HC Deb 09 June 1986 vol 99 cc21-4 3.32 pm
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recollect, as it has been commented on today, that on Friday we lost one of our few debates in private Members' time as a result of the devious machinations of the Government Chief Whip, with the furtive endorsement of the Prime Minister as far as we can gather. I have read the rulings that you gave on Friday and would in no way challenge them. I wish to raise a completely new point, on which I would welcome your ruling.

I submit that the House is entitled — we are not asking for a discretionary concession—to a replacement Back-Bench day in lieu of Friday.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Absolute nonsense.

Mr. Williams

The hon. Gentleman says, "Absolute nonsense", but I remind him that he, as a Back Bencher, has every bit as much interest as the rest of us in protecting Back-Bench time.

At column 1336, Mr. Speaker, you ruled that at 9.31 am, we were still discussing Thursday's business. According to a convention that we well understand, because we had gone beyond 9.30 am, Friday did not exist. Friday did not exist as a parliamentary day, as is shown by the Official Report. Further down the column you said: The House itself decides how many days should be set aside for Back-Bench motions and Back-Bench time generally. It is not a matter for the Chain"— [Official Report, 5 June 1986; Vol. 98. c. 1336.] I accept entirely that it is not a matter for the Chair. The House has passed a resolution specifying the number of parliamentary days that there must be for Back Benchers, and it is a matter for the Chair to ensure that the House has the number of days that have been allocated. As Friday did not exist as a parliamentary day, it cannot count as one in terms of the resolution specifying the number of days available to Back Benchers. Therefore, Back Benchers are entitled to have that day restored to them.

If I am correct in my interpretation that Back Benchers are owed a day—I would appreciate a ruling, although I am happy not to have it immediately—would the ballot that has already taken place for that day stand, and would my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who won the ballot, have a right to his day?

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. A supplementary point to the events to which the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) referred also relates to defending private Members' time. You and the House will recall that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House drew attention to the difficulty about the Friday that never was during the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, lichen (Mr. Chope). I rose to speak, but was interrupted perfectly fairly on points of order. That cut into my hon. Friend's time. Is there any "injury time" if during an Adjournment debate a substantial number of points of order are made perfectly properly which interfere with the half hour dedicated to that debate? That should also be taken into consideration.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to submit a further consideration on this matter, especially as the Leader of the House has said today that he has no sense of contrition about what has happened and, presumably, would not be willing to intervene in the event of similar circumstances occurring. If this precedent is to be followed, private Members' time will constantly be under threat by a resort to similar methods. When you consider the matter and advise the House, will you also take that into account, because it would be easy to wreck almost every Friday, and soon the House would have to take steps to reconstitute private Members' rights? Some of us think that the Leader of the House and the majority party could have taken those steps already. If they will not take them, the House certainly will.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Back-Bench days are precious to Back-Bench Members because the amount of time that we have compared with that of the Executive is, understandably, little. It is well known, and has not in any way been disputed, that the Prime Minister found the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) offensive. Indeed, the Leader of the House used that expression last week. Obviously, the Prime Minister was involved in denying my hon. Friend his debate. I do not think that that is in dispute, and I accept that that is not a matter for you.

To return to the important point raised by my right hon. Friends the Members for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) and for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), if next time a Labour Member wins the ballot and the same words are used in the motion—that is a possibility, because this is Parliament and when we are denied the right to put our case we find other ways and means—and the motion is seen as censuring the Prime Minister and her conduct over the three important matters in my hon. Friend's motion, which was not debated, are we to have a repeat and——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going into the merits of the case. That is not a point of order for me.

Mr. Winnick

We believe that you should help us in your role as Speaker if the Executive goes out of its way to deny a Back-Bench Member his debate when he is lucky in the ballot, which is rare. What protection can we have? If the Prime Minister, the Executive and all the Government forces deny us that opportunity, surely at the end of the day all that we can do is ask you for your protection.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall, because you were in the Chair at the time, that I was one of the Back-Bench Members who were seeking to participate in the Channel tunnel debate on Thursday night. You will also recall that such was the interest shown in the debate by Back-Bench Members that I had to curtail my remarks at 9 am on Friday, in deference to the wish of the House to proceed with the business. I hope you will take into account the fact that such was the legitimate interest in the debate on the Channel tunnel and its importance that the debate carried on through the night and I had to curtail my remarks at 9 o'clock the following morning.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you are to consider this matter, will you also reflect on the fact that not just one but many hon. Members attended the Chamber to debate the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill, and that Labour Members insisted on spending the entire time moving a by-election?

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If Friday last does not exist in parliamentary terms, would it be true to say that the ballot does not exist? I say this as one who does not mind whether or not the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) speaks, as long as I do not have to listen to him.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Opposition feel so terribly upset at being denied an opportunity to debate a motion of censure on the Prime Minister, is not the remedy in their own hands? They must ask for a debate.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was elected in 1979. One night, when an agreement had been made through the usual channels between the Whips, I exceeded by five minutes the agreement that had been reached, which was that I should speak for only five minutes. Following that debate the then Chief Whip came to me and privately deprecated what I had done. I always remember what he said, as he was most bitter in his criticism. He said, "This place lives by agreements." As I understand it, a resolution of the House provides for the allocation of time. That resolution was born out of discussions through the usual channels, and so is subject to the principle which I believe in the usual channels is referred to as "best endeavours".

Last week, within the orbit of the best endeavours agreement, the Government broke that agreement by inciting Back Benchers to filibuster. In doing so they undermined the agreement which they had put to the House and which became a resolution when it was carried by a majority of hon. Members. I ask you to deprecate any action by any Whip that leads to undermining an agreement made through the usual channels.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) — I think that that is the area that suffers from his overlordship — made the comment that he had had to curtail his speech at 9 am on Friday. I had left the House by then. If that is the case, he is about the only hon. Member in the whole of the filibuster who did so. I sat here until the wee small hours of Friday morning—the morning that does not exist in parliamentary terms —and not a single honourable filibusterer curtailed his remarks. There was a repetition and regurgitation of rubbish hour after hour. It was quite clear that some Conservative Members, and even some right hon. Members, were taking part in an exercise to defend the Prime Minister, who obviously has something to hide.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed this matter to run because I have sympathy with the hon. Member who lost his place on Friday. It is true that Friday 6 June was a designated day under the resolution of the House on 7 November. However, the House well knows that if a debate runs over, as it did on Thursday night and Friday beyond 9.30 am, the day's business is lost. I have no authority to do as some hon. Members would wish. It would require a resolution of the House to nominate another specific day, and that is best discussed through the usual channels.

Mr. Williams

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I invite the Leader of the House to respond sympathetically to any such representations from this side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot add any more.


Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)

Further to the point of order about the last Friday, Mr. Speaker, about which we have heard a great deal. We are grateful to you for your clear ruling and guidance. It is now plain that it is open to the House to restore the lost rights of private Members by a resolution of the House. As you rightly said, this matter should be considered by the usual channels. I think that it is appropriate, in the presence of the Leader of the House, who has a key involvement in the matter, for you to ask him to respond positively to our invitation and to take the lead in restoring the rights of Back Benchers.

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

I can add nothing helpful in answer to the questions. If the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) wants to use the offices of the usual channels, that is a matter for him.