HC Deb 17 December 1991 vol 201 cc149-51 3.37 pm
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which arises out of the debate on RECHAR which you so kindly allowed me to initiate last week and during which the Under-Secretary of State responsible for consumer affairs argued fiercely that the Government's stance was absolutely correct, that they would not change it, and that it was legally entirely clear.

We discovered this morning that at much the same time the Secretary of State for the Environment was drafting a letter that says: "I believe"—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must tell the hon. Member, who has not been here long, that I cannot rule on whether what Ministers say is right or wrong. This is not a matter for me.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Just hear him out.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman leave the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. Enright) to me please—and that goes for his hon. Friends who are prompting him from either side, too? I am not responsible for answers given in the Chamber; I have no idea whether they are right or wrong. I am responsible for matters of order. Is this a matter of order?

Mr. Enright

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. I would not want to accuse either of the gentlemen in question of misleading the House, because that would be unparliamentary, but it is important for the House to know which of them is right. Will the Prime Minister act as referee and tell us which half of the Cabinet he supports so that my constituency can get its RECHAR funds before Christmas?

Mr. Speaker

As long as the hon. Gentleman does not ask me to referee.

Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker

It was not a point of order.

Mr. Haynes

Mine is. You have a wonderful opportunity, Mr. Speaker, since the Secretary of State for the Environment does not come here very often—but he happens to be here now. Get him on his feet!

Mr. Speaker

I cannot get the right hon. Gentleman on his feet now, although I will in a minute on the Local Government Finance Bill.

Dame Peggy Fenner (Medway)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will know that I am not given to raising bogus points of order—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh?"]—but I ask you—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. What is it?

Dame Peggy Fenner

I accept the principle that, if you call a Member to explain why he wants to apply under Standing Order No. 20 for an emergency debate on a subject, no one else may contribute; but if that Member mentions another's constituency and the concern felt by Medway port authority, one is still left with no way of contributing. It is therefore unfortunate that we have no way of replying when our constituencies are mentioned in these circumstances.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady should draw that to the attention of the Procedure Committee. I am bound by the rules, and the rule is that, on a Standing Order No. 20 application, only one three-minute speech may be made.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance about something that arose in the Consolidated Fund Bill debates on the Adjournment last Thursday when we debated the question of pensions. During that debate some Opposition Members wished to quote what Members of the upper House who are directors of Maxwell companies said in the other place. I seek your guidance as to what the rules are about quoting speakers in the other place. We are able to quote our own record, Shakespeare and everybody else, but it appears that we cannot quote the report of the upper House.

Mr. Speaker

There is a strict rule about this. Ministers in the other place may be quoted but not Back-Bench speeches made in the same Session. The relevant passage in "Erskine May" is at page 375.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to know why there was so much delay before I knew that my question 7 on defence was to be linked to question 1. Without a tip-off from some of my colleagues, I would not have come to the Chamber: I would not have known and I could have lost the question. Secondly, how did the House decide on the linkage between my question 7 and question 1, which is a regional matter? Thirdly, what does it mean when the Minister says that "With permission", he will link questions? Whose permission is it—mine, yours, Mr. Speaker, or that of the House?

Mr. Speaker

This question is frequently raised with me. I regret to tell the hon. Member that "With permission" does not mean with my permission. It is merely a form of words; it is a convention. However, it is the Minister's responsibility to let hon. Members whose questions are linked know about this. I am surprised that this was not done, and I think that the hon. Member should take it up with the Minister concerned.

Mr. Stuart Bell ( Middlesbrough)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to place on record that I advised my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) that I proposed to raise the matter. The ports concerned covered too wide an area for one specific question.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw attention to the fact that a number of questions that I put down yesterday about the Security Service were blocked, as is usual. In one of those questions I asked the Prime Minister to make a statement——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a plain case of cheating. The hon. Member, whose question was not accepted, cannot read it out in the Chamber now.

Mr. Flynn

May I make the point to you, Mr. Speaker, that in this morning's papers this very matter was the subject of a press release. If there is a new period of glasnost with MI5 or MI6, can it be extended to hon. Members and not limited to the press?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? You will probably be aware that the new head of MI5 has for the first time been identified. Questions have previously been refused by the Table Office because of the blocking system regarding the Security Service. Would it be possible for that to be reviewed in the light of the fact that the head of MI5 has been named? There is a spirit of glasnost, but only a bit, and many of us believe that the Security Service should be accountable to Parliament. In the absence of that, would it be possible for the Table Office to accept questions such as those to which my hon. Friend has referred, which until today have been blocked? I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will give this matter careful consideration.

Mr. Speaker

That has already been done. In the light of the new circumstances, the Table Office allows questions on certain matters.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) about the linkage of his question with question 1. It used to be the practice that, if an hon. Member was not present when the question with which his has been linked was answered, his question would be answered separately by the Minister when it was reached. That practice should still apply.

Mr. Speaker

Those are all matters that the Procedure Committee could well consider. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. So-called reforms frequently lead to other problems.