HC Deb 24 January 1989 vol 145 cc873-5 3.32 pm
Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise with you a matter on which I hope that you will be able to give me and the House some guidance, which is the way in which the rights of hon. Members who represent their constituents is being infringed.

You may recall, Mr. Speaker, that on 10 November we debated some new guidelines with regard to immigration cases. Yesterday, I had cause to use those guidelines for the first time, in the case of a father wishing to stay in this country for a brief period in order to make long-term arrangements for the care of a four-year-old child who had been battered and abandoned by her mother. The father was refused leave of entry, but has been allowed to remain here for a couple of days.

I sought to raise the father's case with the Minister, under the guidelines, which say that a stay can be allowed if an hon. Member can demonstrate that there are exceptional and compelling circumstances which the immigration officer has had an opportunity to consider but has not taken sufficiently into account."—[Official Report, 10 November 1988; Vol. 140, c. 520.] I was first told that I was not allowed to raise this matter with the private office, although the guidelines say that that is almost the only sort of case that can be raised directly with the private office. I was then told that these circumstances were not exceptional and compelling because the junior civil servant who was involved in the case, and the immigration officer who first took the decision, had decided that these were not exceptional and compelling circumstances and that the case for a stop had not been made.

That is a gross infringement of the rights of hon. Members, when those who take the initial decision pronounce on whether a case can be put to the Minister for careful and sustained consideration. I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, about what hon. Members can do about this gross removal of their rights. If such a precedent was followed in other Departments, it would mean that hon. Members had no freedom to decide what cases they raised with Ministers.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady has raised an individual case, which she should take up with the Department and Minister concerned. I cannot give her guidance on tactics but there are opportunities. I hope that she will seek them in order to raise the matter.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At Question Time today, the Secretary of State for Health grouped together with question No. 3. four other questions, two of which, by strict definition, were not even related to question No. 3. Do you agree that it is annoying when so many questions are taken together at one time, because it limits the rights of other Members to ask supplementary questions on what may be an important issue? May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider giving an informal judgment that a maximum of two questions may be taken with another question?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair. It is up to the Department concerned to decide which questions should be grouped.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It is an attack on a Tory Minister.

Mr. Speaker

Order. In some cases, when questions are grouped together, we are able to make better progress, and today we managed to deal with 14 questions in 40 minutes, which is not bad going.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance in connection with the private business listed for 7 o'clock this evening, the Avon Light Rail Transit Bill. It has been drawn to my attention that a letter is circulating among Conservative Members, signed by four of them, making specific allegations about my motives for opposing the Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ooh."]—which are wholly untrue— [Interruption.] I wish Tory Members would be quiet. A nursery is better behaved than they are.

The letter makes specific allegations, which are wholly untrue, about my reason for opposing the Bill—for example, that Bristol city council, "a hard Left council—"

Mr. Speaker

Order. The matter that the hon. Lady is raising is not a point of order. There will be a debate on the matter later tonight. If she were raising a matter of order with which I could deal, I would seek to deal with it, but I am not responsible for what Conservative Members may be circulating in a letter.

Ms. Primarolo

Further to my point of order, Mr. Speaker. The letter alleges that I am merely the agent of Bristol city council in this House. I seek your guidance, and ask you to rule, on whether that is an infringement of my parliamentary rights and duties.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not an infringement. I suggest that the hon. Lady go into the attack when we reach the matter at 7 o'clock.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May one inquire why the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo) was not present in the Committee upstairs when the subject was discussed? She could have made her point there.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, South (Ms. Primarolo), Mr. Speaker. I was the Labour Member who received that letter. I think it was sent to me inadvertently. It was probably meant for the hon. Member for Harrogate (Mr. Banks). I inadvertently opened it and inadvertently read it—[Laughter.]—and then inadvertently passed it on—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman raising a point of order with me?

Mr. Banks

My point of order, Mr. Speaker, is that surely, at the very least, it is not courteous for hon. Members to circulate letters about another hon. Member in which a number of falsehoods appear. As a matter of courtesy, that cannot be considered good practice.

Mr. Speaker

I wish that I could be the recipient of some of these letters that circulate. I am afraid that I do not know what was in that letter, but I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that courtesy in our dealings with each other is most important.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Further to the excellent point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), Mr. Speaker. Is it not the case that, when a Minister seeks to group questions for answer, he prefaces his answer with the words "with permission"? With whose permission does a Minister group questions?

Mr. Speaker

That too is courtesy. It is a matter for the Minister concerned. I note what has been said on this subject, and I shall reflect on it.

Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the 18th of this month I chaired a meeting of the all-party parliamentary Rugby League group, which was attended by the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean). Officers of the group subsequently discovered that he had attended not as a member of the group but to take notes as a Government Whip on the business taking place. I believe this to be a gross intrusion into the works and activities of all-party groups, and the policing of those groups by the Government is totally unacceptable. It was an embarrassment both to the group officers and to our guests.

I would like you, Mr. Speaker, to give an assurance that you will speak to the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip to stop this unacceptable policing practice of all-party group activities.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me. It may have demonstrated an interest in rugby football.