§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As I understand it, one of the purposes of the House is to try to raise the plight of those in need such as pensioners on small incomes who are suffering greatly during the present cold spell because cold weather payments have not yet been triggered.
I ask you, Madam Speaker, to give careful consideration to the making of applications under Standing Order No. 20. I understand that it is necessary for you to give permission, irrespective of the outcome of any such application, before an application can be made on the Floor of the House.
On 6 February 1991, as you will see from the Official Report, I received permission from your predecessor to make an application under Standing Order No. 20 on cold weather payments. I have already stated that, in my opinion, one of our jobs as Members is to raise the plight of those in need; it is unfortunate if we are denied the opportunity to do so. The rights of Back-Bench Members, Parliament by Parliament—
§ Mr. Winnick
It is whether you, Madam Speaker, will reconsider the position of Back-Bench Members. It is extremely difficult for us to make any applications to you on the Floor of the House, which means that our rights are being undermined and eroded, but through no fault of yours, Madam Speaker. A policy has been established, and I hope that you will reverse it. If not, it seems that, Parliament by Parliament, the rights of Back-Bench Members will be undermined and eroded, which will be extremely unfortunate.
§ Madam Speaker
I take great pains to uphold the rights of Back-Bench Members. I shall consider carefully, as I always do, any Standing Order 20 applications. I shall weigh them extremely seriously.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Was it not possible for you to allow questions on the statement to run on? It was a statement of considerable significance to every Member representing a Welsh constituency. The annual Welsh day debate is about to take place, and we would have been only robbing ourselves of time in that debate if questions had been allowed to continue. Could not you have extended the time, Madam Speaker, to allow detailed questions to be asked by every Member representing a Welsh constituency who wished to do so?
§ Madam Speaker
The thought was in my mind. As the House knows, I allowed the statement and questions on it to continue for three quarters of an hour. I was concerned at the length of questions and answers. I timed the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies), and the Secretary of State on the first question and answer exchange and they took 20 minutes. If all the questions and answers had been more brisk, I would have been able to call more Back-Bench Members, which was what I intended to do. I noted that both the hon. Member and the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the matter would be debated by the Welsh Grand 32 Committee in the foreseeable future. We are also, as the hon. Gentleman said, about to have a wide-ranging debate on the Adjournment on Welsh affairs.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I raised a point of order last Wednesday, when I criticised the Secretary of State for the Environment for not notifying me that my question had been linked with another question. I have now established that, in fact, a message was sent from the Department of the Environment to me, via our message board. That message did not reach me in time, for reasons that are not at all clear.
I am aware that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said earlier, there are serious communication problems among Government Departments, Ministers and hon. Members. I want to set the record straight and to say that on this occasion there is no criticism of the parliamentary branch and officials of the Department of the Environment.
§ Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)
On a point of order, Madam Speaker, which has a dual purpose. The first is to ensure that those viewing our proceedings will know that I was present when questions were asked on the statement about the proposed local government reorganisation, even though I was not called. The second purpose—which is the point of order for you, Madam Speaker—involves the safeguarding of the rights of Back Benchers.
I was fortunate to draw No. 3 in the ballot for private Members' Bills immediately following the election, which meant that I should have been able quickly to put my Shops (Amendment) Bill before the House for Second Reading. However, it was eight months before it received a Second Reading, on 22 January, when it was agreed by a majority in the House. Nevertheless, it has been another six weeks before my Bill goes into Committee on Wednesday.
Applications were made last week for the Bill's proceedings to be televised and that was agreed on Friday. Within a matter of hours, I was told that they would not be televised. Since then, the Committee has been informed on four occasions that there has been a room change.
I believe that that matter requires investigation, Madam Speaker. We all subscribe to the ballot process and, if we come within the first 20 places, we expect to get our Bill through at least some of its stages. If we are in the first 10 places, we expect to get our Bills considerably further. I now understand that, even though I was No. 3 in the ballot, and even if my Bill took only one day in Committee on Wednesday—as it amends the Shops Act 1950, it is a sizeable Bill—no spot would be made available for its Report stage between now and July.
As 173 hon. Members voted in favour of my Bill on 22 January, and as you, Madam Speaker, look after the interests of Back Benchers, I hope that you will ensure that there is a thorough investigation of the reasons why no spot is available. My supporters need to be satisfied with the explanation.
§ Madam Speaker
The hon. Gentleman's point about the televising of his Bill's proceedings in Committee and 33 the various room changes are administrative matters. However, I take seriously what he has said and, if he will leave the matter with me, I shall consider it.