HC Deb 21 October 1971 vol 823 cc907-11
Mr. Speaker

The House must bear with me for a few moments. I now have a list of over 200 right hon. and hon. Members who wish to catch my eye, and I suspect that there are more to come. That presents difficult and unprecedented problems for the Chair. I doubt whether it is a good idea for 200 right hon. and hon. Members to come to the Chair one by one to ascertain their chances, with all other right hon. and hon. Members trying to judge from my expression what the outcome has been. That course would not be in tune with the importance of the speeches and the significance of the debate.

Therefore, I propose to inform a certain number of those who I know wish to speak that they have a reasonable chance of being called today or tomorrow. I shall try to do that by about 7.30 this evening. However, it must be tentative. I cannot control the length of speeches. There can be no absolute rigidity, as I shall not exclude those who rise who have not given me notice of their intention to speak, although on this occasion it would be convenient if they would do so.

I admit that this may not work out very well. Mr. Speaker is the servant of the House, not its master. If, after trying out this form of notice to stop the procession of right hon. and hon. Members coming to the Chair, I find that it does not work well, we shall try something different next week.

Mr. Heffer

On a point of order. I do not wish to disagree with the point which you have just made, Mr. Speaker. However, I think that this is a precedent which ought not to be accepted by this House. If right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak they should sit in the Chamber and try, as others do, to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. In these circumstances, this is a precedent which ought not to be accepted by the House.

Mr. English

Further to that point of order. Are you aware, Mr. Speaker, that, in my belief, the overwhelming majority of right hon. and hon. Members appreciate the statement which you have just made?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

The hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) is certainly speaking on behalf of the whole House, because we appreciate that it is almost impossible for Mr. Speaker to carry out this task.

May I ask that, in doing what you always do—that is, to go out of your way to be ultra-fair—you bear in mind the fact that we have had several debates on the Common Market on several occasions. Strangely, and no doubt by accident, the same right hon. and hon. Members have participated and other hon. Members who, on each occasion, have wished to participate have not been successful in catching your eye. May I suggest that on this occasion you might perhaps see some of those who have not been successful in the past and overlook those who have? I have never participated, I am not one of the 200 on your list, and I shall not be one of those who apply.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Further to that point of order. Would it be humanly possible to limit the speeches of right hon and hon. Members to 15 minutes?

Hon. Members

Too long.

Mr. Speaker

I shall hold the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) to what he said.

The point raised by the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck) is not a matter for me.

Mr. William Hamilton

On a point of order. Mr. Speaker. Before you call the Foreign Secretary to open the debate, will you be good enough to indicate whether you propose to select for debate the Amendment standing in my name and the names of several of my right hon. and hon. Friends?

[Leave out from "House" to end and add "recognising the unique character of the decision on entry to the European Economic Community, and understanding the sincerely held opinions dividing Members of all political parties, deplores the fact that the present economic and social policies of Her Majesty's Government are so divisive, so unjust and so inequitable, causing massive unemployment and a soaring cost of living, and resulting in a total collapse of confidence in Her Majesty's Government, therefore calls on Her Majesty's Government, in accordance with promises made by the Prime Minister concerning the will of the people, to hold a General Election forthwith on all these policies".]

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that matter. I do not propose to select the Amendment.

Mr. Hamilton

That is what I thought. I should be grateful, therefore, if you would allow me to make certain representations on this matter.

This is a unique and historic occasion. All the major political parties are still committed in principle to entry to the Common Market. It is true that divisions across party lines and from top to bottom made it highly unlikely that an official Opposition Amendment would be tabled. Therefore, the only possibility was that a back-bench Amendment would be tabled. One of the main reasons for my being described—and as I have described myself —as a luke—warm pro-Common Marketeer is precisely that our entry to the Market will undoubtedly decrease the power of back-bench Members of this House in relation to that of the Executive. [Interruption.] I am on a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) is proceeding on a point of order. I shall soon be asking exactly where he is going.

Mr. Hamilton

I have made the point about the decrease in the power of the back bencher on entry into the Common Market compared with the power of the Executive. In these circumstances, as the situation is unique and historic and will affect private Members more than others, it would appear to add up to a powerful case for allowing the Amendment to be debated or at least voted upon. Moreover, there is a powerful additional reason for so judging. There are precedents. It has been—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not want to stop the hon. Member. He was courteous enough to tell me of this point earlier, but he seems now to be disputing my decision. My decision on the selection of an Amendment is not arguable.

Mr. Hamilton

Further to that point. There is a precedent on this very matter. In the debate on the E.E.C. on 8th May, 1967, an Amendment moved by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Sir Robin Turton) was accepted by the Chair. So there is no case for saying that an Amendment to a Government Motion moved by a back-bench Member would not be accepted on those grounds.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, but it does not affect the fact that I have not selected the Amendment on this occasion.

Mr. Thorpe

There is a slight difficulty here. Without in any way challenging or commenting on your decision on the matter, Mr. Speaker, I ask you to consider this point. We are reaching a situation where it appears that, over the years, the only Amendments, practically speaking, which are ever called are those which have the imprimatur of the official Opposition. There are many occasions when the official Opposition do not table an Amendment, but groups of back benchers—indeed, sometimes my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself—do table an Amendment. We are almost led to the conclusion that it is never possible, or that it is unlikely in the extreme, that an Amendment will be called unless it is that of the official Opposition. On behalf of many back benchers who have been involved in this and different contexts, I respectfully urge that the matter be given consideration for the future.

Mr. Speaker

I do not quarrel with that statement at all. In fact, if it was the practice for me to give the reasons, I could easily given them. There are several reasons for not selecting this Amendment on this occasion. However, it is not the practice of the House for the Chair to give those reasons and I must adhere to my Ruling. Sir Alec Douglas-Home.