§ Motion made, and Question proposed,
§ That the Sessional Orders [25th October 1999] relating to Thursday sittings and Meetings of standing committees and the Sessional Order [24th May 1999] relating to Sittings in Westminster Hall shall apply to times of sitting on Tuesday 21st December as if that day were a Thursday.—[Mr. Robert Ainsworth.]9.26 pm
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
Properly, but slightly unusually, the House is requested to treat one day as though it were another. In normal circumstances that may seem odd, but it is even more peculiar at this stage of the Session and at this hour, because it does not appear to me that the House is particularly hard pressed in terms of the time that it has available to consider the business that is before it. As usual in these circumstances, we have not had the courtesy of an explanation from the business managers. It always seems to me—[Interruption.] Is the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) trying to intervene? No, he is not.
The difficulty that the House faces—regrettably it is not unusual in these circumstances—is that a motion on the Order Paper is asking us to do something rather unusual, but we have not had the courtesy of any explanation. This gives me cause for curiosity and suspicion. We are getting all too accustomed, are we not, to the process whereby motions of this sort are put on the Order Paper on the assumption that they will be nodded through so that someone, I know not who, can have his way? The Government should be prepared to provide a brief explanation of what is behind such a motion. The House deserves—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. There are general conversations throughout the Chamber. Those hon. Members who do not want to hear the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) should leave the Chamber and let him continue.
§ Mr. Forth
We are therefore left to speculate, and speculation often takes a little time. Without any guidance or help, it is difficult to come to a ready conclusion on something as opaque and enigmatic as the motion before us. It states:That the Sessional Orders [25th October 1999] relating to Thursday sittings and Meetings of standing committees and the Sessional Order [24th May 1999] relating to Sittings in Westminster Hall shall apply to times of sitting on Tuesday 21st December as if that day were a Thursday.We are being asked to accept that we treat a Tuesday as though it were a Thursday. That seems rather odd to me. You will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is proposed that next Tuesday is the last day on which the House will sit before Christmas. That suggests to me that there is no particular pressure on time that day. Yet as I read the motion, we are being asked to compress the business for that day to make it as though it were a Thursday. The assumption increasingly made in the House is that all the business must be compressed for the convenience of hon. Members. The motion suggests that that should apply even on a Tuesday, even though it is the last day before the recess. That surely deserves some explanation. That is not an unreasonable request.
§ Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not gravely 236 discourteous to the House for the Opposition to clear their Front Bench during an extremely important debate? [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Whether any hon. Members care to stay and listen to debates in the Chamber is entirely a matter for them.
§ Mr. Forth
It is pleasing that the motion is being treated with such seriousness by the House, as is signified by the unusually large attendance. That pleases me and I expect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it pleases you as well.
Let us get back to the serious business at hand. Several different things have been gathered together on one occasion. We have a mystery that has yet to be resolved, about what has given rise to this rather unusual motion. More distressing to me is the fact that, yet again, we are considering a proper item of business, which is debatable because the earlier business has come to an end gratifyingly early, yet no one is prepared to do the House the courtesy of coming to explain what is behind the motion.
Surely that is another example of arrogance on the part of the business managers, who obviously expect to get their way without debate, without consideration, and without even the briefest explanation of what lies behind the motion. I suspect, but I am only guessing, that the explanation behind the motion is simple. There is probably nothing particularly devious, complicated or mysterious about it. I say that because I am a simple sort of chap, and I always look for the obvious explanation.
There may, however, be something much more sinister lying behind it. I would not expect the business managers necessarily to admit that, but it is surely not unreasonable to request a decent explanation of what lies behind the motion. That applies to subsequent motions as well, as they are all, happily, debatable until 10 pm. I am sure that the House will want to seize the opportunity with both hands.
Please can the House have an explanation of what lies behind motion 7, in order that the House may make up its mind on whether it wishes to approve the item. That is the old-fashioned way in which we go about our business—or so I thought until the idea seemed to gather pace that we do not even bother to debate matters any more. As far as I can see, many hon. Members would prefer that we did not bother voting on them, either. That may seem satisfactory—[Interruption.] If hon. Members want a Division, I shall see whether I can arrange one. It seems that there is a groundswell of demand for a Division, so that hon. Members present can express their point of view. I should like to give them that opportunity, if I possibly can. I have some doubt about that, but we shall put it to the test in a moment.
My request is this: can we please have the briefest of explanations about what lies behind motion 7, so that we can move on to the next business?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Paddy Tipping)
The motion is straightforward, and I hope that I shall not detain the House long. It is a matter for debate, and I am happy to assure hon. Members that no mystery surrounds the motion. I hope that hon. 237 Members on both sides of the House will accept that it has been tabled for the convenience of the House and support it.
The motion has been discussed through the usual channels. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) will remember that it was raised in business questions last week, and a request was made that we should follow a well-established precedent that before a recess there is an opportunity for the House to rise relatively early.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, in effect the motion makes next Tuesday next Thursday, and therefore varies the sittings of the House and of Westminster Hall. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that means no loss of time in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Tipping
The right hon. Gentleman asked for a brief explanation, and I know that others wish to speak.
The motion will not lead to any loss of time. It will give Members an opportunity to leave a little early on Tuesday. I hope that Members will support that; I know that the staff of the House will. I commend the motion to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ That the Sessional Orders [25th October 1999] relating to Thursday sittings and Meetings of standing committees and the Sessional Order [24th May 1999] relating to Sittings in Westminster Hall shall apply to times of sitting on Tuesday 21st December as if that day were a Thursday.