HC Deb 17 April 1985 vol 77 cc273-6

4.6 pm

Mr. David Sumberg (Bury, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point of order concerns last night's Adjournment debate, which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) and the rules relating to that precious half hour of Adjournment time at the end of our proceedings.

It is ironic that the debate was about the denial of freedom of speech to Raymond Honeyford, who is a Bradford teacher. Because he is my constituent, my hon. Friend he Member for Shipley was kind enough to say that he would allow me to speak briefly. I wrote to him before the debate. Because our proceedings were constantly interrupted with spurious points of order from the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), aided and abetted by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I was denied an opportunity to speak on behalf of my constituent and, more importantly, the House and my constituent were denied the opportunity of a ministerial reply to what my hon. Friend had said.

This is a most dangerous precedent. As the protector of Back Bench rights, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask you to confirm two things: first, that the Adjournment is personal to the hon. Member who raises it and that other hon. Members speak at his discretion; secondly, that the behaviour of the hon. Member for Bradford, West denied my constituent a ministerial response and was a flagrant and disgraceful abuse of the procedures of the House.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

On the same point?

Mr. Madden

Yes, Sir. I regret having to burden you with this point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, especially as you were not in the Chair when these unfortunate proceedings took place. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) initiated an Adjournment debate last night about a head teacher who is not his constituent but, as you have heard, a constituent of the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg). The hon. Member for Shipley made an extremely provocative and partisan speech concerning parents, who are my constituents, whose children go to a school which is in my constituency.

I wrote to the hon. Member for Shipley and the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science who was to reply asking that I might speak to explain why a majority of parents with children at the school have lost confidence in the headmaster as a result of a string of insults and abuse that he has levelled at them in a series of newspaper articles. The hon. Member for Shipley claims the right of freedom of speech for those who agree with him but is most anxious to deny that right to those of us who disagree with him.

I feel especially resentful as, last year, when I initiated an Adjournment debate about the closure of a hospital in my constituency, which closure had consequences for the Shipley constituency, I readily allowed the hon. Member for Shipley to speak at some length although he never wrote to me or contacted me to seek my permission. I am afraid that, mistakenly, I expected him to extend the same courtesy to me last night.

You will agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this place relies heavily on good will. I am sure that many colleagues on both sides of the House agree that that good will will evaporate very quickly if many hon. Members follow the disgraceful example set last night by the hon. Member for Shipley and initiate debates on controversial issues which concern institutions not in their constituency and people who are not their constituents, and then deny the hon. Member directly concerned an opportunity to reply to the disgraceful allegations which are made.

I very much regret raising this matter, and I also regret that last night I felt compelled to protest. However, this matter is important for the House of Commons. It is important that advice is given so that the unfortunate incidents which occurred last night are not seen again. The responsibility for what took place lies squarely and firmly with the hon. Member for Shipley.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am prepared to call hon. Members on points of order, but we cannot have a debate on this matter.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will know how much Adjournment debates are valued by hon. Members who wish to draw attention to matters of concern, and also how difficult it often is to secure such a debate. The events which took place last night were very much as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) described so well. Essentially, it was a debate about—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It might help the hon. Gentleman and the House if I explained that not only have I read the transcript, but I was present in the Chamber for the latter part of the proceedings. Therefore, there is no need for hon. Members to tell me what happened last night. They can take it for granted that I know something about it.

Mr. Waller

In response to what the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has just said, I should point out that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) received no intimation from the hon. Gentleman that he intended to intervene, even had such an intervention been relevant, as this is surely a matter for my hon. Friend. I also knew only 10 minutes before the debate began that he wished to intervene. Although these points are not directly relevant, the point is surely that an Adjournment debate is personal to the hon. Member who initiates it, and, save for the Minister who is to reply, no other hon. Member has the right to intervene without that hon. Member's permission. That right should be maintained on behalf of the House.

Mr. Marcus Fox (Shipley)

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). May I make it clear that I received no letter from him? The children of some of my constituents attend that school, but the debate was not concerned with the school but with Mr. Honeyford and education in Bradford generally.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that in your experience an hon. Member never raises a matter on the Adjournment about a school or any other institution in the constituency of another hon. Member and then deliberately tries to organise the debate so as to deny the constituency Member even the opportunity of saying two or three words? In those circumstances, it was not surprising that last night Opposition Members were totally appalled by such behaviour. If hon. Members wish to ensure the cooperation which is necessary if this House is to function, any hon. Member applying for an Adjournment debate on an institution in the constituency of another hon. Member should at least do that hon. Member the courtesy of allowing him a minute or two out of the short time available.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker —

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We have had a good run on this matter, and a lot of work still lies ahead of us. At this stage, it might be sensible if I said something. I have already told the House that as well as being present for the latter part of the proceedings before the House adjourned last night, I have carefully read the transcript. All the matters that have been raised today were dealt with by the Deputy Speaker who was in the Chair yesterday evening. I see no reason whatever to dissent from any of his rulings. In the circumstances, he acted very properly, and it would be wrong if the House adopted the practice of appealing against matters which have already been dealt with and decisions which have already been made. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] All hon. Members who have raised this matter today have recognised that essentially we are discussing the courtesies and conventions of the House. I hope that all hon. Members will recognise and observe those long-standing courtesies and conventions, which in this case appear not to have been fully observed. These are not matters for the Chair. It is for hon. Members to recognise the courtesies and conventions of the House, and I hope that will be done in future. Bearing in mind the lessons that we have learned from these discussions, we should now proceed to the next business.