§ Mr. Speaker
I have been reflecting upon yesterday's debate on the Queen's Speech. It has been represented to me by several right hon. and hon. Members that there was an attempt to disrupt the opening speeches by co-ordinated interruptions. I hope that that was not the case and that it will never be the case. I entirely accept that there should be cut and thrust in debate in the House and, on occasions, interventions, but not organised interruptions, which are a very different matter. Furthermore, I hope that personal allegations against hon. Members will not be raised again in the way that they were raised yesterday.
The House, in its wisdom, long ago laid down a proper procedure for pursuing complaints about these matters. In relation to what was alleged yesterday, and in order to clear up the matter without any equivocation, perhaps it would be right for me to read to the House once again what was said yesterday, because the letter read out by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) was not addressed to me. It was a letter to him, not to me.
The hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) drew attention to what he thought had been a "fiddling of the record". He asked me to confirmthat the record had in fact been changedand that I had apologised. The hon. Gentleman said:The assurance that I now seek from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East iswhether it was or not. I said:I subsequently looked into the matter and I had an assurance from the Editor of Hansard that no alteration was made at the specific request of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). It was a mistake in the Hansard reporting.I went on to confirm:The mistake was not the mistake of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East."—[Official Report, 29 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 583.]I hope that that puts the matter into its proper perspective.
§ Mr. Tim Yeo (Suffolk, South)
I am glad to have an opportunity of accepting unreservedly your guidance and ruling about the manner in which personal allegations should be made in the House.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it be in any way impertinent to ask you, as you have understandably dealt very toughly and quickly with some of us on other matters, why yesterday, knowing the background, and with all the information that was available to you, you did not call to order the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary? Some of us feel that if we had tried to do what the Home Secretary's PPS did we would have been shut up, with short shrift, and rightly, by you, Mr. Speaker. Why did that not happen yesterday?
§ Mr. Speaker
I am glad to have an opportunity to explain that. The matter that the hon. Gentleman raised took place a month ago. Good though my memory is, I did not immediately recollect it or appreciate what he was saying until later, when he made the allegation. I then recollected what had happened and I made the comments that are clearly on the record in Hansard.
§ Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I thank you for the clarification and the statement that you have made to the House, following, as 727 you have said, representations made to you? Would it not have been better if the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) had made a proper statement to the House and cleared up this matter? Many of us feel that his conduct yesterday was outrageous. His standing has gone down in the minds of many people because of the way in which he conducted himself. While he refuses completely to withdraw his allegation, we can only hold him in contempt.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I ask for your guidance. because this is a serious matter. I hope that it is not being suggested that it is not possible, in a very important debate, for hon. Members on both sides of the House politely to ask an Opposition or Government spokesmen to give way—[Interruption.] May I make my point?—so that they can make an intervention. We all accept that organised barracking is wrong, and I was not aware that there had been such a thing by those on the Government Benches. [Interruption.] I am as entitled as anybody else to make my point.
This morning I read in Hansard the debates on the Queen's Speech for the past 20 years, and on every one of those occasions Opposition Front Bench spokesmen were prepared to give way on a number of occasions and discuss what they would do if they were in government. Yesterday the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) gave way on only two occasions and refused to give way to two of my hon. Friends.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have made a statement on this matter in order to clear it up. I do not think that we want to take it any further, except to say that we have a long tradition in the House that we resolve our disagreements by argument, not by any form of disruption, and I hope that that will always be the case.
§ Mr. Ewing
It is not a different point of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down!"] No, I will not sit down, and I will not take lectures on morality from hon. Members who conduct themselves in the way that the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) has done. The reputation and integrity of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) have been besmirched, and I say to you quite frankly, Mr. Speaker, that you have a responsibility to protect that reputation. I do not care about myself, but I care a great deal about the way in which the affairs of the House are conducted. I have a great love for the House of Commons, and I care a great deal about the image of the House in the country, and what happened yesterday at the behest of the hon. Member for Suffolk, South has done immeasurable damage to the standing of the House of Commons.
I am worried about two matters. First, my understanding—I apologise in advance if this is not true—is that the letter from the Editor of Hansard to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East was copied and 728 sent to you. If that is true, it gives me the clear impression that you were not made aware of the contents of that letter and therefore you were caught in the position that you were yesterday, so there has been some breakdown.
The second point is that in successive news bulletins by the BBC yesterday information was given that the speech to be made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East was to be disrupted. That information was given out by the Government. My hon. Friends have said that the apology from the hon. Member for Suffolk, South is insufficient. We are asking too much from the hon. Gentleman. Having seen his conduct yesterday, I do not believe that he has the ability or the standing to apologise properly. I am quite content to leave him in the gutter, where he belongs.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have one final word to say on this matter, in answer to what the hon. Gentleman has swid. I received a copy of that letter about a month ago. It was addressed to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and not to me. I hope the House will accept that it is not my practice—nor, I hope, the practice of other hon. Members—to disclose letters addressed to other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House is grateful to you for outlining the rules on this matter, and I am sure also that the House will take those rules to heart. In view of the significance of the letter from the Editor of Hansard to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), and the fact that you now have a copy of that letter and that it is rather central to the remarks made yesterday by my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), would it not be helpful to the House if that letter were placed in the official record, and perhaps you could make arrangements to do that?
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a matter that reflects on the integrity of the Chair. Hansard of yesterday shows that you asked the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) to withdraw his allegation against my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). The hon. Member for Suffolk, South said:I gladly withdraw it, Mr. Speaker, if we have an assurance that no… Opposition Member will seek to tamper with today's record.You, Mr. Speaker, said:Order. No qualification please. The hon. Gentleman must withdraw the allegation absolutely.The hon. Member for Suffolk, South said:I withdraw the specific allegation that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East falsified the record."—[Official Report, 29 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 584.]I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that that was a sheer defiance of your ruling. It is part of our rules that we do not cast aspersions on individuals, nor on hon. Members in general.
The public in general, not only in this country, but internationally, look to Hansard for an accurate record of our proceedings, and look to Hansard to understand our 729 constitution and to understand the honour of Members. The fact that the hon. Member for Suffolk, South refused to withdraw such an unfounded and unwarranted allegation is a matter of great honour. He would do himself a great deal of credit, and it would reflect credit on the House of Commons, if you gave him one last opportunity to withdraw the allegation and apologise for this disgraceful calumny.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I accepted the hon. Gentleman's withdrawal yesterday. Is he seeking to say something more?
§ Mr. Yeo
I simply wanted to draw attention to the fact that yesterday I said:I withdraw the specific allegation that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East falsified the record."—[Official Report, 29 November 1988; Vol. 142, c. 584.]Today I have confirmed that I accept your ruling about the manner in which personal allegations should be made. A great deal of trouble would have been saved had the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East copied to me the letter that he received from the Editor of the Official Report.
§ Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be better if the House were reminded of what has happened on this matter over a long period. In the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) opened and concluded so brilliantly, to the disturbance of Conservative Members, he was asked, in an intervention, about certain matters. He replied that there was no such commitment, or that there were no such commitments. The difference was immaterial, as hon. Members will see if they look at the record. The hon. Member, as I am obliged to call him by the traditions of the House, for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) two days later asserted, without any justification, or without approaching my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East—
§ Mr. Dobson
—had gone to the Official Report and requested a change in the words, and he said that he did not blame the Editor of the Official Report or the Reporters, who might not be entirely appreciative of the significance of the change. So he apparently knew what my hon. Friend had done, and knew that the Hansard reporters were not responsible. That was what he said. You—I regret to say this, Mr. Speaker—apparently without checking with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East, gave the impression that he had in some way been party to what had happened.
730 Following that, very properly, the Editor of Hansard wrote and apologised to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East for what had happened and took the entire responsibility for what had gone wrong on his shoulders and said that it was one of the Hansard staff who had got it wrong. If anyone had to set the record straight, clearly it was not my hon. Friend.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Suffolk, South raised this matter again and wholly falsely asserted that my hon. Friend had brought pressure to bear to falsify the record. Then he said that he had been fiddling the record and only after pressure from Opposition Members did you, Mr. Speaker, get him to make his partial withdrawal. We think that it is quite unsatisfactory for the House to be left in that position and that an apology from the hon. Gentleman would be proper.
Reverting to the beginning of your statement, Mr. Speaker, when you said that you did not like barracking and organised interruptions, you may recall that the hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) raised a point of order about this letter. About half a minute later, when you were otherwise engaged, the Tory Chief Whip urged him to try to have another go at you and raise the point of order again. He is the source of all this trouble. The Tory Chief Whip is the person who organises this, and we could do with an apology from both of them.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have to say that I consider that to be a most disgraceful intervention by the hon. Gentleman. This is an important matter and I fully support the way in which you have sought to deal with this disagreeable incident. I fully support what you have done.
It seems to me that the letter from the Editor of Hansard to the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) set out the facts. I therefore wonder whether you might consider what my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) said and see to it that the letter is published in the Official Report. That would then put an end to the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
We must now move on. The hon. Gentleman puts in jeopardy his hon. Friends who wish to speak in the next debate.
§ Mr. Rooker
This is a different point of order, Mr. Speaker, which is intended to be helpful. We have already spent a considerable amount of time on an important issue. As no hon. Member has made a personal statement, everyone else is fully entitled to raise the issue day after day. With respect, I put it to Conservative Front-Bench Members that they should suggest that the hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo) makes a personal statement. That could not be questioned. When that is done, that will be the end of the matter.