§ Madam Speaker
It being 3.30, I now close the Ballot for Notices of Motions for Friday 12 March 1993.
§ Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would be grateful for your advice. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) sought the leave of the House to present
a Bill to prohibit the use of techniques designed to influence the sex of a foetus at conception; to amend the Abortion Act 1967; and for related purposes".—[0fficia1 Report, 23 February 1993; Vol. 219, c. 769.]Such leave, on a Division, the House denied. Today's Order Paper reveals that the hon. Gentleman has placed a Bill behind the Chair precisely the same in its wording, apart from the fact that he has dropped the clause to amend the Abortion Act 1967. Does that not contravene what is said in Erskine May, page 468(d)? If so, should not the hon. Gentleman be asked to remove the Bill from behind the Chair and, equally, to apologise for attempting to subvert the will of the House?
§ Madam Speaker
I am always fascinated by the way that we in this House have something new to learn every day. I admit that the presentation of a Bill so similar to the one which the House refused leave to introduce yesterday caused me great surprise this morning.
I have in consequence satisfied myself that no rule has been broken. Our rules prohibit the presentation of a Bill with the identical long title to one already refused leave and the presentation of a Bill which contains substantially the same provisions as one defeated on Second Reading.
Since neither of those considerations applies, the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) is within his rights in presenting the revised Bill. Naturally, I make no comment on whether his doing so is likely to serve any useful legislative purpose.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. While the Secretary of State for the Environment is still in his place, may I seek your guidance, and perhaps protection, for hon. Members?
You may have noticed that during Question Time, without any notice to me or any other hon. Member, question 3 was linked with question 9, which meant that my question, No. 9, was answered virtually at the start of Question Time instead of at about 3 o'clock, when one would have expected it to be answered.
I appreciate that humility is foreign to the nature of the Secretary of State and that he failed to apologise to the House for imposing the poll tax. May we ask him to give a simple apology, which is all I request, and an undertaking that in future hon. Members will be protected and will be told clearly when questions are to be linked?
§ The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Howard)
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not giving him notice that I proposed to link the two questions. Fortunately, as he was in his place, he does not appear to have suffered any detriment—but I give him the apology for which he has asked.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have just 884 commented on the practice of introducing behind the Chair a Bill similar in form to one that has been defeated as a ten-minute Bill.
Will you consider the way in which private Members' Bills have been introduced during this Session? One or two hon. Members appear to be trying to take advantage of the proceedings of the House to gain publicity for their Bills without being prepared to accept the consequences of a vote in the House. I suggest that, if an hon. Member presents a Bill under the ten-minute rule and leave is refused, it is illogical for the House to agree to the costs of printing, publishing and, in some cases, distributing many copies of that Bill. If that is not an absolute breach of the rules, it appears to come very close to misuse. I suggest to you that it may be helpful for the Procedure Committee to consider the issue.
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head with his final comment. The matter is indeed within the terms of reference of the Procedure Committee.
§ Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am astounded that the President of the Board of Trade is not here, and I wonder whether you can assist me. In reply to a question of mine, the President of the Board of Trade informed me in the House that Grimethorpe and Houghton pits were loss makers, yet from the Boyds report published this morning I gather that that is not the case. Has the President of the Board of Trade written to you asking to apologise to the House for the misinformation, and to announce that Grimethorpe will be reopened immediately?
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This concerns the decision already made on the action of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). In introducing his Bill yesterday the hon. Gentleman asked that leave be givento bring in a Bill to prohibit the use of techniques designed to influence the sex of a foetus at conception".He said that that was the sole intention of his Bill, yet today he has introduced another Bill prohibitingthe use of techniques designed to influence the sex of a foetus at conception; and for related purposes.That seems to be pretty much the self-same Bill.
"Erskine May" says on pages 468 to 469 that a Bill should not be proceeded withif it contains substantially the same provisions".I know that you have already considered the matter, Madam Speaker, but those of us who have examined the Bill and listened to yesterday's debate, and noticed the title of today's Bill, are drawn to the conclusion that the hon. Member for Basildon, having been defeated yesterday, is trying to introduce a similar Bill through the back door.
§ Madam Speaker
I have already given my ruling on the issue. I am well aware of pages 468 to 469 of "Erskine May". There has been a change of title and a reference to the Abortion Act has been omitted. It is perfectly in order to present such a Bill today. We must now proceed.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to challenge your ruling?
§ Madam Speaker
It is perfectly in order for any Member to challenge my ruling. I simply stand by my ruling and we are moving on.