HC Deb 07 June 1993 vol 226 cc19-25 3.30 pm
Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had a request from any Minister to make a statement about the agreement by the Council of Ministers to approve the working time directive that involves the 48-hour week provision? Is not the matter desperately important, given the conflicting advice from Brussels and Whitehall in regard to whether the directive will have the force of law while the Government are contemplating an appeal to the European Court? Should not a statement be made?

Madam Speaker

I have received no such request. No doubt Ministers have heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Oldham, Central and Royton)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to raise what I consider to be a gross breach of the conventions of the House; I think that you may agree. I have given notice to the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) of my intention to raise the matter.

A constituent of mine, Susan May, was convicted of murder on 5 May. She has written from Risley prison—an action group formed only two weeks ago has written as well—to the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth, who has a certain reputation some would say, notoriety—for his interest in the more lurid happenings in the Oldham area, which includes his constituency.

Madam Speaker

Order. Points of order must be addressed to me, and should not be colourful or elaborate.

Mr. Davies

It is a convention, Madam Speaker, for us regularly to forward letters addressed from neighbouring constituencies to the hon. Members concerned. On this occasion, far from forwarding the letters that he had received to me—and despite having announced to the local press that he had done so—the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth has said that he is taking an interest in the case, and will discuss it with the Attorney-General. The Susan May action group has subsequently met me and put me in the picture, and Susan May's solicitors have submitted an appeal.

I ask you, Madam Speaker, to reinforce the conventions of the House, to ensure that the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth does not interfere in my constituency cases or those of any other hon. Member; that he forwards to me the representations that he has received from my constituents; and that he bears in mind that he is singularly ill placed to take up the interests of anyone convicted of murder, given that he regularly professes to be in favour of capital punishment.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I did make a statement in the local paper, because I had received a number of letters about the case. I referred all my correspondents to their Member of Parliament, suggesting that they bring the matter to his attention. It was only when I had gone home for the recess that I found a letter from the prisoner herself—a cry for help, asking me to take an interest in her case.

The House has only just reassembled, and I have not had a chance to discuss the matter with the prisoner's Member of Parliament. He has acknowledged receipt of a letter that I sent to the prisoner, and placed on the Board today. He will understand the details. I do not think that you should have been bothered with the matter, Madam Speaker; it is so petty. Here is someone in prison, convicted of murder; meanwhile, the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Davies) is making petty points about that person in the House of Commons.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Let me deal with that point of order.

That is not a matter for the Speaker of this House. However, the convention is that hon. Members do not act on behalf of another Member's constituents in personal cases. It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding about whether or not letters have been forwarded, or received. That is not, as I have said, a matter for me, and it cannot be resolved on the Floor of the House. I hope that both hon. Members can agree between themselves how this matter is to be pursued.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

On an entirely different point of order, Madam Speaker. Would it be possible, even at this very late stage, to table an amendment to the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Bill to prevent the purchase of political parties by trade unions? I need your advice, in the light of the remarks of John Edmonds today that we—

Madam Speaker

Order. I can help the hon. Gentleman immediately. I do not give procedural advice across the Floor of the House. If he comes to see me later, I shall do my best to advise him.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have here a booklet that describes the procedure to be followed by Ministers over the acceptance of presents. The advice that they are given is that they should not accept presents, as Ministers should be under no obligation. Would it be possible for hon. Members to submit questions to the Table Office regarding the representations made by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, regarding Mr. Nadir who, as you know, has fled justice?

Would it be possible for hon. Members to find out from questions, which I hope could be tabled, why the Secretary of State and the Minister of State made representations about someone who is not one of their constituents? In addition, what proceedings could we take to find out whether anything has taken place which should not have taken place?

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has put to me a most convoluted point of order, but again it is a question of procedure. If the hon. Gentleman wants advice about procedure, he ought to go and see the authorities of the House, or come and see me, as I advised earlier. I am not prepared to give advice on matters of procedure across the Floor of the House.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could give me some advice on what to do when Ministers state that they cannot answer a question, on the grounds of disproportionate cost? I asked a specific question about the cost over the next 20 years of the commitment to public sector pensions for civil servants and others. I have been told that the unfunded liability, which does not appear anywhere in Government accounts, is £170 billion. I wanted that figure to be broken down for me on an annualised basis. When one is considering £170 billion of public expenditure, it would surely not be disproportionately costly to be provided with the details of that expenditure.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is arguing about the decision of a Minister. I am certainly not going to discuss such a decision. It is for Ministers to argue for themselves. Perhaps it is because I am looking so fresh after my holidays that there are so many points of order today.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A few moments ago you said that it was not a matter for you but that it was a convention of the House that Members of Parliament did not take up cases in somebody else's constituency. Will you, then, help us to explain to our constituents how it comes about that not just a Back Bencher but a Minister of the Crown—the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office—was able to take up the case of Asil Nadir, who was not one of his constituents?

Would it not make a lot of sense if he were to come to the House, along with the President of the Board of Trade, to explain the precise relationship between Asil Nadir and the Tory party and the representations that have been made on his behalf?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, find some parliamentary method by means of which he can tease out those matters.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), Madam Speaker. As the Latin quotation—

Madam Speaker

Order. That point of order has been dealt with. Does the hon. Gentleman wish to raise a different point of order.

Mr. Jessel

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I was going to say—

Madam Speaker

Order. I will not take any further points of order on that matter. Does the hon. Gentleman have a fresh point of order for me?

Mr. Jessel

I wanted to say that as the Latin quotation "Non illegitimis carborundum" means "Don't let the bastards grind you down", not "Don't let the buggers get you down"—

Madam Speaker

Order. A little merriment on our first day back is in order, but the hon. Gentleman is going over the top.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Can I raise a serious matter? During the recess, I sent approximately 250 letters from my constituency office to my constituents, quoting a statement made at the Dispatch Box by the Secretary of State for Social Security on 19 May in the debate on automated credit transfer and post offices. He said: All small post offices are currently paid a fixed sum, regardless of volume, so people switching to ACT will make little difference to the amount of remuneration they receive." —[Official Report, 19 May 1993; Vol. 225, c. 259.] The problem is that postmistresses in my constituency are challenging that statement, with the result that I—or Parliament, as I am sure that it will apply to many of my hon. Friends—am faced with the expense of sending a further 250 letters to the same constituents to explain that the Secretary of State made a mistake. I cannot say that he deliberately misled the House, but it is for my hon. Friends and the House to decide for themselves what was the intention behind the Secretary of State's statement.

Can you advise us, Madam Speaker? Should I, as a Member of Parliament, be required to correct the record of a statement made by a Minister which, if not deliberately, misled Parliament and meant that I misunderstood? To what extent is it a question of contempt?

Madam Speaker

If it is a question of contempt, the hon. Gentleman should have written to me instead of raising it in this way. It is for all hon. Members to do their best to ensure that their constituents are kept fully informed. If the hon. Gentleman has to send another letter, it is up to him to do so. He is responsible for keeping his constituents informed when they have a particular interest in a matter such as that which he has raised.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I have some sympathy with the difficulties expressed by my hon. Friend, and I am corresponding with the Minister about this matter. Would it not be useful if the record were put straight and a proper explanation given in Hansard, so that at least the issue of replying could be simplified by the circulation of the amended version?

Madam Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, some member of the Treasury Bench may take up his suggestion but, at this stage, there is nothing further I can do. I have had no request for such a statement to be made.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Order. I have dealt with the matter to the best of my ability. The hon. Member from the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), was particularly helpful.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am sorry, but Parliament is now required to correct the record as a result of the Minister's statement. I am asking perhaps for a ruling from you on whether it is a Minister's responsibility to have the record corrected rather than mine, as an individual Member of Parliament, using the House's resources.

The Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Peter Lilley)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that it probably behoved the hon. Gentleman to inform me that he intended to raise the point of order and to take advantage of the fact that he asked the first question on this subject at Question Time, which he did not do. It also behoved the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) not to reinforce a point which is misleading the House.

If the hon. Gentleman reads column 260, the very next column to that which he quoted to his constituents, he will see that I said—I was speaking from memory—that 2,700 post offices were subject to that arrangement. I can now confirm to the House that the exact number is 2,696. It seems to me that the matter is clear in Hansard. He is deliberately misleading his constituents. He should withdraw his comments and send 250 letters of apology.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We have now heard three hon. Members casting serious aspersions against my hon. Friend the Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates). Would you confirm that Ministers are free to make their views known about constituency matters and about issues raised by constituents to other Ministers? That is confirmed in the questions of procedure for Ministers which was issued by the Cabinet Office in May last year. It is clear from that document that my hon. Friend has done nothing wrong. Opposition Members should withdraw their accusations.

Madam Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman is confirming that point, he should not seek confirmation from me.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you confirm—

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Hon. Gentleman should not be so intolerant. Many are rising to make points of order. Hon. Members should be patient and wait their time.

Mr. Grocott

Can you confirm briefly that, not for the first time, the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) has got things hopelessly wrong? The crucial issue is hon. Members looking after the interests of their own constituents. Can you confirm from the Chair—this would he very helpful—that all the representations made on behalf of Mr. Nadir by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office and by the President of the Board of Trade were not representations made on behalf of their own constituents?

Would it therefore be your guidance to those right hon. and hon. Members that, if they ever make similar representations in future, and on the basis of those already made—

Madam Speaker

Order. I have no intention of making any comments on individual cases that are raised in this manner. It is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Grocott

I think it is.

Madam Speaker

Order. With respect, it is not a point of order for me. No hon. Member should expect me to comment across the Floor of the House on such an individual situation. It is not a point of order.

Mr. Rod Richards (Clwyd, North-West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It might be helpful to Conservative Members for Opposition Members, when they catch your eye, to tell us whether their allegiance is to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) or to John Edmonds, the leader of the Labour party in the country.

Madam Speaker

Order. Hilarity is one thing, but this is an abuse of the time of the House.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received any requests from the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement on the circumstances in which pits were closed last week, especially in relation to the home security of miners made redundant? Many of those miners have mortgages and the terms of their mortgage policies give no mortgage protection if they are made voluntarily rather than compulsorily redundant.

Has the President of the Board of Trade asked you for permission to come before this House to explain what steps the Government will take to ensure that at least the homes of the miners who have forcibly been made redundant by British Coal will be protected? As things stand, those miners will lose their homes as well as their jobs, because British Coal insists on calling the redundancies voluntary, when the whole world knows that they are compulsory.

Madam Speaker

I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that no Minister asks me for permission to make a statement. He informs me that he wishes to make a statement. I have no authority in the matter. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I have had no such information.

We now come to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Bill.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am most grateful to you. You will know that I was in correspondence with you over the recess on two matters connected with today's proceedings.

First, would it be possible in your view for the Minister during the course of the day to explain why no new immigration rules on asylum or immigration appeal procedure rules are available for today's debate? I checked at the Vote Office a few minutes ago and it confirmed that both instruments are not available. They are extremely important in terms of interpreting the effects of the legislation that we are debating this afternoon.

The second matter concerns the opportunity that the Minister will have today to inform the House about the outcome of the meeting of European Community Immigration Ministers in Copenhagen last week. You will know from our correspondence, Madam Speaker, that it was reported that important decisions with a direct bearing on the substance of this afternoon's debate were taken at that meeting.

I am grateful to the Minister for writing to me today on the matter. He confirms in his letter that agreement was reached on, amongst other matters, Resolution on guidelines regarding the admission of particularly vulnerable groups of persons from the former Yugoslavia, and on the harmonisation of national policies on family reunification. Those matters are of literally life-and-death importance. I believe that, rather than the information being given in a letter to me, the Minister should be given an opportunity as early as possible this afternoon to report to the House on the decisions to which he was party last week in Copenhagen. The decisions have important implications for the many people who are settled in this country who are either applying for refugee status or who have refugee status and who wish to have their immediate relatives join them in this country.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The House is to discuss an important matter, but half the documentation that we need to discuss the matter properly is missing and is not available to hon. Members. I refer to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) in respect of the rules of procedure relating both to asylum and to immigration appeals. Without those documents, we shall be conducting half a debate this afternoon.

Even at this late stage, is it possible to request that those documents—if available—should be made available to hon. Members?

Madam Speaker

Whether the documents relate to today's debate is a matter of opinion. We shall be debating not the Bill, which has already been debated, but Lords amendments proposed to it. Therefore, it is a matter of opinion for hon. Members and Ministers whether the documents to which the hon. Gentleman refers are necessary for our debate.

In saying that, I think that I also respond to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). As the hon. Gentleman understands, this is not a general debate on immigration matters. I understand the hon. Gentleman's deep concern, however. Provided that Back Benchers and Front Benches alike remain within the terms of the amendments before us, the Minister can give the House whatever information he wishes. Perhaps we may now come to the amendments.