HC Deb 10 June 1993 vol 226 cc448-50

4.9 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I gave you notice earlier today that I wished to raise a point of order before the two occasions on which the right hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) had a swipe at me. I believe that he is to blame for the sloppy stewardship of the parliamentary timetable. The fact that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink)—

Madam Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman has a point of order, it should be addressed to me and to no one else.

Mr. Mackinlay

Last night we debated the Council Tax Limitation (England) (Maximum Amounts) Order 1993. It is my submission that not all the documents that should have been available to hon. Members were available in the House. I refer to page 382 of "Erskine May": it has been accepted that a document which has been cited by a Minister ought to be laid upon the Table of the House". With that in mind, we should have had the appeal documents from the three councils that were appealing against the Government's capping order, but they were not available. Had they been available, hon. Members would have been able to understand and know the reasons why those councils felt that the order was unfair. We have been denied that opportunity and I believe that that breaches the rules of the House.

Even if I am wrong on that matter, if one studies the draft order and reads through the gobbledegook and gibberish, it seems that those documents are inextricably part and parcel of the draft order document and should have been available to hon. Members for that reason. They were not available and therefore the order that we debated and voted on last night is flawed. It is important to our ability to scrutinise these matters that those documents are available. They are not available either in the Vote Office or the Library, and I hope that you, Madam Speaker, will consider that point to be important.

Madam Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. I have listened carefully to what he has said. I am satisfied that there was no obligation on the Minister to lay before the House the submissions that he had received from the capped authorities. It was a matter for him how he chose to defend his decisions. Nor do I have to decide whether the submissions constituted state papers. Since they were not quoted verbatim, no obligation to table them could arise.

May I also make the point that I checked on the number of hon. Members who spoke last night. It was a very short debate and the hon. Gentleman spoke for quite a long time. Therefore, I should have thought that he was not unduly starved of material.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wish to make what I consider to be a reasonable request and I ask that you reflect on it over the weekend. As Speaker, you should approach Lord Justice Scott and Mrs. Pressiley Baxendale QC and ask them for their observations on whether their work would be impeded in any way by questions being freely asked in this House.

I spent part of a morning at No. 1 Buckingham gate, and my impression is that the inquiry is in search of the truth, is taking its job very seriously, welcomes information from wherever it comes and would have no objection whatever to parliamentary questioning. The objections to parliamentary questioning come from the Government and from no one else.

Madam Speaker

I do not think that that is a matter for me. The Leader of the House explained the situation during earlier exchanges.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you explain a little bit more about how personal statements are arranged, because one is beginning to get the feeling that they could happen every day? Perhaps we ought to exchange prayers for a confessional period. For example, would the ability to make a personal statement extend to Opposition Members? I have been sacked from Labour's Front Bench twice. Could I have made personal statements? In the unhappy event of my being sacked again, will you bear in mind that I have Missed three previous opportunities? Could I take all three chances at once?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I recognise that Cabinet Ministers who have been sacked or who have resigned will make a statement. We appreciated the remarks made yesterday by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. May we take it that any Minister, regardless of status, who has resigned or who has been sacked can ask your permission, which is required, to make a personal statement? I say this with the greatest of respect because you obviously could not decide on these matters, given the traditions of the House. The speech by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) which we have just heard was an abuse of the House and should not have been made under the guise of a personal statement.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I think that we have probably heard enough points of order on the matter.

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


Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman does rather well; I must have my say now. I have had enough points of order on the matter; I think that I know the mood of some hon. Members. I shall explain. When Ministers of whatever rank leave the Government, they may apply to me to make a statement. It is at my discretion whether the former Minister is able to do so.

Mr. Tony Banks

What about the Opposition?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has not convinced me whether he is on or off the Front Bench. He is like a yo-yo these days. I never quite know where he is.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point concerns the timing of personal statements. The one that we have just heard was a parliamentary non-event—a trip down memory lane that might have been made more appropriately during the defence debate next week. We understand that the former Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), is to make a personal statement on Monday. Three other Ministers have left the Government. Could we not have a job lot? Why did they not all make their statements today so that we could have got the pain over in one go rather than spreading it over a fortnight?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must understand that personal statements come immediately before we move on to public business.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I thank you for your ruling yesterday, which I do not, of course, question in any way. I seek your further guidance. I make no criticism of the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra), the promoter of the Voluntary Euthanasia Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and many other hon. Members have received many letters on the subject. Our constituents will not understand why the Bill was not proceeded with under the ten-minute rule procedure yesterday, under which there would have been a vote because I should have opposed the Bill. That would have shown how hon. Members who voted felt about the Bill and I am certain that it would have been heavily defeated. As that procedure was not followed, would you advise the House and, therefore, the country that the Bill still can and will be strongly defeated through the procedures of the House, even though it is presented timidly?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman gives me more powers than I have. As I said yesterday, there can be no objection to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) presenting a Bill in this way. The House has not refused him leave as he did not ask for leave. The presentation is being made under Standing Order No. 58, to which I refer the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway), the House and, if necessary, the country. Standing Order No. 58 states specifically that no leave is necessary. I suggest that hon. Members should write to their constituents explaining Standing Order No. 58.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would you consider, quite apart from the question of who should or should not make a personal statement—I understand that that is at your discretion —the period after the sacking or resignation has taken place in which such a statement can be made? Personal statements are coming out in dribs and drabs; there could be several others. Consideration should be given to the point that, if anyone wants to make a statement, he should make such a request immediately on his departure from the Government.

Madam Speaker

The decision about whether to allow a personal statement is within my discretion. If I felt that such a statement was totally out of time, I could refuse it. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue the matter further, he may do so through the Select Committee on Procedure.