HC Deb 30 October 1996 vol 284 cc651-7

Motion made, and Question proposed,


(1) Standing Order No. 13 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely: In paragraph (4) the word 'eight' shall be substituted for the word 'ten' in line 43; in paragraph (5) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'seventh' in line 45; (2) Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) shall have effect for this Session with the following modification, namely: In paragraph (2) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'seventh' in line 23; and (3) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 13th December, 17th, 24th and 31st January, 7th, 14th and 28th February and 18th April.—[Mr. Wells.]

3.31 pm
Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing).

Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In yesterday's Hansard at column 468, in response to my question, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment is on record as saying that she had in her possession a letter from the chief education officer of Staffordshire county council stating that the council was extremely pleased with this year's education settlement in Staffordshire. The chief education officer has no knowledge of any such letter, despite a detailed examination and search. I have asked the Secretary of State to produce the letter, but as yet no such letter has appeared.

That information was, therefore, inaccurate and misleading. Is it in order, Madam Speaker, to ask you to request the Secretary of State for Education arid Employment to return to the Dispatch Box and either produce the letter or apologise to the House?

Madam Speaker

The matter that the hon. Member has raised is not a point of order. It is a question for argument and debate. I am afraid that he must use the Order Paper to get the answer from the Secretary of State that he seeks.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)


Madam Speaker

The motion has been moved formally. I call Mr. Spearing to move the amendment.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

I beg to move, as an amendment to the motion, after paragraph (3), to add, (4) Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business until Seven o'clock on Monday 18th November, Monday 16th December, Monday 27th January and Monday 24th February, and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Thursdays 7th November, 5th December, 16th January and 13th February. (5) No Notice of Motion shall be handed in for any of the days on which Private Members' Notices have precedence under this Order in anticipation of the ballot for that day. The fact that my amendment has been selected has caused some astonishment, particularly in view of the important debate on the economy that is to follow. I shall deal with the amendment almost as if it were a ten-minute Bill to follow later in the Session.

The debate to follow this one will be about taxation, and possibly about what may be included in the Budget. This issue is about the future of Parliament. Those who are astonished at the selection of my amendment convey their ignorance of the basis of Parliament. The rules of the House, what individual Members can do arid the power that they have to move motions should concern all of us. It is not a matter of prerogative of the Crown in the form of the Government of the day. The ability to move motions—this amendment, in my case—on only four Mondays for three hours each Monday between now and next summer or the general election is crucial. For two years, we have not had that ability, because of a misunderstanding by the Government, and perhaps others, of the role of the Back Bencher. We are here as individuals.

The Leader of the House may take an opposite view, but I think that he is under a misapprehension. This is an all-party issue that concerns all hon. Members. It is not a matter only for Parliament; it concerns the voters whom we represent. If the voice and vote of Back Benchers are restricted, so are the rights of the voters whom we represent.

A private Member's motion is different from an Adjournment debate. We may have time on a Wednesday to discuss the Adjournment, but as hon. Members know, the Adjournment debate is no substitute for the ability to bite in a vote if required. The leverage available to Back Benchers is being taken away.

I think that we can apply the Hacker test. Both hon. Members and those outside are amused by Jim Hacker. Let us suppose that Jim Hacker has just produced a form for benefit claimants-nothing to do with party politics. Let us suppose that he has run amok and gone wrong, and that lots of ladies who fill up the form cannot get the benefits that they want. There are letters all over the place. "Oh," says the official, "there's going to be a debate." "It's all right," says Jim. "On the Adjournment, I can get away with it. It will be late at night; I shall say I'm sorry, and they will not be able to do anything." "No," says the official. "A private Member's motion has been accepted, and they are going to reduce your income by £5,000." That is another matter.

"Moreover," says the official, "there is Question Time. Next week you must deal with Question Time, and this issue will come up. Who do you think is No. 3 on the list? Tam Dalyell." "Is that the worst?" asks the Prime Minister. "No," replies the official. "No. 6 is Tony Banks." The ability to provide enlightenment when a debate is going on makes questions very important.

Those who are Ministers now will not be Ministers for much longer. They will soon be candidates. Are they going to go back to the electors of Huntingdon, for instance—the Roundhead electors of Huntingdon—and say, "We took away the rights of Back Benchers"? Will they go to Braintree, with its Huguenot traditions, and say, "We shall not allow you to do this"—or, indeed, to the constituency of the Government Chief Whip, the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad)?

In a tennis club, or indeed any club, people should not be denied the right to table motions; but here, even early-day motions—which are treasured by people who think that they are important—cannot be debated. It used to be possible, although it involved a ballot and a queue. Have we really been reduced to not even having the ability to do what is possible in the national lottery? Can we not even "put in for" a motion? That ends all the history of the House, and prevents voters from having their say through Members of Parliament.

Whatever may have happened in the past, let me ask hon. Members on both sides of the House what reply they will give if, when they go before the electorate as candidates in the election, a member of Charter 88, or any other organisation, says, "You voted to deny the rights of Back Benchers, and thence the voice and votes of the electorate." "Oh, we have Wednesdays and a few Adjournment debates," cannot be a good reply. If the Chief Whip or the Lord President is advising his friends to vote down our amendment, he must think again. Most of us will be candidates in the next election.

The relationship between the electorate and the House is now a national issue. There is a lack of confidence in our ability to deal with issues of the day, which may not be party issues, but which the electorate think that we should be able to discuss. Clearly, if we have no ballot for motions, we shall not be able to discuss them. I suggest that we diminish our democracy thereby. We diminish parliamentary procedures, and we diminish the quality of democracy of which this country has so far been proud.

The power of Back Benchers has diminished. It is diminishing. It ought to be increased.

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

The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) has courteously and reasonably acknowledged that the House is anxious to proceed with the important economic debate that will follow, and I am sure that his view is widely shared in the House. I shall therefore speak briefly, making just three main points.

First, I personally have no doubt that the new arrangements give private Members—Back Benchers—a better deal than the old ones. Private Members will have more time: about twice as many opportunities to raise subjects. That time is better structured, and does not give rise to the occasions that, as we all know, used to occur, when an issue was discussed endlessly to prevent the next subject from being reached. That was not a very sensible use of parliamentary time. Private Members' time now comes at more convenient hours than was the case with many previous opportunities, including the Consolidated Fund debate, which used to come at a time when all normal citizens were in bed.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

I am intervening now because I do not want to speak later and detain the House. The essential point made by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) is that with the old motions we could hold the Executive to account by having a vote. A series of Adjournment debates on a Wednesday morning, welcome and helpful as they may be—and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for all that he has done as Leader of the House—are not an effective substitute.

Mr. Newton

I think that my hon. Friend's point will be covered by my next point. Secondly, the changes were made following a very carefully considered report of a Select Committee of this House—the Jopling report. It was seen as a balanced package and was accepted by the House by a very large majority. That is not to say that it is immutable and that no changes can be made. However, if there are to be changes, they should not be made piecemeal, but should be made as part of a properly considered review. They should not be made in haste at this late stage in this particular Parliament.

Thirdly, the House may recall that in last November's debate, when we turned Sessional Orders into Standing Orders, the hon. Member for Newham, South moved an amendment in precisely the same terms, although not with the same dates, as the amendment that he moved today. That amendment was defeated by 116 votes to 19. In my view, the considerations that led to that outcome on that occasion are exactly the same today. If the hon. Gentleman pushes his amendment to a vote, I hope that the House will reject it again.

3.41 pm
Mr. Spearing

With the leave of the House, Madam Speaker—just three sentences. First, just one Opposition Member voted against my previous amendment. Secondly, the Consolidated Fund debate is now on the Adjournment, but that was not the case previously as it used to be the Second Reading of a Bill. That procedure has been diminished. Thirdly, I am advocating only another 12 hours for private Members. Cannot we afford that between now and next summer? It is more power, not less.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 87, Noes 274.

Division No. 2] [3.41 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ainger, Nick Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Ashton, Joseph Faulds, Andrew
Austin-Walker, John Flynn, Paul
Beggs, Roy Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Biffen, John Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Callaghan, Jim Galloway, George
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Gapes, Mike
Campbell-Savours, D N Graham, Thomas
Canavan, Dennis Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clapham, Michael Hardy, Peter
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hendron, Dr Joe
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Corbett, Robin Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Corston, Ms Jean Hood, Jimmy
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Robert (Ab'd'n N)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try SE) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Dafis, Cynog Jackson, Mrs Helen (Hillsborough)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli) Jenkins, Brian D (SE Staffs)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H) Jones, Barry (Alyn & D'side)
Dixon, Don Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Donohoe, Brian H Jones, Dr L (B'ham Selly Oak)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Kaufman, Gerald
Lewis, Terry Salmond, Alex
Llwyd, Elfyn Sheldon, Robert
Loyden, Eddie Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
McAllion, John Simpson, Alan
McKelvey, William Skinner, Dennis
Mackinlay, Andrew Spearing, Nigel
McNamara, Kevin Steinberg, Gerry
MacShane, Denis Stevenson, George
Madden, Max Taylor, John D (Strangf'd)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Marek, Dr John Trimble, David
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Walley, Ms Joan
Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley) Welsh, Andrew
Miller, Andrew Wigley, Dafydd
Molyneaux, Sir James Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Morris, Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Pickthall, Colin Wray, Jimmy
Powell, Sir Raymond (Ogmore) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Randall, Stuart Tellers for the Ayes:
Ross, William (E Lond'y) Mr. Harry Barnes and
Rowlands, Ted Mr. David Winnick.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Aitken, Jonathan Coe, Sebastian
Alexander, Richard Congdon, David
Alison, Michael (Selby) Conway, Derek
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Allen, Graham Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Alton, David Cope, Sir John
Amess, David Couchman, James
Arbuthnot, James Cran, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Cummings, John
Ashby, David Currie, Mrs Edwina
Ashdown, Paddy Davies, Bryan (Oldham C)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E) Davies, Chris (Littleborough)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Davies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Davis, David (Boothferry)
Baldry, Tony Day, Stephen
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Devlin, Tim
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Dewar, Donald
Bates, Michael Dorrell, Stephen
Batiste, Spencer Douglas—Hamilton, Lord James
Beith, A J Duncan, Alan
Bellingham, Henry Duncan Smith, Iain
Beresford, Sir Paul Dunn, Bob
Betts, Clive Elletson, Harold
Blunkett, David Emery, Sir Peter
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Booth, Hartley Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Evennett, David
Bowden, Sir Andrew Faber, David
Bowis, John Fabricant, Michael
Boyson, Sir Rhodes Fenner, Dame Peggy
Brooke, Peter Fishburn, Dudley
Brown, Michael (Brigg Cl'thorpes) Forman, Nigel
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Browning, Mrs Angela Forth, Eric
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Foster, Don (Bath)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Burns, Simon Freeman, Roger
Burt, Alistair French, Douglas
Butcher, John Fry, Sir Peter
Butler, Peter Gale, Roger
Butterfill, John Gallie, Phil
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Gardiner, Sir George
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n) Garel—Jones, Tristan
Carrington, Matthew Garnier, Edward
Cash, William Gill, Christopher
Channon, Paul Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Chidgey, David Goodlad, Alastair
Churchill, Mr Goodson—Wickes, Dr Charles
Clappison, James Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Gorst, Sir John
Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Moate, Sir Roger
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Monro, Sir Hector
Grylls, Sir Michael Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hamilton, Sir Archibald Mudie, George
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Murphy, Paul
Hampson, Dr Keith Nelson, Anthony
Hanley, Jeremy Newton, Tony
Hannam, Sir John Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hargreaves, Andrew O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Harris, David Onslow, Sir Cranley
Haselhurst, Sir Alan Oppenheim, Phillip
Hawksley, Warren Ottaway, Richard
Heald, Oliver Page, Richard
Heath, Sir Edward Paice, James
Heathcoat—Amory, David Patnick, Sir Irvine
Heseltine, Michael Pawsey, James
Hicks, Sir Robert Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test) Pickles, Eric
Horam, John Pope, Greg
Howard, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Howell, David (Guildf'd) Powell, William (Corby)
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Prentice, Mrs B (Lewisham E)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Rathbone, Tim
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Redwood, John
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Reid, Dr John
Hunter, Andrew Renton, Tim
Hurd, Douglas Richards, Rod
Illsley, Eric Riddick, Graham
Jack, Michael Robathan, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Roberts, Sir Wyn
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N) Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Jessel, Toby Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Roe, Mrs Marion
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Rooker, Jeff
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Rowe, Andrew
Jones, Robert B (W Herts) Sainsbury, Sir Timothy
Jopling, Michael Scott, Sir Nicholas
Kellett—Bowman, Dame Elaine Shaw, David (Dover)
Kirkhope, Timothy Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kirkwood, Archy Shephard, Mrs Gillian
Knapman, Roger Shepherd, Sir Colin (Heref'd)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sims, Sir Roger
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Kynoch, George Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)
Lamont, Norman Spencer, Sir Derek
Lang, Ian Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Spring, Richard
Legg, Barry Sproat, Iain
Lester, Sir Jim (Broxtowe) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Lidington, David Stanley, Sir John
Lord, Michael Steel, Sir David
Lynne, Ms Liz Steen, Anthony
MacGregor, John Stephen, Michael
MacKay, Andrew Stern, Michael
Maclean, David Streeter, Gary
McLoughlin, Patrick Sumberg, David
McNair—Wilson, Sir Patrick Sweeney, Walter
Maddock, Mrs Diana Sykes, John
Madel, Sir David Tapsell, Sir Peter
Maitland, Lady Olga Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Malone, Gerald Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Mandelson, Peter Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mans, Keith Taylor, Sir Teddy
Marland, Paul Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder V)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Tipping, Paddy
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Martlew, Eric Tracey, Richard
Mates, Michael Tredinnick, David
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Trend, Michael
Meale, Alan Turner, Dennis
Merchant, Piers Twinn, Dr Ian
Mills, Iain Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Waldegrave, William Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Walker, Bill (N Tayside) Wilkinson, John
Waller, Gary Willetts, David
Ward, John Wilshire, David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill) Wood, Timothy
Waterson, Nigel Yeo, Tim
Watts, John Young, Sir George
Wheeler, Sir John
Whitney, Ray Tellers for the Noes:
Whittingdale, John Mr, Bowen Wells and Mr. Gyles Brandreth.
Widdecombe, Miss Ann

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That—

(1) Standing Order No. 13 (Arrangement of public business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely: In paragraph (4) the word 'eight' shall be substituted for the word 'ten' in line 43; in paragraph (5) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'seventh' in line 45;

(2) Standing Order No. 90 (Second reading committees) shall have effect for this Session with the following modification, namely: In paragraph (2) the word 'fifth' shall be substituted for the word 'seventh' in line 23; and

(3) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 13th December. 17th, 24th and 31st January, 7th, 14th and 28th February and 18th April.