HC Deb 06 July 1990 vol 175 cc1233-6 9.34 am
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I have the honour to present a petition on behalf of 165 residents of Herne Bay, being almost the entire membership of the Studd Hill property owners association. Studd Hill is a small, informal retirement estate. My petitioners say that those living on the Herne Bay Studd Hill private estate, previously in receipt of rate reduction in respect of services not provided by the local authorities are, as a result of the terms of the Local Government Act and the introduction of the community charge, now denied that reduction and therefore required to pay for services that they do not receive. My petitioners ask that the Government amend the section of the Local Government Act that is relevant to require local authorities to rebate the community charge in respect of services enjoyed by other charge payers but not available to residents living on private estates". I believe that the petition reflects a genuine grievance, and it has my fullest support.

To lie upon the Table.

9.36 am
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point is extremely important, particularly today, when we are considering no fewer than 46 private Members' Bills. It concerns the question of the tradition of objecting to Bills that seek to achieve their passage, as it were, on the nod.

That has long been a tradition in this place. Private Members' Bills are vulnerable animals in legislative terms and, because of the pressure of time, it is inevitable that, on the last day, a large number of measures will be down, some seeking to obtain Second Readings and so on on the nod.

Because of the pressures on Fridays in constituencies, it has sometimes happened that hon. Members with genuine objections or reservations about legislation, and who prefer to see those matters debated properly rather than passing on the nod, get a colleague here to object on their behalf. It has long been the tradition for that to happen.

Recently, a sinister development has occurred, in that hon. Members promoting those Bills have sought to name the individuals concerned who are raising the objections, with the express purpose of identifying publicly, for those outside who are interested in the lobby, that those were the individuals concerned.

That development has had sinister results. For example, when objections were recently raised to a Bill, a twisted minority outside—I can only describe them as that—part of a lobby, sent threatening and abusive letters to hon. Members, and even issued death threats. That is not the way in which democracy should be conducted.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, on the principle whether you should call hon. Members who are promoting Bills, who see their Bills objected to and who seek to name the individuals concerned. It is not good practice, and I wonder what you, as guardian of our affairs, can do to defend us from that twisted and bitter minority who seek to disrupt our democratic procedures.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You, like hon. Members in all parts of the House, will deplore the activities of people outside who issue threats of the type described by the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). But you will confirm that it has long been a tradition of the House that what we do in the Chamber goes on the record. When we go through the Lobby to vote, our names are recorded. To my knowledge, certainly since 1974, it has been normal practice when hon. Members shout "Object" for other hon. Members to seek to identify those who are objecting so that the action that they are taking in the House may be made clear to their constituents.

While you will deprecate any threats that may have been made against hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will not stop the practice of hon. Members trying to identify those hon. Members who block Bills. Although they have every right to object to measures, they should be prepared to accept the public responsibility for doing so.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that this will not delay today's proceedings.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Further to that point of order Mr. Speaker. You, Mr. Speaker, will be aware that in the city that I represent there has been a recent outbreak of violence against ordinary people simply because they have fallen foul of a twisted minority who claim to be in favour of animal rights. The threats to which my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) referred are in exactly that category. While I totally accept the democratic point made by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), I hope that, through you, Mr. Speaker, the House can achieve its continuing objective of fair debate that is not conducted under a possible sentence.

Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)

Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin). If the sinister development to which he referred continues and grows, it will make hon. Members frightened to come to the Chamber and object on Fridays.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

I support the Protection of Badger Setts Bill and would like it to be passed into law. An article appeared in the News of the World last Sunday suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison), who objected to the Bill on its last appearance in the House, was responsible for it not becoming law. As you, Mr. Speaker, and all of us know, that is absolute nonsense. If it does not become law it will not be because, quite properly and reasonably, someone objected to it, but because its promoters failed to secure sufficient parliamentary time. If we are to go ahead with the normal procedures for private Members' Bills, it is important that they should be reported properly. Any hon. Member who objects to a Bill should not be pilloried as my right hon. Friend was because that is dishonest.

Sir Charles Morrison (Devizes)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a difficult problem here, not necessarily because of the point raised by the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) about the identification of a Member who objects, but because outside the House there is, not surprisingly, a lack of knowledge about the way in which the procedure of the House works. As everyone inside the House last Friday would have known, an objection is not necessarily an objection to the Bill in principle.

The objection made to the Protection of Badger Setts Bill last Friday was made purely and simply because the objector wished further amendments to be made to the Bill. The only opportunity to do that was to object to the Bill so that there would be a further opportunity, hopefully today, for discussing the amendments. The lady who wrote the article in the News of the World clearly thought that such an objection was an objection in principle, but that was not so. That misunderstanding of parliamentary procedure could mean serious consequences for those who object to Bills.

Mr. Speaker

It is useful, I think, for members of the public who now witness our proceedings on television to be given the explanations that we have heard in this morning's points of order. The Select Committee on Procedure reported on this matter three years ago, on 5 May 1987, in its second report. The Committee set out the arguments for and against identifying Members who object to Bills being read a Second time without debate and unanimously recommended no change to present procedure. Therefore, such a change could certainly not be introduced without a formal decision on the part of the House—I say that to the hon. Member for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) who raised that point. It may well be that hon. Members will ask the Select Committee on Procedure to look at the matter again to see if the decision should be reviewed.

As one who was responsible, in a previous incarnation, for looking after Bills on Friday, may I say that what the hon. Member for Devizes (Sir C. Morrison) said was true. It is not good practice for legislation to go through the House without proper debate. We frequently find—I think that the House will agree—that when that happens, amendments need to be made to the Bills and there is little time in our parliamentary programme to achieve that. There is a good reason for objecting to Bills that have not had a full and proper debate in the House.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on a totally separate matter. A Bill has appeared on the Orders of the Day and Notices of Motions for today, until today, but mysteriously it no longer appears. I have the great honour and privilege to be the Parliamentary Private Secretary to, among others, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Industry and Consumer Affairs, who is present today. The hon. Member who drew No. 1 in the ballot—the most coveted prize in the House—sought to introduce a Bill relating to consumer guarantees. With the Minister I attended every one of the Bill's sittings on the Floor of the House, in Committee and on Report. It was down for debate today at position No. 4 on the Order Paper. My hon. Friend the Minister, his advisors, officials and I spent a considerable amount of Government, ministerial and official time preparing ourselves so that we could ensure that the House had the opportunity of considering the vast number of Lords amendments tabled by the Bill's promoter the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones)—

Mr. Speaker

What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Brown

My point of order for you, Mr. Speaker, is this: is it in order for an hon. Member who draws position No. 1 in the ballot, when the Bill has gone through all its stages in the House, suddenly and without notice to the Minister or the House, to withdraw his Bill on the day that Lords amendments are to be considered?

Mr. Speaker

Yes, it is absolutely in order for him to do that. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Votes and Proceedings of yesterday, 5 July, he will see that the Consumer Guarantees Bill has been set down to be considered on Friday 20 July. Therefore, what has happened is perfectly in order.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Well, it takes time from today's Bills, which I think hon. Members are anxious to debate.

Mr. Hughes

I accept that, but this is an important matter—for two reasons. First, I have come here specifically today because I have been lobbied by my constituents who wish the Bill to be passed. It is right that the Bill appears on the Orders of the Day for 20 July, but the reality is that today it had a chance of being debated and passed into law, but on 20 July it has not.

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for the Member in charge of the Bill. He decides; it is his responsibility.

Mr. Hughes

I accept that, but the point of order is that it is not only a gross discourtesy to the House and the Minister, but to you, Mr. Speaker, because the Bill was put down for today, could have been debated but has effectively been killed. That has wasted everybody's time and is a gross discourtesy. I am appalled by it.

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for the Member concerned, but in putting down his Bill for a later date he has possibly given another hon. Member whose Bill was lower in the ballot the opportunity of seeing his Bill put on the statute book.

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