HC Deb 06 June 1996 vol 278 cc728-9

4 pm

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I gave your office notice this morning that I would seek to catch your eye about a matter on which I seek your guidance.

I am perplexed, and perhaps other hon. Members are too, about a Bill that is still at its preliminary stage. I must emphasise that I have not yet had a chance today to notify my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) that I would raise the matter. As the House knows, my hon. Friend is the promoter of a ten-minute Bill that is due to be introduced next Tuesday. It deals with referendums and other matters related to our membership of the European Union.

However, I noticed—I am sure that other hon. Members have, too—the text of the Bill in the newspapers, yesterday and today. Of course, the ten-minute Bill procedure means that a Bill is not printed until after its formal First Reading—

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock)

Leave is granted merely to "bring in" a Bill.

Mr. Dykes

Indeed; the hon. Gentleman reminds me of the correct wording. Prima facie, it might seem a breach of parliamentary privilege that a Bill is given to the press before hon. Members have had the opportunity to see the text. That might be especially awkward in this instance, as those who support the eccentric ideas expressed in the Bill are most anxious to preserve the sacred sovereignty of the House.

Madam Speaker

The Government are frequently encouraged to print Bills in advance so that their contents may be widely known and circulated. Also, many hon. Members apply to introduce a ten-minute Bill and give details to the press. I can see no objection to that. Such Bills are simply in draft form at that stage, and I take no exception to the practice in this instance.

I must tell the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) that he should have taken all necessary steps to inform his colleague that he was going to raise this matter this afternoon.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It was announced in the Queen's Speech that there was to be a state visit by President Mandela, which I understand is to take place next month. I also understand that it has been announced that he is to address us in a session of both Houses, as is now the convention when a Head of State visits. So far, the venue has not been announced. I appreciate that the responsibility is shared between you and the Lord Chancellor. Is it still possible to make representations about the venue, as many people believe that, given the importance of the visit and the recognition that we want to give President Mandela, it should be Westminster Hall rather than the Royal Gallery?

Madam Speaker

I do not think that any lobbying is necessary, as the House is sensitive to the importance of the occasion. However, I see that the Leader of the House wishes to say something further to that point of order, which I shall allow him to do.

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

I was not quite sure of the protocol—I did not know whether it was for you, me, the Lord Chancellor or, indeed, for the Lord Privy Seal to reply. However, if it helps the hon. Gentleman, I can tell him that it is intended—rightly, in my view—that the venue should be Westminster Hall.