HC Deb 07 June 1990 vol 173 cc807-11 4.24 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House announced that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would make a statement on his return from the important discussions in Brussels on the future of the British beef industry.

Surely it would be for the convenience of the whole House if that statement were made as soon as possible. I believe that discussions through the usual channels would show that we would agree to the statement being made as soon as the Minister is available, rather than waiting until some time after 10 o'clock tonight. We shall have to intervene in the business on the Food Safety Bill in any event because that business will not conclude at 10 o'clock. We should have a statement as soon as possible because the matter is of considerable importance to beef producers and, of course, to consumers of beef in this country and abroad.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

You will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, that this matter has already been considered as far as it can be in the short time available. I understand that it would be out of accordance with the normal procedures of the House for proceedings on a Bill that is before the House to be interrupted by a statement of that kind. It was for that reason that I indicated that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would make a statement at the conclusion of proceedings on the Food Safety Bill. Of course, I am perfectly ready to look at any arrangements that can sensibly and effectively be made to meet the point made by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) but, as I understand it, that is not possible. I cannot take the matter any further at this stage.

Dr. Cunningham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I said that we will have to intervene in the business at some time unless the statement is to come at 1 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning. We do not know when the business on the Food Safety Bill will finish; there is no guarantee that it will conclude at 10 o'clock. As there will be at least one Division at about 7 pm, that is likely to provide a natural break in the proceedings and it seems perfectly proper, possible and reasonable for us to have the statement then rather than in the early hours of the morning or during an intervention in the business at some artificial time. I cannot see what is wrong with my suggestion.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I think it unlikely that my right hon. Friend will be back by 7 o'clock. I thought that I was meeting the convenience of the House by indicating that he would be looking for an early opportunity to make his statement. The time that I have suggested has been established as the most convenient, consistent with the normal practice of the House. Obviously I shall look at the matter again, because I do not want to give the impression that there is no alternative. I understand that the right time, subject to your guidance, Mr. Speaker, is at the conclusion of proceedings on the Food Safety Bill.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

I should like to raise a point of order, details of which I gave you, Mr. Speaker, before today's proceedings. It relates to the protocol and convention of the House about hon. Members taking up constituency issues in the constituencies of other hon. Members. There is an increasing tendency for Opposition Members to raise matters in the county of Kent in constituencies in which they have no standing or locus.

Question 53 on page 7561 of today's Order Paper was put down by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). In that question, the hon. Gentleman seeks to raise a constituency interest in the constituency of Dartford which I represent. He gave me no notice of this. He did not ask my permission, nor did he inform me of his intention, and that is important bearing in mind that the hon. Member for Dartford is raising the incident and issue with which the question is concerned with his usual robustness and vigour.

What protection can be afforded to hon. Members when hon. Members from other parties are not prepared to obey and conform to the usual protocol and conventions of the House? If the conventions are not obeyed, a tit-for-tat process is bound to emerge, to the detriment of all hon. Members, and we will descend into a form of parliamentary if not local anarchy, which would be much to the confusion of the people that we represent.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the convention, which I think the whole House appreciates, about going into the constituency of another hon. Member without letting him know. I do not think that there is anything which says that there is an absolute bar on putting down questions that might cover what is happening in another Member's constituency. It is quite clear that the hon. Gentleman has been prosecuting this matter with vigour in his constituency. I suggest that he takes it up with the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and draws it to his attention.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Well, we have a heavy day ahead of us.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that you are in a position to help the House in relation to what the Leader of the House has said—that, in his opinion, it is not procedurally possible to intervene in the course of debate on the Food Safety Bill in order to have a statement. If that is the case, then that ends the matter.

You, Mr. Speaker, could help by indicating whether that is acceptable. Most hon. Members will recollect that on Fridays it is quite normal for the proceedings to be interrupted at 11 o'clock for private notice questions or statements, whether the House is engaged on private Members' business or on a Bill. In order to further discussions that have taken place through the usual channels, may we have your guidance on what is possible?

Mr. Speaker

I am prepared to give my guidance. Statements are normally made at 3.30 pm or at 11 am on Friday. It would be exceptional to interrupt the business in the middle of a debate to make a statement unless the matter was of such urgency that it could not wait. That has rarely happened. I appreciate that it may be for the convenience of the House if the statement is made at a natural interruption of business this evening, and I judge from what the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has said to the Leader of the House that discussions about this are going on through the usual channels. Such a request has not yet been made to me, and I imagine that it will be, when the discussions end. However, it would be exceptional to interrupt the business of the House at 7 o'clock just because it suited the people concerned. We must stick to our rules.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This concerns the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn), which shocked many hon. Members, bearing in mind the fact that the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) gave no notification of his interest in a constituency matter of my hon. Friend. Will you guide us further? In your initial response, you spoke with great emphasis, but there appears to be a vague feeling that hon. Members notify other hon. Members of a visit to a constituency only if they are in the same party. That seems rather extraordinary. Will you confirm that the conventional courtesy is that hon. Members notify parliamentary colleagues, irrespective of party, of a prospective visit to a constituency?

I had an example in my constituency last year, when the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) went to my constituency without notifying me of his visit, and said that he intended to do the same on many other occasions.

Mr. Speaker

It has long been the convention of the House that hon. Members visiting other Members'constituencies should notify them of such visits. I hope that the House will keep to the conventions because they have arisen so as to ensure good order, and good relationships between Members of Parliament.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Skinner, as he has been mentioned.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

We all know what those thin-skinned people on the Tory Benches do not know, which is that Ministers go to our constituencies. One went to mine recently, and never told me about it. He made a diversion from north-east Derbyshire, called in to Bolsover, and did not even tell my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). We did not get het up about it, and we did not come to complain to you, Mr. Speaker, because we do not think that it is important. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), who represents Windscale, or Sellafield, finds that his constituency is mentioned regularly by hon. Members on both sides of the House. People visit it. According to the adverts, Members of Parliament from all over the place go there every week. It is a free country. Some of us travel around to spread a message that is contrary to that spread by the Tory party.

Several of my hon. Friends raised a point about the appalling practices of British Airways at Heathrow. Are we expected not to mention it? Are we supposed to tell those on strike, "Sorry, we cannot find the Member of Parliament who represents the area"? I went to Wapping God knows how many times. Do you mean to tell me that I should have gone to see somebody every time, Mr. Speaker? It is a joke.

Mr. Speaker

It may be a joke, but it is also a convention. There is a distinction between visiting a constituency on a general matter and visiting it in connection with a matter of specific constituency interest. The good sense of the House can determine the difference.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like your advice about another parliamentary convention. I believe that this is a matter directly for you.

This place works on the basis of parties, which enjoy certain privileges. Several times this week, Mr. Speaker, you have been questioned about the implications of the Social Democratic party dissolving and becoming a campaign for social democracy. Hitherto, two SDP Members of Parliament—the hon. Members for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) and for Woolwich (Mr. Cartwright)—have enjoyed opportunities to speak frequently so as to express their party's view. Their leader, the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), has frequently caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, at Prime Minister's Question Time and on other occasions. Will you reflect on that in the future, and can you advise us whether independent Members, representing an independent SDP and a campaign outside the House, will continue to enjoy the privileges that they have enjoyed in the past?

Mr. Speaker

When a party is dissolved, it is dissolved. Without going too deeply into how my discretion is exercised in the matter, let me say that I should have to look on those involved as individual Members. I am not quite certain that a campaign is a party——

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I have not finished yet. On reflection, perhaps I have.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I interrupt you briefly? There is money involved. The SDP was an organised party, and was allocated Short money to finance its position in the House. With its dissolution, and its change to a campaign, surely that money should be refunded and any outstanding payments cancelled to ensure that the Short money does not go to a party that is not in existence.

Mr. Speaker

That will be a matter for the authorities of the House, and I understand that discussions are in progress.

    1. c810
  2. STATUTORY INSTRUMENTS, &c. 66 words
  3. c811