HC Deb 24 March 1988 vol 130 cc530-2 4.28 pm
Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that you and the House are in some difficulty following the business statement. It is clear that the Leader of the House has no idea what the motion on the poll tax, which is to be debated on Monday, is about. He has repeatedly said that it is of a minor and technical nature. However, it sets up the whole registration procedure for the poll tax.

I shall not rehearse all the arguments on that because, Mr. Speaker, you would be right not to allow me to do so. However, I do believe that you and the House are m difficulty. The Leader of the House has made a statement about something that he does not understand and knows nothing about. When asked about the Committee stage of a Bill that affects that motion, again he knew nothing about it. In those circumstances, is it within your power, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Leader of the House to take the regulations away, think about them again, do his homework and, when they are properly drafted and worked out, tell us what he is going to do?

Mr. Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I am not responsible for the order of business in the House. I am sure that the Leader of the House understands fully what it is about, and I shall look forward to hearing what it is all about.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury)

During the course of Questions to the Prime Minister the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) made an outrageous allegation that was very clearly audible on the Benches on this side and which I ask you to call upon him to withdraw, Mr. Speaker—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I may say to the hon. Gentleman that I heard a disturbance, but I heard no words that were disorderly.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham. North-West)

What was it?

Mr. Brazier

The allegation that the hon. Member for Newham North-West made was that the Prime Minister had only attended the funeral of the two corporals so brutally murdered in Ulster—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. This seems to me to be like a continuation of Question Time. Sadly, the noise at Prime Minister's Question Time has greatly increased and I deeply regret it. It is not always possible at this end of the Chamber to hear what goes on below the Gangway or across the Chamber. If that remark was made, I would certainly regret it, but it was not a disorderly remark. It was not part of the proceedings of the House because I had not called the hon. Member to speak.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House referred to the statutory instrument on the collection of the poll tax in Scotland. It is the subject of a report by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. In the ordinary course of events those reports are not debated, because it depends upon the Leader of the House tabling them for debate. The Leader of the House commented that it was because of a prayer limited to an hour and a half that the debate was to take place. Can I make it clear that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments would certainly welcome a debate on its 18th report, which covers several instruments in addition to the poll tax instrument referred to?

If the Leader of the House is concerned that this is only a prayer and that the time is therefore limited to an hour and a half, and if he wishes to spend a whole day on the report, I am sure that that will be welcomed by members of the Committee and Members on both sides of the House, so that we can have an in-depth investigation and demonstrate that this is not a minor and technical matter. The Joint Committee has made a very serious report. It is an all-party Committee empowered by the House to make sure that the House receives a report if there are serious deficiencies. Those serious deficiencies have been reported. It is misleading for the Leader of the House to suggest that a report of this nature is a trivial matter when serious considerations are involved.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Further to the points of order raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). You bear a responsibility, Mr. Speaker, for trying to maintain the reputation of the House. We sit here and receive virtually constant lectures from Government supporters about law and order, the traditions of the House and maintaining the order and dignity of the House. But Opposition Members feel that what the Government are doing — taking powers in regulations which greatly exceed the powers given in the basic statute and giving a public official extra-parliamentary, unlawful snooping powers against the people of Scotland — will do more damage to the reputation of the House than all the yah-booing of the centuries.

We ask you, Mr. Speaker, to see whether you can prevail upon the Government to treat this matter seriously. It is crucial that the House should not be expected to give to public snoopers powers that they do not possess in statutes. If we are not going to jib at that, God knows, we are not going to jib at anything.

Mr. Speaker

I understand the strong feelings about this matter, but the House knows that it is not in the power or the authority of the Chair to do what the hon. Gentleman has requested. The matter will be debated, and that is the time at which these arguments should be strongly made.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

I am asking your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) has misled the House in reply to a question of mine about the scale of psychological operations in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Speaker

No. I say to the hon. Gentleman that no hon. Member misleads the House. The hon. Member may inadvertently have said something with which the hon. Gentleman disagrees, but he has not misled the House.

Mr. Livingstone

That was why I did not say something stronger. I thought that "misled" might have been in order. If it is not, I withdraw it. It may well be that the hon. Gentleman has been misguided inadvertently by his civil servants. Given that I cannot say that someone has lied to the House, what must I now do to expose what has happened? Do I raise it with you, Mr. Speaker, or through some motion that I put forward?

Mr. Speaker

Do not raise it with me, because I am not responsible for what is said from the Front Bench. The hon. Gentleman must consult his hon. Friends about the parliamentary ways in which he can achieve his objective.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter relating to sub judice that arose this morning in one of the Standing Committees. When a Member—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot raise with me in the Chamber what goes on in Standing Committee. If he is alleging a breach of privilege or anything of that kind, he should write to me. He cannot raise with me what goes on in Standing Committee, because that is a matter for the Chairman of the Standing Committee, not for the Speaker in the Chamber.

Mr. Mullin

I accept what you say, Mr. Speaker. It relates to sub judice in reference to the continued claiming by Home Office Ministers of sub judice when questioned on anything relating to the Birmingham pub bombings. I have in front of me the sub judice resolution, which says that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is now doing what I have said that he cannot do. These are matters which he must raise with the Chairman of the Standing Committee, not on the Floor of the House. I cannot help him with what goes on in Standing Committees. It is not within my authority or power to do so.

Mr. Mullin

This matter has been raised on the Floor of the House on a number of occasions. I am just inviting you to elaborate on it in the light of the wording of the text of the resolution of the House on sub judice matters, which says that sub judice should be claimed only according to the discretion of the Chair if there is real and substantial danger of prejudice to the proceedings. I cannot see that anything that is said in the House constitutes a real and substantial danger of prejudice when any judgment that may or may not be made will be made by five Law Lords, who could not possibly be influenced by anything that anyone in this place or anywhere else had to say and whose impartiality is not challenged.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman well understands the sub judice rule and the reason why we have it in the House. The hon. Gentleman is expressing a view on whether what is said here may or may not influence the Law Lords, but I am bound by the sub judice rule laid down in our rules.

Mr. Mullin


Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman wants to come and discuss this matter I shall be very happy for him to do that, but not on the Floor of the House, especially on a day when we have a timetable motion, with a very large number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the debate. I will see the hon. Gentleman about it privately.