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Points Of Order

Volume 130: debated on Wednesday 30 March 1988

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

5.2 pm

It is absolutely different, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday there was a statement to the House on the privatisation of Rover Group. My point of order relates to what is printed in Hansard, as against what may be available on the BBC tapes of our proceedings. At the end of my question, I asked :

"Is it not true that the only people who have benefited from this matter in the past few days, and indeed, today, are those who are speculating in BAe's shares who have preempted this decision and who will inevitably make a substantial gain?" —[Official Report, 29 March 1988; Vol. 130, c. 895.]
A Minister, from a sedentary position but within earshot of a number of my hon. Friends, was heard to say, "You don't understand. You don't understand. The shares have been suspended. There's no speculation." I am asking you, Mr. Speaker, whether you could arrange to have those words published in the Official Report. My reason is as follows.

British Aerospace shares were suspended at 1.6 pm yesterday at a buying price of 373p. They were returned to the market at 4·5 pm, when the buying price was quoted as 410p. In the next few hours, the price shot up to 435p. This meant that a 16 per cent. increase had taken place in the price of British Aerospace shares in the very period that I had identified in the Chamber. Taking into account the previous period of speculation from Monday morning, the increase was from 355p to 435p—

Order. This seems to be a continuation of what took place yesterday. I do not see in Hansard this interjection from a sedentary position, and it cannot be part of the parliamentary record unless the hon. Member concerned was called by the Chair or the comment from a sedentary position was subsequently taken up. It was not subsequently taken up, so it is not part of our proceedings.

When I asked my question yesterday, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry, the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins), was sitting where the Scottish Minister is sitting now and it was from that position that he made the sedentary intervention. It is important—

Order. Sadly, and incorrectly, all kinds of things are occasionally said from a sedentary position, but they are not part of our parliamentary proceedings.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On yesterday's Order Paper and today's Order Paper a total of 58 questions appear, tabled by the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith). I notified the hon. Gentleman that I intended to raise this matter.

In the introduction to the 1987 new Parliamentary edition of the Register of Members' Interests, there are nine specific classes under which Members are required to register their interests. The fourth class refers to
"the names of clients when the interests referred to above include personal services by the Member which arise out of or are related in any manner to his membership of the House."
The hon. Member for Beaconsfield is a consultant to Price Waterhouse. I understand that Price Waterhouse is building up a business plan and seeks the information. If the Order Paper is used to put down so many questions, where there is a direct fiduciary or pecuniary interest it should be entered in the Register of Members' Interests to make it clear that the activity is being undertaken for payment.

In my view—I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, share my view—Members should not ask parliamentary questions in return for payment, which seems to be the issue in this case. I hope, therefore, that you will produce a statement in the near future deprecating the practice so as to bring it to a halt.

If the hon. Gentleman has a complaint of that kind, he should make it to the Select Committee on Members' Interests. That is the proper way to deal with it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This derives from what took place both today and about 10 days ago. My question is when a contribution from the Government Front Bench becomes a statement on which we can ask questions.

On the previous occasion, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, came to the House late one night and made a short statement relating to the Sharpeville Six. Quite properly, she said that she had limited information and you, Mr. Speaker, equally properly in my view, said that she could not answer any further questions because she had nothing more to tell the House. On an earlier occasion, however, I recall that you ruled that when a Minister came to the Dispatch Box in reply to points of order, that made the contribution into a statement and rendered it open to questions from other parts of the House.

The matter has arisen again today. I ask your guidance on how a contribution by a Minister—in this case from the Leader of the House, although it would apply equally if the contribution had been from a Scottish Minister—in response to points of order becomes a statement on which the Minister concerned can be questioned in the normal and conventional way.

It is true that on one occasion in the past when the Minister responsible made a comment from the Dispatch Box I allowed it to progress as a statement. Today, however, the Leader of the House was seeking to be helpful against the background of a very heavy day before the House. I was grateful for what he said; I think that he was seeking to be helpful to me as well as to the whole House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) referred to what happened in the House yesterday and to the statement by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He also mentioned the suspension of trading in British Aerospace shares and the altercation about that. Trading in the shares was suspended and then restarted, resulting in a 22 per cent. appreciation in value over three days and a 16 per cent. appreciation yesterday.

Notwithstanding the difficult position in which you are placed, Mr. Speaker—certainly with some of the points of order raised earlier—you have also been in somewhat of a predicament lately because this Government are treating themselves to a display of arrogance. They are rolling over the Opposition, which is all right; they do it at every opportunity, but we expect that. We know that that is the Government's role. However, the Government are now beginning to treat the Chair with contempt, as has been evident from all the events—[Interruption.] I am referring to the Executive, the whole of the Treasury Bench.

It would be easy for you, Mr. Speaker, to ascertain precisely what was said in the seated intervention to which my hon. Friend the Member for Workington referred. Many of us listened to the radio broadcast and clearly heard what the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry said. The Government are handing over £650 million of taxpayers' money, on the nod, to British Aerospace, while social security claimants, especially the pensioners and the disabled will be hammered during the next fortnight. It is important that the Opposition are allowed to say, at the time that the issue is raised, that this Government are letting British Aerospace make money hand over fist on the Stock Exchange.

Order. It might help the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, the whole House, if I were to state the position of the Official Report. The proceedings of the House relate to when an hon. Member is called by the Chair to ask a question or to speak. When comments are made from a sedentary position—and I regret that they are far too frequent — they do not form part of the official proceedings of the House unless they are subsequently taken up.

I have no knowledge of what was alleged to have been said yesterday by a Member sitting on the Bench.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may have read reports in the newspapers today that the Prime Minister has met the leader of the illegal regime in Fiji, which took power following a coup. The reports state that the Prime Minister has agreed to consider measures to allow Fiji to re-enter the Commonwealth and to consider the reintroduction of training—which I find astonishing for military personnel in Fiji.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, there is an illegal regime in Fiji. You will also be aware that the Queen has refused to receive its leader. Do you have any information on whether the Prime Minister intends to make a statement about her discussions with the head of an illegal regime? Does the Foreign Secretary plan to make a statement to the House? This is a matter of some concern.

I have no such knowledge. The matter did not arise during Foreign Office questions today. It may possibly arise tomorrow during Prime Minister's questions.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janney) referred to the Austrian President. You ruled that it was out of order to refer to the President of a friendly state in the manner used by my hon. and learned Friend.

I wish to seek your clarification of how we are to know whether or not a state is friendly for the purposes of the language that can be used in the House. It is an extremely important point of order because we need guidance. For example, is South Africa classed as a friendly or an unfriendly country for the purposes of any reference to its Head of State by hon. Members? Indeed, hon. Members may wish to refer to Heads of other countries.

We need a clear ruling as to which Heads of State we can refer in colourful parliamentary language, and to which Heads we are obliged to be permanently polite.

Order. The position is well stated in "Erskine May". It is not in order to cast aspersions on Heads of State with whom Her Majesty's Government have friendly relations.

Order. I do not think that anything further can arise from that point of order.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but I simply do not understand. Is South Africa a country with which we have friendly relations and on whose Head of State we cannot pass comment?