HC Deb 07 February 1964 vol 688 cc1597-9

Order for Second Reading read

Hon. Members


Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

On a point of order. The point of order I wish to raise is whether hon. Members who object to the Second Reading of a Private Member's Bill should not rise in their places and identify themselves. I wish to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that there should be nothing vague, uncertain or anonymous about proceedings on the Floor of this House, and that hon. Members objecting to a Second Reading should make their objections known so that they can be identified as taking that particular attitude towards a Bill.

I understand that it has been the practice for a long number of years for something less than that identification to be accepted by the Chair as an objection. Indeed, in the personal experience I had a few weeks ago, I personally did not hear any objection at all. I was surprised to know that one had been made. It suggests that sometimes even the word "object" is not necessary for this purpose; that some abbreviation, some sound, is accepted as an objection on these occasions. I wish, therefore, to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that you should rule that hon. Members objecting to a Second Reading should identify themselves clearly so that the House and everyone should know the action they are taking.

Finally in support of this submission, Mr. Speaker, I understand that it is now necessary for hon. Members who intend to block a Private Bill to disclose their intention on the Order Paper. I also understand that the sponsors of such Bills are given special passes for the Galleries of this House so that they may witness the objection being made on the Floor of the House and identify the person making the objection in order that they may, if they so choose, make representations to the objectors to a Bill. However that may be, I submit to you. Mr. Speaker, with great respect, that although the existing practice has continued for so long it is now desirable that it should be changed.

Mr Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have now tried to obtain a Second Reading for my Bill on four occasions.

Mr. Rupert Speir (Hexham)

On the nod?

Mr. Lubbock

This is an all-party Measure which has the support of two hon. Members from each party. It is a Bill which particularly affects the women of the country, and those women ought to be aware that it was the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Speir) who made the objection this afternoon so that they can decide how to cast their vote at the next General Election.

Mr. Speir

I should like to point out that I am a great believer in the use of private Members' time. I have sponsored no fewer than four Private Members' Bills and on each occasion I have tried to give the House an opportunity of discussing the Bill. I have not tried to get a Second Reading on the nod. I do not think it is necessary for me to identify myself to you, Mr. Speaker, but the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) might like to know that I am the hon. Member for Hexham.

Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I may add to what has been said, as I understand the procedure of the House and your position here, no hon. Member may have the Floor while you are on your feet. In effect, when you call me you concede your right to me to speak. That is the constitutional practice.

We have now got to the stage when you are continually on your feet and somebody is bawling out "object". This is not really a Parliamentary proceeding at all. I know that this is rather cluttered up with what the Government Front Bench do from time to time when they call for a particular day, but on occasions of that sort there is a degree of unanimity in the House. However, it seems to me that the whole process now almost savours of a secret proceeding.

Last week we had before us a Bill which came from another place, and I called out "Now" and you were looking at me all the time. I was sitting a little further down on the Front Bench. Then you asked "What day?". I was quite surprised because I thought you had heard what I said. I did not hear an objection raised. Afterwards I looked across to the other side of the House towards the hon. Members who might have objected, and during the week I interrogated each of them and each denied that he had objected to the Bill. Mr. Anonymous had apparently done it.

Apart from anything else, Parliament must have the widest possible franchise and justice must be seen to have been done, and in a place where every hon. Member has unlimited privilege he really ought not to lack the courage to stand up and declare himself on Bills of this description.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and I are not speaking entirely for ourselves about this. The matter has received a great deal of consideration on this side of the House, and, with deep respect, I hope that you will meet our point of view.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I do not think I want any more help about this. I must tell the House what hon. Members already know. The practice is too well established for me to be able to change it from the Chair, but I would, of course, be obedient to any steps which the House chose to take about it.

I would only add that I would not accept a mere farmyard grunt. A sound which appears to be the word "object" I am bound to accept. I do not have time to look round and see where it comes from. It sometimes comes sharply and at an oblique angle into my ears. But I have to act on that. I appreciate the anxieties about it, and I am sure that what has been said will have been heard.