HC Deb 20 October 1994 vol 248 cc442-4 4.14 pm
Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones (Ynys Môn)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware of the circumstances surrounding the injury to my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) when he attempted to come to the House last night to register his vote at about 10 pm. You will have the full circumstances surrounding that incident, and I do not wish to dwell on them; save to say that I am pleased to tell the House that although my hon. Friend suffered an injury, he was released from hospital last night. I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker, for making urgent inquiries about him, and he is grateful for your concern. I accompanied my hon. Friend last night, and we were accompanied by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands).

I want to look at the more general issue that arises out of the incident. Hon. Members who have offices in the Norman Shaw building have difficulty in coming to the House to vote, even forgetting the incident last night, because the underpass at Westminster is closed. That means that we must go into the main entrance of Westminster station, and that can be blocked by a considerable number of people even late at night.

We had to cross the road and we came through the normal entrance of the House along Parliament street. The difficulty that we encountered in Parliament street was that there was a cordon of police officers across the pavement which prevented access by hon. Members. Where police officers are on duty, clearly expecting a Division to take place at some time during the evening, I would expect them to clear a path for hon. Members to come in through the gates. That is the issue, Madam Speaker. How can we be absolutely assured that such an incident will not happen again—that a clear path will be made so that hon. Members can come safely to vote?

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I was with the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) when the worrying accident took place. Whatever other unacceptable incidents happened last night, the accident was not the direct result of the demonstrators. The development of both Millbank and the Norman Shaw building is creating problems. In this case, the problem was that the entrance to the Westminster subway was closed. The fact that we knew that the entrance was closed led us to come through the Carriage Gates. I support the point made by the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Jones) that it was impossible to get through the main Carriage Gates last night because of a large cordon of police.

Madam Speaker

I made inquiries and found that access to Westminster underground station was open yesterday evening. If hon. Members who were coming to the House had proceeded as though they were passengers to Westminster underground, they would have been able to use the subway to the House. As hon. Members know, the steps from Victoria Embankment to the subway are closed. That is the responsibility of London Underground and Members have been notified of that on the all-party Whip.

I very much regret the problems caused to the hon. Member for Caernarfon yesterday evening. I telephoned him today; he is in considerable pain, but I gave him the good wishes of the House. We wish that he will be back here soon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

I will draw the attention of the Serjeant at Arms to what hon. Members have said on this matter. He will look at these matters, because what has been said is valuable. The objective last night was to see that the Sessional Orders were enforced, that public disorder was prevented and that any offenders were arrested. I have strong views that violence and vandalism will not be tolerated wherever they rear their ugly heads. I believe that last night, despite some of the problems that the police had, there was a high standard of policing. Perhaps we might leave the matter at that.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, I was one of those who were prevented from getting into the House from 7 Millbank. Happily, I came to no harm. However, one consequence of what happened to me was that I saw, for a long time and at close quarters, exactly what was taking place in Millbank which was the centre of the disturbance. One of the things that I saw was very great restraint by the police under enormous provocation. When you make further inquiries, Madam Speaker, perhaps you would tell the Commissioner that the majority of hon. Members admire what the police did last night and are grateful to them.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a separate point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that you will understand and accept that any allegation made against any Member of the House inevitably damages the reputations of all Members and of the whole House. You were elected by the whole House to protect and uphold the rights and reputation of the House.

I would ask you to reflect on a suggestion that I wish to make. We seem to be facing an impasse when it comes to the ability of the House properly and effectively to investigate complaints made against Members, so I wonder whether you would be willing to consider convening a meeting with representatives of all parties to discuss what can be done to find a resolution of this impasse.

I have been sceptical about the ability of the House to investigate complaints effectively ever since I served on the Committee that inquired into the relationships between the late John Poulson and Members of the House. I have considerable sympathy with suggestions that we need to find a new way of dealing with such matters. I ask you again to reflect on whether you, as Speaker, might convene such a committee or group—call it what you like—consisting of Members and non-Members, who could investigate complaints against Members of the House.

It would also be extremely useful if the group could draw up a list of principles governing standards in public life—we have no such principles at present, and I do not believe that there is time for a royal commission to consider them again.

I ask you, Madam Speaker, to consider these matters seriously, since I know of your deep and genuine concern for the reputation of the House, which I believe is in grave danger of doing itself considerable damage.

Madam Speaker

As the House knows, I have no authority to take the type of action suggested by the hon. Gentleman, but I do take these matters seriously and I will look at all that he has said this afternoon.

There is no problem about raising matters of complaint. In the statement that I made on 12 July, when I granted precedence to a motion relating to a complaint now before the Committee on Privileges, I made it very clear that the Committee will have power to inquire not only into the matter of the particular complaint, but into the facts surrounding and reasonably connected with it".—[Official Report, 12 July 1994; Vol. 246, c. 829.] I worded that statement carefully. So if there is evidence relating to the matters that are now being raised and which have been raised this afternoon, it can be submitted to the Privileges Committee, which is free to consider the evidence. There really is no need for any further action by the House to bring that about; but I take seriously everything that has been said this afternoon and the points that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has just put to me.