walters's letter. Sir Peter Walters is the chairman of BP, with whom I have always had good relations on account of constituency involvement in the Grangemouth refinery. In that letter Sir Peter Walters promised to maintain existing commitments. However in the small print, he goes no further in essence than to "expect"—that was the word I used in column 154, quoting from the Chancellor's statement about Scottish research. I have quoted accurately because the Chief Whip gave me his copy for the sake of accuracy. Even if I had been able to read Sir Peter Walters' letter rather than Sir Peter Middleton's letter, my question and point of order happen to have been legitimate.

There are three other considerations. First, If the Chancellor is going to refer to documents, why does he place a single copy in the Library for which one has to queue at the desk? I make no complaint whatever about the Library staff, who happened to be harrassed at the time that I rushed out of the Chamber to try to check, as any Back-Bench Member of Parliament would, and had to take my place at the queue. If the Chancellor intends to refer to documents, surely he should put them in the Vote Office, the proper place for documents to which senior Ministers intend to refer on important statements, not the Library.

Secondly, why does the Chancellor scurry from the Chamber as soon as a point of order is raised? We all have to reflect on our parliamentary manners — I say this quite gently—but in opposition the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) would have been the first to complain if Labour Ministers had left after making a statement on which there would clearly be points of order.

Thirdly, we Scots can be forgiven for going into the small print of company undertakings. After all, Guinness reneged on its Edinburgh headquarters commitment. Since this is not a party issue, I shall not stick to what happened under a Conservative Government. We have memories, too, of the undertakings that Chrysler and Peugot gave to a British Government.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman to raise this point of order as a special matter, but he must not go into great detail. Will he come to the point of order?

Mr. Dalyell

That is why it was perfectly legitimate to ask questions on the small print and why I say quite gently to the Chancellor that, although he asks in his letter for some kind of apology, on this occasion I am not prepared to give one because I do not think that I have done wrong.

Mr. Speaker

The Chancellor is present and has heard what has been said.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have to spend your time in this part of the world and you reside in the area covered by Westminster city council. I just wondered whether we could join with you, as a resident in this area, to take appropriate steps to call for a special audit of the Westminster city council which has sold off three cemeteries for 15p.

If you were prepared to head the list of signatories, Mr. Speaker, as a resident within the area, we would join you in such a petition. I do not know whether, as a resident, you have any special powers, but I am pretty certain that you would be a formidable signatory in seeking to make sure that the selling of those cemeteries for 15p would be cleared up. Many people in and around this area have strong misgivings, and if we cannot get anything done by an extraordinary audit we should have a public inquiry.

Mr. Speaker

I am not responsible for audits, but I write many private letters.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the answer to the question that I put to the Leader of the House at business questions today, can the Chairman of the Committee of Selection come before the House either to answer questions or to make a statement about the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? The Leader of the House misled the House today because he—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is not a parliamentary expression. No right hon. or hon. Member misleads the House.

Mr. Maxton

The Leader of the House said something different this week from last week when he referred to a helpful letter that he had received from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). In a discussion in the House on the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Garscadden said that he was happy not to lay down conditions because he wanted the Select Committee to be set up as soon as possible. Since we should be making some progress on this matter as soon as possible, can the Chairman come before the House to make a statement?

Mr. Wakeham

If I did not give as full an answer as I should have done, let me try to be helpful now. We originally failed to set up the Select Committee because agreement could not be reached on its composition. My correspondence with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) was to clarify the basis upon which the Labour party would be agreeable to the Select Committee being set up and it was a helpful correspondence. Other hon. Members have other considerations on the setting up of the Select Committee and discussions on those will continue.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You could say, Mr. Speaker, that I have a long-standing interest in this matter. Will you confirm that no Member of the House can be ordered to be a member of a Select Committee? Unlike Standing Committees, on to which hon. Members are drafted, if I can put it that way—Conservative Members are happy to be drafted — hon. Members can opt not to be members of a Select Committee. One cannot be made to become a member or be forced to attend.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members can be invited to join a Committee and they can also be appointed to a Select Committee.

Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in a point of order, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcester (Mr. Forth) raised a question, of which he had been unable to give me notice, on the use of stationery to distribute a letter for which I had been responsible. I told the House at that stage that I had paid for the stationery and envelopes that had been used. I have now received a receipt from the Fees Office accounting for all the stationery used, but I must tell the House that some of the envelopes used were not paid for by me. I have now put that matter right and I apologise for what was a technical mistake.

May I also tell any hon. Members who feel that they may have been in any way wronged by anything that. I said in the letter that I distributed to a small number of people, that if they give me the undertaking that they are in no way involved in any filibuster, I shall happily withdraw any criticism? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his explanation and apology.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcester)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I acknowledge what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has just said to the House. Further to the exchanges between us yesterday, I wrote to the Serjeant at Arms, but in view of what the hon. Gentleman has just said I am sure that the Serjeant at Arms will be able to regularise the matter.

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman was able to take action between yesterday and today in order to put right what may have been wrong, but, when they become available, I invite the hon. Member to read the proceedings of the Committee which is considering the Licensing (Retail Sales) Bill — an important Committee dealing with an important matter. All the members of that Committee made it clear that the sort of action that was being taken by and on behalf of the hon. Member for Mossley Hill was distasteful, unacceptable and potentially unparliamentary and I believe that you, Mr. Speaker, may be considering the matter.

Mr. Speaker

I am considering the matter and we should not discuss it further now.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is great interest in the debate on the Royal Navy. I do not know whether those hon. Members who are rising wish to take part in it.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not often raise a point of order, but I am sick to death of the question of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. It holds up business nearly every flipping day and it must be sorted out. Will you, Mr. Speaker, put your foot down, knock one or two heads together, and get the beggars sorted out?

Mr. Speaker

I shall have to put my head on my foot.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There was a suggestion that the rules of order in the House are not being carried out properly by yourself or members of the Chairmen's Panel in that filibustering is not allowed in the House. As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Standing Orders specifically allow the Chair or you, Mr. Speaker, to stop hon. Members being repetitious. It is up to the Chair and to you, Mr. Speaker, to carry out those Standing Orders. To the best of my knowledge, and the knowledge of hon. Members on both sides of the House, those rules are adhered to and it is a general understanding that filibustering is not allowed in this place and I should be grateful if you would confirm that.

Mr. Speaker

That is absolutely correct.

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance about the conventions of the House. Perhaps I owe the hon. Member for Mossley Hill an apology; if so, I willingly give it. Yesterday, he told me privately that he had not written to my constituents. However, it is clear that other organisations have taken up his allegations. I have dealt with that and received a fulsome apology from them.

Is it right that an hon. Member should go behind the backs of other hon. Members and approach their constituents, whether on House of Commons stationery or not? Such an action puts hon. Members in an intolerable position. As a result of the whole wretched affair, I am now receiving many cards from my constituents who were under the impression that I was going to be part of a filibustering exercise. As I said yesterday, I am actually in favour of tightening up the law on abortion.

It would be extremely helpful to the House if you, Mr. Speaker, laid down some ground rules for the benefit of hon. Members about hon. Members who go behind the backs of their colleagues and approach their constituents. It is difficult to pull back this matter once it has happened.

Mr. Alton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Harris) and I discussed this matter yesterday. I have not written to any of his constituents; as he knows, I am sorry if anyone has. This is an issue that concerns all hon. Members. Whatever our views, most people want the matter to be processed properly, not by foul means but by fair. Democracy will be done no justice by a misuse of proceedings. I am sure that sensible arrangements can be arrived at if only hon. Members will speak to one another about them.

Mr. Speaker

I am considering these matters. As the House well knows, I have had a number of letters about them.

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