HC Deb 19 January 1993 vol 217 cc265-8 3.40 pm
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have been trying to follow the ruling that you have just given, and I do not want to transgress in any way, but it occurs to me that perhaps the deployment of forces in the Iraq theatre is related, in that the numbers of troops—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am trying to help the hon. Gentleman and the House. I will read the two lines from "Erskine May" that relate directly to what has just taken place: The Speaker has ruled that when a narrow business statement is made,"— which is exactly what has taken place— changing only one item of business, supplementary questions are confined to that item. The Chair will allow a wide debate. It is a debate on the Adjournment and, as the Leader of the House has said, it could not be much wider than that.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order.

Madam Speaker

Order. I am quite capable of seeing and hearing hon. Members.

The House has been delayed by points of order that are simply points of frustration.

Mr. Peter Hardy (Wentworth)

I hope that my point of order is entirely relevant. The debate on Thursday, now merged, means that the detailed consideration of a number of aspects of the problems and conditions of the Royal Air Force will now not be able to attract the attention or be given the time that would otherwise be available; problems such as contractorisation, career prospects and procurement will all be diminished.

I know that you cannot instruct the Government on how they should structure business, Madam Speaker, but my point of order is this. Every year, for so long that a precedent has been established, the House has had the opportunity for regular debates about each of the three armed forces. The abuse of this precedent—that is what it is—means that proper consideration of the service in question will be minimised.

I ask you, Madam Speaker, or, if you cannot give a ruling, the Leader of the House, to give an assurance that there will not be a long delay before the House has an opportunity to have a debate in which the detailed considerations and anxieties of the Royal Air Force can be considered.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is aware that I cannot rule on that matter. It seems to me to be the sort of subject that he might put to the Leader of the House during business questions at some time.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday there were a number of points of order arising out of your response to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) when he made a Standing Order No. 20 application about Iraq. I think that it is fair to suggest that your reply left the door ajar. It seems to me—I would like you to respond to this if that is possible—that this business statement today is some recognition of that half-open door, but that a debate has been produced that is unsatisfactory not only to my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who wanted to speak about the Air Force in detail, but also to those of us who would have liked a proper vote in respect of Iraq and the bombing, and the lapdog attitude of the Government to Bush, that man who is drugged to the earholes. We all wanted to take part in a principled debate, but I am afraid that it is like the curate's egg: it is a bit of both and it is not the right answer that you promised yesterday.

Madam Speaker

I promised nothing yesterday, as the hon. Gentleman will know if he looks at Hansard. He must draw his own conclusions.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you confirm that an Adjournment motion will not allow substantive amendments to be tabled? This seems unsatisfactory to whole range of opinion in the House, as many hon. Members would have liked to submit amendments on the degree of United Nations sanction for any action that might be taken.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman and the House are aware that no amendments can be tabled to an Adjournment motion.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Can you confirm, Madam Speaker, what I think you just said—that it will be possible to have a vote on Thursday evening so that those of us who do not support the Government's policy in the Gulf may have an opportunity to register that dissent, as opposed to the consensus that has been presented to the whole country until now?

Madam Speaker

I did not say that at all. I made the point that it was a motion on the Adjournment. The hon. Gentleman knows what that means as well as I do: there can be no amendments to it.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it possible for you to use your good offices to persuade the Leader of the House to review what he has just told us? A number of hon. Members who have spoken are opposed to what has been happening. Those of us with different points of view, with reservations, nevertheless believe that it is necessary to have a debate on what is happening in Iraq and what should or should not be done. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and other hon. Friends have made the good point that no one will be absolutely certain about the debate: will it be mainly about Iraq or the situation in Iraq? Why not simply have a debate on Iraq?

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who said that matters relating to the RAF will not be adequately raised, surely there is a case for having a proper debate, as always, on the services including the RAF. Will the Leader of the House consider changing his mind?

Madam Speaker

Such questions must be put to the Leader of the House during business questions. It is not a matter for the Speaker of the House, who has no responsibility whatever for arranging the business programme. It is for the Leader of the House and the usual channels, as the House knows.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raise a matter of greatest importance which has come to the attention of the House during the past quarter of an hour, and I seek your advice. Although I do not want to deal with the specific case on which you rule, there is a wider case, which is the politicisation of the civil service. It seems that, over the past 14 years, there is a possibility that the objectivity of the civil service, which is precious, is now in question. How can we have a full examination of that matter by the House?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman can try to achieve that by putting a question to the Government during business questions. He can achieve it either through debate or by questions in the House.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point is that—this is from the Front Benches—the change of title of Thursday's debate has changed the whole character of the debate. In practice, it will be a debate on Iraq. During the three previous debates on the Gulf in the last Parliament, in a consensus, supporters for the Government, mostly Privy Councillors, were wheeled out on both sides, largely to the exclusion of any significant extent of dissent.

There is a significant extent of dissent among Opposition Members towards the Government's supine support of American policies. I hope that, with your fresh occupation of the Chair, Madam Speaker, bringing a new view to the House, the consensus which prevailed in those three debates on the Gulf will not prevail on Thursday.

Madam Speaker

That is hardly a point of order for me. The debate on Thursday is in the hands of the House itself.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. For the benefit of the House, could you rule whether the previous five points of order put to you were points of order or points of frustration?

Madam Speaker

They were certainly not points of order. I will not attempt to describe what they were, but they certainly were not points of order.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You and the House will know that I am a member of the Select Committee on Defence (HON. MEMBERS: "Very important."] I agree, and if anyone thinks differently, they are fairly stupid.

Arrangements have been made for the Select Committee on Defence to visit Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe on the day of the debate. I do not need to go into great detail except to say that that will mean that many of the members of the Select Committee will be excluded from the debate because they are required—[HON. MEMBERS: "You can choose."] I will continue—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I am trying to find out what the point of order is. The hon. Gentleman will undoubtedly come to his point now.

Mr. Cook

I am trying to remove some of the ignorance and short-sightedness which is evident on the Government Benches. If an hon. Member is to fulfil his duty to the Chamber, I must be present on the Select Committee visit. For us to get back from the visit in time will mean that probably only one hon. Member will be able to contribute to the debate. My point of order is whether you, Madam Speaker, can prevail on the usual channels to institute some device that will ensure consultation to include members of a Select Committee on a particular topic, rather than exclude them. It is a perfectly reasonable question, after all.

Madam Speaker

Hon. Members who speak in the House must first catch my eye, irrespective of whether they are members of a Select Committee, Standing Committee or whatever.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Would you ask questions in the right places about the abuse of the letter board yesterday by the Secretary of State for Education?

Madam Speaker

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give me more information and come to my office. I always try to help Members on such matters.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

As someone who served in the RAF in Iraq, do I stand a chance of being called on Thursday?

Madam Speaker

That is the most pertinent point of order that has been put to me today.