HC Deb 18 April 1995 vol 258 cc28-31

4.1 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)

With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement. The business for Thursday 20 April will now be a debate on a motion arising from the first report of the Select Committee on Privileges on a complaint concerning an article in The Sunday Times of 10 July 1994 relating to the conduct of Members. That will be followed by a debate on a motion relating to withdrawal of Members from meetings of Select Committees arising from the first special report from the Select Committee on Members' Interests. The remaining stages of the Criminal Appeal Bill, which I had previously announced for Thursday, will now be taken on a later date.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)

I thank the Leader of the House for that statement. It is right that the House should discuss the report of the Privileges Committee at the earliest possible opportunity. While some hon. Members may have wished to have had more notice of the debate, it will not come as a surprise to many, and will be welcomed by the House as a whole.

Will the Leader of the House clarify three points? First, will he say how much time is likely to be allotted to the debate and ensure that it is appropriate to the matters under discussion? Secondly, will he confirm that the motion that he will table for Thursday will include the exact wording of the report of the Privileges Committee? It is extremely important that the House is able to vote on the exact and detailed recommendations made by that Committee. Thirdly, will he say when the remaining stages of the Criminal Appeal Bill will be taken and will he give an assurance that the re-timing of that day's debate will not interrupt matters and mean the loss of the expected Supply day in the next week or so, for which we have been pressing?

Mr. Newton

To take the last point first, I cannot at the moment indicate the total reorganisation of business that we shall consider in the next two or three days, but, of course, I take note of the hon. Lady's point, which is in some ways more appropriate to my normal business statement. The answer to her second question is yes. I expect that the motion will include the exact wording of the report of the Privileges Committee. I understand—I hope that it is in order for me to say this—that there is an agreement between the usual channels that the time allotted will be two hours for the first debate and one and a half hours for the second. I expect to table the appropriate business motions.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham)

May I put it to my right hon. Friend that the debate on Thursday would not be the best time to deal with some of the media behaviour in the case to which he has referred and other cases in detail? Would it be possible to have a debate not with the threat of legislation, but on the various standards that the media, press and broadcasting set for themselves, and to provide the opportunity—

Madam Speaker

Order. That is very wide of the mark. As the Leader of the House would say, that is more a question for his normal business statement.

Mr. Bottomley

I was asking for confirmation that Thursday's debate would not be the most appropriate time for that kind of fuller debate.

Mr. Newton

If my hon. Friend is asking for my personal view, the answer is that I agree with him. However, at the end of the day, it would be for you, Madam Speaker, to determine the scope of speeches in the debate.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

We welcome the announcement made by the Leader of the House, but can he clarify whether, in setting this Thursday which is obviously an early opportunity for resolving a matter which should not be left hanging around, he is following a principle in terms of time delay between a report from the Privileges Committee and resolution by the House? Secondly, will there be Government-whipped votes in support of both motions to be tabled by the Leader of the House?

Mr. Newton

On the first question, the honest answer is no. I was not seeking to establish a principle. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to go further, I would have preferred it to be possible to deal with the matter before the recess, but frankly it was not, with the notice that we could have given at that stage. This is the earliest practicable moment after the recess. But for the recess, I would have hoped to deal with it quicker.

On the latter point, the hon. Gentleman will know that the question of whipping is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, but he will also know that, by convention, House of Commons matters of this kind are not the subject of whipped party votes.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)

Will my right hon. Friend confirm whether the second debate on Thursday, that in relation to Members' interests, will be sufficiently wide to enable us to have a debate on some of the allegations made in the press at the weekend, because those are wide allegations and they follow a trend in respect of allegations that have been made about other hon. Members which the Select Committee on Members' Interests is investigating?

Mr. Newton

Once again, my hon. Friend is inviting me to take over your privileges, Madam Speaker, in respect of deciding what is and what is not in order during the debate. However, I would have thought that the debate was fairly narrowly drawn.

Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley)

Are the motions to be tabled for Thursday amendable? If so, will they be tabled in time so that hon. Members can amend them if they feel that that is necessary?

Mr. Newton

They will be amendable. I hope that they will be tabled tonight. Whether amendments are selected is a matter for Madam Speaker.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

As this is a short week, can my right hon. Friend say when he might be in a position to indicate next Monday's business?

Mr. Newton

I very much hope to be in a position to indicate next Monday's business on Thursday. Indeed, I suspect that I will be in terrible trouble if I cannot do that.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann)

While the urgency of the privileges business is appreciated, will the Leader of the House bear in mind, when he is rearranging the remaining stages of the Criminal Appeal Bill, the fact that the Bill has wide support throughout the House and is regarded by many hon. Members as one that should be expedited as quickly as possible?

Mr. Newton

I am grateful for that supportive offer.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

Would not it be unfortunate if the procedure adopted on Thursday did not allow us to vote if we so wished—and as I do—in favour of the recommendations of the Privileges Committee in respect of the two hon. Members, but at the same time to dissociate ourselves from the recommendation about The Sunday Times? Will the Leader of the House give an assurance, in so far as he can, that there will be an opportunity for an amendment to be tabled and a vote to be taken accordingly?

Mr. Newton

Once again, Madam Speaker, we are in your territory rather than mine. I expect that it would be possible to devise an amendment to achieve what the hon. Gentleman wants if he wished, but whether the amendment would be selected and in order would be a matter for the Chair.

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

I recognise that the usual channels determine the length of debates, but, with regard to the first debate, I believe that the time allowed is far too short. If that debate were longer, some of us might have the opportunity to set out our reservations about the Privileges Committee report in so far as it has failed to address what we believe is the central issue in the whole affair. There is a danger that Privy Councillors and senior Members of the House of Commons will dominate the debate, which should be contributed to by many more than those few.

Mr. Newton

I cannot add to what I have said in good faith and in being as open as I could with the House a few moments ago, but no doubt the usual channels, who seem to be present in force, will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Does the Leader of the House recall that, when this matter was originally debated and referred to the Privileges Committee, one of the amendments that was accepted for inclusion on the amendment paper but not subsequently selected for debate stated that all moneys received by hon. Members for their parliamentary work should be deducted from their parliamentary salaries? Will the motion on Thursday be wide enough to include such an amendment for discussion?

Mr. Newton

Once again, I am being invited to tread into territory beyond what would be proper for me, as whether an amendment is in order would be, of course, for the Chair. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I am not drawn into that deep water into which he is trying to entice me.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

As the Leader of the House has now reorganised the business for Thursday, could he find time on that day also for a statement from the appropriate Ministers with regard to the resumption of the export of calves for the veal trade on the continent? Perhaps we could then ask a Minister—

Madam Speaker

Order. That question is not in order.

Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

Although there will be two debates, they might be interlinked. Will the Leader of the House assure us that, during those debates, there may be a link that is relevant to both Committees?

Mr. Newton

Once again, Madam Speaker, I am tempted to think that you should have made the statement, not I. Again, we are in the territory of what is and what is not in order in debating a certain motion. If such links are clearly demonstrable, I am sure that, as always, the Chair will take a characteristically reasonable view.

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