Skip to main content

Privatisation (Multiple Share Applications)

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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

3.33 pm

I do not want to pre-empt the hon. Gentleman, but I should tell him before he starts that I would not be prepared to hear a re-run of the 40 minutes of points of order that we had yesterday.

I do not intend to re-run anything. I wish to draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to a letter that you wrote to me, and that is not a re-run. It is a completely new matter. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that last week I wrote to you submitting that the behaviour of the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) brought the House into disrepute and that therefore——

Order. May I again pre-empt the hon. Gentleman? He must not draw attention to a matter of privilege about which he wrote to me and on which I have replied, because he will know that the Committee of Privileges reported on it a good while ago. It was precisely to prevent the raising of such matters on the Floor of the House in that way that the Committee reported. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not breach that rule of the House.

I shall comply exactly with what the Committee of Privileges recommended. I do not intend to read the content of my application to you, Mr. Speaker. I wish to draw the attention of the House to the reply, which was not dealt with in that Committee's recommendations.

You wrote me a letter, Mr. Speaker, and in so doing you have effectively prevented the House and the country from knowing your ruling on the application on contempt that I made to you. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that I should be permitted to bring before the House that very brief letter because I cannot table it as a motion as a result of the rules that you very accurately and carefully set out for the House yesterday. Of course, it is only following yesterday's interventions that I now feel more free to introduce these matters in the way that I wish.

Mr. Speaker, in your letter of 7 April——

Order. That is precisely what I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to do. The hon. Gentleman wrote to me on a matter of privilege. I replied that I was unable to give the matter precedence as a matter of privilege. He cannot go beyond that. That is exactly what the Select Committee laid down.

I know of no rule in the whole of "Erskine May" or any rule of the House which prevents me as a Member of Parliament from raising on the Floor of the House a letter which you, Mr. Speaker, wrote to me, which should be in the public domain and about which the public want to know. We must be allowed to raise these matters. This letter is of public importance and some people may well construe it to be a historic document. It is your letter, Mr. Speaker. I ask you to allow me to bring it to the attention of my hon. Friends.

The letter reads——

The Privileges Committee reported on this matter. The hon. Gentleman and the House know that it was stated that a matter of privilege should be raised with Mr. Speaker who would consider it — as I have done—and write to the hon. Member concerned saying whether Mr. Speaker would give it precedence over the Orders of the Day. That is exactly what has happened. The hon. Gentleman may not go beyond that.

Order. I am not prepared to allow the hon. Gentleman to read out my letter.

If I am not allowed to read out this letter, I want to ask you a question, Mr. Speaker. How can the letter appear in the Official Report? How can it arrive within the public domain? Tell me that, Mr. Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman may legitimately table a motion setting out his views on the matter. That is what he should do.

These are not my views, Mr. Speaker; they are your views. You are interpreting the rules as you see them. I put it to you that I am entitled to place this letter of yours——

Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman that I am not prepared to break the rules of this House. The present procedure was fully debated by the House, and I abide by the decision then taken.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise another matter.

In the reply that you often send to hon. Members when they have raised matters of privilege, Mr. Speaker, you say that your function and responsibility is to decide whether a complaint of privilege should be given priority. May I ask you to explain to the House on what basis you decide whether a matter should be given priority?

That is a matter for my discretion. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I take into account many considerations, one of which may be whether any offence has been committed in a parliamentary sense against this House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) consistently abuses — or attempts to abuse—the rules of this place. You made a very firm ruling several weeks ago. The House has been much better for that ruling. We implore you, Mr. Speaker, to keep the rules and procedures of this House in order. It seems most unfair to Conservative Members, who are behaving themselves, very properly, that the hon. Gentleman can indulge in such scurrilous behaviour time after time. It is politics by innuendo, and it is time to stop it.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You and your predecessors have said that the House has certain privileges. As I understand it, those privileges belong to the House as a whole. In law, they do not belong to individuals. This is a matter for the reputation of the House and for you, Sir. Understandably, in the country people are asking, "Is there one law for the rest of us and another law for Members of Parliament?" To ensure that there is confidence in the House, we must make it clear that the law applies to all.

Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, you said that the position of the Conservative Member in question was being considered by the Director of Public Prosecutions. Today the newspapers contain a report—I have it in my hand, since Tory Members raised the matter—to the effect that it is extremely unlikely that any prosecution will occur. To avoid repeated points of order day after day, what action can we take to ensure that a Conservative Member who has broken the law is treated no differently from any of our constituents? That is the issue at hand.

The whole House will accept that, where such accusations are made, that is a matter for the courts. It cannot be right, and surely hon. Members do not wish, that the House should resort to trial by innuendo.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that the matters underlying this affair will be dealt with, and that presumably points of order will no longer be needed, as and when the law takes its course? When Labour Members have faced criminal charges, we have been content that the law should take its course. If hon. Members wish to conduct the debate in this way, they should be reminded that Opposition Members have faced criminal charges and have been convicted, and that we have been content that the law should take its course.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you remind the House, enjoying as it does absolute privilege, that it is not in its interests that Members of any political party should make a political scene or a mockery of the conduct of Members on either side of the House, or that they should abuse your copyright in the letters that you write, and the trust that you put in hon. Members when you send letters, to make cheap, bad points? It does nothing for the honour of the House.

On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you have probably noticed during these exchanges, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) has not appeared in the Chamber. That has helped you considerably, because it crossed my mind during the exchanges yesterday that had the hon. Member for Ynys Môn been here he would have heard some of my hon. Friends allege that the man was not honourable but was a cheat. That is the theoretical standpoint. Suppose that the matter continues for a while and eventually he turns up in the Chamber — and, in order to represent his constituents, he may eventually be forced to do that. One would expect him to come here. Then you, Mr. Speaker, will have a problem, which is the point of order. For instance, if an hon. Member says and believes that the hon. Member for Ynys Môn is not honourable but is a cheat, a crook, and a swindler, will you throw that hon. Member——

Order. All hon. Members elected to this House are honourable. That goes for hon. Members on both sides of the House. In this country we are all subject to the courts. I repeat that this matter should be dealt with in that way and not by a process of points of order on the Floor of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have seen the letter which you sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). I have no wish to quote from the letter unless I have your permission or the permission of my hon. Friend, but I ask for clarification on one point.

I understand that part of the reason why no immediate action is being taken against the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Mr. Best) is that it is considered that this offence was outside the House and was unrelated to parliamentary proceedings. But I understand that the hon. Member supported and voted for the legislation to privatise British Telecom which gave him the opportunity to line his pockets and commit this offence. Many people outside the House will ask, if that is not a breach of privilege, if that is not contempt of the House, and if that is not abuse of one's position as a Member of Parliament, what is?

Order. The House would not expect me to give reasons for the decisions that I take in the exercise of my discretion. The hon. Gentleman has advanced his views. We dealt with this yesterday. There are clearly laid down procedures for contempt. If the hon. Gentleman wants to proceed in that way, he can do so. He only has to operate the rules which we have. There is no point in raising points of order with the Chair.