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Points Of Order

Volume 171: debated on Tuesday 1 May 1990

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10.14 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier today we raised points of order about the problem of what is now being called the "supergun of Iraq". People at Walter Somers are now being questioned and are being held in custody by the police on evidence that has been laid against them by Customs and Excise. I wonder, Mr. Speaker, whether you have had a request for permission to make a statement on this grave matter. Surely it must be a matter for the House that people who have asked the Department of Trade and Industry for clearance, which has been granted, should now be parted from their families. That seems desperately unfair.

Order. I understand that this matter was raised earlier in the evening. It is not a matter of order in the Chamber, but I am sure that what has been said has been heard by the Patronage Secretary, who will take account of it.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

As you probably know, Mr. Speaker, this matter is of great concern to many of my constituents because one of the factories in question is Sheffield Forgemasters, which is in my constituency. In the light of the Government's refusal to make a statement this evening, I would like your guidance—probably overnight —Mr. Speaker, as to what the position will be tomorrow at the Select Committee on Trade and Industry. [Interruption.]

Order. Would hon. Member who are not in the Chamber to listen to the points of order kindly come into the Chamber or leave quietly?

I would like your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the position of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry tomorrow in the light of the charges that may have been laid. Would it be proper for that Select Committee to consider the evidence that has been lodged with it, which proves the innocence of Sheffield Forgemasters and clearly shows that the Department of Trade and Industry gave permission for the company to sign the contract?

Order. I am not certain that I should be hearing matters that are to be raised in a Select Committee.

I am asking for your consideration overnight, Mr. Speaker, of whether evidence that will be heard tomorrow that shows the innocence of those people will fall foul of the sub judice rule.

I cannot dictate to a Select Committee what it discusses, as Select Committees regulate their own business. It is not my responsibility.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I also represent a west midlands constituency. I hope that you will appreciate my concern and that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark). There is much concern in the region about this matter. I have tried persistently to find out through parliamentary questions the exact dates when the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir. H. Miller) made inquiries of the Department regarding the order for Iraq. Had those questions been answered—either by written answer or by a statement by the Secretary of State—perhaps the people who have been interviewed today by the police and the Customs and Excise officials would not have been investigated.

Is there any way in which you, Mr. Speaker, could use your power and influence to ensure that tomorrow the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry comes to the House to answer those questions? When did the hon. Member for Bromsgrove contact his Department? The hon. Member for Bromsgrove said in the House that he made inquiries on behalf of the Walter Somers company. Why have we not had the information?

I do not know about matters of that kind. It is not a matter of order for me in the Chamber, but it will undoubtedly have been heard by the Government Front Bench.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that you, Mr. Speaker, cannot dictate to the House, but the Government Chief Whip does us the courtesy of being here. However, could it be expressed that there is a wide feeling that not only Trade and Industry Ministers should be present, but that a Defence Minister should come to the House when people are facing charges? We know that the Defence Export Services Secretariat knew at an early stage about the order. People are now being charged for that which was in the domain of the Government and, in particular, in the domain of the DESS inside the Ministry of Defence. It is high time that. Defence Ministers, asked direct questions as they were two Wednesdays ago as to when they first knew, came out with the truth, because people are being charged.

That is as it may be. I am sure that it will have been taken into account by the Patronage Secretary, who has listened throughout to these points of order.