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Points Of Order

Volume 227: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1993

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4.17 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Would you explain to the House the proper way in which personal statements are made by hon. Members? Yesterday, I thought that, although the hon. Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) had matters of great importance to raise, they did not seem relevant to a personal statement.

I understood that such statements were meant to be explanations of why Ministers felt it necessary to resign. I thought that the statement yesterday put the House, and especially you, Madam Speaker, in a difficult position. It may be that the whole nature and purpose of personal statements ought to be reviewed, or at the least clarified.

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. You may recall that I asked you yesterday to consider the way in which personal statements are vetted and agreed by the Speaker before their delivery and, in return, the personal statement is allowed to be made without interruption. I understand that that is not the case with personal statements about resignations. Have you been able to give some thought to asking the Procedure Committee to look into the matter, with a view to making all personal statements subject to the prior agreement of the Speaker of the day?

Let me try to help the House. Personal statements are vetted by the Speaker. Resignation statements are not vetted by the Speaker. I have no authority whatever to vet such a statement, nor did I vet the statement yesterday.

There is a lot of disquiet in the House about such statements. I have received a letter from the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, which I have not yet had the opportunity to read, but I believe that it suggests that the Committee may well look into that whole area. I am sure that many hon. Members will welcome the Procedure Committee's initiative. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear".] I hope that I have laid this matter to rest. I want no further points of order upon it.

On a different point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that, yesterday, the Prime Minister raised with the Leader of the Opposition a document on Northern Ireland by the official Opposition spokesman on Northern Ireland, in which he proposed, in effect, constitutionally abandoning the Northern Irish people.

Since then, confusion has reigned, with some newspapers saying that his leader is going to back him, and others saying that he should be disowned. I wonder whether you have had a request for a statement, either from the Opposition's Northern Ireland spokesman or from the Leader of the Opposition, so that we can clear it up once and for all?

That is barely a point of order for me, but I have received no such request for a statement.

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I refer you to the 21st edition of "Erskine May", page 230, where the manner of taking the oath, affirmation in lieu of oath and the penalties for omission to take the oath are set out. The form of the oath is:

"I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God."
As you know, Madam Speaker, if a Member does not wish to take the oath, he or she can affirm.

The penalties for omitting to take the oath or to affirm are:
"any Member of the House of Commons who votes as such, or sits during any debate after the Speaker has been chosen, without having taken the oath, is subject to the same penalty, and his seat is also vacated in the same manner as if he were dead."
In the Commons it is necessary to move a new writ immediately the omission—

Order. We are very interested in what "Erskine May" says. I read it regularly, but I should be glad if the hon. Gentleman would come to the point of order for me.

You anticipated me, Madam Speaker, by two seconds.

In view of what is said in "Erskine May", can you advise the House whether the proposal mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin)—that Ulster should become an independent state and share sovereignty with the presidency of the Irish Republic—constitutes a revocation of the oath, and what consequences should flow from it?

That is a very interesting use of the time of the House before we reach the ten-minute motion.

Order. There is no "Further to that point of order." If it is a new point of order, I shall of course hear the hon. Gentleman.