§ Mr. Speaker
On Friday morning last I made a statement to the House concerning incidents in the Aye Lobby on Thursday night. The exchanges that followed my ruling caused me to make further inquiries. I have also received a letter from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) enclosing a copy of the notice that he held up in the Division Lobby. I am well aware that there is a long established custom in this House for notices to be held up in the Lobby indicating that there are other Divisions. This has become a part of our way of life, and no exception can be taken to it.
However, the Deputy Serjeant at Arms, who reported to me on the incident, had not seen the smaller writing on the notice but merely saw the words "Stay here." If I had known the full extent of the words on the paper, my statement on Friday would have been very different. Be that as it may, any Speaker must be prepared to accept responsibility for statements made by him from the Chair, and I offer my apologies to the hon. Member for Perry Barr in this matter.
916 None the less, apart from the Division in which there was a disagreement between the Tellers, I have confirmed from three separate sources that the two earlier Divisions took 12 and 11 minutes respectively. The same three sources have confirmed that the Division in question took between 17 and 18 minutes. It was therefore apparent to me after a point of order had been raised that the Division was being unduly delayed, the more so as the Tellers from the other Lobby had reported their figures within approximately the same time as they had done on the previous occasion. It was for that reason that I made inquiries, and I should not hesitate to make inquiries if a similar situation arose and to take action if it appeared clear that Members were holding up proceedings in the Division Lobby.
The House expects me to ensure that the Divisions are conducted expeditiously and fairly, but I wish to make it clear that, in displaying the notice to which I have referred, the hon. Member for Perry Barr in no way exceeded the long-established custom in the Division Lobby on Thursday night.
§ Mr. Rooker
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank you most sincerely for your statement. I am sure that the whole House will be glad that you have cleared up this area of doubt so quickly. I know that both the Whips' offices will be as grateful as I am.