§ Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I take you back to column 1005 in yesterday's Hansard? The House and the country are used to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) making wild statements and having them corrected by the Leader of the Opposition, and I do not want to be accused this afternoon of being a stooge for him. However, I must draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, the wild and unsubstantiated statements of the hon. Member for Dagenham. He stated that he took "the first opportunity" to notify me that he intended to raise a point of order yesterday.
That was a piece of paper placed on the Members' Board at 2.49 pm. I had left the House of Commons at 8.30 in the morning with my colleagues on the Select Committee on the Environment to visit a sewage works in Brighton and we were not able to return to the House until after 6 o'clock. The hon. Member for Dagenham took little, if any, opportunity to contact me. He did not ring my office and he showed no courtesy whatever. The hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We know what the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) said. Will the hon. Member for Langbaurgh please raise his point of order with me? What is it?
§ Mr. Holt
The hon. Gentleman said that I had withdrawn my question. You know, Mr. Speaker, because you have now checked, that I did not withdraw my question. I have the answer here, so I could not have withdrawn my question.
Further, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) also misled the House. I do not believe that he did it on purpose. He suggested that local authorities do notcollect information on the basis of the colour or the ethnic origin of citizens."—[Official Report, 13 December 1989; Vol. 163, c. 1006.]If they did not do so, they would not be able to tell central Government how to allocate money for the rate support grant. They load it in favour of authorities with a large number of ethnic people. As my constituency does not do so, we lose millions of pounds as a consequence. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will now rule that my question was in order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I certainly will deal with the hon. Member's point of order. I promised yesterday that I would reflect further upon this matter. I remain of the view that the Table Office was correct in accepting the question tabled by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt). As he has said, in the calculation of the present rate support grant and the forthcoming revenue support grant, among other things, account is taken of the social index based on people or households the heads of which are first-generation immigrants from the new Commonwealth or from Pakistan. I can confirm therefore that there was a correct basis for his question.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Arising out of the information that we have received from the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. 1192 Holt), one thing is certain, and that is that yesterday he was down in the political gutter, but we did not know that he came out covered in sludge. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] His question was cheap. It was offensive to many people.
§ Mr. Skinner
I did not say it was not. Obviously some people like it. I cannot say that I do. [Interruption.] My point of order is about something entirely different. That was just in passing—en passant.
Earlier, during business questions, several Labour Members were not called. I am not talking about myself —I can carry it—but some of my hon. Friends were not able to be here. I can be here, and I can represent them as a shop steward or whatever. Those hon. Members were not called at business questions. I want to get one or two things straight. We—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Getting one or two things straight is taking time from an important debate. The trouble with acting as shop steward on behalf of hon. Members is that it takes time from other hon. Members who have a legitimate interest in two important debates. The hon. Member must put his question briefly to me, and if it is a matter of order for me I will endeavour to deal with it.
§ Mr. Skinner
Well, the point is that, invariably at business questions, if you decide to cut questions short because of a statement or for any other reason, the chances are that it will almost certainly be Labour people who are kept out. However, today there was a statement to follow, which took an hour. About 20 or 30 Tories and a few Labour people stood up. You adopted a different practice. You allowed every Tory Member to be called. When you get more Tory MPs standing up, there is a tendency for them to be called. When you get more Labour people standing up at business questions—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We have had enough of this. The hon. Gentleman has been the chairman of a different body. He knows the obligation to be even-handed in the chair. The whole House knows that I am very reluctant to curtail business questions because I am well aware that it is the one opportunity in a week for hon. Members who may not previously have been called to put a question to the Leader of the House. However, I must have regard, as the hon. Gentleman in his other capacity must equally have regard, for other business before the House. Since on Wednesday there will be an opportunity on the Christmas Adjournment motion to raise these matters, I thought it fair today to have regard for other hon. Members who have indicated their wish to take part in the important fisheries debate and the debate on the other items on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, during Prime Minister's Question Time, I asked a question which, upon reflection, you decided was not in order. I fully accept that you have difficult decisions to take on questions that fall into that grey area. You and your predecessors have had to say to an hon. Member that his question might not be in order. Although the last word or two of my question might be construed by one or two hon. 1193 Members to be party political, the bulk of my question was directed to the Prime Minister to elicit her view on democracy gaining ground in eastern Europe. I should have thought that the country and the House would have wanted to hear her views on that development. I recognise that you have a duty to protect—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Gentleman had left it at that, he would have been perfectly in order, but he went on to ask for the Prime Minister's views about what was going on in the constituency of Birkenhead.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have had an opportunity of looking at the Hansard report. The hon. Gentleman can do that tomorrow. I think that he will find that what I am saying is correct.
§ Mr. Banks
I refer to the point of order that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It is well known that you are fair and impartial in the way that you apply the rules of the House, but, just in case you make an error, you have someone who reminds you who has asked a question and when. Will you advise the House on whether you think that it is courteous for hon. Members on both sides who come in here, perhaps not as often as they should, ask a question, particularly during business questions, and disappear immediately afterwards? Do you agree that that is discourteous to the House and to you?
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can inform the House that if, for example, any hon. Member raised the victimisation of and attack on the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) following his courageous stand against the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister would not be able to answer that question because it is not within her responsibility, but she would be able to take part in a debate about such victimisation?