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Points Of Order

Volume 171: debated on Tuesday 1 May 1990

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The reason why I sought to raise this point of order about one and a half hours ago was that I wanted it to be heard while the Prime Minister and others who had been involved were still present—[Interruption.] I see, however, that she wants to leave the scene.

The point that I wanted to put to you, Mr. Speaker, was this: is it really a proper and sensible use of the limited time in Prime Minister's Questions to turn it into a ritualised, scripted chanting that sounded more like an audition for "A Chorus Line" than an opportunity to question the Prime Minister on issues such as the poll tax? The result is that other hon. Members and parties were excluded entirely from the questioning. Is it something that you would wish to see repeated, or would deprecate?

It is entirely in the hands of the House. As long as we persist with the open question, we are bound to get much noise at Prime Minister's Question Time. If hon. Members were to table definitive questions, I think that Prime Minister's Question Time would be as it used to be in the past, and would proceed in the same good order as ordinary Question Time.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that yesterday I raised the sub judice rule and the Court of Appeal decision of last Friday. Have you had time to reflect on the position and come to a conclusion?

As I undertook to do yesterday, I have looked at the questions and answers relevant to yesterday's points of order. I find that on 19 October 1988, the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) tabled a question to the Home Secretary for written answer on the following day asking whether he intended to propose amendments of the law concerning the right of silence in England and Wales. The Home Secretary in his reply favoured such a change and announced that he was setting up a working party on the subject. He also announced that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland was laying before the House a draft Order in Council relating to the general criminal law in Northern Ireland. No corresponding question had been tabled to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but an answer was given by him on the same day, 20 October 1988, in the form of information "pursuant to" an answer on the general criminal law in Northern Ireland that he had answered on 20 July of that year. In the supplementary answer, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland gave details of how the proposed changes in the law of Northern Ireland relating to the right of silence would work.

I am satisfied that neither the question from the hon. Member for Stockton, South nor the answer by either Secretary of State was in breach of the sub judice resolution of the House. A forthcoming general change in the law of evidence could never be announced to Parliament if cases currently being tried under the existing law prevented it. In addition, from what I have seen of the reports of proceedings in the Court of Appeal, the comments of the court do not appear to relate to the parliamentary answers themselves, but to interviews on television.

The Table Office will continue to examine questions for compliance with the sub judice resolution, but nothing in conflict with our own rules occurred in this case.

Further to the point of order and to your statement, Mr. Speaker, would you consider the position further? If a Minister makes a statement on television pursuant to remarks made in the House, the Court of Appeal will take that into consideration. I think that you should consider that point as well.

It is not a proceeding in Parliament. What happens on television and what hon. Members say outside the House are not protected in any way.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may consider that a matter of privilege arises. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) that when the Court of Appeal examined the answers given by the then Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he was being questioned in an interview not about the case but about the legislation that he was bringing by way of Order in Council to the House. That makes it a different matter. I do not expect an answer from you at this stage, but would you consider referring the matter to the Select Committee on Privileges?

It is not a matter for me. Statements made outside the House are not covered by privilege.

No, but you have said, Mr. Speaker, that you are not responsible for what happens on television. Has your attention been drawn to a press report today that television companies, particularly in Northern Ireland, have decided not to broadcast the next Northern Ireland Question Time because, of the first 20 questions, only two have been tabled by Members from Northern Ireland? I voted for television. One reason in favour of television was that it would be possible to broadcast to the regions regional affairs. Is it not a breach of that understanding if Northern Ireland Question Time is not broadcast?

The hon. Member should draw that to the attention of the Select Committee on Televising of Proceedings of the House. One thing that may be said about television is that it has greatly increased the number of questions on the Order Paper and the interest among hon. Members in Question Time.

Further to the earlier point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House is now televised and statements and answers to questions go over the air into the houses of potential jurors. Therefore, the sub judice rule will have to he considered again. Will you consider that aspect because a very important point has been raised?

It is indeed a very important point. Proceedings in the House are totally privileged. If hon. Members say things to newspapers or say them on television, they are not privileged.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 30 March I submitted a question for oral answer on 25 April to the Department of the Environment about the breakdown of local government revenue into central Government grant, the national business rate and the community charge. The question was brought forward for written answer on 20 April. I have not yet received a reply. I have been in contact with the Department of the Environment and I have discovered that the answer provided by the civil servants was on the Minister's desk on 19 April, but now the Department claims that it needs to investigate the figures further in order to provide an answer at a later date. I am afraid that the later date will be after Thursday's elections. The figures are relevant to the elections. It is the duty of the Opposition to press for information to use politically. Can anything be done to ensure that the information which I seek will be available before Thursday?

On a point of order, M r. Speaker. In the debate last evening on new clause 5 of the Environmental Protection Bill, I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and disputed some statistics that she was using. You will find that the record shows that the hon. Lady replied that what I had said was not true. I have had the opportunity to check the record——

Order. A dispute between hon. Members in the Chamber is not a matter for me. The contents of Members' speeches are not my responsibility.

I appreciate that, Mr. Speaker, but I am asking for your guidance. When an Opposition Member accuses a Member on this side of an untrue statement, how can one get redress? Statistics supplied by the RSPCA were being used in a debate and it was claimed that 365,000 stray dogs are killed each year, yet its own report clearly states that only 90,000 stray dogs are killed each year. I need your guidance on how to get the point over.

I listened to part of the debate when I was in the Chair. Even when I was not in the Chamber I heard what was going on. I understand that there was a good deal of disagreement on both sides of the House and indeed, on the Government's side about figures. It is not a matter for me. The hon. Gentleman must find other ways of raising that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have made a comment about the number of questions on the Order Paper. On quite a few occasions during the past 10 days we have got past questions Nos. 20 or 30, or even up to No. 40, because of the absenteeism of hon. Members, many of whom probably did not know that questions had been tabled in their names. Before questions are starred, Mr. Speaker, would it be possible for you to ensure that they have been tabled personally by the hon. Members? That would avoid duplication and ensure that those who genuinely want to ask questions are here.

The Select Committee on Procedure has examined the matter, and I understand that its report is on the point of being published. I am avidly awaiting it. suggest that the hon. Member also studies it. He may find in that report the answer to his question.

Statutory Instruments &C

Ordered,

That the Town and Country Planning General Development (Scotland) Order (S.I., 1990, No. 508) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Abolition of Domestic Rates (Domestic and Part Residential Subjects (Scotland) (S.I., 1990, No. 630) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Non-Domestic Rates (Levying) (Scotland) Regulations (S.I., 1990, No. 788) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Community Charges (Levying, Collection and Payment) (Scotland) Amendment Regulations (S.I., 1990, No. 684) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in Technology) Order (S.I., 1990, No. 424) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Education (National Curriculum) (Attainment Targets and Programmes of Study in English) (No. 2) Order (S.I., 1990, No. 423) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Patnick.]