HC Deb 14 July 1992 vol 211 cc988-9 4.30 pm
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I wonder, Madam Speaker, whether you can give us any guidance on the protection of the rights of Back Benchers. The lists of Members' names relating to the Division that took place at 12.10 last night will not be published in Hansard until tomorrow, so I refer to sheets from upstairs.

The Division to which I refer relates to the amendment concerning membership of the Health Committee of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). These are Back-Bench Committees, whose purpose is to look into and oversee departmental functions. In the same Division Lobby opposed to the nomination of the hon. Member for Macclesfield were a majority of the Cabinet, including the Secretary of State for Health, the head of the Department that the Health Committee will inquire into. She went into the Division Lobby with the other members of the Cabinet to oppose a certain hon. Member's retention of his membership of the Committee.

Does not this make a mockery of the way in which these Back-Bench Committees are set up? What protection can we have? There is supposed to be a free vote, and the Government deny that there is any whipping, yet it has come to my notice that the Government Chief Whip sent all Ministers, senior and junior, a letter asking them to be present.

Madam Speaker

I must refer the hon. Gentleman to column 830 of the Official Report of yesterday. He raised this point with me, and I gave a ruling, in which I said: In answer to the hon. Gentleman's point of order, it is a matter entirely for the House and for every individual Member of the House, whether a Minister, Back Bencher or whatever, to make up his or her mind".—[Official Report, 13 July 1992; Vol. 211, c. 830.]

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker


Mrs. Wise

On a new point of order.

Madam Speaker

May I just finish?

The way in which hon. Members vote in this House has nothing whatsoever to do with the Chair.

Mrs. Wise

Is not the point that we—and I am sure you, Madam Speaker—want Members to make up their own minds and to be free to do so? Is it not clear that some hon. Members were under a very serious constraint not to make up their own minds but to follow instructions? Is not that an abuse of the House?

Madam Speaker

Having been in this House for some time, I understand that from time to time disciplines are exercised by people called Whips. It is not for the Speaker to know whether a Whip is issued in respect of a certain matter. I would not be aware of that. It is not the business of the Speaker.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Does not a contradiction arise here? As has been made absolutely plain, the Select Committees were established to oversee the Government, and they were to be constituted in such a way that the Whips' Office would have no power or control over them. In this regard, I quote——

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is simply continuing last night's debate and points of order with which I have already dealt. The House should accept the rulings that I have given. I cannot allow continuation of a debate that took place when I was in the Chair. I have heard it all before.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Is it a different point of order?

Mr. Dalyell

It is a variant on the point of order. Should there not be a code of behaviour for senior Ministers, not least the most senior, in voting on the composition of Select Committees? You say that it is not a matter for the Speaker, but it is at least a matter for the code of behaviour of each Member of Parliament. Some of us might think that we have been rebuked for far lesser things than voting on matters in which we have a definite interest.

Madam Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue that point, I am sure that it may well be pursued with the Procedure Committee. He cannot pursue it with the Chair at this stage.

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