§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you had any request from Ministers about a statement on the entirely new doctrine that it has apparently now become all right for a principal private secretary to the Prime Minister to authorise the leaking of a Law Officer's letter to Mr. Chris Moncrieff?
Have you had any request for an explanation of whether Lord Armstrong of Ilminster knew that there had been explicit approval of a disclosure of a Law Officer's letter when he put forward a report that concentrated on differences of understanding between civil servants? Might he not have been just a little economical with the truth?
My point of order is this: in the style of Mr. Justice McCowan, is it now the case that a principal private secretary to the Prime Minister should carry out the instructions of politicians, even though he knows that those instructions are against the highest traditions of the British Civil Service?
Finally, when did Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell tell their Prime Minister what they had done and what they had approved?
§ Mr. Speaker
The short answer to the hon. Gentleman is that I have had no such request. These are matters for political debate and not for points of order to me.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I have a point of order which is directly for you, Mr. Speaker, and it is one which I consider to be of such importance. I do not think that an hon. Member who has been here for a quarter of a century or more is suspended simply for the joy of it. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was suspended; it is true that there was a vote on it. I want to ask you a question, Mr. Speaker, because there is no one else I can ask. If later events prove that an hon. Member who has been suspended was telling the truth— and everything indicates that my hon. Friend has been telling the truth about Westland— what can be done about the suspension?
§ Mr. Speaker
I can deal with that question quite simply. The hon. Member was not suspended for what he said but because he would not withdraw an unparliamentary word.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for not giving you notice of my point of order, but I expect that the article by Adam Raphael in yesterday's edition of The Observer has been brought to your attention because it makes serious allegations about the workings of the House. In the article, a Mr. Charles Miller, of Public Policy Consultants, is quoted as saying that some Select Committee Chairmen had been bought. He says:I have found a large number of venal members of Parliament.The article makes a number of serious allegations, including allegations that some research assistants employed by Members are full-time members of companies that are professional lobbyists of the House. The article is headlined:A £10m trade in influence".It makes serious allegations that I ask you to consider. As there is a range of matters affecting a number of Committees, I should be most grateful if you would consider this matter with a view to requesting the appropriate Committees to interview Mr. Miller and to 576 consider other steps that could be taken to clean up what is being rapidly seen as a corrupt, or potentially corrupt, House of Commons?
§ Mr. Speaker
Of course I saw that article. I understand that the Select Committee is already investigating this matter and has taken evidence. If the hon. Gentleman has a further point to put about Mr. Miller's allegation, he should direct it to the Select Committee.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Tuesday you gave a ruling which no one in the House challenged. It was about the application of the sub judice rule in connection with published sections of the report on Harrods, Al Fayed and Lonrho. We did not challenge your ruling because the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry— [Interruption.] We are trying to be serious about an important national matter. We did not challenge your ruling, Mr. Speaker, because we had the assurance from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that any such quotations could have prejudiced the fairness of any subsequent trial and because the serious fraud office had said that further disclosure could prejudice its further inquiries.
On the front page of today's Financial Times there is a fascinating article by a Mr. Clive Wolman. The article is based on extensive information, including quotations about activities by members of the serious fraud office and officials. We have had the much publicised comment by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about wrongdoing. That comment may have been a political gaffe and a blunder, but we are not making much of that because such things occasionally happen. However, when it is taken in conjunction with what is clearly leaked information that could have come only from the Department of Trade and Industry or from the serious fraud office, it reveals information that would prejudice any future trial.
May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to look at the contents of the article and let us know, perhaps tomorrow, whether, in view of what is clearly official leaking from one or other o those two bodies, the ruling that you gave last week should be reconsidered?
§ Mr. Speaker
I will have a look at the article. It would be difficult for me to read all the newspapers every day. do my best at the weekend. The sub judice rule is well known. I have nothing to add to what I said about it last week.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you consider the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), will you consider this point as well? I do not expect you to respond immediately to it. It flows directly from your ruling last Tuesday, which I do not challenge— and I genuinely mean that.
For questions to the Attorney-General on 12 December and 23 January the Table Office allowed me to table specific questions— which were answered— about the report of the Department of Trade and Industry on the House of Fraser and Lonrho. For questions to the Attorney-General on 13 February, by which time the issue had gone to the other place, I was prevented from asking such questions, and so resorted to questions about the serious fraud office.
577 The issue before the other place is whether the Secretary of State misdirected himself. Win or lose in the other place, it is up to the Secretary of State to decide whether to refer the matter to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. He cannot be ordered to do so. Therefore, the sub judice rule is being extended. When the other place has made its decision, it does not matter what the Secretary of State decides to do; he cannot be wrong. The law gives him total discretion as to the reference.
When the other place has so decided, will I and other hon. Members be free, as I was in both December and January, to table specific questions about this matter, to be answered at the Dispatch Box? There are no other changed grounds— no proceedings, no prosecutions, no charges. It is simply an internal working document of government for which no legal actions will be pending. I hope that you will consider this point, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Speaker
Of course I will look into the matter. When the hon. Gentleman tabled his questions before, the matter was not before a court, and in such circumstances hon. Members could table questions. My sub judice ruling last week was well understood by hon. Members. I said that it was not in order to quote from the document. The House will know that, with that proviso, I granted a private notice question on the matter.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been listening carefully to the points of order that have been raised this afternoon. I do not know whether you videoed the programme last Friday. It was a bit boring in parts, I have to agree, but it made an essential statement that needs to be looked at.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked when you would be able to assist him in getting a statement or a debate about the renewed arguments about Westland, and you had to say, "It's nowt to do with me." You were than asked about the takeover of Harrods, which is also in the public eye, and you had to say, "Sorry, I can't help." My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) asked about an article in The Observer, which claimed that Members of Parliament who table questions on behalf of somebody can get £200 a time, and you had to say, "Sorry, it's none of my business."
This afternoon, we shall be debating the Electricity Bill, and not one Opposition Member wants that Bill. I doubt whether more than 20 per cent. of our people want the electricity industry to be privatised. If we had a proper system in this cock-eyed place, we would be debating those three important issues and not the Electricity Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman draws attention to an interesting point. Too frequently, points of order are matters of political controversy across the Chamber, as they have been today. I fully understand that, over many years, it has become a practice for the Opposition to put questions such as these through the Chair, but the House knows that they are not really matters for me. I do not think that it would be wise for the Speaker of the House to be given the responsibility of deciding also what business we should debate every day.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have the difficult task of deciding who catches my eye first, and it was the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I ask you to be most diligent, Mr. Speaker, when dealing with the article, and especially the statement which clearly emanates from the serious fraud office. Will you examine the article on the basis that I intend to table a long series of motions that will bring into the public domain hitherto unpublished material that sets out what happened in Lonrho and what appeared in the Lonrho broadsheet over the past few months during which Mr. Tiny Rowland has been pursuing the Al Fayeds.
§ Mr. Speaker
First, the hon. Gentleman must submit his motions, and then we shall see what happens.
§ Mr. Speaker
That is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. It would be courteous if he were to rephrase that comment.
§ Mr. Flannery
May I rephrase it by saying thank you, Mr. Speaker?
Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). I note that the Leader of the House is in his place. The article which appeared in yesterday's edition of The Observer which was written by Mr. Adam Raphael reveals a state of affairs that should concern every hon. Member.
You know as well as I do, Mr. Speaker, that the majority of the lucrative consultancies within the House are held by Conservative Members. Most of the consultancies that are held by Labour Members relate to trade unions. Any other consultants on the Labour Benches should be ashamed of themselves. The article to which I have referred reveals that extremely important individuals on the Government Benches have masses of directorships and consultancies, and that some of them are in charge of Committees. The hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) said that he was taking up these activities for the later part of his life, suggesting that the rest of us do not need to do it. In any event, we do not do it in that way.
Is it in order for me, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Leader of the House to say something about the serious issue which has been drawn to our attention, whether now or in the future? People throughout the country know now that there is something sick and wrong in this place. They know that vast sums are being made by some hon. Members, largely Conservative Members. The rest of us are being blamed for the things that they do. They are making millions of pounds out of their activities.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
I wish to take up, Mr. Speaker, your reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr Winnick), which concerned something said by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who was recently thrown out of the House. My hon. Friend was thrown out because he said that someone was a liar. If I know that an hon. Member is lying and I wish to say that he is lying, does your action in having my hon. Friend thrown out mean that for all time none of us can ever say that an hon. Member is lying when we know that he is? How can we deal with such an issue?
I understand that it is custom and practice that we do not say certain things in this place. At times I have retreated, as it were, because I have been instructed to retreat. I did not think it right to retreat, but you, Mr. Speaker, told me to retreat, and so I retreated. I do not believe in getting thrown out of the House, and never have done. However, if I know that someone is a liar and he says something that I know is a lie, how can I relate that to the House? Apparently, I cannot table a motion that states that a Member of this place is a liar. How can I deal with it?
§ Mr. Speaker
Hon. Members know that self-discipline in the House requires that hon. Members do not impute dishonour to each other. Every occupant of the Chair is reluctant to use the weapon of naming a Member. Most hon. Members, when instructed by the Chair to withdraw an unparliamentary word, such as that which the hon. Member mentioned, do so, and I hope that that will always happen. If an hon. Member wishes to persist in making an allegation about another hon. Member, he must do so by an appropriately worded substantive motion.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. It appears that the Government are trying to secure the receipt of all copies of The Observer special edition which was published last week. Incidentally, the print comes off the special edition just as it comes off the regular edition, but the factual content is interesting.
Will we be advised by you, Sir, to hand our copies to the Government? A number of us have received the special copies— indeed, I am doing a fairly good trade in lending mine to Conservative Members, including Front-Bench Members. Are we entitled to keep our special copies, or do we have to return them to the Government?
§ Mr. Speaker
That is not a matter for me. I have not seen the special edition either, so perhaps the hon. Member will lend me his copy.