HC Deb 03 February 1993 vol 218 cc331-4

4 pm

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw your attention to page 119 of ?Erskine May?, which states that deliberately misleading the House may constitute contempt. At column 142 of yesterday's Hansard, the President of the Board of Trade claimed that there was not "one shred of evidence" that the minority of the banking consortium which had asked for delay in the rescue of DAF were British banks. It has today been confirmed, particularly by the Financial Times, that the minority were indeed three British banks—NatWest, Barclays and Lloyds.

I would not wish to believe that the President set out deliberately to mislead the House, and I am willing to accept that he was badly informed. However, the House has been misled about the contribution of British banks to the collapse of DAF. I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, to confirm that there is precedent for a Minister of the Crown who discovers that he, perhaps in good faith, has misled the House to make a statement to correct the record.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time.

As the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and the House will appreciate, that is not a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman has put a direct question to me. The answer is that, if a Minister wishes to make a further statement to the House, it is up to that Minister to seek an opportunity so to do.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. There can be no further points of order on that matter; I have dealt with it.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I draw your attention to yesterday's Hansard and its account of the debate on rail privatisation? No fewer than three Opposition Members—the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North(Mr.Wilson)—criticised me by name because of a paper that I published on deregulation. They even alleged that I was an intellectual—and if that is not an unparliamentary term, it should be.

None of those three Opposition Members chose to inform me in advance that he intended to criticise me by name and therefore did not give me an opportunity to intervene to correct their caricatures of my argument. Will you explain, Madam Speaker, why the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East, on that one occasion, lacked the courtesy and delicacy for which he is so well known?

Madam Speaker

Perhaps this is an opportunity for me to let the House know that, whenever an hon. Member intends to refer to another hon. Member in terms which call for a response, that hon. Member should of course be informed. But that does not mean that every passing reference or straightforward disagreement, of which there are quite a number in the House, on matters of policy call for notification. It has been left to the good sense of the House to maintain the conventional decencies which are the necessary foundation of our sometimes rather robust proceedings.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Let me remind you of the debate on sending the task force to the Falklands. A dissenting voice was not heard—it was not called by Mr. Speaker, even though there was dissent in the House, as has subsequently become known. During the statement by the Secretary of state for Defence today, you, Madam Speaker, did not call one dissenting voice. I rose as a dissenting voice, and some of my colleagues did as well. Surely the role of the Speaker is to ensure that all shades of opinion are heard in the House. I ask you, to reflect on that point.

Madam Speaker

Of course I will. I am not to know where the dissenting voices will come from, although I sometimes guess where they might come from. Some hon. Members approach me when they know a statement is to be made, and that is always appreciated. I cannot always accommodate them, and I do not give commitments, but I try my best, and in future I shall certainly remember what the hon. Gentleman has said to me.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier you heard from the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) about the President of the Board of Trade. I shall not go over that again, because you have already dealt with it, but would it not be advisable, when Ministers come to make statements to the House, if the Chair could be absolutely sure that they would get the thing right? The President of the Board of Trade got it wrong over the pits, he was not even informed about the lowering of interest rates, and he got caught out on the wireless. Yesterday he came here again without being informed. It is wasting your time, Madam Speaker, and that of the House. Just check with him next time he opens his gills.

Madam Speaker

I spend a lot of my time listening to the hon. Member for Bolsover.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

May I thank you, Madam Speaker, for the guidance that you have just given the House in answer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts)—and let me assure you that there are no circumstances in which I would ever refer to him as an intellectual. It honestly did not occur to me that, in a debate such as yesterday's on the future of railway services, an hon. Member who felt that his constituents should be denied the safety facilities that could be introduced would not be here to defend that argument.

Madam Speaker

Order. I am not having yesterday's debate prolonged.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. May I point out that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) was in the Chamber last night? Will you confirm that it is not the responsibility of hon. Members to check on whether another hon. Member has left before the closing speeches? Will you further confirm—

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that I have got the point. All hon. Members who are interested in a debate and have taken part in it should come back to hear the closing speeches. It is a matter of courtesy.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier, during Scottish questions, you reprimanded an hon. Gentleman for reading a newspaper. I am afraid that that was me, and I want to apologise for that. The reason was that I had spotted a headline which said, ?Council in disgrace?, and I wanted to know which council it was—

Madam Speaker

Order. I saw enough of the hon. Gentleman during Question Time. I think that he hoped that the television cameras were on him; I can assure him that they were not.

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would you be prepared to consider adjourning the House so that the Leader of the House might propose a period in which we could debate the defence statement we have just heard so that the position of the Labour party could be put, as that was not mentioned in questions on the statement which announced a further 25 per cent. cut in the military budget?

Madam Speaker

Of course I would not consider adjourning the House, but I remind hon. Members, if they need reminding, that there are business questions on Thursday, when questions can be put to the Leader of the House.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Secretary of State has, I am sure inadvertently, misled the House, or at least partially misled the House, in the statement that he has just made and I wonder whether you can advise me on how the matter can best be rectified. He said that he intends to spend an extra £80 million from a fixed budget, but he has not told the House from where that money is to come. You will be aware that there is widespread concern, not least on Tyneside where the future of the shipbuilding programme is of vital importance—

Madam Speaker

Order. That was a very good try on the part of the hon. Gentleman, who I know was standing during the statement seeking to be called. He must not try to put that one over on me.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside)

Yesterday, in answer to question 7, the Secretary of State for Education made an inaccurate series of references to me and I thought that in subsequent supplementaries he used the words, "I apologise". However, nowhere in my scrutiny of Hansard can I see those words. I wonder whether it is your recollection that he used those words. May I also say, to help progress, that I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman's personal attack on me was made in good faith.

Madam Speaker

I know that the Minister concerned did apologise to the hon. Gentleman, and it has been brought to the attention of the Editor. Perhaps we might now make some progress with the day?s business.