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Points Of Order

Volume 176: debated on Wednesday 11 July 1990

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3.31 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Many of us were expecting a statement to be made by the Home Secretary about those who have become known as the Maguire Seven, and we came here expecting to listen to it. Now we are told that there will merely be an answer to a written question, so that we shall not have a chance to question the Minister. This is happening far too often, and the Government are taking refuge in such practices.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. No doubt you will look at this matter and carefully consider it, but would it not be wrong for the Home Secretary to make a statement about a case that was to go before the Court of Appeal and to prejudge it and give opinions about it before the judiciary had given the matter proper consideration?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, in January 1987, when the then Home Secretary made a statement to the House saying that the Maguires were guilty, he also placed a 22-page memorandum in the Library explaining why they were guilty. Now the present Home Secretary is taking the opposite view and is proposing to deal with it by way of a written answer.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We already know what the Director of Public Prosecutions will recommend to the Court of Appeal, and we have a precedent in the Guildford Four. But many of us who have an interest in this matter —I declare such an interest—cannot raise important matters that will come before the House and come into effect over the summer—for example, legal aid and the appointment of legal aid experts for the defence. These matters cannot be canvassed until much later in the year, and, during the course of this summer, they will affect a considerable number of criminal trials.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Most of us heard on the radio this morning a clear announcement that a statement would be made today in the House to the effect that the Home Secretary would be referring the case back to the Court of Appeal. There was even criticism of one of the judges involved. Is it not an insult to the House when the whole country is told what we shall be told but we are then not told it and all we get is a written answer?

Perhaps I could pre-empt further points of order. I, too, heard that on the radio, but it is not the BBC that dictates what debates are to be held in the House of Commons. I have received no request for a statement, or even a request for a question.

Further to the points of order concerning the Maguires, Mr. Speaker. Can you make a ruling? If the Government choose to refer a case back to the Court of Appeal—as they did in the case of the Guildford Four, as now, apparently, they are to do in the case of the Maguires, and as I hope they will do soon in the case of the Birmingham Six—they should make a statement to the House so that hon. Members can question the Home Secretary. Otherwise there will be a series of government-by-press releases, with Parliament completely bypassed and the Home Secretary not answerable for his actions.

I have already said that I have received no request for a statement or for a question on the matter today. I understand that there is to be an answer to a question. May I, however, point out to the House that there will be plenty of other opportunities before we rise for the summer recess to debate the matter, not least on the Adjournment motion and the Consolidated Fund Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I point out that Home Office questions are to be answered tomorrow and that all these matters could be raised then?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you, or someone else, explain why the official Front Bench spokesmen have remained silent on the issue? Surely that speaks volumes about the miscarriage of justice. They should come to the Dispatch Box to give the view, at least of the Labour party, about what is happening.

I can say no more about the matter. I am not responsible for whether or not any Front Bench spokesman rises to his feet.

No, Sir, but it relates to it. May I ask whether you approve of what in effect is an attempt politically to discount the whole matter of the Maguire Seven? Question 220, which is set down for written answer today, is clearly the one that we are dealing with. This is not the way for it to be dealt with. Home Office questions are to be answered tomorrow. Will you assure the House now that we shall be able to raise the matter by means of supplementary questions?

It all depends on whether there is a question that is pertinent to it. If there is, of course I shall bear that matter in mind.

You, Mr. Speaker, will recollect that, during questions to Foreign Office Front-Bench spokesmen, two questions were asked about the position in Scotland. You will realise that, when read or listened to, those questions will be seen as an attack upon the House and upon representation in the House. As more than 80 per cent. of the people of Scotland voted for the retention of the Union—and that means this House—it seems to me that those questions could mislead people outside Parliament. How can we be protected against that?

I see no question on the Order Paper that directly refers to Scotland. A Scottish Member of Parliament might have been called for a supplementary question, but if ever I were to call every Scottish Member of Parliament whenever any matter appertaining to Scotland was raised, we should get through very few questions.

I can say no more about it. I think that the hon. Member is one of those who wishes to participate in the debate on the charge-capping orders.

Well, many of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues wish to participate in that debate. I shall have great difficulty in accommodating them all.

Further to the previous point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may not have received a request, but may I respectfully put it to you that you ought, on behalf of the House, to make a request to the Home Office that the Home Secretary should come here to explain. I respectfully invite you also to address the point that I made earlier: that in 1987, when the Home Secretary wished to say that the conviction was satisfactory, he came here and made a statement. Now that the present Home Secretary has to say that the then Home Secretary was wrong in 1987, he does it by means of a question for written answer, No. 220. Is that not contemptuous? Will you please express a view upon it?

I do not think that the House has ever given the Chair the responsibility for initiating questions. They come from Back Benchers.