HC Deb 21 January 1993 vol 217 cc512-4

4.7 pm

Mr. Richard Caborn (Sheffield, Central)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to raise a point of order with regard to the conduct of hon. Members. I note that in today's Hansard at column 378, a question was raised by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) about my activities.

I hope that my point of order will be helpful to me and to the rest of the House. I received a note from the hon. Member for Colne Valley at 1.10 pm yesterday after the Select Committee on Trade and Industry had finished its morning deliberations. As you will know, Madam Speaker, a resolution of this House requested the Select Committee to deal with the pit strikes.

Madam Speaker

Order. May I offer the hon. Gentleman a little guidance? If he raises a direct point of order with me, I must deal with it. If he reads column 378 of yesterday's Hansard, he will see that I dealt very adequately with the points of order that were raised at that time.

Mr. Caborn

I am sure that you dealt with that point of order very adequately indeed, Madam Speaker, but I would like to refer to a further point surrounding that particular issue. I wrote to the hon. Member for Colne Valley, as I think I informed your Office, Madam Speaker, that I would be chairing the Trade and Industry Select Committee at 2.30 pm. That letter was placed on the Letter Board at the same time that I deposited the letter in your Office at 1.45 pm. I would have expected the hon. Member for Colne Valley not to have raised the matter. Indeed, I would have expected him to comply with the request in my letter that he should raise it when I was able to be in the House.

I suggest that it was more important for me to Chair the Select Committee than to be in the House at 3.30 pm, which would have been impossible. May I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, for guidance about the conduct of hon. Members when they raise points of order of that nature about other hon. Members?

Madam Speaker

It is my understanding that the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) in fact did his utmost to inform all the hon. Members to whom he wished to refer. As far as I am concerned, I dealt with the matter yesterday. There is just one small matter outstanding. May I take it that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) has informed the hon. Member for Colne Valley that he was about to raise the matter today?

Mr. Caborn

It was not about the hon. Member for Colne Valley. Madam Speaker, I am asking for your guidance about any hon. Member who intends to raise the integrity of another hon. Member, when the House has instructed such hon. Members to be in Committee. Is it right that hon. Members should proceed when other hon. Members are not available to be in the House to answer such an allegation?

Madam Speaker

Several hon. Members were involved and, as the hon. Member for Colne Valley did inform them, in my view he was perfectly entitled to go ahead with attempting to raise a point of order, which was not, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central will see, a point of order that was acceptable either to me or to the House.

Mr. Caborn

On a further point of order, Madam Speaker. Are you saying that in future we adjourn any Committee of the House to make sure that we can be present on the Floor of the House to answer personal allegations? Is that the guidance that you are giving to hon. Members?

Madam Speaker

These are occasions when hon. Members must determine their own priorities. It is not for the Chair to do so. Once one hon. Member has informed another hon. Member that he is going to raise an issue, it is for that hon. Member to determine what his priorities are.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

On a different point of order, Madam Speaker. I pay tribute to the way in which you have chaired the House, particularly during Northern Ireland questions, but my point of order arises out of today's and previous Northern Ireland questions. In the first 10 questions today, three Northern Ireland Members had questions and were ready to be called. I happen to believe that this is the House for the whole of the kingdom; on the other hand, we in Northern Ireland have this rare opportunity to bring specific issues to the House.

Today, when the first question had been answered, the hon. Member asking it left the Chamber, and another hon. Member withdrew his question. Bearing in mind that there are only 16 hon. Members who can come once a month for Northern Ireland questions, and also that, on the law of averages, we find it quite difficult to come up when we table other questions, is there any way that a greater proportion of Northern Ireland Members may have an opportunity of asking their supplementary questions rather than allowing certain hon. Members, as happened today, to farm out questions, thereby ensuring that we are down the list?

Madam Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, it is the luck of the draw where questions fall on the order paper. I understand his frustration and that of all hon. Members from Northern Ireland who would like to come out very high on the paper as a result of the ballot; but I see from my notes that I called the hon. Gentleman on question No. 1.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is making another point, which I understand and which I have mentioned before. There are occasions when hon. Members put their question, listen to the answer and then leave the Chamber. They are perfectly entitled to do so; I simply happen to believe that it is a matter of courtesy to the House to stay for five or 10 minutes at least, until the House has moved on to other questions, but that is a purely personal opinion, because I would like to bring a little more courtesy into our dealings in the House.

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not want to detain the House, but further to the point of order raised earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), and agreeing entirely with the point that you have just made about courtesy in the House, will you confirm that it would make your task easier, bearing in mind the difficulties that arise, if hon. Members on both sides could have heed to exchanges such as those which are made more difficult when hon. Members are chairing Select Committees or other major Committees? After all, there are plenty of opportunities to raise matters in the House when the hon. Members referred to are present.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that it would be helpful all round if, as the hon. Lady said, when matters like that are raised by hon. Members, they take into account the other responsibilities of hon. Members.