HC Deb 30 April 2001 vol 367 cc645-6
Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have had notice of a point of order from the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Blunt).

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a point of order of which I have given you prior notice. You and hon. Members will have seen with concern the report in The Sunday Times yesterday which unequivocally states: Sinn Fein MPs returned at the general election will be given offices and other facilities in Westminster even though they refused to swear allegiance to the Queen and take their seats in parliament. The concession has been agreed by the Speaker, Michael Martin, after consultation with Tony Blair, according to a Westminster source. Could you make it clear that this report in The Sunday Times is on a par with the other journalistic reports that we have come to expect from News International?

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the point of order, which gives me the opportunity to tell the House that there is no truth whatever in the suggestion that I have agreed to give Sinn Fein Members offices and other facilities at Westminster. The position remains as stated by my predecessor. Members who choose not to take their seats by swearing the Oath required under the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866 are not entitled to have access to the facilities of the House. If the Government wished to change that position in the case of particular Members, it would be for Ministers to table a motion to that effect for debate and decision by this House.

I think that I am entitled to express my extreme anger and disappointment that, on such a sensitive issue, The Sunday Times chose to publish untrue allegations without waiting to discuss the position with me.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that some Conservative Members are proposing a reduction in the tax on spread betting which would save the company IG Index £1 million a year. Given that it has donated £5 million to the Conservative party, can you rule on what procedures should apply to declarations of interest in this case?

Mr. Speaker

I understand that this issue is being considered in a Committee and it is up to the Committee and its members to decide how they wish to deal with declarations of interest. If the hon. Gentleman has any worries, he can take them up with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Was it in order for proper declarations on that matter to be made in the Finance Bill Committee last Thursday when the issue was raised?

Mr. Speaker

Obviously, I was not present in the Committee, but if declarations were made, they must have been in order. The Chairman would not have allowed it to be otherwise.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you invite the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) to withdraw his remark? He alleged that an organisation had given money when, in fact, it was a private individual.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Plaskitt) raised a point of order and I have dealt with the matter.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you have had any notice on whether the Government are withdrawing their tobacco advertising legislation. Anyone watching the television at the weekend will have been surprised to see the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport attending the Silk Cut challenge trophy and being presented to, and shaking hands with, the sponsors. As hon. Members well know, short meetings with such sponsors often lead to complete changes in Government policy, so before the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill leaves the Lords, I wonder whether we shall have a chance to reflect on the fact that the Government seem to want to support that type of tobacco sponsorship and advertising by their own presence at such an event.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the weekend, a report was published of a meeting on the control of foot and mouth disease that took place on 20 April at the Institute for Animal Health, which was heavily critical of the Government. You may know that, as of today, there have been 1,511 cases of foot and mouth disease, but the Government's current policy has resulted in there being more than 6,298 premises where animals have been or will be slaughtered. Given the recent announcements regarding Phoenix the calf and Porky the pig, it would be helpful to know what the Government's principles are in relation to their culling policy and whether it is being driven by headlines or science. I wonder whether any Minister has made an approach to you about the statement made at the Institute for Animal Health at the weekend.

Mr. Speaker

I can put the hon. Gentleman at ease; there has been no such approach to me.