HC Deb 17 December 1985 vol 89 cc176-7

Motion made, and Question proposed, That, at this day's sitting, if proceedings on the Motion relating to Register of Members' Interests have not been disposed of before Ten o'clock:—

  1. (1) Mr. Speaker shall at that hour put the Question on any Amendment which may have been moved, and shall then put forthwith the Question on any other Amendments selected by him which may then be moved, and on the Main Question or the Main Question as amended; and
  2. (2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 4 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure)), the Motion relating to Water may be proceeded with, though opposed, for one and a half hours after it has been entered upon.—[Mr. Lennox-Boyd.]

4·29 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

I do not intend to detain the House but this is a unique opportunity to raise an important procedural principle. I welcome the decision to change the order of business this evening so that there might be four Divisions on the amendments that you have selected, Mr. Speaker.

This is an important principle and I welcome the precedent which I hope will be extended to other occasions. We take the view that, apart from the Queen's Speech, which is the one chance every year when we are able to debate a second amendment and vote upon it, we far too rarely have the opportunity to debate and vote on other shades of opinion. Far too often our views are polarised and we are forced to accept black and white issues when there are often many shades of grey. Back Benchers who may hold a dissenting view rarely have the opportunity to table their amendments or debate them, so Front Bench views are often the ones that are set in concrete, and Back Benchers are invariably forced to vote upon them.

The present arrangements do not allow for the multi-party system which now operates. We have a multi-party system but it is stuck in a two-track groove. At present, even though our amendments may be tabled and appear on the Order Paper, they are not printed in the Official Report, thus the public are unlikely to learn of views other than those of the two Front Benches.

This issue was last examined in 1976 by the Procedure Select Committee. At that time, many Labour Back Benchers supported our view. I know that many hon. Members agree that such opportunities should be provided on other occasions. It should not be necessary to bring the Leader of the House here to table a business motion. We believe that such provision could be left to the discretion of Mr. Speaker. The Standing Order could be changed so that Mr. Speaker selects two or more amendments which might be voted upon automatically at 10 o'clock. It would be in the interests of all Members not to be penned in by the practice of always voting for or against set piece positions. If what we are debating today were common practice, it would improve the quality of our debates and political life. I support the motion.

4·32 pm
The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

Courtesy requires me to acknowledge what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has said. I am sure he would not expect me to go beyond that except to observe that, the longer I talk at this Box, the more I shall eat into the time available for the debate on Members' interests. I leave it at that.

Question put and agreed to.