HC Deb 19 April 1989 vol 151 cc337-40 3.30 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise the matter of separation of powers. As I understand it, the police are not an arm of the Government. No information has been given to the House about the way in which a list of five people, shortlisted for the position of Scotland Yard's director of public affairs, was given to Scotland Yard by the Prime Minister's chief press secretary.

I consider that the functions of the police are a matter that should be of concern to the House. If the Prime Minister's chief press secretary now has the additional function of telling the person in charge of the Metropolitan police who should be shortlisted for such an important position, the House should be notified and we should be able to table questions.

Mr. Speaker

That may well be a matter of interest to the House, but it is not an appropriate subject for a point of order.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like your advice on a matter of great importance—certainly to the people of Liverpool. The Sun today contains a front page story headlined "The Truth". It is not in inverted commas. The story is based on a statement made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). It says: Irvine Patnick revealed that in one shameful episode, a gang of Liverpool fans noticed that the blouse of a girl trampled to death had risen above her breasts. I do not intend to continue; it is so painful to read it.

The article also states that the hon. Member for Hallam spoke to officers on duty. A police inquiry is taking place at the moment and I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman—I notified him that I would be raising this matter in the House, and if he is not here that is his business—will be asked to give evidence to the police inquiry.

I find it difficult to raise this matter because the other day in the House I said that we should not be looking for scapegoats. On the front page of The Sun is a picture of Superintendent Marshall. We should not look on him or anybody else as a scapegoat. However, the hon. Member for Hallam is now suggesting that Liverpool people did the most despicable things to their own people. All the television programmes showed evidence to the contrary.

I do not want to become too angry and emotional about this, but I find it degrading and disgusting—[HON. MEMBERS: "What is the point of order?"] The point of order is clear. It is time that hon. Members showed some dignity, restraint and understanding. If they think that this is funny, they should explain it to my people in Liverpool who are now in deepest grief because 95 of their people died on Saturday. May I have an assurance, Mr. Speaker, that that hon. Member will go to the police inquiry and give the so-called evidence? We need that evidence to prove beyond doubt that matters are going beyond the bounds of decency.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a point of order for me. The whole House has been deeply affected by this major tragedy. I think that it would be wisest for us all to await the result of the inquiry and not to speculate.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from a Minister to make a statement clarifying the position of two senior Government press officers who, we learned last night from a BBC programme at 7.20 pm, are being disciplined for having argued that they were required to take action that infringed party political neutrality? The programme, which lasted for 40 minutes, was about the Government's chief press officer, the most important man—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is an Opposition day, in which a large number of hon. Members wish to participate. I have received no request for a statement. The hon. Gentleman must find other methods of raising the matter before the House: he cannot do so through the Chair.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to a comment made to The Sun by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). Do you agree that on Monday you called that hon. Member to speak in the debate? Do you also agree that he made no such comments to the House then? Would you advise hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, to be temperate in their language when commenting on the events at Sheffield and not to repeat to newspapers hearsay that they are not willing to put to the test by raising it in the House first?

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is one of the few places where we can say something at such a tense time in Sheffield.

I am the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough. On Saturday night, when I went down to the ground, I was not even admitted to the premises. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), whose constituency is nowhere near Hillsborough, could have gone into the mortuary and talked to policemen on duty, while I, as Member for Parliament for that general area, could not even get into the ground. That is beyond me. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is doing precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has described.

Mr. Speaker

I say again that this is a matter by which we have all been deeply affected. I suggest that we all keep our counsel until the result of the inquiry is known.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A number of questions have been raised about the suppression of the Department of Trade and Industry report on the Harrods takeover. I wonder whether you have received any notification from the Department that it intends to publish the report, or that a Minister intends to make a statement to the House.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, the matter has certain implications. In the report, the Sultan of Brunei is alleged to have supplied some money for the takeover. As he is apparently on close terms with the Prime Minister, it is naturally a matter of great concern that the report should be published as soon as possible to eradicate the rumours that are circulating.

Mr. Speaker

I have not received any such notification.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice on a matter of serious concern that has arisen this week. The Secretary of State for Social Security has sent to DSS officers in Scotland a memorandum giving them instructions on taking unpaid poll tax from people's income support. The memorandum is based on a statutory instrument which has been prayed against but which has not yet been debated on the Floor of the House. Has the Secretary of State the right to give instructions to DSS officers based on a statutory instrument to which the House has not given its approval?

Mr. Speaker

I think that the hon. Lady should seek advice when that comes into operation. I have no knowledge of the matter that she has raised.

Mrs. Fyfe

May I ask you, Mr. Speaker, at least to look into the matter?

Mr. Speaker

Yes, I shall certainly look into the matter.

Mr. Winnick

You stated, Mr. Speaker, that right hon. and hon. Members could pursue matters by other means. As you, Mr. Speaker, decided on such matters, may I have an assurance that, if I wish to table—as I probably shall —questions relating to Mr. Bernard Ingham's role in the recommendation as to who should be appointed director of public affairs at New Scotland Yard, I will be able to do so? Mr. Ingham is now virtually the deputy Prime Minister, and we should surely have an opportunity to discuss his role.

Mr. Speaker

Certainly, and the hon. Gentleman will have opportunities to do so—but not through me. I am not responsible for what he does.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Rather than right hon. and hon. Members raising points of order, would it not be much better if the Government themselves, in the traditional way, made a statement, or even had a written question planted, about the disciplining of civil servants? Why should right hon. and hon. Members have to demand information on every possible occasion? Is it not for the Government to show the House what is happening in respect of the disciplining of civil servants?

Mr. Speaker

I am placed in great difficulty because I cannot give answers on matters for which I am not responsible. I am here to ensure that the rules of the House are observed. I am not responsible for what is said by right hon. and hon. Members, provided that it is in order.

Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Instead of Opposition Members coming to the House to crowd out the debating time available to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and to his right hon. and hon. Friends with bogus points of order in prime time, and to make statements that they would not dare to make outside the House because they would be actionable as defamatory, would it not be better if a change were made to the rules of the House so that Opposition Members could have a whole day set aside for bogus points of order and they could all be raised together?

Mr. Speaker

I should not like to be in the Chair for that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The fact that Bernard Ingham is not a Member of Parliament creates some difficulties for you, but there is a way out of them. Mr. Ingham has plenty of admirers on the Conservative Benches, and I suggest that one of them takes the Chiltern Hundreds and nominates St. Bernard and his dog so that he can stand on behalf of the Tory party. Then we can deal with him.