HC Deb 23 April 1993 vol 223 cc615-8 9.34 am
Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. A month or so ago, I wrote to the Government Chief Whip asking what the Government's attitude would be to my private Member's Bill and he sent me a letter. I should be grateful for your views on the letter, which says: The arrangement for private Members' Bills is determined in accordance with the sessional orders and the Standing Orders of the House. It is therefore not a matter for the Chief Whip". That is what I have always understood the position to be, but, on 19 April, a letter was sent to Conservative Members by the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot), who is a Government Whip, asking them to be present to talk on the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill, the first measure on the Order Paper, and then on my Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill. The understanding of a number of Conservative Members is that the intention is to talk out my Bill, and that is what I had anticipated, not being totally naive.

What is the position of the House? As I understand it, private Members' Bills drawn in the ballot should be treated as though they are normal Bills, and not operated on as though the Government can talk them out. Have you a view on the rights of Back Benchers on this matter, Madam Speaker, in terms of protecting their right to have Bills considered in a proper and factual manner and not manoeuvred against in the way that will happen this morning?

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a well-known habit of hon. Members who want to delay or frustrate the passage of a Bill, and who are also interested in procedure, to raise a point of order. I am determined, without a letter from anybody, not only to frustrate the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), which comes up later, but to treat the first Bill on its merits.

Would it be possible to have a ruling from you, Madam Speaker? If the hon. Member for Hammersmith, who appears not to have the votes to carry his Bill even if we reach it earlier and manage to dispose of all the amendments and new clauses, continues with his points of order, he is, in effect, filibustering his own Bill. That might meet the purpose of people such as myself who, out of courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, who is well meaning, had not intended to raise points of order. However, if he continues to raise his, I hope that I may be allowed to raise mine.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I should appreciate your guidance on the aspersion that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has cast on Conservative Members—that we are here to filibuster his Bill. I am here as someone who has taken a close interest in the affairs of disabled people. I have had the privilege of speaking in two major debates this year on the needs of disabled persons. I assure the hon. Member for Hammersmith that we are here because we wish to explore, in some further detail, the content of the excellent Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), which I welcome unreservedly. I am not here in any other spirit.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Hammersmith Mr. Soley) should have started today's proceedings in this way. If the points of order are taking up time, they must affect the time that may be available to debate his important Bill. I have congratulated him on the way in which he conducted himself when he introduced the Bill and on his general good humour and manner. I was a little taken aback suddenly to find that he had tabled early-day motion 1809. I do not know whether you have had the opportunity to see that motion, Madam Speaker. I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman had tabled it, and I hope that he has taken full note of the amendment to it that has been tabled.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about a member of the Government Whips Office and referred to a letter. I have never seen such a letter. I do not believe that it exists. His allegation is an unqualified slur on the integrity of hon. Members. You might wish to see, Madam Speaker, whether he has such a letter. I hope that you will ask him to withdraw those remarks.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) knows that in the House, all Bills are treated on their merits and it is not for the Chair to involve itself in correspondence that passes between one hon. Member and another, whether or not one of those hon. Members is a Whip, or the Leader of the House. Neither is it for me to discourage any hon. Member who wishes to take part in a debate. The points of order are frustrating our debate and I hope that the House will allow the first Bill to proceed. First, there is a petition, to be presented by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson).

Mr. Soley

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not intend to talk out the Bill. If I involved myself in tactics similar to those used by Conservative Members, I could easily talk on the amendments to talk out the Road Traffic (Driving Instruction by Disabled Persons) Bill. I do not intend to do so, but I could. My point is that we have a balloting system and private Members' Bills should be given serious consideration. These tactics could not be used with Government Bills. The Government would either timetable a Bill or provide extra time for it. If we are serious about the reform of the procedures of the House, Bills ought to be decided on their merits. That is not happening. Furthermore, if the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) wants to see the contents of the letter, I can show it to him.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I hope that you will allow me to say that if we are considering whether the making of these points of order will seriously affect the progress of the hon. Gentleman's Bill, we ought to recognise that it has attracted distinguished opposition, including the editor of The Guardian, the National Union of Journalists, the Newspaper Publishers Association—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman anticipates the second Bill on the Order Paper. If any hon. Member feels that the procedure is not correct, or could be improved, he or she has the opportunity to put the matter before the Procedure Committee. The House would be wise, I believe, to proceed with consideration of the first Bill. [Interruption.] We must not frustrate, though, presentation by the hon. Member for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) of a petition.

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