HC Deb 13 January 1977 vol 923 cc1658-61
Mr. Strauss

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The habit seems to have grown up, and we have seen another example of it now, that when an hon. Member does not like an answer that a Minister gives at Question Time, or some phrase that the Minister uses, he raises the matter under Standing Order No. 9 and is able to ask a supplementary question or to develop the matter in the form of argument or debate. If this precedent is followed, we may have large numbers of applications under Standing Order No. 9 put forward every day by every hon. Member who has some objection to answers that he was given at Question Time.

This is obviously an abuse of the Standing Order No. 9 procedure that could develop into dangerous dimensions and hold up the business of the House. I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that something should be done about this and that the matter should be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure. If not, it will become quite ridiculous and could seriously damage our proceedings.

Sir David Renton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In effect the right hon. Gentleman is saying that an hon. Member who may have a good case under Standing Order No. 9 shall be prevented from putting that case if it happens to be based upon a ministerial answer. The history of this House has shown that many urgent matters have had to be considered by this House arising out of answers Ministers have given. Therefore, I respectfully suggest to you that what has been put to you by the right hon. Gentleman is much too sweeping in character.

Mr. Speaker

Both the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton) and the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) have been in this House for more than three decades and they know the feel of the House. During my period in the House I have on many occasions found that a Minister's reply has given rise to an application under Standing Order No. 9 and has led to a debate. I think that this is a question that the Select Committee on Procedure should look at. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I shall ask the Committee to look at the question because I have a vested interest.

From time to time, as the House should know, when requests for Private Notice Questions have been submitted to me and I have not allowed them I have had to sit here and listen to the hon. Member raising the matter under Standing Order No. 9. I consider that disrespectful to the Chair, and I think that the House should know that I do. If Mr. Speaker is asked to rule on a Private Notice Question, for that day at least it ought to take another form. However, the Select Committee may think otherwise and I shall ask it to look at the whole question.

Mr. George Cunningham

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. How are you going to do that? As I understand it, the Select Committee on Procedure will not be free to examine the matter upon which you will consult it because, by the motion which the House unwisely passed, it can consider only those matters which have been referred to it by the House. I do not say this in any way to criticise what you have said, but simply to illustrate how unwise we were, at the instigation of the Government, to pass that motion containing that restriction.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

Unless I am mistaken, Mr. Speaker, I understand that this is one of the subjects that have been referred for consideration by the Committee and therefore I hope that we shall have a report on the subject fairly soon. I hope that that will comfort my hon. Friend who criticised the motion that was passed. That motion will assist the Select Committee in looking at some of the subjects that have been mentioned today.

Mr. Pym

I think that the House was grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for expressing your view on a certain aspect of the matter, which no doubt may be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure to which the Standing Order No. 9 procedure has been referred. Surely, however, you will agree that it would be absolutely wrong in any way to restrict an hon. Member's right in any way he thinks appropriate to raise a matter which seems to him to be of extreme importance.

If he has applied to you quite legitimately for a Private Notice Question, and if, quite correctly, you have turned him down, it would seem from what you said earlier, Mr. Speaker—perhaps you did not mean to go so far as this—that in some way or other any further discussion or mention of the subject during that day should be considered as being excluded. I do not think that the House could possibly accept such a proposition.

If there is a matter that seems important to one or more hon. Members, and if the first obvious method of raising it is denied, for perfectly legitimate and sound reasons, surely hon. Members are entirely entitled to raise it in another way if they can find such a device. If not, we may get into real difficulties.

I may have been interpreting what you said more strictly than you intended, Mr. Speaker, but it is important that all the ways which are open to an hon. Member to seek to raise a matter should remain open to him, whatever adjustment may be thought proper in relation to any particular method.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. Perhaps it is the system of raising Private Notice Questions that ought to be looked at. My duty is to protect the rights of hon. Members to pursue their interests as far as possible—minority interests especially, because the large numbers can look after themselves. But I accept fully what the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) said.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your ruling, do I understand that you have no criticism whatever of my two hon. Friends who endeavoured to raise important points under Standing Order No. 9? Your answer to the Father of the House would imply that you had some criticism.

Mr. Speaker

I have not. I was in no way criticising the hon. Gentlemen and it should not have been so inferred. However, the Father of the House expressed his criticism, but I have said on an earlier occasion that debates have often been granted under Standing Order No. 9 arising out of replies from Ministers.