HC Deb 03 April 1990 vol 170 cc1069-72 5.20 pm
Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

I wish to raise a point of order concerning the proper conduct of Commons business and Members' rights. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that, in the business statement last Thursday, the Leader of the House announced that the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill would have its Second Reading on Thursday 19 April. That Bill has not yet been published. It is available for publication, and I am advised that the printing is complete, but the Home Office tells me that it will not be published until, at the earliest, the beginning of public business tomorrow. At best, therefore, the Government will have withheld publication of the Bill until so late a date that only two sitting days, the last day of this Session and the first day of the next, are available for discussion and consultation between Members.

I understand very well that the Government do not want their own Back Benchers to discuss with each other the tactics by which they will oppose the Bill, but to provide the House with so little opportunity, two sitting days, to consider the content of so important a Bill is a denial of the basic rights of the House.

I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether there is any pressure that you can bring to bear on the Government to require the Bill to be made available to the House today? I emphasise that it is available: all that is necessary is for the Leader of the House, the Chief Whip or one of their satraps to make the necessary application to you. The Bill would then be at our disposal. I believe that that is not so much right as essential for the proper conduct of our affairs.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe)

I am glad to be able to confirm that arrangements have been made for the Bill to be published tomorrow. It will be available for more than two full weeks before it comes back for debate in the House. I hope that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will find it ample to fill his holiday reading.

Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise—

Mr. Hattersley


Mr. Speaker

Mr. Adley first.

Mr. Adley

I wish to raise a point of order that relates directly to your responsibilities, Mr. Speaker, which refers to one of the Sessional Orders passed by the House that you placed before it on 21 November. That order read: That the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis do take care that during the Session of Parliament the passages through the streets leading to this House be kept free and open and that no obstruction be permitted to hinder the passage of Members to and from this House". It concluded: that the Serjeant at Arms attending this House do communicate this Order to the Commissioner aforesaid". I assume that the Serjeant at Arms is ultimately responsible to you, Mr. Speaker, and carries out your instructions.

It is a fact, attested to by all hon. Members, that on many occasions—I am not talking about just today and it has nothing to do with demonstrations—an increasing number of coaches proliferate around Parliament square blocking the streets and preventing parking in and access to the House. That causes a serious disincentive to hon. Members in their attempts to reach this place on time. The powers of the traffic commissioners, emasculated under recent legislation, are partly responsible for the problem. Those coaches are not all foreign; most of them are British. It appears to me that coach operators demonstrate an arrogant disregard not only for other road users, but the Sessional Order. Surely the parked coaches are an abuse of the ruling of the House and such rule breaking is either being done in ignorance or deliberately. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to request the Serjeant at Arms to invite the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to tell us what action he would like the House to take to deal with the problem.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that a substantial number of coaches convey visitors to Westminster. I believe that the Services Committee is looking into the question of traffic in Parliament square. The hon. Gentleman should ask that Committee to consider the parking of coaches as well.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

It is a matter for you.

Mr. Speaker

No, it is a matter for the Services Committee.

Mr. Adley

The order is in the name of the Serjeant at Arms. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Serjeant at Arms to inquire what response he has received from the Commissioner of Police.

Mr. Speaker

This is a question for the police, but I shall look into it.

Mr. Tony Banks

Good man.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether I could ask you to reflect further on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)? The British Nationality (Hong Kong) Bill is extremely contentious and controversial legislation. The Bill was promised for today, but clearly it will not be available until tomorrow afternoon.

Originally, we were warned that Second Reading would take place during the week of 23 April. In last week's business statement, we were told that its Second Reading would take place on Thursday 19 April, the day after our return from the Easter recess. That means that there is inadequate time for all parties in this House to have collective consideration of the legislation.

I ask the Leader of the House to consider reverting to the original plan so that we can have its Second Reading during the week of 23 April. That would give reasonable additional time for all parties in the House to consider this important Bill.

Mr. Speaker

That is for the Leader of the House to decide, but the Bill has not yet been presented to the House, so it would not be possible to make it available today.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I must point out that we have a guillotine motion at 7 pm.

Mr. Holt

I am aware of that, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) is equally aware of it.

My point of order relates to a matter directly under your control, Mr. Speaker, and as you intend to have a word with the Serjeant at Arms about another issue, I want to raise it now. Half an hour ago, when I went to my office, I found that members of the public were going to meetings on that Corridor. People are standing outside our Committee Rooms selling copies of Socialist Worker to those going in and out of them. Surely it is wrong and against all the rules of the House that such pamphlets are being sold inside this building.

Mr. Speaker

That is of course absolutely out of order, and I shall certainly get the Serjeant at Arms to look into that matter.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to be pedantic, but could you reflect on the whole question of business statements and come to some ruling tomorrow? For greater accuracy, it is important to note that the Leader of the House said: With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the re-arrangement of business for tomorrow If we are now not to be allowed to make other points pressing for statements is that not yet another erosion, unwitting in your case, Mr. Speaker, of Back Benchers' rights? We must be vigilant on that.

Before tomorrow, will you consider, Mr. Speaker, the issue that arose from Question 4—that is, the anger of the Americans towards one of our senior colleagues at his behaviour in the Pentagon? The Chairman of the Defence Select Committee should make a statement to the House, possibly a personal one, on the allegations now being widely made to the effect that he misused his position in pressing matters in relation to contracts in the Pentagon. It is bad enough that that is done in Whitehall, but to start doing it in other countries, in the Ministries of Defence of our allies, raises serious questions.

Mr. Speaker

Unfortunately, when the hon. Gentleman first raised this point of order, I stopped him, because I did not have the relevant extract from Erskine May to hand, but now a blinding light has struck me. I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to page 297 where it states: The Speaker has ruled that when a narrow business statement is made, changing only one item of business, supplementary questions are confined to that item. That is why I sought to stop the hon. Gentleman.