§ Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to rule on a case of "gross discourtesy"—to use his own words—on the part of the Leader of the Opposition, who visited my constituency at the weekend without giving me prior notice of his intention to do so. I understand that the purpose of his visit was to instruct members of the Gravesham branch of the Labour party to vote against clause IV. If he had given me notice of his visit, I could have told him that the people of Gravesham have voted against clause IV in the last four general elections.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker, of which I have given you notice. My point of order is not really a matter of complaint, but a matter of curiosity.
I have been banned from putting down any more written questions on the subject of Lockerbie. Madam Speaker, will you clarify the conditions under which a Member of Parliament can be told that he should not put down any more questions on the same subject on the ground that it is part of a campaign?
I would not raise a point of order about a trivial or frivolous subject. However, Lockerbie represents the worst mass murder of civilians anywhere in the western world since 1945. As a result, our relations with the Arab world are at stake, British industry is being damaged severely and 5,000 of our fellow countrymen are working at a disadvantage in Libya because of continuing sanctions. They are hardly trivial matters. Therefore, Madam Speaker, I ask you what the rules are.
§ Madam Speaker
If the point raised by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was trivial, I would not give it a serious answer—although, as he says himself, it is by no means a point of order
706 The hon. Gentleman is a very distinguished and successful campaigner and I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said and with the way in which he has pursued his campaign. In my view, a legitimate campaign through the means of parliamentary questions is one of the most effective weapons available to a Back Bencher. At the same time, I must uphold the rule that is set out on page 294 of "Erskine May", which prohibits the asking of questions thatare multiplied with slight variations on the same point".Without such a rule, there is potential for total abuse of the Order Paper. The Table Office will continue to apply that rule sensitively and it will not seek to prevent any Member from pursuing, by reasonable means, a matter about which he or she feels very strongly.
In the case cited by the hon. Gentleman, I have to say—I think that he will agree with me—that the Table Office has bent over backwards to help him. The hon. Gentleman has properly pursued his campaign for more than six years. He recently tabled about 90 questions in two days, which are to be answered next Monday, 6 March. I have to rule that he must await those answers before he proceeds further and before he tables any further questions.
Much will depend on the answers that the hon. Gentleman receives to those questions, but I am sure that, given his ingenuity and the help that the Table Office provides to him and all other hon. Members, he may have further opportunities to ask questions. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is very satisfied with my response to his comments. We will now proceed.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. There can be no further points of order on that matter, on which I gave a thorough ruling.