Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to reflect on your decision in respect of the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), who sought to raise the responsibility of the Prime Minister as head of the Conservative party? As the Prime Minister deliberately includes the chairman of the Conservative party, the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), in the Cabinet, she clearly has, as Prime Minister, responsibility for his activities and his conduct of those matters. As those responsibilities cover what has happened to the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer), should not questions to the Prime Minister about such matters be in order?
Mr. Speaker : The whole House knows the rules about this, and they remain the same for both sides of the House. The Prime Minister must be asked questions within her prime ministerial responsibility, in just the same way as I disallow questions about the Leader of the Opposition's responsibilities for the Labour party. The same rules apply to both sides of the House.
Dr. Cunningham rose --
Dr. Cunningham : No, Mr. Speaker. I shall certainly not challenge what you said. I wish to be absolutely clear that in future, if Conservative Members raise matters with the Prime Minister or other Ministers about the Labour party--[ Hon. Members :-- "Ah!"]--you will rule them out of order before there is any reply from the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that the Act of Union requires that taxes in the United Kingdom must be the same in Scotland and in England. It would therefore be improper and constitutionally flawed to introduce a tax in Scotland that was different from a tax in England. I use the word "tax" carefully. I am not talking about the community charge ; I am talking about tax. As that is so, would it be improper to use Scotland as a guinea pig for a new tax? If it would be, why is the Labour party proceeding down that road?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time, you did not seem to be able to call the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). We understand that sometimes it may be difficult for hon. Members to catch your eye, but as he was mentioned in dispatches, can you do something about this on Thursday?
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : The selection of hon. Members to speak in debates, at Question Time or at other times, is very privileged. It seems to me, to many of my hon. Friends and to many outside the House that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) gets more than his fair share-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Holt rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must not rise while I am on my feet. The hon. Gentleman knows that the hon. Member for Bolsover is a regular attender in the Chamber, especially at Question Time and in our debates.
Mr. Holt : It is true that the hon. Member for Bolsover is a regular and assiduous Member of the House, and no one would seek to deny that. However, there are Conservative Members who are equally assiduous--and I am one of them. I sit here day after day, seeing favours being given to the hon. Member for Bolsover. From the way in which he is reported nationally, it is clear that he enjoys advantages that are not available to any other hon. Member.
Mr. Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman believes that he is deprived in any way, I must remind him that no hon. Member can expect to be called much more than about four times a year ; it is a question of the arithmetic. In the previous Session, the hon. Gentleman was called no fewer than nine times.
Mr. Holt rose --
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) rose --
Mr. Holt rose --
Mr. Holt rose --
Column 743Mr. Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman rises once more, I would be very reluctant to take action which the whole House would regret. I am not prepared to hear a further point of order from him on this matter.
Mr. Heffer : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have raised this point of order on other occasions and I would like to raise it again [Interruption.] Will you be quiet for a minute? [Interruption.] I am trying to raise a point of order. [Interruption.]
Mr. Heffer : I am trying to raise a point of order, Mr. Speaker, and it would be a good idea, if from time to time--and this is the very point that I am raising--the House could behave itself. [Interruption.]
Mr. Heffer : I have noticed in the past year or two that when hon. Members, particularly on the Opposition side of the House, raise matters which hon. Members on the Government side do not like they immediately begin to shout. I have suggested to you before, Mr. Speaker, that it is the responsibility and the duty of Mr. Speaker and of all of us who believe in democracy to explain to hon. Members, particularly those on the Government Benches, that we are not in the Reichstag-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] --and we are not in the old Soviet when Mr. Brezhnev was there. Is it not time-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Heffer : Hon. Members, or certain of them, no longer listen to an argument. They think that the way to deal with an argument is to shout people down. It is about time that they were taught that we are a democracy and that we must continue to be a democracy. [Interruption.]
Mr. Speaker : Order. Do not let us have a debate on this. The whole House agrees that we listen to each other's arguments here with respect. Very often we hear uncomfortable things or things with which we do not agree, but we listen to them with respect.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I please ask your advice on a very serious matter and seek your guidance on whether the issue that I wish to raise with you should be referred to a Committee of the House to consider?
As you are aware, Mr. Speaker, there is an organisation, which purports to be non-party political, called Hospital Alert. It is funded partly by Labour-controlled Hounslow council and partly by the SLD-controlled Richmond and Twickenham council.
Last Thursday night, when I returned to the House befor the vote at 10 o'clock, I found a House of Commons paid envelope on the Members' message board in the Members' Lobby which had come by the Members' internal postal service. Inside the envelope, which contained no identification of the sender, were a number of forms that Hospital Alert is using throughout the country ;
Column 744it gets constituents to sign them and then send them to their Members of Parliament for a reply, or whatever hon. Members wish to do. These were all put together. The senders were then using House of Commons envelopes and the House of Commons internal postal system, at the taxpayers' expense, to distribute them.
This is a matter that should be looked into. A stop should be put to it, as the organisers plan to have throughout February a national campaign to lobby hon. Members. I hope that it will not be done through the House of Commons postal service.
Mr. Speaker : No, there can be no argument about this. The whole House knows that it is not in order to use House of Commons envelopes for circulars. If that is what the hon. Gentleman alleges, the matter should be reported to the Services Committee, which will deal with it.
Mr. Nellist : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If on reflection you take the wider action suggested by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) in his allegation, will you include the use by private companies of the banqueting facilities in the basement to lobby Members of Parliament and have influence on this place? I and many people outside think that that is a far worse crime than the one alleged.
Mr. Speaker : Order. We are to have a very important debate today on the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. A great many hon. Members wish to participate. It will take time out of the debate if we have further points of order now, particularly if they are points of order that are not matters for the Chair. If there is anything that is genuinely a matter for the Chair, I shall endeavour to deal with it.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Chair is responsible for the use of language in this House. Earlier the whole House heard the Prime Minister refer to Scotland as a region. Scotland is not a region but a nation. The insult will be noted in Scotland. What influence can you exert on the Prime Minister to get her to use the correct terminology?
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We on the Conservative Benches support the Chair, as well you know, no matter from which side the current Speaker comes. Unfortunately, during your term of office you have had to ask hon. Members to leave the Chamber and you have had to preside over their dismissal. Can you confirm that you have never had to order the removal of a Conservative Member from the House or to ask a Conservative Member to leave?
Column 745Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you care to reflect on the reply that you gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) about the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell)? We have a developing constitution. While theoretically the office of Prime Minister is bestowed by the monarch, in practice there is an electoral process ; therefore, the Prime Minister is the choice of the governing party. Perhaps I am reading too much into your answer, but surely you are not saying that the electoral process whereby that comes about is not subject to proper questioning in the House.
Mr. Cryer : Yes, Mr. Speaker. There is a difference. A point was raised about Conservative party organisation. We have heard that that, of course, is not a matter for the Prime Minister. But the chairman of the Conservative party is appointed by the Prime Minister and holds an office paid by the taxpayer. That is not the case with the Labour party. The Labour party chairman is elected and has no place in a Labour Government, nor any position necessarily within Parliament. So the two positions are different--
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is giving an explanation. The question that was asked by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) was not about the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster ; it was about an individual Member, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). That was why I ruled the question out of order, as I would have ruled out, and have frequently done, as the whole House knows, questions touching upon the responsibilities of the Leader of the Opposition as leader of his party.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. Further points of order will take a great deal of time out of the debate. I am bound to have regard for hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate rather than at this time.
Sir Hal Miller (Bromsgrove) : Further to the last point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I remind those who have forgotten that Conservative associations are independent of the Conservative party organisation and make their own decisions?
Several Hon. Members rose --
Ms. Dawn Primarolo, supported by Mrs. Alice Mahon, Ms. Clare Short, Mr. George Howarth, Ms. Harriet Harman, Mr. Frank Doran, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn and Mr.
Column 746Brian Sedgemore, presented a Bill to provide for the licensing of premises for the location of pornographic material ; to create an offence of locating pornography on unlicensed premises ; to extend the duties of Trading Standards Officers ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 2 February and to be printed. [Bill 60.]
That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Contamination of Feeding Stuff) (England) Order 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 37) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Contamination of Feeding Stuff) (Wales) Order 1990 (S.I., 1990, No. 43) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Horticultural Development Council (Amendment) Order 1990 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
That European Community Document No. 9728/89 on veterinary rules be referred to a Standing Committee on European Documents.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
Points of Order
Mr. Marlow rose --
Mr. Marlow : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the pantomime that we had immediately after Prime Minister's questions, will you advise the House on whether that was televised? If it was, what deductions do you draw, and what lessons can be learnt from it?
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) alleged just now that the chairman of the Conservative party was paid as a Minister of the
Mr. Speaker : Order. That is a continuation of points of order. I have already told the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) to choose this as a subject for a private Member's motion and debate it as such.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for the protection of badger setts ; and for connected purposes.
Let us talk about something important like badger setts-- [Interruption.] While hon. Members scurry off to their burrows, I shall delay my speech for a moment.
I get quite depressed at the extent that I have to raise issues in the House and draw attention to the number of times that animals are subjected to cruelty and exploitation. During the past few weeks alone I have had cause to raise the issue of the slaughter of whales by the Japanese in the Antarctic and the threat to the existence of African elephants--a threat which has become much more serious as a result of the Government's recent announcement to allow the 600 tonnes of elephant ivory in Hong Kong to come on to the world market. I recently raised the issue of the use by the Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean fishing ships of enormous drift nets in the oceans which entrap porpoises, whales and diving birds.
It seems that all around us are greedy, selfish and venal humans exploiting, often to the very edge of extinction, creatures which belong to us all. There seem to be no depths of depravity to which man's cruelty towards other life forms is not prepared to go. Lest any hon. Member believes that I should better direct the energy of my concern for animals towards humans, I remind him that, in my opinion, the two are entirely compatible. Human and animal rights are merely points on the same continuum. Those who are capable of being cruel to animals are equally capable of being cruel to humans. Respect for life should embrace all life, both human and animal, because the two are inextricably linked.
My concern today is for badger setts. One of the presents that I bought my wife for Christmas was the BBC's tapes of Alan Bennett reading extracts from Kenneth Grahame's wonderful book, "The Wind in the Willows". That tremendously good story was enchantingly told by Alan Bennett. I am sure that all of us who listened to it found it that much more interesting and enchanting because, in the recess, it occupied the slot normally taken up by "Yesterday In Parliament." Who would not exchange points of order, Prime Minister's Question Time and reporting late-night statutory instruments for hearing about the adventures of Mole, Ratty and Badger. The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) is now deep in conversation. It will penetrate to him in a moment that I am speaking about him, because anyone who sees the hon. Member for Crawley here on a Friday in his weekend clothes cannot but think instantly of Mr. Toad. The hon. Member for Crawley will have to read Hansard tomorrow to learn of the point that I was making, because I am unable to penetrate the depth of his subconscious.
To judge from the enormous popularity of "The Wind in the Willows"--and I am glad that Mr. Toad is now with us again--anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the entire country loves badgers. The vast majority of people do, but there are sick and perverted members of the population who apparently take pleasure in torturing,
Column 748maiming and killing badgers for what they call sport. My Bill seeks to extend the protection given under the Badgers Act 1973 to setts. Unlike many other animals, the badger is not an endangered species. It is estimated that the current badger population is 250,000 at most. It is not a matter of conservation but of protecting the badger against cruelty. There is a great deal of exploitation and baiting of badgers in Yorkshire, and concern is being expressed that that practice is extending to the south. I assure any right hon. or hon. Member who imagines that the people of Newham know little about badger setts that within easy walking distance of my own constituency, one can inspect many excellent setts in Epping forest, in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). It is difficult to comprehend how a person can take pleasure from digging out badgers and killing them with a spade or from baiting them with dogs. To me, such people are sick beyond rational appeal, and it is essential that the House ensures that they are treated accordingly.
If I obtain leave to introduce my Bill, I shall seek to give absolute protection to badger setts. Anyone found digging a sett or in the vicinity of one, or having the clear intention or the wherewithal to do so, would on conviction be fined up to £2,000 and would have confiscated all equipment, animals and vehicles in his possession at the time of the offence.
The Bill would also forbid foxhunters from stopping up badger setts. I know that that would gain the interest of the hon. Member for Crawley. Although the badger is currently protected, anyone found digging a sett can deploy the defence that they were merely digging for a fox or were trying to retrieve a lost dog. Since 1985, the onus of proof has shifted from the prosecution to the defence, and cases can be lengthy, complicated and expensive. My Bill seeks to simplify the law and to make it more consistent, by giving badgers and setts the same protection. We are concerned about not only diggers and baiters but developers, who flatten the badgers' homes and bury them alive.
Of the estimated 250,000 badger population, some 9,000 to 10,000 are killed every year because of the venal activities of diggers and baiters. May setts are hundreds of years old, and they desperately merit and deserve our protection. It is monstrous that people should be allowed to dig up setts, disturb or destroy them.
To many of us, the badger symbolises the countryside, and we have, rightly, protected that wonderful and mysterious creature. We must extend that protection to the badger's home, and that is why I seek to introduce my Bill, which I commend to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Banks, Mr. Peter Hardy, Ms. Dawn Primarolo, Dr. David Clark, Ms. Diane Abbott, Mr. Frank Cook, Mrs. Ann Clywd, Mr. Ron Davies, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mr. Alan Meale and Mr. Bob Cryer.