HC Deb 10 July 1990 vol 176 cc177-80 3.30 pm
Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Amplification has been cut down yet again. Television audiences can hear very well, and hon. Members can hardly hear at all, but I suppose that it does not really matter.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It does really matter. If and when the House resolves to make the experiment of television permanent, I understand that the Committee will consider the quality of the microphones in the Chamber.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you clarify for the assistance of the whole House the exact rules on points of order during Question Time? While I appreciate that you were in a difficult position during questions to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, it has always been understood that points of order are taken at the end of questions, not in the middle.

Mr. Speaker

For the edification of the hon. Member and of the whole House, I refer him to Hansard of 12 February 1987, when I spelt out that matter in great detail. If a point of order which needs my immediate attention is raised during a debate, I have to take it. Similarly, if a point of order is raised in Question Time needing my immediate attention, I have to hear it. But I do not take points of order on other matters until after private notice questions and statements on Standing Order No. 20 applications have been dealt with.

Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which relates to Question 8, from the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). Is it not a fact that the Lord President of the Council and the Prime Minister, when she is here, are responsible for questions that relate directly to her, and that the question of the hon. Member for Harrow, West was not related to the responsibility of the Lord President of the Council, but was simply party political propaganda on behalf of the Conservative party?

Mr. Speaker

I have to make a judgment on that. This House is here to discuss policies. If a question has some relation to a calculation of the Government's costs, for instance, then it is entirely in order to ask it.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), Mr. Speaker. Not only was it difficult to hear his point of order but it was difficult to hear your response, too. Is it not appropriate, Sir, that the amplification in this place should be turned up before we hold the debate on whether television is to continue—so that Members can hear what is going on and the House can make the right decisions? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that I may be granted some tolerance to answer this question. If there were not so much noise from the Back Benches it would be perfectly possible to hear the answers. When the House resolves to make permanent the televising of the House, no doubt the quality of the microphones in the Chamber will be looked at; but I have had few complaints about that quality so far.

The fact that Members cannot hear is directly related to the amount of noise on the Back Benches near the Member who is speaking.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may have noticed that in recent weeks, when the Prime Minister has been away, the deputy Leader of the Opposition has usually put a question to the deputy Prime Minister. Is that conventional? I had always thought that the Leader of the Opposition should put the question to my right hon. and learned Friend. Does the Leader of the Opposition think—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows better than that: it is perfectly in order.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As someone who uses a hearing aid in the House of Commons, may I ask that Members speak clearly so that the people of this country who are deaf can understand what they are saying? The House should understand that thousands of deaf people in this country rely on proper information being conveyed to them from the House so that they can enjoy their democratic rights as citizens.

Mr. Speaker

I am not certain whether there was a point of order in that for me. The present microphones have a wide range, so if Members create noise behind or in front of a Member who is on his feet, their voices are picked up also.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, on the same subject of audibility. On many previous occasions when something abusive or unparliamentary—or even merely someone's name—has been said in the House, you have said, "I did not hear it," and that was the end of the matter. But today you changed that; you did not hear the name of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) mentioned, but once there was an outcry from other Opposition Members, you accepted their word although you had not heard the name yourself. Was that in order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am grateful to be monitored by the hon. Gentleman so regularly. I frequently say that I have not heard comments made from a sedentary position—often by the hon. Gentleman himself. In this case, the hon. Member who raised the matter did so because he claimed that he had been named in the question asked by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans), and I was on my feet to prevent that question from going any further.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There was quite a bit of noise and the amplifiers may not be working properly, but I listened intently to the deputy Prime Minister answering the question from the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). May I take it that, when he was talking about money, he was referring to the plethora of frauds at Rover and Harrods and to all the other Government fiddles that have taken place? Did he say that? If so, I should like to join in—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are in grave danger of straying well out of order. Ten-minute rule motion—Mr. Harry Cohen.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Dear, oh dear, oh dear. Mr. Norman Tebbit.

Mr. Norman Tebbit (Chingford)

May I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that—quite inadvertently, I am sure—you referred to the occasion "when" this House would take the decision to extend the televising of the House. You did not put in the word "if. You should emphasise that no decision has been taken to make the televising of our proceedings a permanent feature. That is a decision for the House. I am sure that that is what you meant to say.

Mr. Speaker

If the right hon. Member will kindly read Hansard tomorrow morning, I think he will see that, in answer to the first question from the hon. Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) I said, "if and when."

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Obviously hon. Members should be heard. They should also be seen. Could the lighting be increased? It is evident during supplementary questions that some hon. Members are called before others. We are all equal, but some are more equal than others. Something should be done about it. Could we have a league table showing who gets called and who does not?

Mr. Speaker

It is a good point. I have a league table. I have a computer, and I do my utmost to ensure that every hon. Member gets a fair share of time in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman is not deprived in that respect.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)


Mr. Speaker

Nor is this hon. Member.

Mr. Corbyn

Can you tell me, Mr. Speaker, what opportunities there will be for the House to contrast the treatment of those who sought to defend mining communities during the miners strike, with international working-class support, with the treatment of a number of former Cabinet Ministers who have lined their pockets by accepting directorships for which they get hundreds of thousands of pounds a year—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not the time to debate matters of that kind. There are other matters to be debated today. Ten-minute rule motion—Mr.Cohen.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I called the hon. Member last time, but I know the television cameras are still on. So I shall call him.

Mr. Davies

On the point of audibility, Sir, you said that you had received few complaints. I hope that it may assist you in attempting to assess the feeling of hon. Members, which I know you try to do fairly, if I add a complaint of my own. There seems to be a remarkable amount of ambiguity and a reluctance to concede explicitly that, as the television operators have demanded that our microphones should be turned down, we are suffering from the problems about which we complain. Can we have a clear explanation of whether televising the House has led to us suffering from this problem?

Mr. Speaker

This matter has often been raised before. The hon. Member should know that the microphones have not been turned either up or down. They are as they were before. The fact that hon. Members cannot hear what is said in the House is entirely due to the behaviour of other hon. Members in the House. Just so long as we have this kind of barracking from the Back Benches—and even, sometimes, from the Front Benches—we shall be unable to hear, even if we do replace the microphones.

Mr. Faulds

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to correct you, Sir, but the technical problem is nothing to do with the turning down of the mikes; it is the amplifiers that have been turned down, so that television audiences do not get a mumble in the background. That is the problem, and that is what we are suffering from.

Mr. Speaker

Let us see if we can now get on with the ten-minute Bill. Mr. Harry Cohen.