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Points Of Order

Volume 164: debated on Thursday 11 January 1990

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

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I raise this point of order immediately following the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). This morning, in Standing Committee E, he attempted once again to raise the allegations that he made on 19 December and on Tuesday, and he was ruled out of order by the Chairman of the Committee.

I want to raise two points for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, on which you can, perhaps, make a ruling at a later date. First, if an hon. Member, having made an allegation in Committee, has had those allegations refuted by the hon. Member about whom the allegations have been made, is it in order for the hon. Member on subsequent occasions, in Committee or in the House, to make the same allegations that have been refuted? That is tantamount to declaring that the other hon. Member is a liar and that one does not believe what he has said.

My second point relates to page 389 of "Erskine May", which says:
"Where one Member makes an allegation against another Member"—
in talking about a Member's interests—
"he is required to do so in writing to the Registrar, who refers the allegation to the Committee and informs the Member concerned."
That has not been done in this case, so may we have your ruling on both points of principle?

First of all, unhappily, it is not possible for me to comment in the House on what happens in Standing Committees. I hope that what the hon. Gentleman has said this afternoon is not true, in view of the solemn undertaking by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), which the whole House heard. It was the reason why the Leader of the House withdrew his motion on Tuesday, so I hope that what has been said is not the truth.

On the second point, there is a distinction between the private interests of Members of Parliament and ministerial interests, which come under different rules. I hope that we shall always deal with each other in this place in total fairness, and as men and women of honour across the Chamber. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should persist in this conduct.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you confirm that one of the problems with the present Register of Members' Interests is that it records what has happened and what is happening now, but not what may happen in the future? That is the nub of the complaint of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). The wider issue is to ensure that people do not do things now as a Minister or as a Member of Parliament that might bring them further financial reward. Until that issue is resolved, there will continue to he disquiet in the House.

I think that the whole House will agree that it would he marvellous if we could tell what would happen in future, but if the hon. Gentleman wants the rules to be changed, he must approach the Select Committee. This is not a point of order for me.

I attended Standing Committee E for its entire sitting on Tuesday morning and this morning. I also attended our sitting on Tuesday afternoon. From the Committee's discussions, it was my understanding that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), through the shadow Leader of the House, had given an undertaking that he would not return to these issues. He now says that he only gave an undertaking not to disrupt the Committee. On Tuesday morning, by his repetition of his allegations, despite the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Dame J. Fookes), the Chairman, to stop him doing so, he disrupted the Committee. May we have a clear ruling that the hon. Gentleman will not use the privilege of the House to indulge in McCarthyite smears of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when my hon. Friend has given the clearest assurances that there is nothing in such smears?

Again, I have to say, that I do not have direct knowledge of what goes on in Committee. However, in the light of what happened last Tuesday, I have looked at the Committee Hansard. I understand that the Minister concerned made a declaration and an open expression of what his interests were. I hope that the hon. Member for Workington and the whole House will accept that undertaking.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise, first to you for going on a bit yesterday in my question to the Secretary of State for Social Security, and, secondly to the ambulance workers, for slightly delaying the start of today's debate. I would not have raised this point of order had it not been for the presence of the two Ministers involved in my complaint. I had not phoned their offices to say that I was going to raise it. I require a ruling—

Order. That indicates that it is a matter for the Ministers rather than me.

It concerns the Order Paper.

On 6 December, I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Scotland about regulations covering the poll tax in Scotland, which the Secretary of State was responsible for laying before the House. On the morning of 7 December, when the Order Paper was published, the Secretary of State for Scotland immediately transferred my question to the junior Minister at the Department of Social Security, the hon. Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard). That question was on the Order Paper from 6 December until 20 December, when it was published for written answer by the junior Minister at the Department of Social Security.

On 20 December, I received from the junior Minister in the Department of Social Security a holding reply stating that she would reply to me as soon as possible. A simple yes or no is all that I require—

Order. I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman is saying is extremely important, but it is not a point of order for me in the Chamber.

It is, because I wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland asking on what basis he had transferred my question. I have still not had an answer to that letter. I am asking you to rule that, when a Minister is responsible for legislation which is to come before the House, in no circumstances will that Minister be allowed to transfer questions relating to that legislation. If we are to allow Ministers to transfer questions on legislation for which they are responsible, hon. Members will not know to whom to put their questions.

The final point is that this is 11 January and my question has still not been answered, although it has been on the Order Paper since 6 December.

It has never been the responsibility of the Chair to decide whether questions should be transferred. That is a matter for the Department. On the delay in answering the hon. Member's question, he mentioned that the Secretary of State and the Minister are here. I am sure that they will have heard what was said.

We must move on; we have a busy day ahead of us.

Is it not a fact, though, that the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) is using every opportunity to play fast and loose with the rules of the House to smear other hon. Members?

Order. I hope that what I have said about this matter will be taken to heart by the whole House. We must deal with each other according to our rules. If any hon. Member wishes to criticise another hon. Member, or the conduct of another hon. Member, that must be done by motion and not in any other way.