HC Deb 24 March 2004 vol 419 c894

1.3 pm

Mr. Jeffrey M. Donaldson (Lagan Valley) (DUP)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This afternoon, in Prime Minister's questions, the Deputy Prime Minister accused the deputy Leader of the Opposition of hypocrisy. May I draw your attention to column 1603 of theOfficial Report on 10 March 2004? In a debate on the Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill, one of my hon. Friends was called to order by the Deputy Speaker for accusing another hon. Member of hypocrisy. I know that you wish to protect and uphold the rights of Back Benchers, and would not wish to have two sets of rules in the House for Front Benchers and Back Benchers. Will you therefore give a ruling on whether it is unparliamentary for one hon. Member to accuse another of hypocrisy, regardless of whether they are a Front-Bench or Back-Bench Member of Parliament?

Mr. Speaker

I always say to the House that temperate language should be used at all times, and it is unfortunate if it is not. Whether Members are Front Benchers or Back Benchers, all are hon. Members and are treated the same. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that I have no fear about whether the Member concerned holds high office—they will abide by the rules of the House.

Mr. Peter Robinson (Belfast, East) (DUP)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In that case, the Back-Bench Member was asked to withdraw their comments, but today the Front-Bench Member was not.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps the Deputy Speaker was more attentive than I was today, but the hon. Gentleman will know that Prime Minister's Question Time—whether questions are fielded by the Prime Minister or by the Deputy Prime Minister—is a heated time of the week and I have many things to watch out for. I would put it down to that.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is there not a distinction between referring directly to an hon. Member and accusing them of being a hypocrite, which you would rightly rule out of order, and making a general criticism that the Opposition's position is hypocritical?

Mr. Robinson

That is not the case.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let me deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). I have been able to answer the other points of order. There is a distinction—he is quite right—[Interruption.] Order. I know what hon. Members are asking, and I think that I have given as good an explanation as I can.