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Privatisation (Multiple Share Applications)

Volume 114: debated on Tuesday 7 April 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

3.34 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have twice in the past few days asked for a Government statement on the matter of multiple share applications. Outrage is felt among the ordinary public in this country about Conservative Members lining their pockets at the expense of ordinary people. I believe that, in view of that, we have a right to an explanation about the Government's attitude on privatisation and multiple share applications, particularly when they are made by greedy Conservative Members.

Order. That is not a point of order. There are well known provisions for dealing with matters of this kind, and the hon. Lady should operate them.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that last week during business questions I asked the Leader of the House a question on this matter. You intervened halfway through my question to prevent me——

Order. One thing hon. Members cannot do is to raise points of order with the Chair about something that happened last week and that should have been raised at the time. Points of order must be relevant to today.

May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that my point of order must draw on previous statements made in this House, including a statement made yesterday by the deputy leader of the Labour party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)? I must be allowed the right to make a perfectly reasonable point of order.

Order. I am asking the hon. Gentleman to relate it to what happened today or, if he must, to what happened yesterday, but certainly not to what happened last week.

Yesterday my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook intervened during the debate and you, Mr. Speaker, intervened to prevent him from raising the matter. You said :

"The tradition is that we do not criticise hon. Members, except by motion."—[Official Report, 6 April 1987; Vol. 114, c. 23.]
You also intervened, Mr. Speaker, during the debate last Thursday evening in exactly the same way when I raised this matter, and you told me that I was not to discuss the matter on the Floor of the House. The answer that you gave to my right hon. Friend was very clear, and I ask you to give me the right to spell out my point of order.

The answer that you gave to my right hon. Friend yesterday was that these matters should be dealt with by motion. I have endeavoured to table two motions and you yourself, Mr. Speaker, had to amend one of them. They both had to be substantially amended and, in my view, the sense was lost. Therefore, it is not possible for hon. Members to table motions on this matter, despite the fact that you assured my right hon. Friend yesterday that he had the right to do so. What is clear from all these rulings, Mr. Speaker, is that you feel that you are not in a position to allow debate to take place in this Chamber on an important matter.

My hon. Friends the Members for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and for Hackney. South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) also endeavoured to table a motion last week. It took one and a half hours of negotiation with the Table Office to clear that motion. It is not possible to table motions in the way that hon. Members want to table them. Therefore, if we clear aside the prospect of motions and the possibilities of intervention either from the Back Benches or from the Dispatch Box, clearly it is not possible for hon. Members to raise this matter in the House.

There are two matters, Mr. Speaker——

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not take part in a debate with me on this matter; he is raising a point of order. Come to the point, please.

Parliament is, therefore, not in a position to speak about these matters.

Two matters of order need to be raised. First, there is the interaction between the courts and Parliament on the issue of contempt of the House on which you, Mr. Speaker, are being asked to rule. Will you confirm that in considering issues of privilege and contempt you do so wholly independent of decisions taken in the courts, that you are not required to await a decision on prosecution, and that the House of Commons is completely free to take its own decisions? These are matters of order, Mr. Speaker.

Secondly, this matter relates to the rights of Parliament to ensure that it is not brought into disrepute by the actions of its Members. When a Member acts dishonourably, it is not Parliament that prosecutes but the courts, and the protection of the integrity of Parliament, unless Parliament exercises the right to expel, passes from the hands of Parliament to the Executive. In this case the Attorney-General has a duty to prosecute immediately. That is my case. The Attorney-General, by failing to prosecute——

Order. I cannot be held responsible for what the Attorney-General may or may not do. May I confirm to the hon. Member—this is an important matter of considerable interest to the House—that the reason why I stopped him last week was, as he well knows, that he had raised the matter with me as a matter of privilege in an entirely correct way and until I had had an opportunity of considering the matter it would not have been in order for him to raise it on the Floor of the House.

With regard to yesterday, the practice of the House that governs reflections by one hon. Member on another is clearly set out in "Erskine May" on page 430:
"Unless the discussion is based upon a substantive motion, drawn in proper terms"—
that is to say, a motion which admits of a distinct vote of the House—
"reflections must not be cast in debate upon the conduct of …Members of either House of Parliament."
That passage sets out the proper way in which the conduct of an hon. Member may be debated, if that is what the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) wants to do. "Erskine May" makes it clear that to use any other method of proceeding for that purpose is out of order, and if that course were to be taken the Chair would be obliged to intervene. That is a long-standing rule of the House that I am bound to uphold, as did my predecessors.

Order. I have ruled on the hon. Gentleman's point of order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat at once.

I must say to the hon. Member that, unless he resumes his seat, I shall have to ask him to leave the Chamber.

Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether you will help the House. I accept your ruling that if one intends to criticise an hon. Member one must do it on a substantive motion that can be debated. Last week my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) put down early-day motion 841. I was the second signatory of that motion. I stumbled across my hon. Friend when she was having some difficulty with the Table Office. We were told that the motion was perfectly in order but that there were people in the House who did not want it put down. I accept that——

Order. I know nothing about that matter. I rule entirely as laid down by precedent whether early-day motions are in order. I do not take into account whether people in the House or anywhere else wish them to he put down.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I did not intend to say this, but we were told., rightly or wrongly—and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley can verify this—that you were the person who did not want the motion put down. We were told by the Clerk of the House. My point is this. I accept—[Interruption.]

I accept that we do not want a licence for Back-Bench Members to abuse other hon. Members. Equally, I respectfully submit that this is a debating chamber which, as has often been said by past Speakers, is a tinderbox which is liable to explode at any time. We cannot be governed by club rules that may be interpreted only by certain individuals. I respectfully suggest that we need rules that are precise and easily capable of understanding by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley and myself. That is my only point.

Am I not right in saying that if a motion is in order it should go on the Order Paper and that it should not need a debate lasting one and a half hours to get it put down?

I have no knowledge of conversations in which I did not take part. I say again to the hon. Gentleman that, if motions are in order, they may appear on the Order Paper. However, I am also aware that there was, as I understand it, some kind of concordat between the usual channels. That may well be to what the hon. Gentleman is referring, but I have no knowledge of it.

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to discuss yesterday's exchanges, which have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and which are recorded in column 23 of the Official Report. You will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that you intervened in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) and said :

"we do not criticise hon. Members, except by motion"—[Official Report, 6 April 1987; Vol. 114, c. 23.]
I read—I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, have re-read it—the paragraph preceding your ruling. My right hon. Friend was referring to the Tory party cynically surviving on double standards. "Erskine May" makes it plain that that is quite in order, that is, to refer to a collective party rather than to individuals in those terms.

My right hon. Friend then went on to refer to two hon. Members in terms that were not critical of the hon. Members; he was merely asking innocent questions. He was asking a very innocent question about—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not know what hon. Members are getting so sensitive about. My right hon. Friend asked an innocent question about what the hon. Member who represents Anglesey—I prefer to call his constituency Anglesey because I do not know how to pronounce his constituency—would say to an unemployed man who applied six times for supplementary benefit? That was a perfectly innocent question. My right hon. Friend also referred to the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram), and it was at that point that you, Mr. Speaker, intervened.

You must have known, Mr. Speaker, the context in which my right hon. Friend was asking those questions, because it has all been in the press. Both hon. Gentlemen have admitted that they applied for more than one allocation of shares in the relevant companies.

Order. We cannot have charges made against each other across the Chamber other than in the way I have already suggested to the hon. Gentleman. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order?

I am suggesting that your intervention was misplaced because my right hon. Friend was not making, and never did make, specific charges. The charges have been admitted to in the press by the two hon. Gentlemen involved. The point at issue for you, Mr. Speaker, is how the good name and integrity of the House is protected in view of the reprehensible behaviour of those two hon. Members.

I intervened, as I was bound to do—for reasons that I explained at the time and repeated today—to warn the right hon. Gentleman that he was getting into an area where he should be extremely careful. I must say to the House again, as I said yesterday, that, like every other Member of the House, I am bound by our long-established rules and practices. I intend to uphold them.

I entirely accept the passage from "Erskine May" that you, Mr. Speaker, have just read. [Interruption.] Some of us have some respect for parliamentary procedures. [Interruption.]

Indeed, Sir.

I intend no reference whatever to any present Member of the House, except to the Leader of the House. A few moments ago, you, Mr. Speaker, said that we could not go back—that was your phrase. I hesitate to correct you, Sir, but the whole of precedent is a matter of going hack. You then proceeded, Mr. Speaker, to say that we could not go back to yesterday, but if we are referring to precedent, we must go back to the day before yesterday. You will know, Mr. Speaker, as the House will know, that, on the initiative of the then Leader of the House in 1947, one Garry Allighan was expelled from the House—a little before my time—and in 1954 one Peter Baker was expelled from the House. In those instances the initiative to move expulsion was taken by the Leader of the House. The Leader of the House has quite specific responsibilities in these matters. It is open to him—indeed, it is a duty of his—to move for expulsion when any hon. Member is guilty of activities unbecoming to Members of the House. It would appear that that is the present situation and that it requires the Leader of the House to take some immediate action in the Chamber.

Order. We have an important foreign affairs debate—a rare occasion—and a great many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part. If the House wishes to deal with this matter at great length, it can do so, but what the hon. Gentleman has said is not a matter for me. Of course it would be in order for the Leader of the House to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I listened with great care to what the Leader said about this matter at business questions on Thursday. Procedures are clearly laid down for matters of this kind and the hon. Gentleman may take advice upon them and operate them if he so wishes.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are only asking honourably for your guidance, and the guidance that we have had so far seems to place us in deeper confusion than we were at the beginning. It happens that certain Members of Parliament from over the way—[Interruption.] It is no good Conservative Members howling abuse and rudeness at us; we honourably want to know. I am sure that if any Opposition Member had made such admissions, the howls from Conservative Members would have everybody wondering what was happening.

Can you, Mr. Speaker, guide us about what we can do about two Conservative Members who have confessed that they have done things that are illegal, putting us in some confusion about what to do about hon. Members who admit to such things? That is the only matter on which we are asking for guidance, and it is not unreasonable to ask.

Order. Let me clear up this matter once and for all. I understand that the Director of Public Prosecutions is involved with this matter. The House has clearly established procedures for dealing with such matters, procedures that have been used in the past and that could he used on this occasion. They would be perfectly within the terms of order, and if hon. Members wish to operate them they can do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has not the Chair been placed in an invidious position and been caught in the crossfire in this debate purely because of the failure of the Government Front Bench to make a statement? Is not the frustration and anger that clearly exist on the Opposition Benches less to do with the action of individuals on the Conservative Benches than with the Government's failure to make a statement on what is clearly a matter of concern to the country? Should not we expect to hear from the Leader of the House?

Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. You have probably seen that I was one of the six signatories to early-day motion 841. I am a little confused by what you say.

Order. I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying about early-day motion 841.

I did not quite hear that, Mr. Speaker. Did you ask the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) to withdraw his remark?

The right hon. Gentleman called me a sanctimonious bugger. I am not sanctimonious.

Order. All this takes up a great deal of time. There will be great distress later in the day, when a number of right hon. and hon. Members who are now on their feet will find it difficult to be called because there is not enough time.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I hope that I shall not be interrupted again. As you will appreciate, I was one of the signatories to early-day motion 841 and I have been asked about that. I should like to know exactly how we can get that motion debated.

At the weekend, it was put to me in my constituency—I hope that you will hear me out, Mr. Speaker—that the state and a company have been swindled by an elected Member. Yet an old-age pensioner who was caught taking a tin of salmon from a shop in my constituency was committed and charged with the offence there and then. What sort of standards operate in our society'? You have a duty, Mr. Speaker, to guide me, as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Central, about how I can protect the good name of the House. Many allegations are being bandied about and bringing many hon. Members into disrepute. Unless the matter is brought out into the open by your guidance, Mr. Speaker, that will bring the House into disrepute

It will save time if I take all the points of order at once; I think that they may be allied.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I wish to draw your attention to the words used by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) to describe my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn). He made his remarks clearly, and in the hearing of hon. Members on both sides of the House. He called my hon. Friend a sanctimonious bugger. That might be funny to Conservative Members, but it is symptomatic of the way in which the House has been dragged into the pits by the behaviour of Conservative Members. Is it not disgraceful of the Conservative Front Bench to do nothing when they have self-confessed criminals in their ranks? You must do something about that, Mr. Speaker, and ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw.

You will have gathered from the temperature on the Opposition side of the House this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, that there is great frustration about the whole matter. That frustration is shared by those we represent, as many of my hon. Friends have said. We still need clear guidance from you about how to raise the issue. We certainly need a statement from the Leader of the House, who has been dodging the issue and trying to push it under the carpet. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to do what is best for the House.

Order. I have already said several times that there are procedures for dealing with such matters. It is not for me to spell them out to hon. Members, because they are long standing and can easily be operated if hon. Members wish to operate them.

All that is required is a motion that is debatable. There are opportunities to debate these matters if the House wants to take them.

When early-day motion 841 was tabled last week in the names of my hon. Friend for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and others, it struck me that it needed to be amended. Accordingly, I went to the Table Office last week with an amendment. It seemed a pretty simple task to amend a motion, and early-day motions can normally be amended without a great deal of trouble, but because the motion concerned the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Best) it seemed that special care had to be taken in deciding whether it could be amended. Hundreds of amendments are tabled, but when I went to the Table Office last week I was told immediately that if there were to be any amendment to early-day motion 841 it would have to be a matter for the Clerks at the Table. I thought that that was fair enough and I did not see why there should be any argument about it. Normally there is no argument about tabling an amendment.

It seems, however, that there are different rules for swindling Tory Members and for those who do not come into that category. When I was in my constituency during the weekend I was asked why I could not get the amendment down. I replied, "It seems"——

As you will know, Mr. Speaker, I told the Table Office yesterday that I was not satisfied with the decision of the Clerks. I believe that the administration in the House of Commons has double standards and that that has been demonstrated by the stopping of my amendment. I told the Clerks to send it to you, Mr. Speaker, because you are the final arbiter on whether a motion may be amended.

Along with my constituents, I find it incredible that Members can be thrown out of the Chamber for saying during the miners' strike that the judges are Tories—and they were—when fiddling Tory Members become the subject of motions and we find that such motions cannot be amended. I think that my amendment, which drew attention to the activities of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn, was appropriate. I stated in the amendment that the Tory party, instead of disowning the hon. Gentleman, should take him to the——

It may be a political issue, but, if it is, it is reprehensible to draw the Chair into the argument. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to page 382 of "Erskine May", where it states that a notice of motion is

"not a proper subject for debate"
if it is
"tendered in a spirit of mockery."
I am bound by the rules, as everyone is in this place.

I shall take one more point of order, and it will be that of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen)

I wish to raise a different point of order, Mr. Speaker, but it relates to the same issue. I agree with the points which have been raised by several of my hon. Friends, but I recognise that you have ruled on them, Mr. Speaker.

Many of my constituents will be concerned about the greed that the hon. Members for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) and for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) have exhibited. They are concerned also about the cover-up that they think has been going on and the Government's protection of admitted wrongdoers. I wish to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to what happened in the House the other day during the conversation between——

It is not if the event took place the other day. If the hon. Gentleman's point of order related to something that happened today, it may be in order.

I wish to refer you, Mr. Speaker, to column 117 of Hansard and an exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and yourself. My hon. Friend said that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn had just made a statement that he made multiple applications for British Telecom shares——

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman talking about something that happened yesterday?

Order. The hon. Gentleman is seeking to do something of which the entire House would disapprove. He is attempting to raise on a point of order something which happened last week, presumably, and not yesterday. I have been tolerant in taking points of order——

I am not prepared to deal with a matter which did not arise yesterday, or to perpetuate what is clearly becoming a debate between Back Benchers and the Chair on a day when there is enormous pressure on Back Benchers on both sides of the House to take part in an important debate.

Members' interests have been raised in points of order today, Mr. Speaker : Members' interests are involved. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has suggested that the greedy share application in which at least £36,000 has been raked off should feature in the Register of Members' Interests. You have not taken up this issue, Mr. Speaker, and it has not been covered.

Very well, I shall deal with it now. The hon. Gentleman knows that shareholdings below a certain proportion do not have to be disclosed in the Register of Members' Interests. Furthermore, he is aware, as is the whole House, that the issue is already under investigation by the Director of Public Prosecutions.