That, at the sitting on Monday 23rd January, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Orders No. 14 (Exempted business) and No. 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure), Motions in the name of Mr. Secretary Rifkind or of Mr. Neil Kinnock relating to Housing (Scotland) may be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours after the first of them has been entered upon; and if proceedings thereon have not been previously disposed of, Mr. Speaker shall, at the expiration of that period, put successively the Question already proposed from the Chair and the Question on the remaining Motion which may then be made.—[Mr. John M. Taylor.]
§ Miss Widdecombe
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I consider that the proceedings in the Chamber today whereby I, in whose name the main motion of the day stood, have not been allowed to speak at all, have brought Parliament and the democratic workings of this place into 661 disrepute. I have only one thing to say as a message to all those who have held up this motion today—we shall be back, and back, and back.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Will the Leader of the House reflect on whether he can say anything by way of a brief statement today or later about how the House can be enabled to arrive at a decision on matters that have been before it for many hours, without private Members' business being disrupted?
§ Mr. Cryer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the remarks that have been bandied about by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) in respect of our proceedings will you confirm that you and your Deputies have conducted the proceedings entirely within the framework of the Standing Orders of the House and that there has been no parliamentary mugging or filibustering? My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was never once called to order throughout his speech. I should be grateful if you would confirm that Parliament has been conducted entirely properly today.
§ Mr. Speaker
Allow me to deal with this point now. I was here for the beginning of the debate and, as the House knows, for the last hour. While I was in the Chair—and, I am sure, while my Deputies were in the Chair—the debate proceeded in order. When occasionally that was not so, the hon. Members concerned were called to order.
I regret that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) was unable to put her motion today, as it was first on the Order Paper, but it was a procedural motion. I strongly endorse what the Chairman of the Procedure Committee has said and hope that we shall not go through this kind of thing again.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
What has emerged today is not that anything was out of order; the Chair would not have permitted that in any case. What was said was perfectly permissible and had to be listened to. However, it is clear from today's experience, and all that has gone before, that procedures which are firmly rooted in the 19th century are totally incapable of permitting Bills that have passed through several stages in the House with a substantial majority to make any further progress. There is something so wrong in that that we can expect a considerable public backlash.
Perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian of our liberties and I, as Father of the House, can say—not necessarily better than anyone else, but because it is based on many years of experience—that the reputation of Parliament is now seriously at stake. Mr. Speaker, I hope that somehow or other you will be able with your advisors, the Government and Opposition Leaders, to ensure that the Procedure Committee takes action. We should take note of that here and now before greater harm is done to the reputation of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is for the Leader of the House, who has a very influential and respected position, to put his proposals to the Procedure Committee. I am sure that it will consider them and I hope that it will.
§ Mr. Alton
When the Procedure Committee reflects on what has happened today I hope that it will also consider that 20 years ago when the original legislation to create an Abortion Act was passed in the House, 25 hours of Government time were provided. Therefore, this legislation is about procedure—it is not truly private Member's legislation—and it is becoming virtually unamendable. For that reason, people outside this place might say that the procedures were adhered to today, but they could be forgiven for thinking, if they entered our Strangers Gallery, that they had attended some kind of west end farce.
§ Mr. Brazier
As one of the youngest hon. Members of the House may I state, following my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir. B. Braine), who is the Father of the House, that whether the procedures are adhered to or not, or amended, nearly 20 attempts have been made to put an Abortion Bill through the House and so far as the man in the street is concerned [HON. MEMBERS: "Man?"] each one has fallen not on a vote—but on wrangling of one form or another. The Government must consider bringing forward a measure on a free vote so that the matter can be decided once and for all.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are getting on to the merits of the Bill to be introduced by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), which is not due to have its Second Reading, if it is reached, until Friday 3 March. It is very important for people outside to appreciate what has happened today and that the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Maidstone was a procedural motion and not about the merits of her Bill.
§ Mrs. Wise
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm not only that what has happened today is in order, but that most private Members do not get an opportunity to bring forward a Bill? No particular priority should be attached to the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) who has tried to do so through a procedural wrangle as it was described today. It ill-becomes one side of an argument to claim moral rectitude and to claim to represent the whole of the population on this topic when Second Reading would have been defeated if the vote had been held among women Members only, who voted 26 to 11 against it—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We are now getting on to the merits. I think that we have disposed of this matter. We have had a long time on it. I will hear Mr. Madden on another matter.
§ Mr. Madden
Just over two hours ago, Mr. Viraj Mendis was deported from this country to Sri Lanka to a most uncertain destiny. It must be bad for the reputation of Parliament that that fact was not reported to the House 663 before midday today. Nor have Ministers come to this place to explain their actions or decisions, still less to account for or justify them.
Even at this late stage, will the Leader of the House make a statement about the Government's actions in relation to Mr. Mendis? If on Monday the Government have not seen fit to make a statement to the House, in those circumstances would you consider granting a private notice question on the Mendis case and not apply the time limit on matters for consideration for a private notice question because clearly the matter has arisen today? Therefore, Mr. Speaker, will you consider a private notice question if the Government do not make a statement on the Mendis case on Monday, so that the House can call Ministers to account for their activities, to explain why they did not allow proper negotiations to find Mr. Mendis a refuge, and to deal with the questions that many hon. Members wish to put to the Executive about this deplorable case?
§ Mr. Corbyn
It is on the same matter, Mr. Speaker.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) on this matter. It is important that a Minister should come to the House, or at least understand the feelings of the House about the disgraceful actions that happened today. An innocent man has been thrown out of this country to an uncertain future. At this very moment, he is on a plane bound for Sri Lanka in the company of a priest. It is incumbent on the British Government, who have thrown him out of the country, to do their best to ensure his safety in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is right that, in addition to hearing from a Home Office Minister on Monday, we should hear from a Foreign Office Minister about what actions have been taken by the British high 664 commission in Colombo to ensure that he is in a haven until negotiations on his asylum in another European country are completed. As the Home Office well knew at the penultimate moment this morning, such negotiations were going on with some hope that a more liberal-minded European Government would be prepared to grant him the safety and asylum that have been so callously refused by the British Government.
§ Mr. Holt
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If you are approached by the leaders of the Opposition to change their Supply day next week for a debate on this subject, under pressure from Labour Back Benchers, will you concede that request? They are silent on the matter. We are hearing humbug from the Opposition.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sure that what has been said has been heard by the Leader of the House. It is not for me to decide whether a statement is made. As to a private notice question, the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) knows that I would not pronounce on that, certainly not some days in advance of it. Of course, the Opposition's debate on Tuesday could be changed up until the rising of the House on Monday.
§ Mr. Nicholas Bennett
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday I asked the Leader of the House whether, if matters today did not proceed as on the Order Paper, the Government would give time to consider them further. As the proceedings on the Order Paper did not take place, I ask the Leader of the House through you, Mr. Speaker, whether the legislation stemming from the Warnock report will have an item on abortion, with a conscience clause. The Government have announced that there will be a conscience clause in the abortion legislation.
§ Mr. Speaker
That would be a very good question to ask the Leader of the House next Thursday at business questions.