HC Deb 15 July 1991 vol 195 cc21-4 3.32 pm
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that it has been brought to your attention that on Friday the debate ended in considerable acrimony because of the actions of the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, who broke with the tradition of the House and refused to allow the Minister any time to reply to the debate. When Back Benchers had finished speaking, there were 20 minutes left and it had been agreed that each Front-Bench speaker would have 10 minutes. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman deliberately spoke out his time because he did not want the Minister to answer the debate. If that happens, law and order in the Chamber will break down because anyone who succeeded in catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, could go on speaking ad infinitum and no one else would get a chance to speak. It is very important that we do not allow Front-Bench spokesmen of any party to behave in such a way at the end of a very important debate.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I read in Hansard what the Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair at the time had to say. I understand that it was alleged that agreements made through the usual channels had not been kept. That is what Hansard reports, but certainly I think that the Government Front Bench should have an opportunity to reply to a debate.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the risk of incurring your intense disapproval, may I ask you, as inscrutably as I can, on what authority in "Erskine May" you made a judgment, however much you may have deplored doing so, on an hon. Member wanting to raise an important subject—in this case, the threat of military action against Iraq—under Standing Order No. 20? I would like to argue very succinctly that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that I can allow the hon. Member to do that, because then he will raise my— [HON. MEMBERS: "Dander"?] If the hon. Member had been available during the lunch hour to discuss the matter with me, I could have explained. I think that the whole House agrees that the Standing Order No. 20 procedure gives Back Benchers a prize opportunity to raise matters of great importance in prime time. Some time ago, I had to rule that I could not hear applications that did not even reach first base. It would not be right on any day for right hon. or hon. Members to take three minutes in prime time to discuss matters that they think are particularly important. If the hon. Gentleman had come to see me at lunch time, I would have explained to him why I could not hear his Standing Order No. 20 application today—and I am not going to hear it now.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As to the question of certain debates, as I understand it, the problem is one of urgency. It is not just a question of wanting three minutes; some of us desperately feel that, given the situation in which our country may be involved—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that it would be right for me to have an argument with the hon. Member, in the Chamber. Perhaps he will reflect that the United Nations deadline runs out on 25 July, and that gives us a little time.

Mr. Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are you not required by the House not to give reasons for your rulings?

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, on your selection of amendments to the Finance Bill. You will be aware that a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House want to discuss the appalling decline of the British Merchant Navy, and have put their names to two new clauses that would have made such a discussion possible. I see that yours is a provisional list of amendments, Mr. Speaker, so am I right in assuming that there could be a revised and final list that might enable discussion on the new clauses to which I referred? Failing that—which I hope will not be the case—will you inform the House whether you selected any amendment on which a realistic debate about the plight of the British shipping industry could be mounted?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) has just explained to the House that I should not give reasons for my rulings. In fact, it would be very dangerous to do so. I think that the right hon. Member knows why, in that particular case, it was not possible for me to select the two new clauses to which he referred. I will not go beyond that. However, the issue could be raised on Third Reading.

Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that that subject was not debated in Committee. A vast number of hon. Members want it to be debated, and it will not be understood outside the House if it is not. I refer to a letter that you, Mr. Speaker, sent to an hon. Member—which I believe is not confidential—in which you stated that because there was so much pressure upon you, and such urgent concern was felt about the matter, you felt that such a debate would be counter-productive. I venture to suggest that in reaching that decision, Mr. Speaker, you misdirected yourself. It may be that some of the letters that were sent to you were not properly phrased, and no doubt that is the fault of the hon. Members concerned. However, surely that should not have affected your judgment.

Mr. Speaker

As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned my letter, and said that my decision might not be understood outside the House, perhaps I should explain that I received a great many letters on the subject. Some of them included a copy letter that stated, "Please put this in your own words." When the Speaker receives letters of that kind, he is led to believe that there is some kind of organised lobbying, trying to persuade him to take certain action. Against that background, I could not possibly have selected the new clauses in question.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I reply to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt)? He did not tell me that he intended to raise the matter here this afternoon, but I suspected that someone would.

I want to make it absolutely clear that, when I rose to speak at 2.7 pm on Friday, I was still under the impression that the original agreement had been that the winding-up speeches would begin at 1.45 pm. I thought that the three consecutive Conservative speakers had taken time set aside for their own Minister. I said that I was going to finish when I was first interrupted by the Minister, but, following that, some seven minutes were taken up by Conservative Members raising points of order. If they had not been, I should have been able to finish my speech and to allow the Minister time to speak.

Mr. Speaker

It sounds as if there was a breakdown in communications between the usual channels. I think that we should leave it at that.

Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has been suggested that I use the emergency written question procedure to deal with an urgent matter that has arisen in my constituency.

Over the past few days, new evidence has come to light that shows that Winston Silcott, of the Tottenham Three, is innocent, and that confessions were forged by police officers. Is there any means, apart from the written question procedure, of dragging the Home Secretary to the House, given the urgency of the matter?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman and I had a conversation about that too, and he knows what advice I gave him.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received any request for a full debate—or, at the very least, a ministerial statement—on the growing scandal of BCCI? Should not the Government be required to make a statement, and should there not be a procedure to allow that, given that it is clear that the relationship between the Bank of England—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is taking time out of the debate on the Finance Bill—which, indeed, will give hon. Members an opportunity to discuss the matter that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised, provided that they do not raise too many points of order. It can be discussed on new clauses 3, 35 and 37.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I welcome what you have said. During Prime Minister's Question Time on Thursday, however, the Prime Minister stated—no doubt inadvertently—that the Bank of England had acted as soon as it was given notice that there was evidence of fraud. We now know—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot answer for what the Prime Minister said. This is not a matter for me. I think that it should be raised on new clause 3 of the Finance Bill. No doubt those responsible—that is, the Government—may be able to give an answer, but I cannot.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the statement that was made over the weekend about the new evidence surrounding Winston Silcott's conviction, do you not accept—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I had a conversation about that with the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), and I explained the correct procedure then. I give procedural advice in private, and I cannot hear points of order on the subject now.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helen's, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This afternoon, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster confirmed that he had answered only six questions. Up to 25 per cent. of his time was spent in saying that he did not intend to visit the County Palatine, or to carry out any Duchy business. Which Select Committee should I approach to find out whether the right hon. Gentleman's job is really worthwhile, or whether he should go?

Mr. Speaker

As I said, I give procedural advice in private.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You mentioned new clause 3 of the Finance Bill. The new clause is about the future of banking. However, the chief worry of more than 200,000 people in this country concerns what has happened in the past. The BCCI problem is not about the future, but about something awful that happened in the past. Why should there not be a separate debate?

Mr. Speaker

There will be an opportunity to consider the matter, and lessons for the future can be drawn from the past. The hon. Gentleman should not find it too difficult to refer to it later.