HC Deb 29 March 1995 vol 257 cc1023-5 3.31 pm
Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is reported in this mornings edition of The Independent that, before he became a Cabinet Minister, the right hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken)—to whom I have given notice of my intention to raise this matter—was director of a company which exported arms to Iran, contrary to the Government embargo. Has the right hon. Member offered to make a statement to the House to the effect that he observed due diligence at that time, and that he therefore broke no commands?

Madam Speaker

The answer to the hon. Gentlemans question is no; I have not been informed that any hon. Member is seeking to make a personal statement.

Mr. Tim Devlin (Stockton, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. On Monday, I met the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) at Darlington station, and he told me that he had returned from Stockton-on-Tees where he had made a visit to the Stockton, North constituency. Yesterday, I read in the newspapers that he had in fact visited my constituency, without giving prior notice to me in accordance with the courtesies that you expect to be extended to fellow Members of Parliament. I have given the right hon. Gentleman notice of my intention to raise this matter as a point of order today. Will you reiterate your guidance to Members of Parliament about the matter?

Madam Speaker

The entire House knows the views I hold on the matter. I find myself having to repeat them several times a week, and that should be entirely unnecessary. The right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) should have informed the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) that he intended to attend a public engagement in the constituency of the hon. Member. It is to be regretted that the right hon. Member for Copeland apparently did not do so.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you are keenly aware of your role as custodian of the integrity of our democratic system. In recent years, many of the powers of your office which your predecessors exercised have been usurped by other undemocratic, unelected bodies outside the Parliament. Yesterday, one of my constituents was removed from the organisation Health Promotion Wales, because he was a whistleblower and had exposed corruption within that body. Is it not time that you exercised your powers and took back from those unaccountable, unelected bodies the powers that should be yours and Parliaments?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman seems to be giving me powers which I do not possess. If the House wishes to invest me with those powers, I will be quite prepared to accept such responsibilities. Until that time, I shall carry out the powers that I already have in the House.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

I have in my hand a statement completely exonerating my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), but it would be out of order for me to read it.

Madam Speaker

Thank you. I have already dealt with the matter.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

As you will have noticed, Madam Speaker, at Question Time today I have been pursuing matters relating to the arms trade with Burma. My point of order for you is not about that, as the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad), replied to my question courteously and in great detail.

My concern is that the Department of Trade and Industry replied to me in a very negative way, saying that it cannot provide us with information, for reasons of commercial confidentiality, but as you know, from time to time the Department of Trade and Industry is the first to release such information to the press. I know that you deprecate information being released in that way. Is there any mechanism by which we can get some information on this most important matter?

Madam Speaker

I am not totally clear to what the hon. Gentleman is alluding, but I am concerned to see that, when information is available, it is made available to the House through individual hon. Members. I should be grateful, therefore, if the hon. Gentleman would leave with my office all the information he has, so that I might examine it properly.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Have you had any request from the Prime Minister to make a statement about what steps he plans to take in respect of the involvement of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in selling arms to Iran against the embargo? It is not a matter for him, but one for the Prime Minister as to whether he can remain in the Cabinet.

Madam Speaker

I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that we have Prime Ministers Questions tomorrow, and if hon. Members are lucky enough to catch my eye, they may be able to put that question direct to the Prime Minister.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

You will remember that, not very long ago, we used to have 20 minutes set aside for questions on what was then the European Community and is now the European Union. The situation has changed, in that, as Delors said, the time will soon come when 80 per cent. of political issues are decided at the European level rather than—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Do be quiet. I want to hear the hon. Gentleman. Mr. Marlow, let me hear what you have to say.

Mr. Marlow

I do not often find difficulty making myself heard. That was the situation. Now Europe is a more significant political issue. I know there are many ways in which it could be discussed and debated, but it is very important that the Executive comes under cross-examination and questioning on this subject. I think today we have had one substantive question on Europe. It may be that that is the way Members want it, but there is a certain amount of chance as to whether these questions get brought forward.

If there were a separate time for asking questions on Europe, I am quite sure that right hon. and hon. Members would put down those questions, so that the matter could be properly considered. Would it be possible that we could consider bringing back the procedures we had several years ago, so that we can focus in Question Time more directly on the European issue?

Madam Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I do not deal with the rota, but I noticed that there was only one substantive question today on Europe. The hon. Gentleman is sitting very close to the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, and he might like to take the matter up with him.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (Surrey, East)

I was concerned to see on todays Order Paper my name appended to a number of dubious amendments to the Atomic Energy Authority Bill. I am sure that that was inadvertent, and I am equally sure it is just as embarrassing to the hon. Member for Coventry North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), with whom I get on very well. I am sure that he would be the first to say that, other than our surnames, we have very little in common. I wonder whether you would have a word with the relevant authorities, Madam Speaker, to ensure extra vigilance in future, so that this embarrassing faux pas cannot occur again.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth) is serving on the Standing Committee, so obviously there has been some misunderstanding and some misprinting. The hon. Gentleman has cleared up todays matter, and I shall do what I can to ensure that it does not occur in future.

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