HC Deb 24 November 1987 vol 123 cc153-4

Miss Marjorie Mowlam accordingly presented a Bill to provide for concessionary television licences for state retirement pensioners: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 January 1988 and to be printed. [Bill 57.]

4.14 pm
Mr. Frank Cook

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to raise a point of order before—and if in any way I appeared to challenge you, Mr. Speaker, I assure you that I did not seek to do so—because I feel very strongly on this subject. Is it not a convention of the House that on the presentation of a ten-minute Bill, if an hon. Member rises to challenge that Bill, it should be put to a Division? I understand that that has always been the case.

When I presented the Renewable and Alternative Energy (Promotion) Bill, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), who has left the Chamber, sought to challenge it. He was then so spineless that he did not have the courage to force a Division. We have seen a repetition of that spineless behaviour today from the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to advise the hon. Member so that he might avoid being quite so cowardly.

Mr. Speaker

It is of course in order for the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) to oppose a ten-minute Bill. When I put the Question, the hon. Member indicated that he was against it. However, when I collected the voices, I did not hear him persist in that.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that we will not adopt the practice of opposing ten-minute Bills just for the sake of it.

Mr. Winnick

You have said, Mr. Speaker, that you hope that hon. Members would not oppose ten-minute Bills for the sake of it. Is there any way in which the mechanism can be changed? The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) spoke very strongly against the ten-minue Bill. When you asked for the "Noes" there was a very muted "No".

It is not only contemptible but cowardly for an hon. Member to speak as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire spoke and then refuse to vote against the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman must not impute that motive to the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). This House is about very strong feelings. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw the word "cowardly"?

Mr. Winnick

I have not changed my mind in any way. However, if you say that I cannot use the word "cowardly" on the Floor of the House, I have no alternative but to do as you say, Sir. My quarrel was with the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire, not with you, Sir.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are not Opposition Members confused because they do not understand parliamentary democracy? Is it not the case that it is not necessary for Conservative Members to call a Division? Any hon. Member who was present in the Chamber on Friday will be aware that a Division was called against the Opposition's wishes. Do they not understand parliamentary procedure? They could have forced a Division themselves.

Mr. Skinner

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is another aspect to this matter of gutless Members not being prepared to follow their voices with their votes. A ten-minute Bill, especially early on in a parliamentary Session, must be queued for with only a chance of parliamentary debate at some later stage once leave has been granted for the Bill to be introduced. On rare occasions ten-minute Bills have been presented early in the Session and have managed to reach the statute book. However, with many ten-minute Bills, on a Friday towards the end of the Session, a Government Whip—this has happened under both Labour and Conservative Governments; I am not making a party point here—has shouted "Object" at the end of the discussion. Recently, Bills about pensioners and television licences have suffered as a result of Whips objecting late in the Session.

My point for you, Mr. Speaker, is that if there is no vote on leave to bring in a Bill, even though there is a muted voice, it would seem that it would be right for a Government Whip who has already perhaps given instructions that a vote should not be held not to issue instructions later in the Session to kill the Bill. Therefore, if Government Whips do not have the guts to oppose it now, they should not follow a guillotine-like procedure at the end of the Session. What has happened today illustrates that the Government are not prepared to argue the case or to test it in the Lobbies. My hon. Friend's Bill might suffer the fate of being lost without a Division.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) referred to hon. Members not having the courage of their convictions by voting. Is it not correct that the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook), who raised a point of order with you earlier, Mr. Speaker, did not have the courage of his convictions on Friday, when he did not support his hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron)? The hon. Members for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) and for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) were the only two Labour Members who had the guts to support the miners.

Mr. Frank Cook

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) wants to find out how gutless I am, I shall see him outside.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that this behaviour shows us in a good light. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is right in saying that occasionally a ten-minute Bill gets on to the statute book. However, I must say to the House that any hon. Member who opposes it should do so from sincere motives and should carry his opposition into the Division Lobby.