HC Deb 17 October 1989 vol 158 cc29-31 3.50 pm
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With regard to ministerial accountability to this House, you may remember that on 16 May there was a debate on Government publicity in which reference was made to a Cabinet Office minute on guidelines on the nature and content of allowable publicity. The guidelines mentioned that publicity should be objective and that it "should not be personalised".

In the course of the past few days, most hon. Members will have received a document entitled "Britain in Southern Africa" which purports to be an explanation—paid for by the Foreign Office, and hence by us—of British foreign policy towards southern Africa. The document, which is blue, contains a union jack and a photograph of the Prime Minister adorns the front page——

Mr. Speaker

Order. What is the issue for me in this? It is not a matter for me.

Mr. Grocott

It is. In the course of 23 pages, the document, which was paid for but not authorised by us, displays five colour pictures of the Prime Minister. I would not have the slightest objection to the document if it had been paid for by Conservative central office, but I object to having to pay for it myself. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to determine by what authority public money has been spent on this blatant party political propaganda.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter to do with order in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman must raise it with the Government; I have no doubt that what he has just said has been heard.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Some time between now and 21 November, could you arrange for the Procedure Committee to look again at the wording of Standing Order No. 20? It is obvious that all the applications this afternoon concerned important matters—no one could deny that—but the word "urgency" needs special definition. If it is not redefined, our proceedings will begin day after day with application after application. Hon. Members are abusing the procedure by making the speeches that they would make in the debates, if you granted them.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Procedure Committee. The words are a matter for me. I shall examine them carefully, but I accept what the hon. Member has said. Today I took into account the fact that we have been away for some weeks. Inevitably after such an absence, there is a large number of Standing Order No. 20 applications, but I hope that when the time comes to televise the House procedure will not be abused—it is important for Back Benchers.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I took careful note of what you have just said, and, reading between the lines, it seems to me that you may have been saying that when television comes in on 21 November applications under Standing Order No. 20 may be looked at more carefully, and perhaps refused, because of television. I hope that there will be no change in the rules merely because of the cameras——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not put words or even thoughts into my mind.

Mr. Skinner

If the television cameras will make no difference to applications under Standing Order No. 20, which usually deal with topical issues and which many would argue—although not today, because we have a good debate to come—are more sensible than the planned debates because of their topicality; and if hon. Members, irrespective of cameras or anything else, want to raise important matters which affect their own constituencies, I hope that it will not be said that that is an abuse of procedure. Most of the matters raised today are important and affect the nation or, in some instances, constituencies, so I hope that consideration of these matters will not be conducted against a background of television producers trying to change the system to suit themselves.

Mr. Speaker

In order to forestall any other hon. Member who may have thoughts along those lines, may I say that I strongly adhere to the view that, when television comes here, it must adjust itself to the procedures of the House. I have no intention of reducing the number of opportunities that Members have to raise important matters through Standing Order No. 20 applications. I was merely commenting on the point which the hon. Gentleman made—and this is a supposition—that when the cameras are here, there might be an incentive for some hon. Members to raise matters that are not entirely legitimate. Knowing the House as I do, I am sure that that will not be the case.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

May I remind you, Mr. Speaker, that about 10 years ago the Procedure Committee recommended that there should be restrictions on applications under Standing Order No. 9, now Standing Order No. 20? Fortunately, that recommenda-tion was substantially defeated in the House. Do you not agree that, regardless of television cameras and bearing in mind how restricted Back Benchers already are, any further restrictions would be totally wrong?

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the procedure about points of order has been changed and they are now taken at a different time. I am not criticising that, but it would be extremely unfortunate if an hon. Member who had come to the view that a matter was sufficiently important was not able to try to raise it under Standing Order No. 20 even though we know that such applications are usually rejected. I remind you that, between 1974 and 1979, when the Conservatives were in opposition, there were on average five or six applications every day. You may remember that, Mr. Speaker, because you had a different role at that time.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the House will not pursue this matter because, as I have already said and I now repeat, Standing Order No. 20 applications are an important opportunity for Back Benchers to put a point before the House in prime time. I have no intention of making that more restrictive. The House has charged me with responsibility for making a judgment as to whether the applications meet the criteria. That is a difficult matter and when the time comes to televise this place I and the whole House must consider whether those outside will know why the Chair may turn down an application. We may all be aware of the criteria for the Chair turning down or granting an application but an explanation must be given to those who are watching outside because they may not know the rules.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I raise a different point of order in connection with the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) about the television lights? This is a serious matter, Mr. Speaker, and you and many hon. Members have expressed concern about the lack of attendance in the Chamber. The heat caused by these lights is acutely uncomfortable on the Back Benches; those of us who are members of fitness clubs can tell the House that it is roughly equivalent to the heat of a sauna. Although this is an experiment, may we appeal to you to ask the Services Committee or those responsible to ensure that the temperature in the Chamber is considerably reduced, because if it is not the attendance will be worse than before?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am glad to say that there was a good attendance at Question Time and I welcome that. This is the first day of the experiment. The hon. Member should make his representations to the Select Committee looking into these matters. I share the hon. Member's views about the generation of heat, because I am wearing rather more clothing than he is.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I return to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Wrekin (Mr. Grocott)? Surely the matter that he raised is one of concern for you and the House, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have dealt with it. It may well be a matter of concern, but it is not a matter of order in the House and is not therefore a matter for me. The hon. Gentleman should take the matter up with the Government. He must not take it up with me or with the Government through me.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is an easy way out of the problem. There could be a picture in that document of the Leader of the Opposition being arrested by the Tanzanian police.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We would do well to move on.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Speaker

I say to the hon. Gentleman that I can say no more than I have already said to his hon. Friend and to him. It is not a matter of order for me.