§ 4.4 pm
§ Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that, just before 2 o'clock this morning, the Government Chief Whip moved a motion to closure the debate on the Finance (No. 2) Bill. The Chairman of Ways and Means accepted that motion, and the motion was put and carried. I seek your ruling, Mr. Speaker. The fact that the Government Chief Whip moved that motion raises a serious constitutional matter. As you will be aware, the Finance (No. 2) Bill is a Ways and Means motion. It is a request from the Monarch for money. The House has the right to decide whether and how it will debate that request. The Government Chief Whip is a paid servant of the Monarch, as are all other Whips and Ministers. That is their position within the House. As such, for the Government Chief Whip to move that motion——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is making a complaint against the Government Chief Whip. I must answer points of order.
§ Mr. Maxton
This is a point of order, Sir. I am saying that the moving of that motion by the Government Chief Whip is an attempt by the Monarchy to influence the affairs and the debates of the House. If that is the case, Mr. Speaker, this is a serious matter for you to consider. It raises a serious constitutional issue about the relationship between the Monarchy and the House. We request your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Finance Bill deals with matters of the greatest importance in raising revenue. They are not minor matters, but even if they were this point would still be valid. Yesterday, when those matters were being discussed, the Government attempted—successfully, because of their large majority—to gag the House. The Front Benchers were not able to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) was not able to speak. Surely we are entitled to discuss the Finance Bill at length. The time available to debate that Bill is deliberately not limited, because it raises matters of crucial importance. I have no doubt that by now you know, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday it was not possible to continue with the debate. Not only my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill was denied the opportunity to speak—that was unusual—but a number of my hon. Friends, who believed that important national and constituency issues should be debated, were denied the right to debate those issues because of the actions of the Government Chief Whip. Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts) made the point that a closure motion on the Finance Bill had not been put in the House since 1925.
I intended no disrespect to Mr. Deputy Speaker. He was faced with a difficult position, which was not of his making. Our complaints were against the Government, not against the occupant of the Chair. Yesterday, I was trying to make the point—I now finally make it—that we wanted to see you, Mr. Speaker, because we believed that the issues were of such constitutional importance you should be brought in. That is why yesterday, during my 394 point of order to Mr. Deputy Speaker, I suggested that a deputation should ask to see you. I trust that if that had been agreed you would have seen us.
§ Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is an issue for the Chair to consider. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is right. In the early hours of this morning, a constitutional outrage was perpetrated when the Government rode roughshod over the democratic processes and traditions of the House. There is a strong precedent. A closure motion was last moved on the Second Reading of a Finance Bill on 25 May 1925. That motion was made by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill. The motion was opposed by Captain Wedgwood Benn who was then the Member for Leith. Three days later, the House debated a vote of 'censure, tabled by Captain Wedgwood Benn, on the Chair's decision to accept the closure. That was a major constitutional issue.
Last night, Mr. Deputy Speaker—I do not criticise him; he is greatly respected in the House—said that it was for the House to decide whether to continue the debate. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that the Chair should decide whether closure is to be accepted. We wish to make representations to you on that ground. We want to safeguard minorities in the House—the largest minority, which is the Labour Opposition, and the other minorities. The issue is that on 28 May 1925 the censure motion was carried. If nothing else is sacrosanct, surely "No taxation without representation" is enshrined in our unwritten constitution. I should like a ruling on that point so that it does not happen in the future.
§ Mr. Tim Rathbone (Lewes)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When considering the role played by those in the pay of the Crown, I am sure that you should also consider the role played by the Leader of the Opposition, who is in a similar position.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
In support of the points of order that have been raised and the point of order that was raised in 1925, may I say this we are discussing the protection of minorities, Mr. Speaker. The Front Benches are entitled to speak at length, and they did so in the debate yesterday, but there are numerous minority interests within the country that are not merely confined to political parties but apply to different areas and industries and other minorities on whose behalf hon. Members speak in the House from time to time. The matter was such yesterday, Mr. Speaker, that the voice of those minorities could not be heard on Second Reading. I do not wish to criticise Mr. Deputy Speaker in any way, but it seems that the constitutional point at issue is whether the Government can direct that a debate be closured or whether it is for Mr. Speaker to say. I ask you to say that it is for Mr. Speaker to say, and that last night's proceedings were unconstitutional.
§ Mr. Skinner
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that you will agree that one of the problems involved in administering justice in this place is that during the past few months at least there has been plenty of evidence to show that a Government with a pretty 395 large majority, such as this one, can use that tremendous power to trample all over the Opposition. I think that you will agree that that fear was voiced not just by the Opposition but, before the election, by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym), who I believe will be taking part in a debate on another Bill this afternoon which will remove power froth local government.
Faced with a majority of nigh on 200, it is necessary that when people read about this place in textbooks and about the almost unlimited power of the Opposition to obstruct legislation, those people who write the academic texts should say that discussion on legislation such as the Finance Bill traditionally is not curtailed by the Government, unless with agreement, when there is an impending election, as once happened not too long ago. It is important that what happened last night should not become part of the Government's tradition—trampling all over the rights of Back Benchers—for the next two or three years. That is why some of us were greatly disturbed that Mr. Deputy Speaker was prepared to accept the closure after about seven hours' debate on the Finance Bill when scores of hon. Members on both sides of the House wanted to take part in the debate. That has not taken place for nigh on 60 years under Labour or Conservative Governments.
In those circumstances, it is necessary for Mr. Speaker to bear in mind that if he wants to maintain the idea that was put forward at the time of his election—the duty to protect minorities—it is more than essential, given the Government's vast majority and their attitude towards curtailing freedoms for millions of people, for Mr. Speaker, not to throw his weight about, but to give the Government a little nudge in the right direction.
§ Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would the complaints made by the Opposition about difficulties in speaking not have greater credibility if, according to the Official Report, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) had not 396 spoken for one hour and 20 minutes, and, according to the Official Report which will no doubt be published tomorrow, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) had not spoken for one hour and 48 minutes?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not think we need any more points of order on that matter. I think that I can deal with it. I think that we have had enough of this. We have an important——
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is persisting in what is basically an abuse, but if his point is directly concerned with this matter I will take it.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
Mr. Speaker, I am not abusing the procedures of the House. I am rising, as is my right, on a point of order.
§ Mr. Speaker
I believe that the hon. Gentleman has just come in. He was not here when the matter was originally raised.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I was otherwise engaged, Mr. Speaker. Could I ask that, when we are discussing the Finance Bill for three days in Committee on the Floor of the House, you take into account what happened last night and perhaps consider sensitively Government applications for closures?
§ Mr. Speaker
Of course. Let me answer this matter. I have, of course, had a full report from the Chairman of Ways and Means, the First Deputy Speaker, on what happened last night. Had hon. Members wished to see me—I do not say that I would have been all that happy at 2 o'clock in the morning—I certainly was available and would gladly have seen them to sort out the matter. I am entirely satisfied with the line that the First Deputy Speaker took on the matter. I have nothing to add I think that he took the only decision open to him at that time. We must move on.