HC Deb 05 December 1989 vol 163 cc170-1 4.18 pm
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which I have given you due notice. It concerns an issue of importance to the House—the position of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and his role in a broadcast on Radio 4 this morning on the "Today" programme. I attended, as an observer, the first of several sessions of the Public Accounts Committee on the sale of the Rover Group to British Aerospace.

Yesterday civil servants were interviewed and a number of questions were put to them. No doubt in due course a transcript will be available for us all to read and disseminate. Basically, they adopted a defensive posture, as one would expect. This morning, when I tuned in to Radio 4, the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon), the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, was being interviewed, and what he said struck me as less than impartial. During yesterday's interrogation of the witnesses, several references were made to sweetners and the fact that the Commission was being—

Mr. Speaker

Order. What is the point of order for me?

Mr. King

If a Chairman of a Select Committee or of an august body such as the Public Accounts Committee has already made up his mind as to what happened in the British Aerospace-Rover deal, what point is there in calling witnesses to determine what happened? Is it not a fact that, from now on, probably no one will get a fair hearing?

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) for giving me notice that he would be raising his point of order. It is a pity that he did not discuss it with me because I would have been able to inform him of what you, Mr. Speaker, certainly know, which is that it is all here in the National Audit Office report to the Public Accounts Committee. The report was agreed with the Department concerned. What I value most is the unanimity of the all-party Committee. That is of enormous importance to me, and it is the strength of the Committee, for which I work all the time.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

No. I must make it plain that there can be no appeal to me about the way in which Chairmen of Select Committees see their responsibilities. It is not a matter for me.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier, the Secretary of State for Defence said that he could not understand a question. Perhaps that was a mental blockage, perhaps it was political arrogance, but something strikes me about this place these days. It has to do with the noise and the acoustics. Could something be done about that? I am giving the right hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt, but something must be done.

Mr. Speaker

It is sometimes difficult to hear in the Chamber with these rather old-fashioned microphones. If the hon. Gentleman were to move a little this way and under the microphone, we could all hear him more easily. I am sorry if his question was not heard, but I shall have the matter looked into.