HC Deb 22 July 1999 vol 335 cc1356-8

2.8 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During business questions, my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) raised with the Leader of the House the question of the abuse of privilege in the House. The Leader of the House rightly said that it was a matter for the Chair. I draw to your attention the fact that yesterday the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley) used parliamentary privilege to attack the treasurer of the Conservative party. I understand that on "The World at One" today, the editor of The Times admitted that he had provided at least some of the information that formed the basis of the hon. Gentleman's attack.

Given that this is not the first time that a Member of the House has used parliamentary privilege to be an agent of a national newspaper—the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) was used by The Guardian in the last Parliament—do you consider it time that the House took action to ensure that hon. Members do not allow themselves to be used as pawns for national newspapers seeking to protect the position of their editors by increasing their circulation at the expense of the truth?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

First, I would have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would have had the courtesy to notify the hon. Member of whom he makes a criticism. Secondly, on the main point made by the hon. Gentleman, the matter is not one for the Chair. If the House wants to change its rules, that is entirely up to the House; it is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Howarth

May I be clear about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker? You suggest that it is not a matter for the Chair, although the Leader of the House said that she thought that that was the case. On a point of accuracy, the right hon. Member for Swansea, West well knows that, on many occasions, I have mentioned his part in the matter that I raised, so I did him no discourtesy. The House will probably agree that the hon. Member for The Wrekin has already done enough discourtesy to the House. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Please let me answer. Regardless of the personal opinions of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth), he should always notify an hon. Member of whom he intends to make a criticism. The use of privilege is for hon. Members to consider; it must be used responsibly. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On Monday, after the debate on the Railways Bill, and yesterday, in Madam Speaker's ruling on that matter, the Government were pressed to make clear what the progress of the Bill would be. Today in business questions the Leader of the House failed to take the opportunity to do so. Will you please rule, Mr. Deputy Speaker, after due consideration, that, if the Government do not spell out their timetable for the Bill's progress by the time we go into recess, the Bill cannot progress beyond Prorogation in November? May I refer you to the first report of the Modernisation Committee? Paragraph 70 states: Any changes proposed in this area of the legislative process must clearly contain stringent safeguards. The report pointed out that the House of Lords would also have to be involved. Paragraph 102 refers to the need for the identification by the Government as early as possible of any Bill it wished to be subject to a carry-over procedure. We have reached the point at which any need for a carry-over procedure for that Bill should be stated. I should be grateful if you would rule on the matter in due course.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Once again, that is not a matter for the Chair. Bills die at Prorogation.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have other business to consider.

Mr. Bercow

I am aware of that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for your guidance on that point; however, you will be aware that several right hon. and hon. Members have inquired about the procedure for the handling of legislation. When the issue was raised with Madam Speaker yesterday, she advised Members who were concerned about it to raise the matter with the Leader of the House at business questions.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)

No one did.

Mr. Bercow

There was no opportunity to do so.

Can you now advise the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether, in future, it is intended that there should be published criteria according to which Bills will or will not be referred to a Select Committee, and according to which there will or will not be two Second Reading debates rather than one? That information is of the utmost importance, and the Leader of the House is in a position to provide it. May we please have guidance?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The only guidance that I can offer the hon. Gentleman is that it is nothing to do with me. The hon. Gentleman may want to take the matter up with the Leader of the House—[Interruption.] Order. The right hon. Lady is a most approachable Minister; the hon. Gentleman should go to see her.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I am grateful to you for your previous ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I also ask you to guide the House in respect of "Erskine May"? Page 536 of the latest edition states: A Commons bill reported from a select…committee is normally recommitted to a Committee of the whole House. Given that the Railways Bill will not come back from the Select Committee for Report until the middle of November, which is effectively the end of the Session, and given that the Bill cannot be amended in the Select Committee, will you please rule that the Bill will require a further Committee stage and that it is therefore bound to die at the end of this Session?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the Bill was referred to the Select Committee; it was not committed to the Select Committee.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I apologise for taking up the Chair's time on this highly complex matter. It confuses many of us, although it would not do so if the Government had made their position clear. "Erskine May" refers to a Bill being reported from a Select Committee, regardless of the way in which it went to the Committee in the first place. Whether the Bill is referred or sent to the Committee, the Committee is charged with reporting back to this House. According to "Erskine May", at that point it is required to be "recommitted" to another Committee. In those circumstances, may we have the advice of the Chair on the likelihood that time will run out for the Railways Bill in this Session?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have nothing to add to the advice I have already given the hon. Gentleman. It may not be satisfactory to him, but it is the best that I can offer.