HC Deb 22 April 1999 vol 329 cc1058-60 1.12 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you reflect on the use of business questions—in this case, by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow—to make highly tendentious and offensive ad hominem remarks about a named person? Mr. Greg Dyke is a friend of mine, and if he had to be mentioned this morning, it might have been as a long-term director of the successful Manchester United football club rather than in the terms used by the hon. Gentleman. If such remarks are to be made under the cloak of privilege, does not that raise questions at least for the manners, if not for the rules, of the House of Commons?

Madam Speaker

I think we should always remind ourselves that we in this House have a great many privileges. Those privileges have to be tempered with responsibility. When we use the names of people outside, who have very great difficulty in responding, we should be extremely careful and consider our responsibilities as well as the privileges that we have here.

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will know that there has been widespread concern across the Floor of the House—and, indeed, outside—about the detention of Senator Pinochet in this country. You have made a number of rulings to the effect that, because the matter is sub judice, it is not one with which the House may deal.

I leave aside the question whether it should be right that, uniquely, the House should not be able to discuss the matter when it is the subject of intensive, wall-to-wall coverage in the media, but I ask you specifically, Madam Speaker, to comment on the advice that I understand was given in the other place to my noble Friend Lord Lamont of Lerwick, who sought yesterday to raise the question of the exercise of the Home Secretary's discretion.

My noble Friend apparently took advice from the Clerk of the Parliaments—who, I understand, is the Clerk of the other place. He was advised that, although other matters may be sub judice, the ruling of the Home Secretary is not. No application has been made for it to be reviewed in court, so it is not sub judice.

I do not wish in any way to humble the Clerk of this House, but I understand that, technically, he is the under-Clerk of the Parliaments and, therefore, the Clerk of the Parliaments in the other place perhaps has the correct wisdom on this matter. I propose to you, Madam Speaker, that, given that the Clerk of the Parliaments has advised that it is perfectly legitimate for this very important matter to be the subject of questions in the other place, surely it ought to be open to Members of this House to raise it. Many of us feel that the Home Secretary has acted disgracefully towards a friend of the United Kingdom and of our forces.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman and the House will of course understand that neither the Clerk of the Parliaments nor the Clerk of the House rules on such matters. In this House the Speaker will give the ruling, which may be based on the advice of the Clerk.

I have not seen the advice which I understand was given to Lord Lamont. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me have it. I shall certainly look at it as soon as I retire to my chambers, and I may comment on it at some stage. The hon. Gentleman will understand, however, that what he has told me is news to me, and that I should like a chance to examine it and reflect on it.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. My point is relevant not least because, were you able to give an early indication of your response to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), it might be possible for the House to discuss the matter. It urgently needs an opportunity to do so.

Madam Speaker

That is hardly a further point of order. I have given my commitment to the House: I have said that I will examine the position.

Mr. Howarth


Madam Speaker

Order. I can go no further. I have given a commitment to examine the hon. Gentleman's point. He did not give me notice of it, so, in all fairness and justice, he must now give me an opportunity to examine the advice given elsewhere.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a separate point of order. I am sure that you will wish to correct a small inaccuracy: I am sure that it is not correct that our Clerk, or indeed any Officer of the House of Commons, is in any way subsidiary to any officer in any other place.

Madam Speaker

I think that that is correct. We regard the Clerk of the House of Commons as very superior; at least, I do.

Mr. Howarth

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for not giving you notice of my earlier point. I refer you and others to column 1162 of yesterday's Official Report, House of Lords.

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May we have a ruling on whether Members who are concerned about the apparent contempt for the rule of law shown by some Members of both Houses will be able to comment on it, especially when their contempt constitutes contempt for the rule of law that they passed when they were in government?

Madam Speaker

That is hardly a point of order for me, but I note the hon. Gentleman's comments.