HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc477-9 3.30 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that you can confirm that, under Standing Orders relating to questions, it is within your discretion to permit a private notice or written question arising after the date of due notice for questions, which in your opinion is such that the Government should answer. If such a question arises and matters escalate after midday to a degree not apparent previously, is it possible for such a question to be tabled between midday and 3.30 pm or, as I expect, does the question have to be held over until 3.30 pm on the following day?

Mr. Speaker

If that occurs—when that occurs—I have no authority to grant a private notice question at short notice, but those facts would certainly be taken into account if a private notice question were submitted on the subsequent day.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It arises out of Question Time when you gave an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in which you said that he could not say that the Prime Minister had been deceitful, either in this country or abroad. I should like to ask whether that ruling is in "Erskine May" and whether we can say such things. If an hon. Member says that somebody is a liar, I accept that an hon. Member would then be brought to order. However, being deceitful is not quite the same thing as being a liar. People can lie without being deceitful and be deceitful without being liars. Many people in the House and elsewhere are deceitful, but are not necessarily liars.

I should therefore like to know the basis of the ruling that you have given, Mr. Speaker. Is it in "Erskine May"? What exactly is the position? If we continue along these lines, we shall end up not being able to say anything about anybody or about anything that they say or do, and that would be quite wrong in a parliamentary democracy. I understand that in a parliamentary democracy we can challenge Conservative Members in the same way that they can challenge us. I should like to know the precise basis for your ruling, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that we in this House do not attribute dishonourable motives to each other—[Interruption.] Order. We are not televised yet, but I hope that we shall set a high standard in the words that we use about each other. "Deceitful" is an unparliamentary word.

Mr. Heffer

Is the basis of your ruling to be found in "Erskine May," Mr. Speaker? Does it say that in "Erskine May"?

Mr. Speaker

There is no longer a list of unparliamen-tary expressions in "Erskine May".

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

There is a list——

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman had better have a look.

Several Hon. Member


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not prepared to have an argument about it. We must keep high standards here and treat each other as right hon. and hon. Members of the House—on both sides.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was alluding to the need for an emergency debate on the London ambulance dispute, which has been escalated by the management. After the deadline for making representations to you, I received information that the management had taken the keys away from the vehicles belonging to my local ambulance service and will not put——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is as may be, but I have nothing to add to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)


Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that we shall not pursue this matter as we have an enormous list of amendments on the Children Bill.

Mr. Winnick

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You know that I and other hon. Members observe your rulings and that we are trying to do so. Will you reflect on the ruling you gave a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and what you said to me? I mentioned to you—perhaps you did not hear me because of the noise—that Commonwealth leaders use the same words that I used. If that word simply cannot be used, so be it, but since there is no list in "Erskine May", and since many people believe that the Prime Minister has been—I cannot use the word, according to you—I believe that on future occasions we should be able to speak our minds in a free Parliament and in a parliamentary democracy.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the House too will reflect on the matter of parliamentary language. That certain words may be used outside this place is irrelevant. What we are concerned with in this House is keeping up our standards, and I hope that we shall. do so.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) about private notice questions. As you have said, Mr. Speaker, we are coming towards the time when the House will be televised and, understandably, the public will expect the House of Commons to reflect the immediacy and urgency of situations as they are seen outside this place.

We have a myth, which we have all sustained over the years, that private notice questions are not asked unless they are granted. That leads people outside not to understand the extent to which hon. Members on both sides of the House try to pursue matters that are of great urgency, sometimes at a constituency level, but often at a national level. Might it not be time to question whether we need to sustain the illusion that unasked private notice questions have never been asked in the first place?

Mr. Speaker

If the right hon. Gentleman wants that to happen, he should take it to the Procedure Committee because it is the Procedure Committee that binds the Chair on this matter. I cannot go beyond what the Procedure Committee has recommended and the House has agreed.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you please make it quite clear that, once Parliament is televised, television will be the servant of Parliament and not Parliament the servant of television?

Mr. Speaker

I have used that phrase myself.