HC Deb 16 December 1970 vol 808 cc1372-7
Mr. McNamara

On a point of order. I am sorry to raise a second point of order, Mr. Speaker, though I do not apologise for the substance of either since I regard these issues as fairly important to the House.

Yesterday you made a Ruling, which appears in column 1199 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, on the Hare Coursing (Abolition) Bill. That Ruling took my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) and myself by surprise. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the Ruling arose from the incident that took place on the count on my Ten-Minute Bill which seeks to abolish the cruel sport of hare coursing. It arose because two of the people who acted as tellers against my Bill actually appeared as supporters of the Bill.

You then gave a Ruling which was as follows: The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. William Price) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) were appointed tellers for the Noes on the Question, 'That leave be given to bring in a bill.' The Question was agreed to, but immediately after telling against the Bill their names were included in the list of Members ordered to prepare and bring in the Bill. For Members whose names are to be announced as supporters of a Bill to vote or tell against the introduction of the Bill violates, in my opinion, the well-established principle of this House that a Member's vote must agree with his voice. I must therefore give directions that the hon. Members' names be removed from the list of Members ordered to prepare and bring in the Bill and that the Journal be corrected accordingly."—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, 15th December, 1970; Vol. 808, c. 1119.] You will recall, Mr. Speaker, because I had no way of looking at the Ruling at that time, that I apologised to you and to the House if I had transgressed these rules or procedures. However, it is to that Ruling which you gave yesterday that I want to direct my remarks.

Several points arise out of this vote and voice procedure. I should like to refer to a speech made by my then hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw) on 14th May, 1970, on the Hare Coursing Bill. He said: Now we come to the curious behaviour of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball). There was then an interjection. On 6th November, 1969, I had a letter from the hon. Gentleman, on House of Commons notepaper, asking me to use my place in the Ballot to take up the Bill eventually sponsored by the hon. Member for the City of Chester. The hon. Gentleman stated in this invitation that the Bill had the support of competent naturalists, which I certainly accept. I replied on 11th November regretting being unable to accede to his request. He then goes on to discuss various points with which I will not take up the time of the House. The important point comes at the end of this part of my former hon. Friend's speech: The hon. Gentleman voted against the Seals Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th May, 1970; Vol. 801, c. 1554.] Looking back to Second Reading of the Seals Bill on 12th December, 1969, we find that the hon. Gentleman voted against it, although he had asked my former hon. Friend to introduce it. This is important. However, it is not for me to comment why the hon. Gentleman took that course of action. The fact is that he did.

Many of my hon. Friends were confused by what you, Mr. Speaker, then said. Therefore, I turn to page 409 of Erskine May where their problem was solved. Had they looked at the last paragraph under the voice and vote procedure they would have read: A Member who has made a motion is afterwards entitled to vote against it, provided he gives his voice with the 'noes' when the question is put from the chair; nor does the fact that a Member's name appears on the Notice Paper as supporting an amendment preclude him from voting against the amendment. That seems very reasonable and proper. My submission is that the action taken by my hon. Friends was exactly the action taken by the hon. Member for Gainsborough or the conduct referred to in Erskine May at page 409, but in reverse.

The rule on page 408 is: Members must bear in mind that then opinion is collected from their voices in the House, and not merely by a division; and that, if their voices and their votes should be at variance, the voice will bind the vote. A Member therefore who gives his voice with the 'ayes' (or 'noes') when the Speaker takes the voices, is bound to vote with them; although a Member has been permitted to correct his voice at the second call. There is then the example. On page 409, following the example, it says: The objection that a Member's vote was contrary to his voice should be taken either before the numbers are reported by the tellers or immediately afterwards; it will not be entertained after the declaration of the numbers from the chair. I submit that an objection was taken to the voice and vote after the declaration of the result from the Chair; that the count and the declaration was one complete act. What followed in my naming those who were to prepare the Bill with me was in fact a separate act which, if the vote had gone, would never have taken place. So the declaration of the vote is a separate act. Therefore, I submit on that point, with due respect, Mr. Speaker, that the naming and conduct of my hon. Friends was correct.

I should like, however, to speak to the other question which arose; namely, the backing of a Bill. The only reference which I could find in Erskine May was at page 520. It may be that I have missed a reference, but with my spectacles broken I am finding difficulty at the moment. On page 520 it says: Members 'backing' a Bill.—The Speaker decided, on 1 February 1893, by a private ruling, that the names of Members ordered to bring in a bill should not exceed twelve in number, while the number of names on the back of a bill presented without an order of the House for its introduction is similarly limited. With respect, I could find no reference to your decision, Mr. Speaker, to remove names from the back of the Bill.

An important point arises here. Under the Ten Minute Rule procedure, it is possible for a Member to have a Bill accepted for First Reading by this House, be ordered to have it prepared and printed, and then, at every possible stage when it is coming forward, unless the Government of the day are impressed by the people supporting it, for it to be stopped by a single voice shouting "Object". The voice does not have to be singled out as that of a Member who is stopping the legislation going through. If your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, applied to what you said about the conduct of my hon. Friends, surely it should also have applied to hon. Members who say "Object".

The only way that an hon. Member can overcome sedentary opposition from opponents of the Measure that he is seeking to introduce is to be prepared to put in his hon. Friends to act as tellers for the "Noes" so that Members will have to stand up and be counted.

Such is the nature of the so-called sport, so horrible and repugnant to many people in our society, that the only way that my hon. Friends could explain to their constituents their reasons and justification for being prepared to act as tellers for the "Noes" was to have their names appearing as sponsors of the Bill. This is the only way, on any issue of raising opposition, and getting hon. Members to show themselves, of protecting hon. Members who go into the "No" Lobby.

I apologise for the time I have taken, but it is a fundamental issue. It is important to hon. Members, and to myself in particular.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy yesterday in apologising when he did not have to apologise.

May I say, first, that I should apologise both to the hon. Gentleman and his two hon. Friends because I did not give them notice yesterday of the Ruling which I proposed to make. Mr. Speaker is bound by the courtesies of the House, like everybody else. The error was mine. I had a note from my Clerk in the morning suggesting that if I was to make a Ruling I should inform the two hon. Members concerned. I hope that the three hon. Gentlemen will accept my expression of regret.

The hon. Gentleman has given us an account of various difficulties which occur in parliamentary tactics. I cannot comment on any of those. He has referred to various strategies and tactics which have occurred in the long history of the attempt to get a Hare Coursing Bill through the House. I cannot comment on any of these.

On the issue on which I ruled yesterday, I must reaffirm my Ruling. The hon. Gentleman asked for the authority on which I made it. I must say at once that the duty of the Speaker is to ensure that the Journal and other documents of the House correctly record what took place. The two hon. Members to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred, the Members for Rugby (Mr. William Price) and for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), did not support the Bill, since the Journal will show that they told against it for the "Noes". For that reason, and as a matter of historical fact, their names cannot be recorded as supporting the Bill which was introduced. Mr. Speaker's powers over legislation are summarised in Erskine May at page 248, where it is stated that the Speaker has directed the withdrawal of entire Public Bills, and that he has also directed that a Bill received from the Lords be laid aside. There is no doubt that my authority extends to directing that a Bill should appear in a particular form, as in this case by the omission of two names in order that the Bill and the Journal should both be in conformity in recording our proceedings.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter.

Mr. Ashton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for your Ruling, but what would happen if I were now to introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill, called the Hare Coursing (No. 2) Bill, which was infinitesimally different from the Hare Coursing (No. 1) Bill? Would I be allowed to act as a sponsor of such a Bill you having ruled that my name should be deleted from the No. 1 Bill? If it would be valid for me to introduce a No. 2 Bill, having told against the No. 1 Bill, what would be the difference, and what would your Ruling be on that?

Mr. Speaker

I cannot rule on hypothetics. If that issue comes before me I shall rule on it. There is nothing to prevent the hon. Member from taking whatever line he likes about the Hare Coursing Bill when it comes to its Second Reading before the House.