HC Deb 08 March 1995 vol 256 cc337-40 3.30 pm
Madam Speaker

There is a point of order from Mr. Jopling.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday, you were kind enough to respond to a point of order from the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), when you said that he was correct in his assertion that, when a Bill receives its Second Reading and is referred to Committee, the Committee should reflect the views of the House when it voted.

Of course, I agree that that is an important matter and that it should be taken into account, but other important matters should also be given due weight, most particularly the views of hon. Members who spoke in the Second Reading debate. Would you be kind enough to clarify the position?

Madam Speaker

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. Like the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman is correct in what he says. Several matters have to be taken into account when hon. Members are nominated to serve on Standing Committees. Standing Order No. 86 embraces them in the words:

the qualifications of those Members nominated and … the composition of the House". The important point for me to emphasise is that the interpretation of Standing Order No. 86 is normally left to the Committee of Selection, which has been nominated and endorsed by the House. That Committee is given the task of making nominations. Strictly speaking, these matters are not for me.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is known to you that, on 8 March, the Table Office wrote to me to say:

the Lord Advocate has made it clear that in relation to the Lockerbie case, as in any other case, it is not appropriate for the investigating or prosecuting authorities to give details of investigative steps which have been taken. My point of order is this. Is the decision a matter for the Table Office, or is it a matter for the Crown Office? The Crown Office's objection to naming individuals other than those already named in previous questions seems an evasion of its responsibilities. My complaint is with the Crown Office, and not with the Table Office.

Madam Speaker

When a question has been refused and the hon. Member concerned wishes to make representations to the Speaker on the matter, the practice is for those to be made privately; they should not be raised by way of a point of order, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman, who is a long-standing Member of the House, realises.

However, these questions are covered by Scottish Office answers to other questions in the hon. Gentleman's name. I confirm that the Department's answers preclude the hon. Gentleman from putting further questions of that sort for a particular period.

Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for giving you only a few minutes notice of this point of order.

I have in my possession a copy of a Select Committee report issued in November—House of Commons document 385—which makes the strongest possible representations to the Government that time on the Floor of the House must be given to discussing the implications of the draft Euro-proposal for a common format of visa, with a Euro-symbol stamped thereon. The Committee thought the issue so important that it published a separate report, reprinting paragraphs and documents, and making it clear to the Government that it believed that the issue had to he debated at an early date in the House. The Committee may take the view, as I do, that a common format visa will lead inevitably to the mutual recognition of Euro-visas.

Only yesterday, the Leader of the House sent the Committee a letter, dated 7 March, relating to the report of 20 November. It said that, although he thought that there was indeed a case for a debate, we could not have it now, although we might have it soon in European Standing Committee B.

However, I have been advised that a specific proposal to establish such visas is to be considered by the Council of Home Affairs Ministers in Brussels tomorrow. It has been reported, rightly or wrongly, that the United Kingdom Home Office Minister will agree to it.

I appreciate that our powers are limited but, if a Select Committee says that we should debate this vital issue and if it issues a special report, is it not scandalous that there is to be a meeting in Brussels tomorrow to decide the issue, especially given the fact that many hon. Members—of, I think, all parties—believe that a common Euro-symbol visa is effectively the beginning of the end of border controls?

I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, whether any step can be taken to ensure an emergency debate before tomorrow, so that the House may express an opinion. What is the point of having Select Committees to establish a unanimous opinion if we cannot discuss the issue, and if the Government are to go to Brussels tomorrow and agree to the proposal?

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

Calm down, Teddy.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Although the hon. Gentleman may not think so, democracy matters a great deal. This country belongs to the people. [Interruption.]

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I hardly need further comments on a point of order that has been explained to the House very clearly and with which I can deal.

As the hon. Gentleman realises, the issue that he has raised has to do with the arrangement of business; it is not a matter for the Speaker. The arrangement of business is one of the responsibilities of the Leader of the House. I suggest that, as soon as he can, the hon. Gentleman attempts to raise the matter with him, to see whether there can be a change of business.

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is no doubt that you are a doughty champion of the rights of the House. If my right hon. or hon. Friend goes to Brussels tomorrow and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) said, stitches up an arrangement with other European Ministers, what can the House then do about it? What can you do to help the House today to sustain its position, powers and influence?

Madam Speaker

If I had received a request for a private notice question or for a debate under Standing Order No. 20 by midday today, there could perhaps have been changes in the business. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) raised the issue, which is barely a point of order, with me at precisely 3.20 pm, 10 minutes before he raised it on the Floor of the House.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I did not know before.

Madam Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may not have known before, but I cannot change the business of the House unless the proper procedures agreed by the House arc followed at the correct time. Much as I might be sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman and perhaps others are seeking to do, I have to uphold the procedures of the House.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. In case I appeared discourteous, I must point out that the letter was sent yesterday and arrived this morning, but that I received it only at 3.15 pm. The meeting is tomorrow; what the blazes are we to do?

Madam Speaker

I cannot give any account of Paddington Bear the postman or why, if the letter was posted yesterday, it was received only late today, as presumably it was posted in the same building. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has done his best to raise the matter, but I repeat that I have to follow the procedures of the House and cannot accept what he is saying at this stage. Had it been raised with me by midday, I could perhaps have done something about it.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is Paddington Bear really Postman Pat?

Madam Speaker

The hon. Member is always on the ball—I am very grateful.

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had a request from the Secretary of State for Health for an opportunity to explain to us how it was that Leeds general infirmary proved to have the nearest bed for a brain-damaged patient in Kent?

The patient had to be flown by helicopter from Sussex to Leeds, necessitating a 12-hour delay in treatment following a road accident. After a seven-hour operation, his condition is clearly still critical. Has the Secretary of State asked for an opportunity to explain to us why more than half the country was without beds for a brain-damaged patient? Surely that represents a serious emergency nationally for the health service.

Madam Speaker

I have had no request from a Minister to make a statement on that or any other matter.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As the Home Secretary has been in his place and has heard the exchanges between several hon. Members and yourself, if, bearing in mind what has been said, he is anxious to make a statement to the House, perhaps at 7 o'clock, would you view such a request sympathetically?

Madam Speaker

I do not have to give sympathetic consideration to a statement. I am informed by the Minister concerned that he will make a statement. I have made this point to the House on several occasions. That is the procedure of the House. If a Minister wishes to make a statement at any time, I have to hear that statement.

Mr. Marlow

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you agree that if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T,. Taylor) says, the letter was written yesterday and arrived today, bearing in mind that the Government may make a decision tomorrow and that the House will debate the matter at a later stage, that is a totally unacceptable situation? What powers do you have to force Ministers to take proper account of the wishes of the House, so that matters can be properly and publicly debated before the people of this country?

Madam Speaker

I have no powers whatever in that respect. If the House at some time wishes to give me such powers, that point may be considered by the Procedure Committee. At present, I have no powers or authority in that respect.

Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The delay from the time of publication of the report to the answer received points to the fact that the Government do not want a debate on the matter. Surely the House should not he manipulated by Ministers, who have ensured that there is no opportunity at the proper time in the House today to move that there be a change of business. I suggest that you should have some powers to inform the Government that this is totally unacceptable, and to defend the rights of Members of the House.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam Speaker

Order. I think that we have had enough points of order now. The whole House understands what has taken place. All I can say is that there are Ministers on the Treasury Bench at present who have been here throughout the exchanges. I expect that those Ministers have taken note of the strong feelings in the House on the matter.