HC Deb 04 April 1990 vol 170 cc1210-4 4.10 pm
Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you give the House some advice? I understand that this afternoon the Government are to present the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill. It is proposed that the Bill should have its Second Reading on Thursday 19 April. That means that there will be effectively only two working days for the House to consider its attitude to the Bill. There is no secret about the matter; 80 Conservative Members are opposed to the Bill, and they may well find that they can ally themselves with the official Opposition.

There is a proper process by which we may discuss with the Opposition a reasoned amendment. The Bill is being pushed through the House and the opportunity of the Easter Adjournment is being used to try to abort such discussion. It is an abuse of the procedure of the House. We ask you, Mr. Speaker, to protect us. We ask you perhaps to suggest to the Government that they might delay the Second Reading of the Bill for, say, a week. It will come into effect only in 1997. The British people, whose very nature is affected by the Bill, will not thank the Government if it is dealt with in a slipshod way.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been here a long time, and he knows perfectly well that what he has said is not a matter for me. I do not organise the business in the House. I do my utmost to ensure that we get on to the business, as we are trying to do today. I cannot help the hon. Member. The Bill has not yet been presented, but with any luck, it will be presented in a few minutes.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, relating to the debate which we shall have later this afternoon on the Education (Student Loans) Bill. As a Back-Bench Member who is worried about the legislation, I seek your advice. I understand after a conversation with the Public Bill Office that Lords amendments Nos. 8 and 10, which were passed by the other place by a majority of 98 to 51, will not be debated by the House because they would impose a charge on the public revenue.

Can you confirm that, Mr. Speaker, because the issue of housing benefit is critical for the student population? If that is the case, is it not possible for the Government to bring forward a new money resolution to enable us to ensure that students may have access to housing benefit? I quote the recent example of 21 February when the Minister of State, Scottish Office brought forward a new money resolution on the Enterprise and New Towns (Scotland) Bill. Have you had such an approach from the Government, Mr. Speaker, or can you say whether there is a possibility of such an approach?

Mr. Speaker

I have had no request from the Government to bring forward another money resolution. As the hon. Lady has raised an important point in which the whole House may be interested, may I say that I have looked carefully at it. I am satisfied that amendments Nos. 8 and 10 would impose a charge on the public revenue not authorised by a resolution of the House. Therefore, under paragraph 3 of Standing Order No. 76, the Lords amendments must be deemed to be disagreed to.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If a Secretary of State comes to the House and makes a statement which is palpably false, you would take a very severe view of it. Equally, if an Opposition Front-Bench spokesman accuses a Secretary of State of misleading the House, surely you would have the right to ask whether it can be substantiated. In a press statement, the shadow spokesman for local government accused my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State of misleading the House over the administrative costs of the poll tax and the way in which the selection of capped local authorities was made. That is a serious allegation against my right hon. Friend, who is not here to defend himself. What action can you take, Mr. Speaker, to ensure that that matter may be properly aired in this House?

Mr. Speaker

It is frequently alleged that the House is being misled, but for a right hon. or hon. Member to be accused of deliberately misleading the House is a totally different matter. I am sure that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) does not want to be too mealy-mouthed about the matter.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have heard about the Vietnamese boat people, but are you aware, Mr. Speaker, of the Hong Kong plane people? Apparently, planeloads of Conservative Members have been sent to Hong Kong and are being sent to Hong Kong. I think that the name of Ian Greer Associates has been mentioned, but I might not be correct. The Conservative party's Whips Office has also been mentioned. A very important measure will come before the House as soon as right hon. and hon. Members return from the Easter recess. It is a matter of interest that certain Conservative Members have been wined and dined, and for all one knows—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am not a member of this party, and I have no knowledge of these matters. I cannot see that they have anything to do with me.

Mr. Marlow

I am sure that my colleagues are totally incorruptible but, as you know, Mr. Speaker, in the event that a right hon. or hon. Member makes an overseas visit relating to, or arising from, membership of the House, if the cost of such a visit is not wholly borne by the right hon. or hon. Member concerned or by public funds, an entry must be made in the Register of Members' Interests.

As to the involvement of the Conservative Whips Office, we are not sure whether the trips have been paid for out of public funds. I think that we ought to know to what extent they have or have not been paid for in that way.

You will also know, Mr. Speaker, that an entry must be made in the Register of Members' Interests within four weeks of the event. I understand that certain Members of Parliament are going this weekend, but the Second Reading debate will be taking place within about a week of their return. The House should know before right hon. or hon. Members vote on the Bill, or even speak on it, whether or not they have been on such a visit. It is a very important matter, and one that has created a great deal of controversy within the party and throughout the country. It is vital that the House should know which right hon. and hon. Members have been to Hong Kong and how long they spent there before they speak in the Second Reading debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have no knowledge of those matters. I hope that all right hon. and hon. Members will enjoy a very good Easter recess, but I have no knowledge of where they will be spending it.

However, the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) makes a serious allegation against his hon. Friends. I am certain that if they participate in the Second Reading debate they will declare their interest in the normal way.

Mr. Marlow

I said that my right hon. and hon. Friends are incorruptible.

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that anything can arise beyond that.

Mr. Seamus Mallon (Newry and Armagh)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I refer to the point of order raised earlier by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). Although I accept the accuracy and validity of your ruling, Mr. Speaker, is it not the case that, on an important issue such as the granting of housing benefit to students, it will do great damage to the credibility of this House if students can see that it has done nothing to debate a matter crucial to them because of the Government's failure to introduce a money resolution?

Mr. Speaker

The Chair is bound by Standing Orders, and I can exercise no discretion.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point of order raised by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) did not concern a trivial matter, and the House should not be content simply to sweep it away. The Patronage Secretary is in his place, and he could come to the Dispatch Box and either confirm or deny the allegations. A very serious matter has been raised, and the Patronage Secretary has an opportunity now to clear it up.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We have a heavy day ahead, and it is timetabled, so I hope that we can get on.

A propos the matter that has been raised, it is, of course, a serious allegation, and I said that. I equally said that I was certain that all hon. Members with an interest of that kind or any other kind to declare would declare it.

Sir John Stokes (Halesowen and Stourbridge)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I make no charge of corruption against any hon. Member, but is there not the important constitutional point that, when a Bill of such importance as the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill is due to come before the House, it would be more seemly and in keeping with the traditions of this great parliamentary assembly, the home of democracy, for us to have more time to consider it before it is introduced?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a pont of order, Mr. Speaker. I agree with you that the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) were important because of the precedents. When people have been involved in treating, such matters have been debated and certain decisions taken.

I suggest that on this occasion the hon. Member for Northampton, North should put the facts in writing to you, as a matter of privilege—as should occur under the new rules—and he should name names. Then, if the issue goes before the appropriate Committee, the Patronage Secretary should be brought before that Committee to explain his conduct in the matter.

I would only add that if so many Tory Members are going to Hong Kong on a free junket, they could do us and the country a service and not come back.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one of those who has been to Hong Kong—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—I registered that interest with the Registrar of Members' Interests, in the same way as my hon. Friend for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) registers his visits to the Iraqi dictatorship.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker, I regret to say that I have not been invited to Hong Kong. Were I to be invited, surely that would help my understanding of the situation there. We are in danger of gross humbug. I regard hon. Members who visit foreign countries as people who become experts in the affairs of those countries. I respect the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) when it comes to middle eastern affairs. I note that in the Register of Members' Interests it says that he visited Iraq in September 1989 for five days. It adds that the money came from Arab sources, and it has been alleged that it came from the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let us not have a debate on this issue. Wherever hon. Members go, I hope that they have a jolly good holiday.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I return to the point of order relating to the question concerning the Education (Student Loans) Bill. None of my hon. Friends would willingly be party to challenging the privilege that this elected House should have in respect of the expenditure of money. But I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to use the time during the debate on the guillotine motion to reconsider your decision that Lords amendment No. 8 involves a question of privilege.

I believe that your ruling is based on your understanding that it involves the expenditure of new money. It does not. It involves a continuation of expenditure already authorised by the House under existing legislation. While the Government have proposed that housing benefit should be removed from students, that legislation has not yet been approved by Parliament, so the existing statutory provision by which students are able to gain housing benefit stands.

That approval was given under a pre-existing money resolution, and in those circumstances it seems that no question of privilege arises, because the other place was simply asking that an authorisation already given by this House should continue. I realise that this is not something on which you can give an instant decision, Mr. Speaker, but I should like you to take time in the next three hours to reconsider the matter.

Mr. Speaker

As the House would expect. I have already done so, but I shall certainly reconsider it, and when I return later I shall make a pronouncement on the matter. We must move on now.

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