HC Deb 22 July 1980 vol 989 cc270-3
Mr. Speaker

I have a short statement to make about our proceedings last night. I have been asked by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) for an explanation of how the Question came to be put on his amendment to the motion on Members' salaries and pensions. I think that the hon. Gentleman is entitled to such an explanation.

After the conclusion of the first four speeches in the debate on the motion it was clear that there was a strong desire on both sides of the House to proceed to decide on the various propositions before the House. It was not a unanimous desire, and on two occasions I refused to accept a motion for the closure. On the third occasion, since the calls for a vote continued strongly, I agreed that the matter should be put to the vote, and the closure was carried by the convincing margin of 257 votes to 33.

Since the Question formally before the House was the main Question, strictly speaking that Question should thereupon have been put to the vote. However, to have done so would have excluded a vote on all the amendments to the motion that I had selected. I therefore felt justified in deeming that the hon. Member for Fife, Central had moved his amendment, being the first due for decision, and I put the Question on that amendment. In that way, it was possible for the House to proceed to decide on all the subsequent amendments in the way originally intended.

The circumstances last night were unprecedented. I took a decision on my own responsibility, as the House expects its Speaker to do. I consider that what I did was justified. It gave the House an opportunity to register its opinion. In a similar situation I would do the same again.

Mr. Foot

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I know that the House is much more concerned about the serious matters that we have just been discussing, but our procedures are also matters of considerable importance.

You said, Mr. Speaker, that in similar circumstances you would make a similar decision, namely, put the closure motion to the House, but may I suggest, with the greatest respect, that you should consider making a fresh statement to the House on that matter? If you propose to do as you suggest it will be an incitement to hon. Members to produce a closure by creating a considerable din—and din can be created in various ways in the House.

I am in favour of protecting the rights of Back Benchers, and some other hon. Members should also wish to protect them. I suggest that the way to protect the rights of Back Benchers and the House as a whole is to stand by our normal procedures on the operation of the closure.

Mr. Speaker

I am obliged to the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot) for what he said. I shall consider his remarks.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one of those who did not want the closure to be carried last night, my view is diametrically opposed to that of the Shadow Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Foot). The flexibility shown last night was welcomed by most of the House. If similar circumstances arise again I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to consider whether it might be possible for the occupant of the Chair to obtain an indication from the deemed mover of the amendment whether he would be willing to move it formally before the closure is put.

Mr, Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks.

Mr. William Hamilton

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Thank you for making that statement, although I am dissatisfied with it. In my long years of service in the House it has been unknown to me for any Speaker to deem that an hon. Member has moved something that he has not moved. That denied me my fundamental rights in the House. The prime duty of Mr. Speaker is to protect the interests of Back-Bench Members. That was not seen to be done last night. I wrote to you because I wished to prevent that action from becoming a precedent. Your statement seems to imply that you will create a precedent. You said that you would repeat the process on a similar occasion. That would be regrettable.

Mr. Speaker

I considered last night, and I still consider today, that in view of the circumstances it was my duty to ensure that the House had an opportunity to vote on the issues on which it was anxious to vote. To that extent I did what my predecessors, Speaker Dennison, Speaker Brand, Speaker Gulley and others did when faced with an entirely new position—I reacted in the interests of the House as I believed them to be.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I see that five hon. Members wish to raise points of order. I shall take those points and reply to them collectively.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not procedure the instrument of the House and not its master? When it became plain, as it did last night, that the House wished to pursue a certain course—a course that was not oppressive to those moving amendments, because three out of the five amendments were carried—was it not right to act as you did and set that precedent, which need not be slavishly followed in future but should be an instrument whereby the wishes of the House could be adhered to?

Mr. Spearing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While understanding that your statement related to what happened last night—we all hope that such a necessity will not recur—I point out that Standing Order No. 30 states that the Question "That the Question be now put" shall be put forthwith unless it appears to the Chair that such a motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, or an infringement of the rights of the minority". A Question accepted before an amendment that has been selected by the Chair is moved could be an infringement of the rights of the minority. Until the Question is put one does not know the minority view. I ask your assurance that, in all normal circumstances, that will be your interpretation of Standing Order No. 30.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has raised a valid point. We must seek to protect the rights of minorities. Those in the House last night—and there was a good attendance—knew that there was an overwhelming feeling, which was reflected in the Lobby. I hope that the circumstances described do not arise again.