CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

POINT OF ORDER – COMMONS SECURITY – 18 January 2000

Mr Tony Benn: On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have given private notice of this point of order both to you and to the hon. Member for North Antrim (Rev. Ian Paisley), to whom it refers. Yesterday, I received a letter from someone in Northern Ireland, who had received it from the hon. Member for North Antrim. It described the new education Minister as "a terrorist".

Whatever the merits of strong feeling in the House, we try to contain our feelings within the normal courtesies of language. Although those words were not used in the House – had they been, Madam Speaker, I am sure that you would have rebuked the hon. Member who used them – they were conveyed in a House of Commons envelope, paid for by the state, and related to a Member who is also an education Minister.

I do not want to make too much of this, Madam Speaker, but I wonder whether you feel able to say anything at this point about the use of language. Terrorism is a criminal offence, and to use such language at a time when the peace process is developing in Northern Ireland might merit the Chair's consideration.

Dr Julian Lewis: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd): Is it related to the earlier point of order?

Dr Lewis: Yes, Madam Speaker. Can you tell us whether you have received any notification from the Serjeant at Arms or the security advisers of the House that, if two members of Sinn Fein are to be offered facilities in the House, there will be arrangements in future for Members' cars not just to be checked for bombs on the way into the car park, but to be checked for such devices on the way out of it?

Madam Speaker: I never discuss security arrangements across the Floor of the House.

Let me respond to what was said by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr Benn), who, with his customary courtesy, gave me notice of his point of order. I am afraid that the circumstances that he describes – those involving private correspondence between a Member and his or her constituents – do not call for a ruling from the Chair. I cannot intervene in correspondence between a Member and a constituent.