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Points Of Order

Volume 172: debated on Tuesday 15 May 1990

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

3.35 pm

Order. This is very out of character for the hon. Gentleman, who is a long-standing Member of the House. Dr. David Clark.

The House knows, Mr. Speaker, that you have repeatedly deprecated the fact that certain Ministers have made major announcements on matters of policy outside the confines of the House, thus allowing hon. Members no opportunity to cross-examine them. Have you noticed that there is a question on the Order Paper from the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) which was not there yesterday—in other words, it is a planted question—and that this morning the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and No. 10 Downing street have been briefing the press about that question, which asks whether the Minister

"has any plans to add to his previous statement on bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the light of recent events."
In view of the considerable concern outside the House, which has been exacerbated by the announcement in the last half hour that Tory-controlled Westminster city council has banned the use of British beef in school meals, I wonder whether you have received any application from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make a statement in the House, and if not, whether you would use your good offices to prevail upon the Minister to come to the House at 7 o'clock to tell us his latest plans to tackle the problem.

I see that there is a question on the Order Paper in the name of the hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), but that is not a statement made outside the House; it is part of our parliamentary proceedings. I have not received any requests for a statement, but I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a prime opportunity to put questions to the Minister on Thursday in Agriculture questions.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to columns 692 and 693 of yesterday's Official Report? Can you confirm that the contents in these columns were relevant to the comments by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), and can you tell the House whether an apology has been received for the discourteous and appalling comments about the Chair last night?

I of course study Hansard every morning when I have not been in the Chair, and I have not received any such request.

I will take Mr. Dick Douglas [Interruption.] Order. I call the hon. Gentleman to speak from where he was when I called him. It is a convention of the House.

No more bandying words with me, please. When the hon. Gentleman goes back to his seat, I will call him.

With great deference to you, Mr. Speaker, occupation of the Front Bench is a convention. I notice that the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who is about to replace me as a member of the Select Committee on Defence, is still sitting on the Front Bench.

My point of order is about the Select Committee on Defence. You will have noticed, Mr. Speaker, that, after many years as a member of the Select Committee on Defence, I am to be replaced by a member of the official Opposition. I make no quarrel—

I am not going to be deflected from the point I wish to make. I recognise the rules, the obligations and the establishment in the House, but the establishment on both sides protects itself.

The Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, for whom I had great respect in the past, has an interest in defence-related organisations. I have taken the view—the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure has written to me that it is a personal view, so I accept the onus of the fact that it is a personal view—that anyone appearing before a Select Committee of the House should have the understanding in his or her mind that the evidence that he or she gives should be used for the purpose of that Select Committee and for no other purpose.

That may be a personal view, but I innocently—perhaps naively—thought that the House would uphold that principle. I understand that the House, the Select Committee on Procedure and the Select Committee on Members' Interests do not necessarily take that view. The Chairman of the Select Committee—

I am coming to the point of order. It is that no Chairman of a Select Committee of the House should hold interests which place that principle in jeopardy. I take the view that the interest of the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence in defence-related companies places that principle in jeopardy. If that is not an issue for the House, I do not know what is.

It is not a matter for me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Well, the hon. Gentleman knows the route he should follow. He should make his strongly held views known to the Chairman of the Select Committee concerned. As to the first point that the hon. Member raised, I know that for many years he has been a valuable member of the Select Committee on Defence. It is not a matter for me that he has been taken off, although I may have my own regret about it.

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on column 692, Mr. Speaker. I was here during the debate. I have told the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) that I intended to raise the matter this afternoon. If standards are to mean anything in the House, when your deputy is in the Chair, he must be afforded courtesy and protection. The hon. Member for Falkirk, East has every opportunity to apologise now. If he refuses, will you please order him to do so, Mr. Speaker?

If representations had been brought to me by the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, who is a stalwart character and, I think, well able to look after his own interests, I would certainly have done that. But no such representation has been made to me.

Further to the point of order. First, may I say that I am grateful to the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) for raising the point of order; he spoke to me earlier on the Terrace of the House. One of my great weaknesses in life is attractive company. I was so distracted by the absolutely beautiful and attractive company that he was keeping on the Terrace that I missed completely what he was saying to me. I am very grateful to him now that he has raised it as a point of order. That is more than I can say for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who did not have sufficient decency or courtesy—or the good fortune to be sharing that attractive company. He did not, therefore, bother to tell me. I have know the hon. Gentleman since his pre-House of Commons days, so nothing about him surprises me.

If I felt for one minute that I was wrong in what I said last night—[HON. MEMBERS: "You were] I have no cause to apologise. I have a great advantage over you, Mr. Speaker, today of all days. I was here last night when the exchanges took place and you were not. I am perfectly satisfied that my attitude last night reflected my anger and the fact that I felt I had been wrongly treated, that the House had been wrongly treated and that the debate had been mishandled by the Chair.

I will not comment on that. I have had a report from the Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means on the matter. As to the hon. Gentleman's—[Interruption.] Will he listen to me, please? On his first point, I hope that he will spend more time in the Chamber, where he will find plenty of attractive company.

Further to the point of order of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), Mr. Speaker. On 3 May, the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates), the Chairman of the Select Committee on Defence, wrote a courteous letter to me asking for an apology in relation to a question of mine—he said "allegation", but I think that it was in question form—and he sent you a copy of the letter.

Before we take any further action—and we feel that proceedings should be kept on the Floor of the House—some of us would like to know a great deal more about the issue. Is it not highly desirable that there should be time for a debate and for some kind of explanation? Will you use your influence with the Leader of the House to try to get the matter cleared up one way or another? It is not a matter for slogans or points of order; it is a deep issue of principle and should be resolved in a civilised way.

I do not in any way disagree with what the hon. Gentleman has said. As he well knows, the Select Committee on Members' Interests is looking at this matter—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At 7pm yesterday, I sought on a point of order of which I gave notice to raise the case of 33 young Chinese, including a girl who is eight months pregnant, who have sought political asylum in Britain and who are now threatened by the Home Office with deportation to Panama where, undoubtedly they would be returned to mainland China with all the risks that that would involve. I am surprised that the Home Office and the Home Secretary did not seek to make a statement about the matter today. It is unprecedented for the Home Office to seek to deport without allowing an application for a judicial review of the refusal to be heard in the courts.

Nevertheless, I ask you now, Mr. Speaker, for advice. Would it be possible for us to raise the matter with the Home Office Minister who will speak on immigration changes tonight—at a late hour, I fear—in such a way that time is not deducted from the hour and a half which has been allocated for the debate on changes to rules and procedures? If that was possible, it would be welcome to all hon. Members who are concerned about the important implications of this extraordinary behaviour and decision by the Home Office.

Order. Allow me to deal with the matter so that we can move on to the next business.

I can tell the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) that it would not be within the scope of the debate on immigration rules to raise that matter. The debate deals with the imposition of visa requirements on citizens of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, except for those who are qualified as residents of the United Kingdom.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). While he and you, Mr. Speaker, were absolutely right in that the wider issue of Members' interests in general is a legitimate subject for debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Thank you]—I have never denied it—the subject of the allegation made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow was specific and wild. Had there been the remotest scintilla of truth in it, it would have been shameful if I had been behaving in the way that the hon. Gentleman alleges. He asked for an answer. He has had an unequivocal answer from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence stating that the hon. Gentleman's allegations are totally without foundation. It was on that narrow point that I consulted you, Mr. Speaker, and I have written to the hon. Member for Linlithgow asking him to withdraw his wild allegation, which received much currency, and also to apologise for the implications behind his allegation.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is part of the trouble. It was not an unequivocal answer. It was the kind of answer that was about as unequivocal—if I can put it this way—as the answers that I have received on Colin Wallace. It was that kind of Ministry of Defence answer from the Secretary of State which, it' one looked at it very carefully, was very ambiguous. That is part of the trouble and why we need a debate.

That is just the point. I think that we should best leave the matter to the Select Committee.

Order. We should best leave the matter to the Select Committee on Members' Interests, which is looking into that very matter. I call Mr. Winnick.

I wonder whether I can remind you, Mr. Speaker, that last June unanimous concern was expressed in the House—there was no dissent—about the crushing of the pro-democracy movement in China. We paid tribute to the people who were fighting in a terrorist dictatorship for the principles in which we believe. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is the point of order?"] My point of order is simply this: following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), there is undoubtedly much concern that the people to whom my hon. Friend referred may well be genuine political refugees. There is a question whether they would be subject, if they were here, to judicial review. That has been denied them at the moment, and there is a great possibility that they simply will not be in the United Kingdom when the time comes. Is there not an inconsistency in that, last June, we paid tribute to the courage of those people in China while a year later in Britain we are denying some of those people the right to political asylum?

That may well be. However, the hon. Gentleman will have to take up that matter with the Minister concerned. As I understand it, those people arrived here on Canadian visas.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), surely the situation cannot be allowed to stand. Yesterday evening, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East said, among other things:

"You seem to make up the rules as you go along, Mr. Deputy Speaker".—[Official Report, 14 May 1990; Vol. 172, c. 692.]
The hon. Gentleman has refused to apologise for that attack on the Chair, which was made without a thread of justification. One fully accepts that he may have been in an excitable frame of mind last night, but he looked perfectly normal this afternoon. Surely the hon. Gentleman must apologise for a completely unjustified attack on the Chair.


I say again that I discussed the matter with the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means this morning. He did not feel that there had been any slur or attack on him. [Interruption.] That is what he told me. His view was that he had dealt with the matter in an adequate and proper fashion, and I am sure that he did.

I just want to say, Mr. Speaker, that I am grateful that you have put it on the record that the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, unlike irresponsible Conservative Members, did not think that there was anything untoward about the exchange last night. I am grateful also to the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who described me as being excited last night, but perfectly ordinary this afternoon. That is more than I can say for him. He was incompetent last night and even more incompetent this afternoon.

No. I remind the House that we have a very long day ahead of us, including the debate on the immigration rules. I propose to hear the ten-minute Bill—the Control of Toxic Waste Residues Bill. I call Mr. Frank Cook.