HC Deb 21 November 1991 vol 199 cc434-5

4.7 pm

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, concerning the statement made to the House by the Home Secretary on 8 July. The statement purported to describe the break-out from Brixton prison on the previous day. We now know that material, crucial facts were omitted from the Home Secretary's statement and account of what happened. As a result, the country was not so much informed as misinformed about the matter.

The Home Secretary has had many opportunities to rectify what I shall describe as his errors of omission. He has not done so. As you well know, Mr. Speaker, attempts have been made to require him to make a corrective and further statement to the House. All efforts have failed. The House and the country will make their own judgment about the reason for the Home Secretary's behaviour. What can be done to ensure that a report is made to the House, both of the full facts and on the Home Secretary's conduct?

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that I need any help on this. Hon. Members heard the Leader of the House say that an investigation has been set up. In due course the Home Secretary will have to make a decision about the matter.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is unsatisfactory for the Government to hide behind an inquiry into the involvement of Staffordshire police? The point at issue is the behaviour of the Home Secretary in the House. The House is entitled to a statement from the Home Secretary, who ought to be responsible to the House of Commons.

Mr. Speaker

That point was raised by the hon. Member with the Leader of the House. It is not a matter for me.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John MacGregor)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a separate point has been raised, I should make it clear that the Home Secretary has not misled the House and the allegations about him are wrong. There are some security matters involved in this. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) has been offered a full briefing on Privy Council terms, and he has refused it.

Mr. Peter Archer (Warley, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may not be within your knowledge that this week my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Banks) and I sought to table parliamentary questions to the Home Secretary on this matter, but it transpired that there was a blanket refusal to answer questions on any matter relating to the secret service, irrespective of how divorced they were from current operations. While I fully understand the reluctance of a Minister to give information about operations currently in progress, as that was not what we were seeking to elicit, if the Minister comes to the House and makes a statement purporting to deal fully with a matter, is he entitled to hide behind a blanket refusal that he has virtually waived? If not, does the House have any remedy?

Mr. Speaker

I have no responsibility for answers to questions. This is not a matter for me.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday, in answer to a point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), you said: I have just said that I think 'jerk' is not among the list of unparliamentary expressions but I asked the Leader of the Opposition to refine it."—[Official Report, 20 November 1991; Vol 199, c.283.] I want to make a submission to you, Mr. Speaker, which is of some substance. The list to which you refer only gives examples of what, in the past, Mr. Speaker has ruled to be unparliamentary expressions. That list has grown up by Mr. Speaker ruling each time—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot hear the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

The list has grown up, Mr. Speaker, by your predecessors ruling each time a new expression is used which, in the opinion of Mr. Speaker, is unparliamentary. It is important that you should remind the House that that list does not and cannot constrain Mr. Speaker not to rule that expressions which are grossly offensive are not unparliamentary purely because they have not appeared on the list in "Erskine May" before.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has raised a serious point concerned with a judgment that I made yesterday. He is correct in saying that there is no list in "Erskine May". It was removed some time ago, because many expressions, such as "cheeky young pup", are no longer considered to be offensive. I said yesterday that I did not think that "jerk" was an unparliamentary expression. I was not absolutely certain what the word meant, but I found out from the Peterborough column today that it means a useless person but also covers a "hornyhead" and a "chubb-like fish".

Mr. Hattersley

Speaking in more or less that capacity, Mr. Speaker, I wish to refer to what the Leader of the House said about the Home Secretary's offer to me to discuss in Privy Council terms the matters with which I was concerned in my original point of order. I want to make it clear that that offer was made, but I refused it as I did not think that this was a matter that could be discussed in private by a coterie of senior Members of Parliament. I felt that it was a matter for the House and for the country.

Mr. Speaker

That has now been made clear.