HC Deb 31 January 1977 vol 925 cc31-3
Mr. George Cunningham

My point of order, Mr. Speaker, relates to Speaker's Conferences, so-called. You will have seen reports in the Press over the weekend that there is a possibility that you may be invited by certain Members to set up a new Speaker's Conference with a view to considering, amongst other things, the question of the representation in this House of Scotland and Wales following a possible passage of the devolution Bill. You may be aware that there are amendments on the Notice Paper for the Committee of the whole House this week relating to this matter. If those amendments were passed—and I understand that you have no locus in relation to what might be in order in the Committee—any discretion in your hands whether you should agree to set up a Speaker's Conference on this matter would have passed from you and you would be bound by the statute passed by Parliament.

I think, Mr. Speaker, that there are some matters on which every hon. Member would wish to have some indication from you before deciding upon those amendments, should they be selected, and, even more so, if those amendments were not to be selected, so that the discretion would lie completely unfettered in your hands. Can you confirm that a Speaker's Conference is a private Committee of your own, not a Committee of this House, which would therefore be established not by vote of this House and the Members chosen not by vote of this House and the list not amendable by this House but only as a result of what I would with great respect call a cabal between the self-appointed prefects of the House and yourself?

May I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that if you were to become involved in a matter of this degree of political controversiality the position of the Chair would surely be considerably weakened? May I also ask whether you have had any approach so far as to your willingness to call a Speaker's Conference, whether following statute or without the necessity of statute?

Finally, may I ask you, Mr. Speaker, what guidance you can give the House as to the basis on which you would choose Members to serve on a Speaker's Conference, given that the division of opinion in the House would not, on the issue of the representation of Scotland and Wales, follow party lines?

I think that many hon. Members would appreciate your guidance on those points, Mr. Speaker, not necessarily today but before the Committee of the House considers the matter tomorrow.

Mr. Pym

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There may be amendments to the Scotland and Wales Bill that could give rise to the fears just expressed by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham). I have not seen them, but they may be on the Notice Paper. But I rise, for the purpose of greater clarity concerning amendments put down by myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends, to say that nothing we have proposed by way of amendment requests you, let alone instructs or requires you, to set up a Speaker's Conference. We have made clear in our amendments that the initiative lies with the Prime Minister, not with you, but request that you should perhaps consider presiding over such a conference, I think it wise to make that clear, because I think that I should have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point of view, in that we should not wish to have you put in any awkward political position. Normally Speaker's Conferences are convened on the initiative of the Prime Minister, and we have adhered to that in our amendment.

Mr. Heffer

Drop the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

Happily, I am not required to rule on that.

The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has raised a number of issues that are hypothetical but of great concern to the House. I shall study the hon. Gentleman's point of order, to which I listened carefully. If there is any advantage in my making a statement to the House, I shall do so. Otherwise, if the House does not mind, I shall communicate with the hon. Gentleman. If I think that there is advantage to the House in my saying anything, I shall naturally be very willing to do so.