§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the terms of Question 26 on the Order Paper? I should make it clear that I took the first opportunity I had to notify the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) that I intended to raise this point of order. I understand that he has now withdrawn his question. Nevertheless, the question was tabled and appeared on the Order Paper, which is why I wish to raise the matter.
The question asksby how much more the rate support grant figure for 1989–90 would be increased if 2,000 of the residents of Langbaurgh were black.The question is undeniably racially discriminatory in intention and it is racially offensive and inflammatory in effect. It breaches the usual rules of good order which we attempt to establish in this House, and it is potentially in breach of the statutory rules applied by race relations legislation.
How was it that the Table Office accepted the question? Are there not rules which we can deploy to protect the House against such offensive questions? In asking you for your ruling, Mr. Speaker, may I add that I invite the Secretary of State to join me in dissociating himself from the terms of the question?
§ Mr. Speaker
No. Why does the hon. Gentleman always rise when I seek to reply? I can give the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) the answer to his question. The Table Office accepted the question because various criteria are used in calculating rate support grant, including the make-up of the population. As for the motives, any hon. Member can table a question provided that it is in order. That is a matter for him.
§ Mr. Winnick
On the same point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I remind you that, when I raised the point of order about events in Hong Kong, it was valuable and a statement followed?
§ Mr. Winnick
My point of order arises from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). On Monday, when the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) made certain comments that many of us considered to be an incitement to race hatred, you said that every hon. Member has a right to express a view. If legislation forbids the incitement to race hatred and it is illegal outside the House, why is it that remarks such as those made by the hon. Member for Northampton, North or offensive questions about blacks are accepted by the Table Office? Does that mean that we can ask questions relating to the number of Jews, Catholics or Protestants? It is difficult to believe that such questions would be accepted.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is challenging what I have said. I have already explained why the Table Office accepted that question. As to what the hon. Gentleman said about other matters, I can only remind him that, over many centuries, we have achieved 994 freedom of speech in this House, and it is for each hon. Member to decide how to use that right. As Mr. Speaker, I am certainly not in the business of rationing freedom of speech in this place.
§ Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect, and further to your explanation in response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), I wonder whether you would reconsider the matter. I do not believe that local authorities collect information on the basis of the colour or the ethnic origin of citizens. That being so, I submit for your consideration ․and I accept that you need time to think about this․my belief that the question should not have appeared on the Order Paper, under any circumstances, as it is grossly offensive. Although we understand and value the help that we receive from the Clerk's Department, this is an unfortunate matter that requires further consideration.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is an Opposition Supply day. This is taking time away from those who wish to speak.
§ Mr. Allen
This is a point of order for you, Mr. Speaker. Given the subsidy for the sale of our water industry of £3.3 billion, or £65 for every man, woman and child in the country, would it not be for the convenience of the House if the Secretary of State were to submit a memorandum and all the side papers involved in this matter to the Public Accounts Committee now, rather than in a year's time?