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Points Of Order

Volume 122: debated on Tuesday 10 November 1987

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I understand that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will announce his findings on the British Airways—BCal merger, following the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, to the press at 9.20 tomorrow morning, prior to an announcement being made in the House. Does that not show, Mr. Speaker, the contempt of the Government for the citadel of democracy?

As you will remember, Mr. Speaker, only recently we had to drag the Chancellor of the Exchequer kicking and screaming to the House. He was more prepared to make statements to the City than he was to the elected Chamber. I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to use your good offices to make sure that a statement is made to the House before it is made to the press.

Order. I will deal with these matters one at a time. I have no knowledge of this issue, as I have not seen the press and I have been in the Chair all the afternoon. The House well knows my views on the matter. The House of Commons should always be told before anyone else.

On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House is here. Perhaps he can tell us if and when the Secretary of State will come to the House to tell hon. Members the outcome of the inquiry, rather than announce it to the press. He is in the Chamber now, so he has the opportunity to say something.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not know whether you have had an opportunity to see The London Evening Standard today, but there is an article that includes a picture of you, Mr. Speaker, with the caption "Lobby Divisions." The article says:

"Order call for hidden persuaders."
I rise on a point of order because I am concerned about the comments made by the article in relation to our proceedings. The article continues:
"The Speaker of the Commons, Bernard Weatherill, is considering a clampdown, I hear, on the activities of parliamentary lobbyists, whose shadowy techniques include lavish hospitality and carefully packaged PR campaigns designed to influence MPs. The most conspicuous example of excess was tonight's party by P and O which was due to take place in a luxury hotel near the Commons while a debate was going on over a Bill directly affecting the company."
You will know, of course Mr. Speaker, that we are about to debate the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill.

What worries me, Mr. Speaker, is that the article continues:
"He has received plenty of complaints for example about the tactics used by British Airways and British Caledonian."—
and obviously there are many other examples—
"The Speaker, though, could tackle the whole issue the other way round by insisting on a register in which Members of Parliament would have to own up to every freebie that they have had from virtually anyone, as members of Congress are supposed to do in America."
The journalist who wrote that story was clearly very diligent in his duties, but what he might have misunderstood is the fact that the Speaker does not have such powers. They do not rest in the Chair at all. Indeed, any changes in these areas would have to be brought about by a Select Committee of the House of Commons, whether it be the Services Committee or the Committee on Members' Interests. The problem is that, even there, powers to make recommendations on functions taking place outside the House are limited. Indeed, some might say that it was impossible for us to take action in these areas. Therefore, it is incumbent upon hon. Members to conduct themselves responsibly and ensure that they are not tempted in this way by the lavish facilities that have been laid on this evening.

On this occasion the event surfaced publicly because a journalist was able to identify this freebie and frighten off hon. Members. However, we do not know whether this is common practice at Westminster. There might be other Bills going through the House of Commons that are equally subject to this sort of lavish entertainment. When we do not know what is going on, we are unable to assess the impact of lavish entertainment on a Bill. On this occasion, P and O was found out, and because of that the entertainment has been cancelled.

I should he grateful, Mr. Speaker, if you would guide hon. Members so that we can ensure—I do intend to end this point of order, Mr. Speaker——

I would not stop the hon. Member.[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Member has not quite finished.

All I can say, Mr. Speaker, is that when you read the article—I have read only a small part of It — and indeed articles in The Independent yesterday and in The Sunday Times, you might care to take a view on these matters and advise hon. Members that it is not correct for them to conduct themselves in such a way, and accept lavish entertainment, which clearly interferes with the process of legislation and the proceedings of the House of Commons.

Order. As the article referred to by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) refers to me, I should like the hon. Gentleman and indeed the whole House to know that I have not seen the article. Certainly no one at all from The London Evening Standard has been in touch with me. Anything that is said in the article is completely erroneous.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have just had a debate on the question of people getting into this building who have not been vetted, tested or verified in some way, organised by a committee which on occasions might report some of the details to you, Mr. Speaker. Therefore, I want to know whether these people can finish up in the Jubilee Room. Apparently, that is where they are now—it was to have been held in a hotel, according to the papers, but now they have taken over the Jubilee Room—and the plan is that they will invite Tory Members who support the Bill, during the course of the night, to help them stay the night so that they can get on with their corrupt dealings.

I want to know, Mr. Speaker, what steps you are taking in view of the debate that has gone on for three hours to find out who these people are. If it is right for research assistants and other personal staff, and all the rest, to be checked out by this committee that people know very little about, somebody should be hot-footing it down there to see who is running this show, which is encouraging Members of Parliament to do what they might not do if they were in a sober state.

There is another serious question that my hon. Friends might he dwelling on with regard to whether those who go to the Jubilee Room to be wined and dined and take part in the juncketing organised by P and O should vote on any clauses and amendments to the Bill. One of your predecessors said during proceedings on the Lloyd's Bill that it would be wise for Members of Parliament with a direct interest in Lloyd's to consider whether they should vote. In this case P and O is wining and dining Tory Members, encouraging them to stay the night when otherwise they might not. None of the people who organised that party has been vetted and it is high time that the matter was looked into by yourself.

I am not responsible for hon. Members who may wish to take a drink in any room of the House, as long as they do not take it in the Chamber. I cannot be held responsible for what goes on in privately booked dining rooms, or, indeed, for what may go on outside the House.

Futher to that point of order. Mr. Speaker. Clearly this matter should be thoroughly investigated. If there were clear evidence that a company or an individual was seeking to buy a Member's vote in the House, surely that would be a breach of privilege. If there are suggestions that the purpose of the party is to make sure that people are here to vote, that is getting close to buying hon. Members' votes. In such circumstances, should not the Chairman of Ways and Means be asked whether the following business should be withdrawn until the matter is properly cleared up?

Since that is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means, and since I have been in the Chair since half-past two, I shall let him deal with it.