HC Deb 12 July 1993 vol 228 cc683-8 4.22 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is a genuine point of order on which I have had discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend the shadow Attorney-General and a number of colleagues.

You will recollect and have had it brought to your attention, Madam Speaker, that in 1941 one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker Clifton Brown, took exception to the various efforts made to raise under the emergency procedure the fall of Singapore before it actually happened. Are we to understand that your advice is that if there is a serious threat of military action whose importance is not challenged and whose urgency is not challenged, but which may not meet the third criterion, which is that it is definite, you cannot hear a Standing Order No. 20 application?

Bluntly, it is appalling that the House of Commons should face the situation where, apparently, there is British endorsement of a United Nations plan to launch missiles on a foreign city, Baghdad, which the House cannot discuss before it has actually happened. Will you, Madam Speaker, reflect over the next 24 hours and come up with a ruling on the conditions in which you will hear an application under Standing Order No. 20 in the case of possible military action?

Madam Speaker

I cannot anticipate what may or may not happen in an emergency. I must look at every application on its merits and I do precisely that. But as the hon. Gentleman knows, there have to be new developments. This is a continuing situation and there must be a new immediate development before I can grant an application. I look at each application to me entirely on its merits and will continue to do so.

Mr. Peter Hain (Neath)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask that you give a ruling debarring hon. Members who are Lloyd's names from voting on Report this evening or tomorrow on Third Reading. If hon. Members who are Lloyd's names vote themselves tax privileges which are worth perhaps thousands—or even tens of thousands—of pounds, that is tantamount to them putting their hands on taxpayers' money and putting it straight into their wallets.

Lloyd's names have a direct pecuniary interest and "Erskine May" cites a whole series of precedents in which hon. Members are debarred from voting. I realise that they mostly concern private Bills and that the Finance (No. 2) Bill is a public Bill. Nevertheless, the 14 clauses and two schedules in the Bill that apply exclusively to Lloyd's affect uniquely and personally those 44 Members who are shown on the Register of Members' Interests as having an interest in Lloyd's. Therefore, I feel that they should be debarred from voting, and I ask you to give that ruling.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) raised an important distinction between a private Bill and a public Bill. The Finance (No. 2) Bill is a public Bill.

I draw specific attention to amendment No. 21, which you have selected for debate this afternoon. It renders the special reserve funds liable to tax. My submission is that that represents an immediate and personal interest on the part of those hon. Members who are Lloyd's names.

No doubt, Madam Speaker, you will refer me to the ruling that your predecessor made on 14 January 1986 at column 1013 when the issue before the House was whether hon. Members who were Lloyd's names could vote for an amendment that widened the scope of the Finance Bill. Your predecessor quite rightly held that, on a matter extending the scope of the Bill, the House was dealing with a public matter.

In my submission, there is a difference. We are not talking about the scope of a public Bill. We are talking about an amendment, which, if pressed to a vote, would result in tax privileges being available to a number of hon. Members, all of whom are Conservative. It would be useful if you would give a ruling at to what exactly is meant by an "immediate and personal" interest, which is referred to on page 354 of the current edition of "Erskine May".

Finally, Madam Speaker, you will be aware that the matter was raised on 24 March 1981 by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) in relation to the Lloyd's Bill. Mr. Speaker advised Members that if there was any doubt on the matter, they should not vote.

It would be helpful if you would let us have a ruling as the matter is of interest not just to Members of the House. Members of the public would like to be assured that the House would not let a situation arise where Members who had a vested interest in their own benefit were allowed to vote in a way that other members of the public were precluded from doing.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I think that I can now deal with those points of order if I may be allowed to do so.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)


Madam Speaker

Yes, it is a shame but we ought to make some progress and I am quite prepared to deal with those points of order.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Neath (Mr. Hain) for giving me notice that he would raise this matter. The rule against voting on a matter in which a Member has a personal pecuniary interest does not apply on a public Bill so long as other similarly situated persons will benefit in the same way.

The provisions of the Finance (No. 2) Bill are not confined to those members of Lloyd's who are also Members of the House. There is no prohibition on such Members voting on this matter of public policy.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I have not finished. Hon. Members should not be so impatient, but should listen to my entire ruling. The House will expect members of Lloyd's affected by the Bill who speak in the debates on the relevant clauses to declare their interest.

Mr. Darling

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I should like to be clear about the matter. Do I understand that the effect of your ruling is that, because there are members of Lloyd's who are not Members of Parliament, Conservative Members of Parliament can vote for the measure, notwithstanding the fact that they gain direct benefit? I understand that a further procedure has to be invoked. However, the House must look at such circumstances because many people regard that as rather unfair.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Let me take the matter a stage further because I want it to be clear to the House. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) is quite right. The measure affects other individuals outside the House and, for the sake of completeness, I shall leave the House with this thought. If I ruled that no hon. Member could ever vote on a measure that would allow him or her to enjoy benefits available to others, the House would never be able to vote for a reduction in income tax. I hope that that clarifies the point. I have given my ruling and I will accept no further points of order on that matter.

Mr. Jonathan Evans (Brecon and Radnor)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Is it a different one?

Mr. Evans

It is an entirely fresh point of order, Madam Speaker. May I have your guidance on clarification of the position under Standing Order No. 31, which, as you know, deals with the selection of amendments, so as to assist Back Benchers in future over the submission of amendments at this stage of consideration of a Bill? I am referring specifically to the Finance Bill.

The point is covered on page 502 of "Erskine May", which says that the power is exercised by the Speaker as a check upon excessive repetition of debates which have already taken place in committee. I have in mind that, on 10 May, the House, in Committee, spent a full day debating issues that appear to be grouped together under amendment No. 7 and other amendments on the provisional selection list.

I do not question your selection in any way, Madam Speaker, but I should like to know whether there has been any change in the guidelines or in Standing Orders, given that "Erskine May" says that that is a power that Speakers tend to exercise "rigorously".

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will find that "Erskine May" also says that the Speaker has total discretion over the selection of amendments. Irrespective of whether a matter has been debated earlier, it is at the discretion of the Speaker to decide whether to select such amendments for debate during our consideration of the Finance Bill.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not get involved in the points of order raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) and for Neath (Mr. Hain) because they dealt adequately with those points, which you then answered. However, in your answer—

Mr. Dickens

Ah, the hon. Gentleman will get involved now.

Mr. Skinner

No, this is straight and above board. In your answer, Madam Speaker, you said that if the rule were applied in the way that we wanted, hon. Members could not vote on a reduction in income tax because we would all benefit, as well as those outside. The clear distinction is that, while all Members of Parliament would benefit from a reduction in income tax from 25 to 20 per cent., or even to 15 per cent., in the Lloyd's case, only 44 Tory Members will benefit.

Madam Speaker

Clause 123 relates to Members of Parliament, but not all Members will benefit from it. That is quite distinct from the taxation point. I have given my ruling on the matter, and we should not now return to it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On an entirely separate point of order, Madam Speaker. One of the developments that has taken place since I was elected in 1974 is that the House has adopted a much more tightly controlled attitude towards Members' financial interests. In the circumstances, would not it be helpful if you asked either the Select Committee on Members' Interests or the Select Committee on Procedure to look at the position of those who have financial interests and their voting abilities? I am not challenging your ruling because, unfortunately, I do not have the power to do that, but it might seem outside that it is inconsistent with the development of tighter scrutiny in the House.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can make such references himself. I am certain that my ruling will be seen to be accurate and logical when it has been printed and reflected on.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have listened carefully to what you have said. You commented that if hon. Members who are also members of Lloyd's speak during the debate. they should declare an interest. Will you reflect and make a ruling before tonight's vote on whether those hon. Members should also declare an interest before they vote?

Madam Speaker

The interests are contained in the Register of Members' Interests. I am advising Members who wish to speak that they must declare an interest when they do so. Hon. Members have never been called upon to declare an interest before they enter the Division Lobby.

Mr. Jimmy Boyce (Rotherham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Are there any matters of public policy that are decided in the House that do not affect people outside the House?

Madam Speaker

I think that I require notice of that question.

Mr. Boyce

I am sure that you will get that for tomorrow.

Madam Speaker


Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to raise a point that concerns the general principle of declaration of hon. Members' interests. I am not a Lloyd's name. Does an hon. Member have to declare an interest at the onset of his speech, or can he simply allude to it during that speech? The 44 Lloyd's members on the Conservative Benches should, if they catch your eye, declare an interest at the beginning of any intervention that they make.

Madam Speaker

The procedures of the House on this matter are clear and direct. An hon. Member must declare an interest immediately on standing to speak.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans). I seek your guidance, Madam Speaker, on the group of amendments starting with amendment No. 7. Many of the amendments deal with the same point and could be described as repetitive and overlapping. Have the guidelines for those matters changed?

Madam Speaker

No. We never allow repetition or overlapping to occur in the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not challenging my selection of amendments.

Mr. Dickens

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to make a point about fair play. I rose following your response to the first point of order, and you would not allow me to continue because you said that you had given an answer. You have since called four Opposition Members to speak on the same subject. I shall not detain the House by pressing you on this, Madam Speaker, but I like to see fair play.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman often rises to say that I have been particularly fair. If he reflects on Hansard tomorrow, he may see that the points to which he refers which were raised by hon. Members were separate from my ruling.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek advice from you for the future.

Madam Speaker

Is it on the group of amendments starting with No. 7?

Mr. Butterfill

My point relates to petroleum revenue tax, and the concerns of hon. Members on that subject. We know that the matter was debated extensively on Second Reading and that some amendments that were tabled by members of the Committee were ruled out of order for various reasons.

The issue is complex and hon. Members have taken counsel's opinion on the amendments that have been tabled today to ensure that they are in order. Although I appreciate that the matter was explored at some length in Committee, the concept of transitional arrangements was not so explored. Is there a way in which, in the future, hon. Members can frame amendments so that we can be sure that they will be in order and available for consideration?

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the Public Bill Office, which is open all hours, will be extremely helpful.