HC Deb 30 November 1992 vol 215 cc41-4
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I realise that this is a subjective matter. It was not only during the excitable indignation of the shadow Chancellor that I felt that the volume in the House this afternoon was very high—almost uncomfortably so. Could you, Madam Speaker, regulate it so that it is a little less noisy?

Madam Speaker

I will look into that matter.

Several hon. Members

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I will take one from each side. I call Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You are not allowed to tell us why you have turned down the application under Standing Order No. 20. You will appreciate that I made an application earlier today. I am wondering about the role of the Official Solicitor. I would like you, Madam Speaker, to tell me why he is not being used in a case like this. You will recall that 20 years ago the Official Solicitor had to be used in an individual case which arose out of a civil action. His intervention, which was used by the Government because it was a public matter, enabled the matter to be resolved.

The fact that the Official Solicitor was not used suggests to me that this was a private concern and a private investment by the Chancellor. He wanted to line his pockets. He got the highest bidder—Miss Whiplash—and he wants the public to pay the bill.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has made his submission. His knows very well that the Speaker does not indulge in such exchanges across the Floor of the House.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

This is the first time that you, Madam Speaker, have been in the Chair since the general election that I have felt it necessary to raise a point of order with you. Do you not agree that there has been an abuse of proceedings in so far as Back Benchers are concerned? The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) sought leave for an emergency debate under a procedure which we Back Benchers value very much. I suspect that he did that having already submitted a private notice question to you. I am not sure whether he did that, but I once sought, after having submitted a private notice question which the Speaker did not accept, to raise the matter in the way that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East raised the matter. For very correct reasons, I was not allowed to do that.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East has been muck-racking and making much of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when the matter has nothing to do with the Chancellor. It was a decision of the permanent secretary to the Treasury to make the minute available to the general public in the way he did. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East has been muck-raking, and we will do that if that is what he wants.

Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. It is for the Speaker of this House to determine whether a private notice question is heard or whether an application under Standing Order No. 20 is heard. The House might leave that decision to me.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a separate point of order, Madam Speaker. During the exchanges on the statement on refugees made by the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, you will have heard that European Community immigration Ministers are meeting today and tomorrow to discuss policies, including those concerning refugees. You will have heard during those exchanges that there was dissatisfaction about the fact that we are to be told about the outcome of those important meetings only by way of a reply to a written question.

Will you permit me, under Standing Order No. 20, arising from the exchanges made on the statement, to apply for an emergency debate on a matter that is important, urgent and specific—namely, the policy of Her Majesty's Government concerning refugees"? That would allow us to call the Home Secretary to account for the meetings held today and tomorrow, to explain the Government's refugee policy and to say whether we support the establishment of safe havens in Bosnia. For all those reasons, I should very much like to submit such an application, and I hope that you would grant a debate.

Madam Speaker

I have heard no basis on which the hon. Gentleman may submit an application under Standing Order No. 20 today. However, of course, every hon. Member—and certainly the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden)—is perfectly entitled to make an application to me under Standing Order No. 20. I will consider such applications most carefully, as I always do.

Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that I am not, and never have been, one to indulge in the points of order racket. However, I seek your guidance. You will recall as I do, because we were in the House at the time, that when Lord Wilson of Rievaulx was Prime Minister he sought to sue a pop group called The Move over a song called "Flowers in the Rain". Can you confirm whether, quite properly, he received public funds in that connection and whether Mr. Speaker at the time allowed a debate on the subject?

Madam Speaker

I can neither confirm nor deny what the hon. Gentleman has asked: my memory is not as good as that. Even if it were, I doubt whether I would do so across the Floor of the House.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you can clarify the standing of the House. We have had an explanation from the Treasury about the sum in question which was the subject of the Standing Order application by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown). Officials of the Treasury have given their explanation. As Speaker of the House, can you tell me what opportunity exists for hon. Members to question Ministers? If we table written questions, presumably a Minister will answer them.

While we have had an explanation from Treasury officials, surely at the end of the day Treasury official take their instructions from Ministers. Any payment that was authorised was authorised by Ministers. What opportunity is there for the Chancellor to come here and explain and justify his conduct and be subject to questioning? We are not interested in questioning officials. We want to ask the Chancellor whether he was justified in receiving the money. We want to hear his explanation.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Member knows that I cannot require any Minister to come to the Dispatch Box. The Speaker of the House does not have such authority. The hon. Gentleman is a very long-standing Member of the House. If he puts on his thinking cap, he will know full well that there are various methods by which he might pursue what he is seeking to do through normal parliamentary procedures.

Sir John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

Further to the point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it not a fact that the then permanent secretary to the Treasury authorised the payment of £4,700 without any application to him for that funding from the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Hon. Members

How do you know that?

Madam Speaker

Order. These are barely points of order for the Speaker. This is not within my remit. I have answered the points of order and the Standing Order No. 20 application. I will take no further points of order on that matter.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)


Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)


Madam Speaker

If there are points of order that do not relate to that matter, I am willing to hear them.

Mr. Tony Banks

I need your protection, Madam Speaker. [Laughter.] Conservative Members may think that my point is flippant, but it is not. A very unfortunate rumour is going around the press lobby at the moment that I know somewhat more than I have so far said about the appearance of a small Hitler moustache on the portrait of Baroness Thatcher that was hanging at I, Derby gate. As you have responsibility for works of art—although it is rather difficult to describe said portrait as a work of art—I want you to know, Madam Speaker, that I know nothing whatsoever about the incident. I did not put the Hitler moustache on the portrait—nor, as someone else has said, were I the chairman of the Greater London arts committee would I have considered the artist for a grant.

Madam Speaker

I know about the vandalism that has taken place, and I deprecate it. I have asked for very thorough investigations to be carried out. Does the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) wish to raise a point of order, or are points of order finished? I am not prompting one.

Mr. Corbyn

I am obliged to you, Madam Speaker. My point of order is this: will you ensure that guidelines are issued to all hon. Members about what they can claim in the way of legal expenses from any problems they get into in future because of their membership of the House?

Madam Speaker

That was a very back-door method of trying to get at me.