HC Deb 24 June 1992 vol 210 cc261-5 3.32 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As you know, earlier today, I gave written notice to your office that I intended to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of debating a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration, namely, the failure of this Government to respond to the democratic wishes of the people.

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is being a little unfair. I have already considered his application and he knows my decision. The matter has been considered very seriously and he should not now raise it on the Floor of the House. I hope that the hon. Member will leave the matter there because he knows my decision and our procedures.

Several Hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time.

Mr. Canavan

I have not even raised my point of order.

I realise that you, Madam Speaker, have absolute discretion in whether such an application is accepted or rejected. However, your staff informed me that there was no way in which you would even listen to my application. Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the issue, which is important to the people of Scotland, that is an attack on the rights of Back Benchers to raise legitimate points on the Floor of the House.

I ask you, Madam Speaker, please to explain which part of the Standing Order No. 20 I fell foul of. On my reading of the Standing Order, I stuck by the rules that it lays down. I kept to the 12 noon deadline and I put in written notice, yet I am deprived even of the opportunity to state my case on the Floor of the House.

Madam Speaker

Standing Order No. 20 allows me to hear applications for debates on a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration. To qualify for consideration, a matter must contain some new element of urgency that distinguishes it from other important issues of long standing. I cannot allow this valued opportunity to be endangered by improper use, and I shall continue to decline to hear applications that do not meet the basic criteria. The hon. Gentleman's application falls into that category, and I can hear nothing further about it.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is not what happened this afternoon symptomatic of the contempt for Scottish questions shown by Conservative Members? Three Conservative Members were called by you to ask questions: you had to rebuke the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin) for speaking for too long and not coming to the point; the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) asked about Scottish local government; and the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) asked two questions, one of which you declared to be wrong. Shortly after asking their questions, all three Members left the Chamber, the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross weaving his way unsteadily from the Chamber—

Madam Speaker

Order. I need no colourful or picturesque descriptions. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would come directly to his point of order.

Mr. Galloway

The hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross is unlikely to need colourful or picturesque descriptions from me. I am stating the truth as people saw it on television. He did stagger from the Chamber—

Madam Speaker

Order. Please come to the point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Galloway

Is there no basic requirement on Members who ask questions to stay in their places until the end of Scottish questions? Is it just a big game for Conservative Members? Are they swept off the Terrace to come here, do their job and then leave?

Madam Speaker

Order. I have already made my views known on this. We must extend various common courtesies to each other, not only during debates but at Question Time. I remind the House that this is a United Kingdom Parliament and when Members rise and show an interest, and when they have questions on the Order Paper, I have an obligation to call them.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), Madam Speaker. You said that there was no new element of urgency and that that was the reason for your decision. However, following last month's Scottish questions, I gave notice to you that I intended to raise on the Adjournment of the House the question of a referendum, only to be told that I was not allowed to do so under the Standing Orders of the House because it involved legislation or expense. That ruling was given to me only yesterday.

Is not that a new element of urgency, because it is important that the House has an opportunity to hear the case for a referendum on a Scottish Parliament? It may not be especially urgent for hon. Members who represent English constituencies because this is an English Parliament—[HON. MEMBERS: "No".]—but Scotland does not have the Parliament that it wants—

Madam Speaker

Order. There is nothing new about the rules governing the Adjournment of the House. I must work according to our rules and procedures, and I am sure that the entire House wants me to continue to uphold those rules and procedures.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will have heard on many occasions in the House assurances from Ministers that they were doing all that they could to safeguard the INMOS jobs in Newport. Today's Electronic Times contains a report by Michel Carpentier of DGXIII saying that the Department of Trade and Industry has never been in touch with him on that matter. He believes that it is stupid to transfer the jobs from Newport to Italy and that money is available. Have you, Madam Speaker, been asked to allow the appropriate Minister to make a statement or a confession?

Madam Speaker

I can give a very short answer to that question: no, I have not.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Members to spend time calling for a referendum in Scotland when, during the general election, they said that they were against a referendum?

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for me, and it only lengthens the time spent on points of order. I have heard bogus points of order, but that one really went over the top.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I listened with respect to your ruling on the request of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) for a debate under Standing Order No. 20. I find it exceptionally difficult to understand the justification for saying that the proposal contains no new element when the arguments have not been heard. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman would have been able to raise relevant new elements during the debate. Are you, Madam Speaker, saying that when we apply for a Standing Order No. 20 debate we have to write our full speech in advance so that you and your staff may decide whether it contains a new element?

Madam Speaker

I think that the authorities of the House and I know when there are any new elements. I am sure that the hon. Lady is not seeking to challenge my ruling.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received a request from the Government to make a change in the Government's programme to allow the introduction of legislation to protect pension funds? I ask that in view of the fact that £2 million has been taken from the Bellings group pension fund. The matter is becoming a scandal and the Government need to take action to protect pension funds in this country.

Madam Speaker

I have nothing to add: I have received no request for a statement to be made.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

Further to your ruling, Madam Speaker, in respect of the application made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr Canavan), will you explain what evidence you require to be submitted to you before your officials rule that a matter is unsuitable for debate? It is my understanding that, in the past, supporting evidence has normally been heard in the House, not in the Speaker's office.

Madam Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman is raising with me what I regard as a classic hypothetical case. I said that to qualify for consideration a matter had not only to contain a new element of urgency to distinguish it from other important long-standing issues, but had to be on a specific and important matter that needed urgent consideration. I do not believe that our business today or tomorrow should be changed in order to discuss the subject raised by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). I hope that hon. Members will not continue to challenge my ruling.

Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Special Grant Report (No. 4) and the Special Grant Report (Wales) 1992 are on today's Order Paper for debate. It appears that it is your intention that we should debate the two reports together. If that is so, it is a break from the custom of the House, which is to have a separate debate on Welsh rate support grant orders. With great respect, may I suggest that we should keep to the usual form of proceeding so that Welsh Members may have a better opportunity to contribute to the debate and we have more chance to hear Welsh Office Ministers?

Madam Speaker

I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's point and understand it, but it was agreed last Friday by the House that the two items should be debated together within a three-hour period.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The most important item on today's Order Paper is question 8 on local government reform, which will affect the life of every councillor in Scotland. I could not understand why you allowed only one Opposition Back Bencher to ask a question on the subject. I think that was absolutely disgraceful.

Madam Speaker

I have a broad back, and I am developing a thick skin.

Mr. Canavan

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have no wish to challenge your right to accept or reject an application under Standing Order No. 20. However, for future guidance, if in future an hon. Member decides to make a written application to you for a Standing Order No. 20 emergency debate, should he or she outline in the application any new evidence that he or she thinks should be brought to your attention there and then or will there be a further opportunity to present the new evidence on the Floor of the House?

Madam Speaker

That is certainly not necessary. I want to be helpful to the House and to individual Members, and if Members think that it helps me to come to a judgment by putting new evidence before me, it will always be very welcome and I shall look at it most carefully.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not in any way challenging your ruling. As you are probably aware, the Procedure Committee recommended some years ago that any application under what was then Standing Order No. 9 should be put to the Speaker in his office. That recommendation was considered by the House and, I am glad to say, it was rejected in 1979. You will also know that in 1977–78, in the last couple of years of the Labour Government, there were usually three or four applications per day under Standing Order No. 9. It is my understanding—and you will correct me if I am wrong—that until quite recently, although the Speaker may well have deprecated some of the applications, he decided to hear them.

It seems that there are two problems to overcome. Under "Erskine May" and the appropriate Standing Order you decide whether an application on the Floor of the House is to be successful. If it is, you will grant a debate. However, it now seems that even before the application is made on the Floor of the House you will consider whether it should be made at all, in the same way as your predecessor did—I doubt whether his predecessor followed the same course. In effect, that means that we have to convince you that there is a case even though if the application is made on the Floor of the House there is no guarantee that you will grant it.

Madam Speaker

I am not changing the practice. I cannot hear applications that I regard as not getting to first base. On occasions I will hear an application, but I have to determine in the first place whether it gets over the first hurdle. There is no change whatever in procedure.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Apart from the problem of irritation caused by English Tory Members flitting in and out during Scottish Question Time, may I appeal to you once again about the problem of Ministers giving over-long answers to questions? I am sure that that practice deprives two or even three Back Benchers of the opportunity to put spontaneous supplementary questions.

Madam Speaker

I have noted the hon. Gentleman's point. At the risk of being rather too curious and too observant, may I say that I have noticed that he too popped out after his question.