HC Deb 20 April 1988 vol 131 cc934-60
Mr. Speaker

Before calling the Leader of the House to move the motion in his name, may I remind the House that the exercise of its disciplinary powers in relation to one of its own Members is one of its most solemn and responsible duties. I trust that the forthcoming debate will be conducted in accordance with the best traditions of this House, and that in reviewing the conduct of a colleague we shall conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the responsibility that we bear.

In order to allow the House the possibility of choosing what alternative penalty, if any, is appropriate in this case, I have selected both of the amendments on the Order Paper. I shall permit a general debate on the motion and the amendments. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that, if it is desired to move both amendments after the conclusion of the debate, it will be necessary for it to end approximately 20 minutes before the allotted time so that there will be an opportunity for both amendments to be taken.

I ask hon. Members to bear these considerations in mind. In view of the long list of right hon. and hon. Members who wish to participate in this debate, I ask for brief speeches.

10.15 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

I beg to move, That Mr. Ron Brown be suspended from the service of the House for twenty sitting days, and be held responsible for the damage that was sustained by the Mace.

The motion before the House was tabled last night following discussions through the usual channels, and with the agreement of the official Opposition. The points of order yesterday afternoon about the conduct of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) after which I undertook to bring forward a motion showed how seriously the House regards this matter. The agreement to the motion from both sides of the Chamber is a clear sign that the House generally accepts the importance of upholding the authority of the Chair.

The incidents to which the motion refers took place yesterday and the day before, so the House will need little reminding of them. On Monday night, at the end of the proceedings, the hon. Member for Leith threw some papers on to the floor of the Chamber and picked up the Mace. He then released it, and, as it hit the ground, it sustained a certain amount of damage. As you told the House yesterday, Mr. Speaker, the extent of that damage is now being assessed.

Arrangements were made yesterday for the hon. Member to make a personal statement at 3.30 pm about his conduct the previous night. Despite being given ample opportunity by you, Mr. Speaker, to make his statement and apologise, he failed to do so in a way which satisfied the House and had to be asked to withdraw from the Chamber.

I have deliberately given a low-key factual account of what happened, but it is clear that many right hon. and hon. Members are—in my view rightly—very concerned at this behaviour. The conduct of the hon. Member for Leith showed a deep disrespect for the dignity and position of the Speaker of this House and the authority he exercises on behalf of the House itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) was right to point out yesterday that the House is generous to those who make personal statements expressing regret for action taken in the heat of the moment. I am sure that hon. Members can think for themselves of occasions when this has occurred. Very often the House may decide that on these occasions no further action is needed. But I do not think that anyone who heard the hon. Member for Leith yesterday could believe that he regretted his action, and indeed I understand that he has since said as much to the press. That is why the House must take this matter so seriously.

The action which the motion proposes is twofold. The first element is that the hon. Member for Leith should be suspended from the service of the House for 20 sitting days. This is, of course, the level of penalty which would automatically follow on the second occasion in a single Session that the same hon. Member had been named. The second element is that the hon. Member should be held responsible for the damage sustained by the Mace, and should thus pay for the repair work it needs. I do not think many hon. Members would disagree with the view that the hon. Member for Leith's aggravation of his original misconduct by his persistent refusal to offer a satisfactory apology justifies a penalty more severe than that which he would have received yesterday had he been named. Nor do I think any hon. Member would feel it right for the public purse to bear the cost of putting right the damage done to the Mace as a result of the hon. Member's conduct.

It may be helpful if I now say a few words about each of the amendments which you, Mr. Speaker, have selected.

The amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) would reduce the penalty for the hon. Member for Leith to financial liability for the damage caused to the Mace. I say to the hon. Gentleman that, while that might conceivably have been acceptable to the House if the hon. Member for Leith had shown yesterday any genuine regret for what he had done, in the circumstances where he quite clearly has not, for the sake of its own reputation I do not believe the House would or should agree to that amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), by contrast, would take a tougher line than would my motion which was agreed through the usual channels. He would ask the House to suspend the hon. Member for Leith without pay for 60 sitting days and insist on an acceptable apology before the suspension was lifted. I greatly sympathise with the concerns behind my hon. Friend's amendment. But I do not think that it would be right to bring forward new disciplinary measures—docking salary and making an end to the suspension dependent on an acceptable apology are novel—in one particular case without a more general consideration of the House's power in this respect. As the House will know, I said at business questions last week that I expect to set up the Procedure Committee very shortly. Indeed, I hope to table the motion next week. It may be that that Committee would wish to carry out a review of our disciplinary procedures and, if so, I am sure that the House would wish to take its comments into account before making any changes.

Sir Hugh Rossi (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. Obviously, the House must take careful note of what he has said concerning the ordinary penalty that this House is accustomed to impose in situations of this kind. Nevertheless, could he state whether there has been an increase in incidents giving rise to suspension in recent years which might lead the House or the Committee that he is setting up to draw the conclusion that that sanction is possibly less adequate than it has been in the past?

Mr. Wakeham

Since the end of the war in 1945, there have been 24 suspensions of five days for hon. Members acting in defiance of the Chair, of which seven have occurred in this Session, since we returned in the autumn.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

Does the Leader of the House accept that there have been previous examples of many suspensions being made on the same day, for example, in 1881, a total of 28—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Conservative Members are not interested in any form of historical perspective. In 1881, 28 hon. Members were expelled on the same day. Should not the Leader of the House look back a little further to see what happened in the past?

Mr. Wakeham

We are living in the present day and are trying to deal with the present problems. I have to say that seven suspensions in this Session of Parliament, compared with the total of 24 for similar offences for the entire period since the war, is something that I should have thought was of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House.

In conclusion, Mr. Speaker, I would say just this. It is a privilege of which many of us are very conscious to be a Member of this place. That privilege carries the responsibility of respecting the authority the House itself places in the holder of the office of Speaker and of observing the procedures and practices by which we order our discussions. When those are defied, we cannot take the matter lightly, and must act in self-regulation. No amount of regulation by the House can adequately substitute for self-discipline and self-control on the part of each individual hon. Member. But, in the present circumstances, the motion proposes a disciplinary course which I believe the House as a whole will find it right to take. I commend it to the House.

10.23 pm
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

From time to time, because we are overwrought, angry or frustrated, we all make fools of ourselves, including in this place, but we all live in hope of the opportunity to recover our reputations—

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

My old mum says that one must apologise, and I cannot knock that. Clearly, individuals here and elsewhere are worried about this mess. I hope that they are also worried about the working class and what it has to suffer. If you, Mr. Speaker, want an apology, so be it, you can have an apology, but only if one apologises also to the working class for what it has to suffer—fair do's. That is fair enough with me.

Back home in Scotland, back in Leith, there are many unemployed engineering workers. If the Mace has been damaged, they will be willing to repair it. In fact, they will give you a new one, Mr. Speaker. That is a guarantee to you. If you are worried about a bauble, as Cromwell said, you are worried about nothing. What is important is this country. It is important because it belongs to us. It does not belong to certain individuals in this place. Democracy will be fought for outside this place. I—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that it would be more appropriate if the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) sought to make a speech.

Mr. Brown

I know that you are trying to protect me, Mr. Speaker. Clearly, if we say and do certain things, we must accept the consequence. Please pass on the bill if I have offended you.

Mr. Dobson

I shall not attempt to reply to the points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown). I expect that he will be called to speak in the debate.

Late on Monday evening, the hon. Member for Leith picked up the Mace, for whatever reason, dropped it and damaged it. The following morning, the Opposition Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman and explained to him that by custom in this place he could make a personal statement apologising for what he had done, but that the terms of the statement had to be agreed with you, Mr. Speaker. This he agreed to do. He agreed also to make good the damage to the Mace. He was asked to stand by in his office while it was discovered what terms of apology would be acceptable to you, Mr. Speaker. This was done particularly as it was not a matter in which a personal statement about another Member was concerned. It was a matter that was related directly to your authority.

Later the hon. Member for Leith could not be found. He got in contact with the Opposition Chief Whip at 3.25 pm, five minutes before he would have had to make the apology if he chose to do so. He was given a copy of wording which had been agreed by you, Mr. Speaker, and he told the Opposition Chief Whip that he would make the apology in those terms. Lest anyone feels that the terms suggested were personally humiliating, I shall read them out: I wish to make a personal statement, Mr. Speaker. I regret my action last night in regard to the Mace, and I apologise unreservedly to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for what occurred. I accept responsibility for any damage that was sustained by the Mace. You duly gave the hon. Member for Leith no fewer than nine opportunities to make that apology in the terms agreed with you, Mr. Speaker, and this he failed to do. You asked him to leave the Chamber and he did.

There can be no question of leaving it at that. Such behaviour would not be acceptable in any other organisation and it is not acceptable here. Members are elected to this House to represent the people in their constituencies. Most of that representation is done by word. That is partly by the written word but mainly in here by the spoken word. Before words can have influence, they must be heeded. Before words can be heeded, they must be heard. For them to be heard, there must be order. Without rules of order and without someone to sustain and apply those rules, there can be neither debate nor opportunity to influence those outside this place who hear or read what we have said.

It is not only Parliament that has rules for the conduct of its business. Every organisation has such rules because without them organisations cannot function. Nowhere is this more true than in the Labour and trade union movement. Every trade union has a rule book, and most of them spell out what can and cannot be done at meetings if the views of the members are to prevail. All grown-up people know that such rules exist and that they must be accepted, and that if they are not, those who breach them must take the consequences. A great deal of our childhood is taken up by learning just that.

I shall give two examples drawn from the heart of the Labour movement to illustrate what I am trying to say. The rule book of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, of which the hon. Member for Leith is a member, sets out the duties of presidents in the union, from branch presidents to national presidents. The first duty of the branch president in the AEU rule book is to preside over all meetings and to see that the business is conducted with propriety and order. For another example I draw upon Citrine's famous book "ABC of Chairmanship" which spells out that if any delegate to the Trades Union Congress refuses to obey the president when called to order he or she shall be expelled from the hall and allowed back in only if he or she expresses regret and the delegates consent to his or her return.

That springs from the simple recognition by ordinary working people over the years that the proper and orderly conduct of business is necessary if their interests are to be promoted. There is nothing soft, wet or weak about such an approach. Quite the reverse; it requires self-control, self-discipline and team work. Perhaps we should remember Hemingway's definition of guts, which he described as "grace under pressure."

Of course, the House of Commons is not always orderly. Many of us, including me, from time to time are ill-disciplined. When this place is disorderly or ill-disciplined, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) pointed out, it is only reflecting what has happened many times in the past. There are many things wrong with this place that Opposition Members would like to see changed. We would like to change the policies of the Government. We would like to change the Government. We would like to see changes in the procedures of this place and make all Governments more accountable. We would like to see far-reaching changes in the working practices here. However, I know of no one who wishes to get rid of the rules that are designed to secure a hearing for all or who wishes to diminish the authority of Mr. Speaker to help to achieve that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Now that my hon. Friend has got on to the question of working practices in the House, will he take into account the fact that in this quaint little club there are practices that allow Members of Parliament to turn up for work when it suits them without clocking on? It allows Members of Parliament, such as Tory Members, to go on jaunts to the Both a regime, paid for by that evil system. It allows many Tory Members in particular to make money on the side by moonlighting with four, five or six different jobs. Is it not time that the Opposition Front Bench concentrated on those issues instead of attacking one of its own?

Mr. Dobson

I agree with many of the criticisms that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has levelled at this place and at some Tory Members. However, I do not think that what he is suggesting is the way to go about changing matters.

We have a Government—I hope that my hon. Friend will agree with me—who are arrogant with power. They are often unwilling to answer our points. They ignore what we believe to be the sufferings of many of our people. We all find that very frustrating, and our frustration manifests itself in many ways. People occasionally, on the spur of the moment, may do foolish things or behave in a disorderly way. However, that does not mean that they care more about what is happening to our country or that they are working harder in the House than others to try to put things right.

Day in and day out, most Opposition Members are doing their hardest to represent their constituencies, to expose what is wrong with the Government and to propose alternatives to what is happening to our country. They try to make the most of the opportunities available in this place. They try to be sensible, trenchant, committed and coherent. For those qualities to show through, we need a House of Commons that is orderly, or usually orderly. For it to be orderly, we need to sustain the authority of the Chair, and the only way in which we can do that tonight is by voting for the motion and rejecting the two amendments.

10.35 pm
Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

A great deal of what has been said by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) must be agreed by the whole House. I would respectfully submit, however, that the bizarre actions of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) cannot be seen wholly in isolation. They were but one more instance of a deterioration in the standards of behaviour in this place which has manifested itself in the last few months. Therefore, what the hon. Gentleman did—I must say this in fairness—cannot wholly be set apart from what went before.

There is no escape for any of us who have wittingly or even unwittingly made a contribution to this rising tide of disorder. It is one of life's ironies that we do not always see where our own behaviour is leading us. After this latest episode we should be able to see it all too clearly.

Let us speak plainly. For some time there have been those in our midst—only a few, I believe—who have been openly advocating the disruption of Parliament as a means to a political end. Are they not as much to blame as the hon. Member for Leith?

I should like to keep this in perspective. Down the years, disruptive behaviour and even violence have not been unknown in this place. There were many instances in the last century and in this of disorder and violence.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I am one of those to whom the right hon. Gentleman has referred. If the argument is to be generalised, one has to take into account other considerations. I happen to think that it should not be generalised tonight. There is the question of the organised mendacity of others if the right hon. Gentleman intends to make generalisations.

Sir Bernard Braine

The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that to intervene at the beginning of an argument is often a waste of time. If he would hear what I have to say, I think that at the end of it he, a formidable parliamentarian in his own right, would understand what I am driving at.

In 1893, during the 47th sitting on the Home Rule Bill of that year, there was not only complete uproar but violence. According to one report, when it was all over, the Floor of the Chamber was found to be strewn with scarf pins and artificial teeth. But always in the past the overwhelming majority drew back from the brink. Extremist behaviour was curbed and the outside world continued to admire the way in which contrary views could be expressed here with lucidity, with feeling and even on some occasions with passion.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)


Sir Bernard Braine

I shall not give way. This is a short debate and I want to say something which I hope is important. I trust that my hon. Friend will understand.

There is no need for disruptive behaviour in this place. There are those amongst us who know that in the voicing of grievances and in the righting of wrongs there are procedural devices by which the astute can get results. I have learnt a few of the tricks myself in my time. I know of no greater authority on procedure than my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hislop). In this Parliament no fewer than seven hon. Members have been suspended, and there is open talk in some quarters of further disruption of our proceedings.

I am not making excuses for the hon. Member for Leith. If his defiance of the norms of decent parliamentary behaviour continues, he must be dealt with effectively. One of the greatest of parliamentarians, Edmund Burke, held: Magnanimity in politics is not seldom the truest wisdom". That is generally good advice, but there is a point at which we have to say that this House is always more important than the sum total of those who constitute it at any one time.

Governments come and go. Ministers are vested with a little brief authority. None of us is master here. We are all trustees for the nation, for those who have gone before and for those who are still unborn. Running off with the Mace, throwing it down or dropping it are acts of violence. That "bauble", as Oliver Cromwell referred to it contemptuously, symbolises in one sense the authority which you, Mr. Speaker, derive from the Sovereign. In a wider sense, it symbolises everything that we represent here and seek to defend—a system which facilitates change within a framework of order and proper respect for continuity. To treat the Mace with contempt is to treat the system with contempt, and that is to treat all of us and those who elected us to this place with contempt. It fires a shot at the governing party, but, more than that, it fires a shot at all political parties. It is a direct challenge to the authority of the Chair, and that is what is intended.

You have a difficult enough task, Mr. Speaker, in holding a fair balance between parties and between strongly expressed, opposing and sincerely held points of view. Precisely because you are the protector of our rights in this place, you are entitled to have our support at all times.

I remember not so many years ago a formidable figure in the Liberal party—the late Mr. Clement Davies—who, in the midst of a disruptive scene when certain elements were attacking the Chair, silenced the House by saying, "In this country people do not like the side that kicks a referee." If we continue kicking the referee, as some hon. Members seek to do, the game is not worth playing and the public will lose interest. There will be great anger. We must stop the rot while the time is right.

Whatever our differences, the House will be united on that. You have powers, Mr. Speaker. You should use them. If they are not sufficient in the light of future misbehaviour, the House can give you extra powers. I am convinced that the House is about to draw back from the brink and, therefore, I argue that we should accept the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. That should do the trick. I hope that this short debate will illustrate that the House of Commons intends to he master in its own house.

10.43 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I do not want to dwell at length on the actions of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown), which have been described by the Leader of the House and the hon. Member fo Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). His abuse of the Mace—the symbol of your authority, Mr. Speaker—and pathetic performance yesterday speak for themselves and merit at least the sanction proposed in the motion moved by the Leader of the House.

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman has indicated his opposition to the fiscal penalty proposed by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). Before embarking on the imposition of fiscal penalties on people, it is important that we think carefully. I welcome the announcement that the Procedure Committee will consider these matters. Certain rules of natural justice, which I hope that the Committee will address, should be observed.

My right hon. and hon. Friends uphold, above all, the concept of parliamentary democracy. Like the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, we believe that this is a place where political issues are debated. It greatly distresses us when organised barracking drowns out free speech, however unpalatable the views expressed.

Equally, it distresses us when parties represented in the House suggest outside the House illegal methods of challenging laws passed by the House. If we aspire, as all of us in the various parties do, to come to government and pass laws ourselves, we expect the country at large to obey those laws. That is the essence of parliamentary democracy. We very much regret, therefore, the challenge to parliamentary democracy and to your office, Mr. Speaker, mounted by the hon. Member for Leith, and we support the Leader of the House's motion.

Finally, I believe that there are other ways in which parliamentary democracy can be undermined. The essence of civilised democracy is that the rights of minorities are respected. When a Government say that they will carry on regardless and do not heed the dissenting voices, even within their own ranks, that quality of listening to minorities—the essence of parliamentary democracy—is undermined.

The institutions of the House are attacked when the Government opt for the grandeur of the stage-managed press conference instead of coming to answer hon. Members at the Dispatch Box. While we deal with the activities of the hon. Member for Leith, we should remember that there are various ways of undermining parliamentary democracy.

10.47 pm
Mr. Cranky Onslow (Woking)

It is clear that both sides of the House are largely united in condemning the disgraceful events that have led to this debate on the conduct of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown). If you, Mr. Speaker, had been led yesterday simply to name him and he had withdrawn from the House for no more than five days, that would scarcely have been sufficient penalty for the gravity of his offence. We are grateful to you, therefore, for the opportunity to debate the matter more widely.

It is also important to note that the debate provides an opportunity for the House to focus on a situation that has been causing growing impatience both inside and outside the House. No one gainsays that there must be a place in politics for passion, but we all agree that there is no place in the House for deliberate, cold-blooded disruption of democratic processes.

That is why it is right to reinforce some of the figures that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House gave by reminding the House that between 1974 and 1980—a period largely dominated by a Labour Government who could not really be described as popular—there were no suspensions in this place. Since 1981, there have been 18. I am glad to say that none of those have come from the party to which I have the honour to belong.

You, Mr. Speaker, know that many of my hon. Friends have been deeply angered by the persistent challenges to your authority. That is why I welcome what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has said about the re-establishment of the Procedure Committee for which many of us have been pressing for a long time. If cur Standing Orders need to be reinforced, that is the right way to go about it. If the penalties are inadequate, that is the right place to debate how much stronger they should be made. But if the House then decides that the Chair needs stronger powers, the purpose of those powers will not be to suppress opposition or to create martyrs, because it is a mistake in politics to do either of those things.

In the days of John Wilkes, the occupant of the Chair, Mr. Speaker Onslow, once found himself burnt in effigy on Tower Hill by the street politicians of the day. Because they thought that they were defending a martyr, they raised the cry of, "Wilkes and liberty." However, this evening we are not talking about liberty; we are talking about licence. There is no doubt that the abuse of his position by the hon. Member for Leith makes it necessary that his licence should be withdrawn, as the motion proposes.

10.49 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I should like to move my amendment which would—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall ask the hon. Gentleman to move his amendment at the end. This is a general debate.

Mr. Cryer

I hope that the House will support my amendment and I shall say briefly why. A principal reason is that the atmosphere of the House yesterday was not the cosy, still atmosphere that some hon. Members imply in their condemnation. There was a great deal of shouting and bellowing from the pinstriped hooligans on the Tory Benches, and that must be taken into account. When hon. Members talk about undermining democracy, they would do well to remember that Peter Wright wrote more about that in MI5 than whatever could have conceivably happened in this place.

This place rests on precedent. "Erskine May" is virtually a list of them—a thick list. We can recall, for example, the precedent of the right hon. Member For Henley (Mr. Heseltine) on the night when he came down, took up the Mace and started whirling it around. He was forced to put it back by the moderate Jim Prior who presumably did not think that that was the way forward for the Conservative party. The right hon. Gentleman apologised the following day and no more was heard about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The right hon. Gentleman was heard in silence. We are considering the difference between the two cases. The apology from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) was less than fulsome, but it was repeated twice—[Interruption.] Yet, the House is saying that for a fumbled apology my hon. Friend should be suspended; for 20 days.

There is a further precedent for this resolution. On Monday 1 November 1976, the House established a Select Committee to examine the conduct of three hon. Members. The report was considered on 26 July and one of the hon. Members subsequently resigned. Those three had consistently over several years used their position as Members of the House for personal financial gain in approaches to Ministers and public bodies, and in asking questions and raising issues in the House. Those financial gains were never disclosed. It would be fair to say that all three were in the pocket of J. G. L. Poulson.

As I have mentioned, one resigned. Albert Roberts and Reginald Maudling faced a similar resolution to this one. What were the precedents then? Were a large number of Conservatives waiting for blood, as is obviously the case tonight? The resolution to agree with the Select Committee report—a Select Committee established and approved by the House—was defeated and an amendment was inserted simply to "take note" of the report. Resolutions to suspend the two for six months without pay were defeated by massive majorities of about 200. After a career of abusing the House for several years, those two hon. Members got off scot-free, despite being involved in one of the widest cases of local and national government corruption in the 20th century.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said: We should realise, looking back over the period in question, which is 13 to 14 years, that there are few of us who can say that we have done everything completely as we might have wished or who have not made the odd mistake. If our colleagues have erred in any judgment, they have suffered more than enough from the publicity following the Report and during previous years when their names were constantly in the headlines. We can serve the House best and show understanding best by taking note and leaving the matter there."—[Official Report, 26 July 1977; Vol. 936 c. 438.]

I recall that you, Mr. Speaker were convinced by that call for consideration and understanding, and voted for the suggestion of the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South. I urge the House to have the same compassion and understanding that the hon. Gentleman had on that occasion.

The truth of the matter is that we are here dealing with two very minor incidents compared with that on 26 July 1977. The House would do well to bear that fact in mind and support my amendment, which allows for a "take note" motion as on 26 July and for the costs of repairing the Mace to be charged to my hon. Friend the Member for Leith.

10.55 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

This is a matter of the utmost gravity, as seems to be widely agreed throughout the House, though I have to say that what has just been said by the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) suggests that he does not understand its gravity.

We must all begin from the point that the Mace symbolises not only the House itself but your authority, Mr. Speaker. The House cannot let go unrecognised or unpunished the actions of a Member who lifts the Mace and drops it or throws it to the floor and damages it. That action goes beyond the mere damage done to the Mace. It suggests an attitude to the House and to your authority, Mr. Speaker, that is totally unacceptable.

We are not looking at this action in isolation, because it must be seen in the context of something that has already been mentioned this evening—a growing incidence of such activities in the House. It is against that background that the activities of the hon. Member for Edinburgh Leith (Mr. Brown) must be judged.

Reference must also be made to the events in the House yesterday. When the hon. Member for Leith was given opportunity to apologise to the House, he deliberately refused that opportunity and set out systematically to undermine the authority of the Chair. His use of the phrase I did not write this rubbish."—[Official Report, 19 April 1988; Vol. 131, c. 676.] when referring to the agreed apology, sums up well the attitude of the hon. Member to yourself, Mr. Speaker, to the Chair, and to the House. In that respect, the hon. Gentleman's attitude and activities must be regarded as completely unacceptable.

There is a motion before the House in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the House should be grateful for the fact the Opposition have seen fit to support it. I do not believe that it goes far enough. One of the main reasons is that it seeks merely to suspend the hon. Gentleman for 20 days, with no effect on his pay.

I shall now answer the point made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. He told the House that we are to have a Procedure Committee and that it will consider the matter before us. In the light of what has happened in the past two days, I believe that it is the right and the duty of the House to judge the actions of the hon. Member for Leith and to give the Procedure Committee guidance on the action that it should take, by accepting the terms of my amendment. That would tell the Committee, under the authority of the House, that the House expects the penalties available to you, Mr. Speaker, to be much more severe in future.

If we were to accept the motion in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, supported by the Opposition Front Bench, the hon. Member for Leith, would be suspended, yes, but he would be able to return to the service of the House without ever having given an apology to the House for what he did. I view that as completely unacceptable. My amendment, in requiring from the hon. Gentleman an apology that is acceptable to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House before he is allowed to return, is the only basis on which we can allow him to return. I hope that the House will consider that proposal most seriously in determining how it votes this evening.

10.58 pm
Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

This is a sad occasion for the House of Commons, and any right hon. or hon. Gentleman who takes pleasure from this debate must have a perverted sense of justice. It is at moments like this that I never envy a judge or magistrate having to sit in judgment on his fellow men. I do not enjoy what is happening in the House tonight, and I suspect strongly that there are a great many right hon. and hon. Members on these Benches and in all quarters of the House who share my sadness that we have to sit in judgment on one of our colleagues.

When I go into the Division Lobby, as I will, it will be in support of the motion. I say to my colleagues who are in doubt that this is a Labour party motion—an Opposition motion—as much as it is a Government motion. When I go into the Lobby to support the motion I shall do so, not to punish my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown), but to show my personal displeasure—I can put it in no other words—at his conduct yesterday and the day before. The one thing that I shall not do is regard myself as going into the Lobby along with Conservative Members: I shall not see it in that light. This is, as I have said, as much a Labour as a Government motion. I shall also see myself, Mr. Speaker, as supporting you and the Chair.

I say openly and honestly that I have not always done that. I have never voted against a Speaker, but on occasions I have deliberately abstained. There have been times when I have played my part in disrupting the proceedings of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—the shadow Leader of the House—made the telling point that, by the very nature of the Chamber, the issues with which we deal are bound, at one time or another, to result in our feelings spilling over so that we do things that we might not have done in our calmer moments.

Let me inject a lighter note into the few remarks that I wish to make. A comparison was drawn between my hon. Friend the Member for Leith and the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), and I should like to take the comparison a bit further. After the right hon. Member for Henley had waved the Mace in the House, Mr. Speaker Thomas suspended the sitting and refused to allow him to make his apology there and then. That was why the right hon. Gentleman had to come back and apologise the following day. But look at what has happened to the right hon. Gentleman. He went on to become a Cabinet Minister, and he is now challenging others for the position of leader of his party. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Leith should give some further consideration to the apology that he refused to make yesterday.

Some of my colleagues—with most of whom I have had a lifelong friendship—now take the view that disruption should lead to destruction. Anyone who holds that view should dismiss it from his thoughts. We as a Labour movement have fought long and hard to represent our people here in this Chamber. If we destroy this place, we have no place left in which to voice the fears, worries and concerns of the people whom we represent.

Some of my hon. Friends may say, "Let us disregard this place and take the argument to the people." All right: we will follow that through. We take the argument to the people and we convince them: where do we go then? We will have no place left for legislation.

I caution all my hon. Friends who think that the way to unseat the Government—the way to prosecute our case—is to disrupt and destroy the Chamber to think long and carefully about where that process ends. It ends where it began: it ends without representation for the very people whom we are sent here to represent.

11.3 pm

Mr. Ian Bruce (Dorset, South)

As a new boy—a member of the new intake—I found that it seemed almost like normal behaviour over the past 10 months to see Member after Member named by you, Mr. Speaker, for disruption in the House. It was with some surprise that I found that not a single hon. Member needed to be named and dismissed from the service of the House between 1974 and 1980.

In 1981 the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) found a method of disrupting this place and had to be named. The rot started there, and unfortunately the next person to decide that this was a good way of getting his name into the newspapers was none other than the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) who was dismissed from the service of the House not once, but twice. It is interesting to note that on both those occasions, Mr. Speaker Thomas did not need to call a vote. the hon. Gentleman was immediately suspended on the unanimous verbal vote of the whole House.

Now, time after time, it is necessary to suspend the business of the House for 15 minutes or more at a time, so that some hon. Member can get his name in the papers.

It is easy to be out of order by mistake in this place. It could be judged a legitimate parliamentary tactic to be deliberately out of order, but what cannot be sustained is that you should be challenged, Mr. Speaker, when you rule an hon. Member out of order. There are parliamentary tactics available to us for attacking our opponents, but we should never attack the Chair.

The best form of discipline is self-discipline. It would be good if all hon. Members understood that, but clearly they do not. I shall certainly support the call of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) for the hon. Member for Leith to be suspended for a long period, to lose his salary and to have to apologise to the Chair before he returns.

11.7 pm

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

Tonight the House is sitting, as you said, Mr. Speaker, in a judicial capacity. We are the prosecution, the judge and the jury, and the executioner stands in the Serjeant at Arms' Box.

This is a House of Commons matter, on which we should all be free to vote. I am deeply uneasy about a sentence negotiated between the two Front Benches, for the simple reason that, on matters of this sort, every hon. Member must reach a judgment. [Interruption.] I hope that the House will listen to my argument, because I am not in favour of hon. Members getting themselves expelled from the House.

If I had ever been asked by anyone—I have not—I should have advised them that there were other ways of getting their case across—in questions, speeches, motions, points of order, and even in motions of censure against the Speaker. On one occasion I moved such a motion, which was well in order. Those who say that hon. Members must support the Speaker forget that there is an ultimate right to move a motion against him if that is the right thing to do.

At the same time, I know that there is a degree of anger about what is happening in this country and about the violence that is being perpetrated against our constituents by the Conservative party. That leads to much anger among hon. Members. The question for us tonight is solely what we should do about it.

I want to put a simple point before the House. We are a representative body and our duty is to those who sent us here and not to each other—except in one special context. We hold our privileges on behalf of those who sent us here. If an hon. Member says, "I do not want the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith back until he has done this or that," he is assuming the rights of my hon. Friend's constituents. No hon. Member is in the House because other hon. Members approve of him. The day that we accept that the House can remove an hon. Member will be the day that we destroy parliamentary democracy.

I say that with some feeling, because, historically, some hon. Members have been in the most severe breach of duty. I refer to hon. Members elected on one party ticket who remain in the House and change their allegiance. I regard that as a profound betrayal of their true responsibility to their constituents. In that regard, I shall make a reference that is of special relevance. My father was the Liberal Member for Leith. The day that he joined the Labour party he applied for the Chiltern Hundreds and left the House. Unlike the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), he did not believe that it was right to be elected as a Liberal Member and remain in the House as a Labour one.

If we remove my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) we are punishing not him—except financially—but his constituents. I do not think that the House has the right to remove hon. Members. I say that with some feeling, because I was expelled from the House by the House on the most ludicrous ground of peerage. I was an elected Member for 10 years, and the same sort of hon. Member who will troop through the Lobby to get rid of my hon. Friend, denied the electors of Bristol—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Every hon. Member should have a right to say what he wishes, provided it is in order, and the right hon. Gentleman is in order.

Mr. Benn

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for supporting what I am saying. [Laughter.] When the passions of hon. Members subside, it may be that the high excitement tonight would not look so good if a precedent were to be created and became part of the procedure of the House.

It is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Leith broke the rules of the House, but they are not the same as the basic principles of parliamentary democracy; they are the rules of the club. If parliamentary democracy depended on a bit of metal on the Table, we would all be in trouble.

If one looks at the history of disorder, one sees that there are some formidable precedents. The King came here and Mr. Speaker Lenthall had to deal with him. Cromwell removed the bauble. The home rule debates of the 1880s led to the first invention of a closure. There was no English word for it, so the French word, "cloture" had to be used, and then we moved to "guillotine" and other French words. It was unknown in our history to limit debate.

Before the war, Beckett swung the Mace about and was put in the Clock Tower. As there have been so many references to the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) I shall not add to them. Manny Shinwell—who, on his 100th birthday, was paid a special tribute in the House of Lords—crossed the Floor of the House and struck Commander Bower because he thought that he had made an anti-Semitic remark. In my time, George Wigg struck a Tory Member in the precincts of the House. Bernadette Devlin struck Reginald Maudling. Private Eye said that she nearly woke him up.

The reality is that we can become awfully pompous about disorder in the House. I shall tell one brief true story concerning my former hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West, Leslie Hale and the then Chairman of Ways and Means, Sir Charles MacAndrew. Leslie was short and red faced and Sir Charles MacAndrew was tall and severe with white hair that looked like a wig. One night, in the middle of a Committee stage, Leslie Hale was speaking. MacAndrew told him to withdraw a remark. Hale said he would not. MacAndrew said "Are you challenging my ruling?" Hale said, "Yes, I am." Sir Charles MacAndrew said, "I shall ask you to leave." Hale said, "I will not leave." Then it all faded away. I said to Leslie Hale afterwards, "What happened?" and he said, "Charlie MacAndrew came up to me and said, 'I have guests in the Gallery tonight Leslie. Will you challenge one of my rulings?'."

That is an absolutely true story—[Interruption.] Dare I say it, there is a lot of synthetic indignation and the day will come when we will bring children round and say, "That is where it happened."

You, Mr. Speaker, have at your disposal the power to suspend the sitting. You can take an idea from the other place—not a Chamber which I like—which adopts the practice of moving that "the noble Lord be no longer heard." That is a disciplinary measure. You, Mr. Speaker, could rely on pressure from colleagues. As you look at the angry faces on our Benches, you know that whatever the House does to my hon. Friend is nothing to the fate that awaits him when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition gets at him when he returns.

Are you, Mr. Speaker, really saying that this is the end of parliamentary democracy? It is nothing of the kind. In my opinion, my hon. Friend did a silly thing. I have told him that tonight, he should get up, read the apology, say nothing and withdraw. I gave him that advice because the House is happy always to accept it.

I beg the House tonight, in high passion with some entertainment value added, not to go through the Lobby and throw out a Member of this House for four weeks for what, however we judge it, was a minor offence. It was not a pre-arranged offence, it was nothing to do with a plan of disruption discussed secretly by hon. Members. It was nothing of the kind.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Benn

No. I am on my last words.

I appeal to hon. Members to have a sense of proportion about the whole matter.

Mr. Faulds

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Benn

I shall finish on these words, if I am allowed to get them out. I am depending on you, Mr. Speaker to protect me from my hon. Friend.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Member is not giving way.

Mr. Benn

I am not giving way to my hon. Friend, but if he gets slung out, I will support him. [Interruption.]

Mr. Faulds

It is parliamentary convention for hon. Members to give way.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was not giving way.

Mr. Benn

I am not giving way only because, knowing my hon. Friend very well, he might make it worse. Therefore, I hope that the House will allow me to say my last sentence.

Have a sense of proportion. My hon. Friend the Member for Leith has done something for which I fear later his colleagues will exact a terrible price. I shall make a similar speech when the moment comes. Tonight, the House has made its point and I suggest that we leave it with two speeches, we do not go into the Lobbies, and we let it pass into the history of the Chamber along with more dangerous and sensational events.

11.18 pm
Mr. John Biffen (Shropshire, North)

We have just heard a delightful speech, a tour de force, a patrician view. Those who live cocooned in that kind of political and physical comfort often can be much more detached, if not semi-detached, about these affairs.

I suggest to the House that there is an underlying seriousness. The House knows perfectly well that this is a disagreeable and uncomfortable occasion that we would much rather do without. At least we have had the advantage of the debate being introduced by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and responded to by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in a manner which has elevated it as much as possible in these circumstances.

I ask the House to consider only two points. They may be dull and pedestrian. They do not have the panache and the glamour of the preceding speech, but they are possibly closer to the working-day reality of the House. The Mace exerts an almost mesmerising attraction for politicians from time to time. Such behaviour has occurred not just since the last war. It occurred in the interval between the two wars when a Mr. Forgan and a Mr. Beckett took charge of the Mace.

The Mace represents something of the utmost significance to the House. There are very few institutions to which we belong where there are not symbols that command collegiate respect. Therefore, the handling of the Mace is naturally not a matter of farce or dismissive comment. It is symbolic because of its wider implications.

I speak in all charity when I say to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) that all hon. Members are fighting their corner and that we have a pretty dismissive view of the judgment of our fellow Members. The hon. Gentleman is being arraigned on a question of judgment, certainly not on a question of honour. When one recalls the opportunity for the apology, it was the hon. Gentleman's unwillingness to abide by an unconditional agreement that worried me. The hon. Gentleman is not the only guilty one, but I do not intend to widen the debate.

To put it in as neutral terms as I can contrive, there has grown up over some time an increasing reluctance to accept Mr. Speaker's ruling, the judgment of the Chair, in a total and complete fashion, without any qualification whatsoever. I have watched—I must admit, reminiscent of my own days in the ranks of the Army, with some envy—the development of dumb insolence into an art form. That cannot continue. I promise the House that that kind of development is corrosive of authority and that eventually we shall all pay for it.

That brings me to the point that was so eloquently made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing). The rules, orders and conventions, and the symbols that represent them that are evident in this House, are not the manufacture of the Treasury Bench. They are the manufacture of the House of Commons over the decades, generations and centuries. Above all, they have been of value to unfashionable minorities—minorities who came here to crusade. When Red Clydesiders came to this House of Commons they did not come to it to destroy its institutions. They came to use them. To the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who is muttering away, I say that if he can leave this institution with the reputation of Jimmy Maxton, he will have done pretty well by Socialism and pretty well by radicalism.

We must defend the Orders of the House, not to be on the side of the establishment but to protect essentially minority interests. That can be done only if we show a much more increased and a much more evident respect for authority both in this context and over a much wider field.

11.23 pm
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough)

I have some sympathy with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) who, as his neighbour the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) pointed out yesterday, suffered an industrial injury which, in the context of a motion for the Adjournment of the House on a matter relating to supplementary benefit appeals, led to his misuse of the Mace.

I have equal sympathy with you, Mr. Speaker, in your endeavours, with patience and good humour, to hold hon. Members to the Standing Orders of this House and to the precedents of "Erskine May". A massive Tory majority is being used not moderately, as we would expect, to unite the nation but to tear us all asunder. It seems determined to create not one nation among our people but a series of different nations and a series of mini-statelets consisting of the poor, the oppressed and the bewildered who, unable to fend for themselves, find a stony-faced Government bearing down upon them. They look to Parliament to redress their grievances and to protect their interests as best it can.

Faced with an onslaught on the living standards of those who sent Labour Members to Parliament—the onslaught on our National Health Service, on those who are entitled to social security, on those who have not gained what they thought they might gain under the Budget, and on those who are the victims of an iniquitous and divisive Government, with its poll tax—faced with these monumental and ravaging attacks, it is hardly surprising that discipline breaks down, frustration creeps in, and that frustration should express itself in aggressive ways and manners inappropriate to this House.

However, to explain how these things happen is not to justify them happening. However high ran the emotions of the hon. Member for Leith on Monday evening, the situation could not justify his refusal to make a personal statement to this House on the following day, when his emotions had cooled and when he had had an ample period for reflection. Indeed, those hon. Members who are in the Chamber tonight, and who were in the Chamber yesterday, noted how, with firmness but forebearance, you, Mr. Speaker, gave the hon. Gentleman every opportunity to make the statement which you had given him leave to make. His failure to do so brought contempt upon the Chair, and also brought contempt upon our parliamentary proceedings.

It is, of course, a parliamentary privilege to make a personal statement uninterrupted, which is without intervention or debate. As the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi) stated yesterday, the House will listen with indulgence and sympathy to those who have been carried away in the heat of the moment. However, privilege—parliamentary privilege—goes to the heart of our proceedings. The privilege to speak freely on any subject is a privilege that we claim from the Monarch at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session.

I advise my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that this House has exclusive control over its own proceedings, and has seen the enhancement of our parliamentary democracy since the time of William and Mary, many years ago. It was Mr. Justice Coke—if I might tell the right hon. Member for Chesterfield—who in 1565 noted: Whatever matter arises concerning either House of Parliament ought to be examined, discussed and adjudged in that House to which it relates and not elsewhere".

Therefore, if power and privilege rest with us, so too does responsibility. It is a responsibility, Mr. Speaker, we owe to you in the Chair. We owe it to you to uphold the authority of the Chair. It is a responsibility that we bear to the British people that the Executive should be held to account, that its policies should be probed and questioned, that hon. Members should be kept on their toes and feel understandably nervous at the Dispatch Box.

Any failure of this House to act responsibly towards a Member who has brought it into disrepute demeans the House and its reputation and diminishes it in the eyes of the public. What signal do we send to our collective electorate if we are unable to control the conduct of our own affairs?

I advise Labour Members that we are in a privileged position. We are in the vanguard of the Labour movement. We represent millions of voters out there in the field. If we act responsibly, they will respond to us. For that reason, I support the motion.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the next hon. Member, may I draw attention to what I said at the beginning of the debate. If the House desires to have two votes on this matter, we should be thinking about drawing the debate to a close.

11.29 pm
Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Perhaps there was a misunderstanding yesterday about what was meant by a personal statement. Certainly I knew what I intended to say, even though you, Mr. Speaker may have thought differently. That is in the past. I make it clear to the House that, if there is any damage to the Mace, it will be paid for by myself and my friends back home—the members of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers—who are quite happy to do what they can to make everything better, if that is what you want. They will certainly look at the Mace simply because it symbolises so much to so many hon. Members, on both sides of the House. We recognise that such things are important to certain hon. Members.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, you have that as a guarantee from me, but you still know my strength of feeling, bearing in mind what is happening to working class people, not just in Scotland but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. That should be borne in mind. That is not a political statement, but a statement that I make as the representative of Leith. I feel strongly about many things that have happened repeatedly since 1979.

11.30 pm
Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

The only reason I intervene is that I am probably the only Conservative Member who knows the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) well. The hon. Gentleman and I have paired for the last nine years—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker


Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It will not escape the notice of my hon. Friends and Opposition Members that I therefore have something of a vested interest in what the House decides. However, I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will accept that that is not the reason why I intervene. I do so because having known the hon. Gentleman for nine years and having got to know him quite well, I know him to be someone for whose political views I have absolutely no time at all and whose judgment I sometimes question politically.

I seldom agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who has urged the hon. Gentleman to apologise, as I did at some length last night. I have intervened because I should like the House, and especially my hon. Friends, to take into account the fact that, having got to know the hon. Gentleman quite well, I find him to be someone of absolute integrity and total honesty. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen), the former Leader of the House said, this is not a question of the hon. Gentleman's honour, it is a question of his judgment. In my opinion, his judgment is appalling.

No one in the House would feel otherwise than that your authority, Mr. Speaker, has been questioned, that it should not have been and that action must be taken. However, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends, when deciding the level of penalty, to take into account the fact that the hon. Gentleman's integrity sometimes leads him astray—on that occasion, it certainly did—and that they give him the benefit of that judgment.

11.33 pm
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Everyone in the House gets excited on occasions. If they do not get excited, they are not reflecting the worries, fears and excitement of their constituents. I well remember, when I first became a Member of the House, that Dame Irene Ward who had a great problem in her area, and who had raised the matter with the Ministers of the day time after time, without getting anywhere, walked from her place, stood in front of the Mace and, for a period of time, disrupted the House, and was named.

I had never seen that before, but I stored it in my memory until an occasion when we had been debating the Industrial Relations Act 1971. About 20 or 30 hon. Members—all members of the Tribune group, led incidentally by the present chairman of the parliamentary Labour party—stood in front of the Mace. I got up from the Front Bench and stood with them. We expected to be named, but Mr. Speaker of the day was a highly intelligent person. He looked through, round, above and below us, and he did not see us. He decided that we were not there. The Division was called and it was then that the sitting was suspended. The then Mr. Speaker called a Division on a second occasion, as we had done it again.

Disruption has taken place on many occasions. I remember my hon. Friends and I singing "The Red Flag". I remember also the present leader of the Labour party joining in heartily. Indeed, he may have led the singing of "The Red Flag". Some of my hon. Friends threw pennies at us. They were the old-style large pennies. Had one of those pennies hit an hon. Member in the eye, it could have knocked it out. That was an act of some violence in the House. Let us get these matters into perspective.

I believe that there was a misunderstanding yesterday—[Interruption.] I wish that Conservative Members would listen carefully to what is being said. I said yesterday that I had not realised that personal statements made by hon. Members were agreed. I turned to the relevant passage in "Erskine May", and found that it does not provide that such statements have to be agreed: The passage reads: provided that the Speaker has been informed of what the Member proposes to say, and has given leave. I understand that that provision has been interpreted over the years as meaning that Mr. Speaker has to agree the words in the statement.

I understand also that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) did not meet and speak to you, Mr. Speaker, on any occasion yesterday. Instead, the matter was handled through the Opposition Whips' Office. My hon. Friend the Member for Leith was asked to go to the Chief Whip's Room, and I understand that he stayed there for some time. He did not stay there throughout, and I do not know to where he disappeared. I know only that he disappeared after a period.

My hon. Friend was handed the statement when he came into the Chamber, and it had never been discussed between him and yourself, Mr. Speaker. If there is to be an agreed statement, surely Mr. Speaker of the day and the Member, whoever he is, should ensure that there is a properly agreed statement, if that is the way in which such statements are to be handled.

If we heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Leith said or if we read what he said yesterday, it is clear that he was trying to apologise in his own way—[Interruption] I ask all hon. Members not to use a sledgehammer—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Time is getting on.

Mr. Heffer

I am glad that the House is slightly in front of me.

That is what I want to say to the House. In my opinion, the House has to be compassionate on this issue. I have defended many hon. Members over the years on issues when sometimes, looking back, perhaps I ought not to have done. However, I believe that hon. Members can get highly excited on occasions and we should take that into consideration. That is why I am asking the House to support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), which I think is the best answer to the issue before us.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Cryer

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With the leave of the House, may I move my amendment?

Mr. Speaker

Other hon. Members are rising to speak. It is not up to me to accept a closure on timed business such as this.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)


Mr. Speaker

Order. We are still on the main Question. It is not possible to move the amendment at this point.

11.41 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) certainly entertained and enlightened the House. However, I believe that he has taken us away from the main issue and I hope that he will not seduce us from it.

The hon. Members who came closest to dealing with the main issue were, in my estimation, the hon. Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). They underlined the fact that this is a House of Commons occasion. We are not seeking vindictively to punish an individual Member who might have done things that he now, to some degree, repents. We are talking about upholding the authority of the Chair because whoever occupies the Chair, it protects all hon. Members. We are also underlining the importance of the two red lines on the floor of the Chamber that we see every time we come in here. They symbolise the fact that here we should seek to solve our differences by argument and persuasion, not by other means.

A total of 37 of my hon. Friends and I know what it is like to be in a minority this week, and it is for the protection of minorities, above all, that the rules and procedures of the House have been devised. It is important that every hon. Member should have the opportunity to express his opinions, however objectionable those opinions might be to his colleagues. However, it is not up to any hon. Member to usurp or desecrate the authority of the House or to challenge the Chair and, in so doing, to do the gravest disservice that he can possibly do to his constituency and those who sent him here to represent their interests.

I accept entirely the generous words that were uttered by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), who, in three weeks' time will have the good fortune to pair with the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown). I do not wish to repudiate what he said. I say this in no spirit of personal recrimination, but if the House does not unite behind the Chair and in support of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, it will have abdicated its authority. We need a united House behind you, Mr. Speaker, because of what is at stake.

11.44 pm
Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

In supporting the motion, may I point out that my background is the trade union movement and local government. On no occasion in the trade union movement or in my service in local government would the kind of behaviour that we are considering have been allowed. It is all right for some hon. Members to talk about the rules of the club, but those rules sometimes work in favour of Privy Councillors, who are called to speak before Back Benchers such as myself.

I take exception to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) and other hon. Members who may have been removed from the House saying that they are the only ones who care about unemployment and the poor. Like other Back Benchers, I have to take my chance on being called to speak. I have not had an opportunity tonight to speak about the poll tax, which will affect people in Scotland before it affects people south of the border—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to the order this day.

The House divided: Ayes 463, Noes 27.

Division No. 270] [11.46 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Buck, Sir Antony
Adley, Robert Budgen, Nicholas
Aitken, Jonathan Burns, Simon
Alexander, Richard Burt, Alistair
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Butcher, John
Alton, David Butler, Chris
Amess, David Butterfill, John
Amos, Alan Caborn, Richard
Anderson, Donald Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Arbuthnot, James Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Armstrong, Hilary Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Carttiss, Michael
Ashby, David Cartwright, John
Ashdown, Paddy Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Ashton, Joe Chapman, Sydney
Aspinwall, Jack Chope, Christopher
Atkins, Robert Churchill, Mr
Atkinson, David Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baldry, Tony Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)
Barron, Kevin Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Batiste, Spencer Clelland, David
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Beckett, Margaret Coleman, Donald
Bell, Stuart Colvin, Michael
Bellingham, Henry Conway, Derek
Bendall, Vivian Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)
Bevan, David Gilroy Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Cope, John
Blair, Tony Cormack, Patrick
Boswell, Tim Couchman, James
Bottomley, Peter Cox, Tom
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Cran, James
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Crowther, Stan
Bowis, John Cummings, John
Boyes, Roland Cunliffe, Lawrence
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Cunningham, Dr John
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Currie, Mrs Edwina
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Curry, David
Bray, Dr Jeremy Darling, Alistair
Brazier, Julian Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Bright, Graham Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Brittan, Rt Hon Leon Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Davis, David (Boothferry)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Day, Stephen
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Devlin, Tim
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Dewar, Donald
Browne, John (Winchester) Dickens, Geoffrey
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Dixon, Don
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Dobson, Frank
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Doran, Frank
Dorrell, Stephen Hill, James
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Hind, Kenneth
Dunn, Bob Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Durant, Tony Holland, Stuart
Eadie, Alexander Holt, Richard
Eastham, Ken Howard, Michael
Eggar, Tim Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Emery, Sir Peter Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Faulds, Andrew Howells, Geraint
Favell, Tony Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Fisher, Mark Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Flynn, Paul Hunter, Andrew
Fookes, Miss Janet Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Forman, Nigel Irvine, Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Jack, Michael
Forth, Eric Jackson, Robert
Foster, Derek Janman, Tim
Foulkes, George Janner, Greville
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Jessel, Toby
Fox, Sir Marcus John, Brynmor
Franks, Cecil Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Freeman, Roger Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
French, Douglas Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Fry, Peter Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Gale, Roger Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Gardiner, George Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Garel-Jones, Tristan Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Kennedy, Charles
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Key, Robert
George, Bruce King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Gill, Christopher King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Godman, Dr Norman A. Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Golding, Mrs Llin Kirkhope, Timothy
Goodhart, Sir Philip Kirkwood, Archy
Goodlad, Alastair Knapman, Roger
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Gorst, John Knowles, Michael
Gould, Bryan Knox, David
Gow, Ian Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Gower, Sir Raymond Lang, Ian
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Latham, Michael
Greenway, Harry (Eating N) Lawrence, Ivan
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Gregory, Conal Leadbitter, Ted
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Lee, John (Pendle)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Grist, Ian Lewis, Terry
Ground, Patrick Lightbown, David
Grylls, Michael Lilley, Peter
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Livsey, Richard
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Hampson, Dr Keith Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Hanley, Jeremy Lord, Michael
Hannam, John Luce, Rt Hon Richard
Hardy, Peter Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') McCartney, Ian
Harman, Ms Harriet McCrea, Rev William
Harris, David McCrindle, Robert
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Macdonald, Calum A.
Hawkins, Christopher McFall, John
Hayes, Jerry Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Haynes, Frank McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)
Heathcoat-Amory, David MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Heddle, John McLeish, Henry
Henderson, Doug Maclennan, Robert
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv" NE) McLoughlin, Patrick
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Rogers, Allan
McNamara, Kevin Rooker, Jeff
McWilliam, John Rossi, Sir Hugh
Major, Rt Hon John Rost, Peter
Mans, Keith Rowe, Andrew
Maples, John Rowlands, Ted
Marek, Dr John Ruddock, Joan
Marland, Paul Rumbold, Mrs Angela
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Ryder, Richard
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sackville, Hon Tom
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Martlew, Eric Sayeed, Jonathan
Mates, Michael Scott, Nicholas
Maude, Hon Francis Shaw, David (Dover)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Maxton, John Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Sheerman, Barry
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Meyer, Sir Anthony Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Michael, Alun Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Miller, Hal Shersby, Michael
Mills, Iain Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Sims, Roger
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Moate, Roger Smith, C. (lsl'ton & F'bury)
Monro, Sir Hector Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Moore, Rt Hon John Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Morgan, Rhodri Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Morley, Elliott Snape, Peter
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Soley, Clive
Morrison, Hon Sir Charles Spearing, Nigel
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Speed, Keith
Mowlam, Marjorie Speller, Tony
Murphy, Paul Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Neale, Gerrard Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Needham, Richard Stanbrook, Ivor
Neubert, Michael Stanley, Rt Hon John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Steel, Rt Hon David
Nicholls, Patrick Steen, Anthony
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Steinberg, Gerry
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Stern, Michael
O'Brien, William Stevens, Lewis
O'Neill, Martin Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Oppenheim, Phillip Stewart, Ian (Hertfordshire N)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Stokes, John
Paice, James Stott, Roger
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Patnick, Irvine Straw, Jack
Patten, Chris (Bath) Sumberg, David
Patten, John (Oxford W) Summerson, Hugo
Pawsey, James Tapsell, Sir Peter
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pendry, Tom Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Pike, Peter L. Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Porter, David (Waveney) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Portillo, Michael Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Powell, William (Corby) Temple-Morris, Peter
Price, Sir David Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Quin, Ms Joyce Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Radice, Giles Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Raffan, Keith Thorne, Neil
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Thornton, Malcolm
Rathbone, Tim Thurnham, Peter
Redwood, John Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn Tracey, Richard
Reid, Dr John Tredinnick, David
Renton, Tim Trippier, David
Rhodes James, Robert Trotter, Neville
Richardson, Jo Turner, Dennis
Riddick, Graham Twinn, Dr Ian
Ridsdale, Sir Jullan Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Vaz, Keith
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Robertson, George Waldegrave, Hon William
Roe, Mrs Marion Walden, George
Walker, Bill (T'side North) Wilshire, David
Wallace, James Wilson, Brian
Waller, Gary Winnick, David
Walley, Joan Winterton, Mrs Ann
Ward, John Winterton, Nicholas
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Wolfson, Mark
Wareing, Robert N. Wood, Timothy
Warren, Kenneth Worthington, Tony
Watts, John Yeo, Tim
Wheeler, John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Whitney, Ray Younger, Rt Hon George
Widdecombe, Ann
Wiggin, Jerry Tellers for the Ayes:
Wilkinson, John Mr. Robert Boscawen and
Williams, Rt Hon Alan Mr. David Maclean.
Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Abbott, Ms Dlane Madden, Max
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Marlow, Tony
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Nellist, Dave
Clay, Bob Parry, Robert
Corbyn, Jeremy Primarolo, Dawn
Cryer, Bob Sedgemore, Brian
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Skinner, Dennis
Gordon, Mildred Wall, Pat
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Heffer, Eric S.
Hinchliffe, David Tellers for the Noes:
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Mr. Harry Cohen and
Loyden, Eddie Mr. Dennis Canavan.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That Mr. Ron Brown be suspended from the service of the House for twenty sitting days, and be held responsible for the damage that was sustained by the Mace.

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