HC Deb 12 June 1996 vol 279 cc322-3

4.8 pm

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I draw your attention to page 129 of "Erskine May", which states: Conduct not amounting to a direct attempt improperly to influence Members in the discharge of their duties but having a tendency to impair their independence in the future performance of their duty may be treated as a contempt. I raise that because a leading newspaper, The Times, today says that Tory Members who voted for the ten-minute Bill yesterday—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He has used the word "contempt". If it is contempt, it may well be a breach of privilege, and I cannot allow him to proceed in that manner. I ask him to write fully to me, so that I can consider the matter carefully.

Mr. Winnick

I take that point, Madam Speaker, but it was not contempt. I quoted from "Erskine May", but I am seeking your guidance.

Madam Speaker

I understood that the hon. Gentleman said that it was a "contempt", and did not just quote the word. I must be clear about it: the hon. Gentleman is not alleging contempt?

Mr. Winnick

No, Madam Speaker, I am seeking your guidance on a matter arising from what I quoted.

Was it right and proper for hon. Members to vote yesterday for the ten-minute Bill on the basis that it would reduce or eliminate the chances of a candidate being put up against them by the Referendum party? Bearing in mind the fact that one Conservative Member has already described the threat as "blatant blackmail", it seems to me, in seeking your guidance, that we should know precisely where we stand. Are not threats from outside sources that say, in effect, "Vote one way and we won't put up a candidate against you," influencing Members of Parliament unduly? Is not such conduct quite inappropriate?

Madam Speaker

Had the hon. Gentleman given me notice of his point of order, I might have been able to give him an immediate response. If he will let me consider the matter carefully, along with the quotation from "Erskine May" that he cited, I shall attempt to make some response.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on a matter of which I have given you notice. It concerns a letter that I received from Sir James Goldsmith dated 15 February. I imagine that it was sent to quite a number of hon. Members—I see no reason why I should have been singled out. The letter says: At the next general election, the Referendum Party plans to field a candidate in each Westminster parliamentary constituency in which the leading candidates are not committed to a fair referendum. As you will understand, it would be extremely helpful if you were to let us have a copy of any speeches or press releases that you have made or plan to make concerning a referendum on Europe. That, in the light of yesterday's events, is a thinly veiled threat.

I seek your guidance, Madam Speaker, on the propriety of that letter in the light of yesterday's events. As I said, the letter was dated 15 February. I did not raise it with you at the time because its significance began to fall into place only after the events of the past few days.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been kind enough this afternoon to let me have a copy of that letter. It does not seem to raise any questions of privilege, largely because, of course, it contains no threat to sitting Members carrying out their parliamentary duties. The matter seems to be about politics and the next election, not subjects on which legitimate points of order may arise. I do not know whether I received the letter, but, had I done so, it would have gone straight into the wastepaper basket.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not know whether you were able to observe during Question Time that, exclusively in the Chamber, I was showered by national lottery tickets from the Public Gallery. From where I was sitting, I was unable to ascertain where they came from. From your vantage point, could you tell whether they came from that long lottery finger in the advertisement that points down to people and says, "It could be you"?

I have been assiduous in collecting the tickets. After a very slow start, the Isle of Wight has done rather well out of the national lottery. Should I win this weekend as a result of collecting those tickets, would I have to declare it in the Register of Members' Interests?

Madam Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman is successful this weekend, I will go 50:50 with him. If they were lottery tickets—I do not know what they were—I did not see any of them. It seemed to be a very mild demonstration, which, frankly, went off like a damp squib.