HC Deb 15 December 1997 vol 303 cc37-40 4.34 pm
Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In response to the questions that I asked about the statement issued a week ago by the Paymaster General, the Chancellor has replied that he and his hon. Friend have nothing further to add. Is it therefore in order for the Paymaster General to have gone round the media at the weekend, responding to the very questions that he has refused to answer to the House?

That is of particular importance because, in the statement a week ago, the Paymaster General said that he had no influence of any kind over the Orion Trust, yet he admitted this weekend outside the House that he had influenced that trust to buy £10 million of shares in his own company and to buy shares in his football club.

I believe that there is a convention that if a Member has misled the House, intentionally or unintentionally, he comes to the House and puts the record straight. Have you, Madam Speaker, received any request from the Paymaster General to put the record straight concerning the statement that he previously issued, which has been incorporated in answers and which he now admits was false?

Madam Speaker

There are other points of order on the same issue, I think. I will hear them all before I respond.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received any statement from the Paymaster General in respect of his making a submission to the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges or the Registrar of Members' Interests, so that he can put thoroughly on the record all his financial dealings?

That is particularly important as the List of Ministerial Responsibilities does not refer to the fact that the Paymaster General's responsibilities relate to offshore trusts, yet he admitted in public this weekend that he has responsibility for offshore trusts, and he has changed his stance in relation to whether he has control over the Orion Trust. I think that you, Madam Speaker, should ask the Paymaster General whether he is prepared to make such a submission to either the Committee or the Registrar.

Madam Speaker

Mr. Green's point of order is the same—is that right?

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)

It is, Madam Speaker. For guidance, can you tell me whether it is in order for one hon. Member to call another a hypocrite? The Deputy Prime Minister should be informed whether that is parliamentary language, so that having said that yesterday on television, in respect of the Paymaster General, he could repeat it in the House.

Madam Speaker

No, no—we are not having a debate on these matters. I must answer serious points of order. The sort of language that hon. Members use outside the House is not my concern. [Interruption.] Just a moment. Hon. Members rather too often want to shoot off their mouths. They very seldom give the Speaker an opportunity to make a response. I believe I have another point of order. Come along, then.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I refer to a written answer by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 10 December, in which he answered a list of detailed questions by referring to the statements that the Paymaster General had placed in the Library. I have referred to those statements, which have now been shown to be misleading and untrue, because they deny in terms that he has any influence over the trustees of the Orion Trust.

As the Paymaster General admitted over the weekend that he not only influences the trust, but suggested that it carry out the share purchase which it did, I suggest that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's written answer is misleading to the House, and you, Madam Speaker, as guardian of the reputation of the House, will want to have that corrected in short order. May I ask you to require a statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer putting right the misleading and erroneous statement that he made in response to a written question on 10 December?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you take into account the powers that you have under section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to investigate whether some of the Tories who have been making points of order over the past few months are suffering from amnesia? You are the only one who has that power.

Over the past 18 years, I have asked questions about the millionaire Tories in government and on their Back Benches who had money offshore—including the shadow Chancellor who, I am told, has an offshore interest in France, although it is only a little gite—and all the others who, year after year, contrary to the views of the House, refused to record in the Register of Members' Interests all the money that they had from moonlighting jobs. It still pertains with some of them.

If there are to be investigations and continuing questions, it is high time that we took a look at what happened to the ex-Deputy Prime Minister's money. I was never told in the past, but I would like to know. As for all the other millionaires on the Opposition Front Bench, let us find out where their money is as well.

Mr. Clifton-Brown


Madam Speaker

No, the hon. Gentleman has already had a point of order.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Specifically on the point just raised, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

All right, in the spirit of Christmas.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has made a general point about Conservative Members not registering their interests. I have with me the Register of Members' Interests and I have looked up the entry for the Paymaster General. He has not registered the Orion Trust. Will you, Madam Speaker, investigate whether he has fully complied with the rules governing the register?

Madam Speaker

That is not a matter for me. In answer to the hon. Gentleman's original point of order, if he so wishes—and he may want to do so—he can refer many of these matters to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. We have our procedures, and that is where the matter should go in the first instance. He may care to take up the matter in that way.

Several hon. Member


Madam Speaker

Order. Let me respond, if I may. I quite understand that the dispute and disagreement about the Paymaster General, and perhaps his appointment, relates to the Prime Minister, but the Speaker of the House should not be abused and used in this way. This matter has been taken up through the media. The Speaker must not be used in this way. We have our procedures—the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards could be used. I can tell the House that I have not received a request from the Paymaster General to make a personal statement. There must be no further points of order on this matter.

Mr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is entirely different, but it involves presents to Members of Parliament. Because of the fire at Heathrow on Friday, I was unable to get to my surgery, which was run by my deputy, Mrs. Mary Thomas. A constituent—a delightful fellow—gave her a present for me, a bottle of Campbelltown 15-year-old malt. Should I return it, or—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is being facetious. He should use his common sense. I was given a box of throat tablets the other day and I know what to do with them—distribute them to Members who have quite a lot to say for themselves.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had a request from any Minister to make a further statement on tobacco sponsorship and formula one, in the light of the disclosures in the Financial Times today? You will recollect that the policy of banning tobacco sponsorship of sports was rushed into by the Government in ignorance of the facts; apparently, they had no knowledge of the extent to which any sport relied on such sponsorship. The Government's policy reversal to favour formula one at the expense of other sports such as darts, snooker, show jumping and many others, followed a secret meeting with Mr. Ecclestone—who, it later emerged, was a large-scale contributor to the Labour party.

Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

What is the point of order?

Mr. Maude

If the hon. Gentleman will wait, he will see that it is a very clear point of order. The solitary pretext for that reversal of policy was the contention that, without exemption, formula one would relocate elsewhere, with a consequent loss of jobs and expertise to this country. Today's disclosure in the Financial Times makes it clear beyond any doubt that that threat was, to use the word in the headline, "groundless". In the light of that, would not it be right for the Prime Minister or, at least, some Minister, to come before the House to apologise, to explain the real reason for exempting formula one and to tell us what else the Government are hiding?

Madam Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman's point of order was whether I had been notified that the Prime Minister or a Minister was coming to the House to make a statement, and the answer is no, I have not been so informed.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In the light of the publication shortly of the freedom of information Bill, has the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster decided to come to the House to make a statement, given the rather ironic decision to hold a council of war over the past few days on John Humphrys' asking some pertinent questions of the Secretary of State for Social Security, to which the Labour party has taken an exception?

Madam Speaker

I have no authority over such matters; I can deal only with the procedures of this House.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I congratulate you on the report in the press this weekend that you have urged the BBC not to move "Yesterday in Parliament" from its current position and to leave "The Week in Westminster" where it is on a Saturday morning. I speak for myself, but perhaps other Members also agree with you and hope that your words will be listened to by the BBC.

Madam Speaker

I have had an exchange of correspondence with the BBC, which is in the Library for all to see. There was also a useful Adjournment debate the other day.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You mentioned the spirit of Christmas. Has there been any news from the Northern Ireland Office that a Minister will come to the House to make a statement on the perilous plight of agriculture in Northern Ireland, which is now also reaching out into the pig industry?

Madam Speaker

No, I have not heard that any Northern Ireland Minister is seeking to make such a statement, but there are some days yet before the House goes into recess.