HC Deb 10 May 1999 vol 331 cc35-7 4.19 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Doubtless the Northern Ireland (Location of Victims' Remains) Bill raises matters of importance, but those can hardly be as important or as urgent as the matters we have been discussing. Therefore, I ask whether you would be prepared to hear an application for a debate under Standing Order No. 24 so that the matters can be further discussed later tonight.

Madam Speaker

No, I am not prepared even to contemplate a Standing Order No. 24 application at this stage. I think that the Foreign Secretary has given us a proper explanation of developments over the weekend, and we have had good questioning. I have followed very closely those Members who have put questions on this. I am very keen that all Members are called at some time or another to put a question to the Foreign Secretary. I know that the hon. Gentleman has not been called today, but he is never usually deprived on such occasions, and I will look favourably at him on another occasion.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. This is not a complaint that I was not called, because actually I have been treated extremely well in questions. The argument is rather different.

It is all very well to hear reports of what has happened. The issue is whether the House of Commons should be able to give its opinion—and in many cases, from both sides of the House, informed views—in a way that cannot be done by the most succinct among us from the Back Benches in the form of questions. The issue for a Standing Order No. 24 application is that the House of Commons should be able to ask questions, for example, about what happens to the environment if the bombing goes on and on. Mercury, phosgene, ammonia and benzene are all spewing out. What happens, for example, to the nuclear facilities at Vinca? If one can bomb the Chinese embassy, one can bomb the nuclear core, with God knows what reaction. All those matters should be aired in debate.

Madam Speaker

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will put his point to the Leader of the House and perhaps it could be arranged, between the two Front Benches, that a date might be set aside for such a debate, but I am not prepared to accept an application under Standing Order No. 24.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In light of weekend statements by Mr. Romano Prodi supporting the creation of a single European army and a single Government for Europe—policies to which the Prime Minister claims to be opposed—I wonder whether you have had any indication from the Prime Minister that he would like to come to the House in order personally to withdraw his support from Mr. Prodi as President of the European Commission.

Madam Speaker

That is not a point of order for me; it is a matter of argument.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I heard the reply that you gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), declining to take his Standing Order No. 24 application; I can understand that. However, I am sure that you must understand that an awful lot of people feel very concerned and wish their Parliament—this elected Parliament—to have a debate and an opportunity to take a decision on British participation with the NATO forces in Kosovo.

What indications have you had from Ministers about how frequently they intend to make statements to this House? What pressure can you bring to bear, as a representative of the House, to ensure that the House has an opportunity to debate, on a substantive motion, the issue of the present bombing of Yugoslavia?

Madam Speaker

These are questions which are usually raised on Thursdays at business questions with the Leader of the House, who always gives a very substantive reply. I do not arrange the business of the House. I am quite prepared from time to time to consider a Standing Order No. 24 application. At the present time, I am not in a position to hear such an application.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Are you aware that the International Development Committee will be issuing a report on the Kosovo refugees on Thursday, and that that might be the right occasion on which to hold a full debate on these issues?

Madam Speaker

That is a point of information, not a point of order.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. If I may say so, you have been very generous to those who have taken a different view from Ministers on this issue, and I have no complaint. I have never believed that the Speaker determines the business of the House.

The problem that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raises is that the Crown is preventing Parliament from discussing the subject. Your famous predecessor, Mr. Speaker Lenthall, has gone down in parliamentary history for insisting that the House of Commons took precedence over the Crown. In my opinion, the Crown's powers are being grossly abused by taking this country to war when its elected Parliament is not allowed to decide.

I am not asking you to respond now, but I believe that you are being asked by the House to consider very carefully whether there is not a moment when you, as Speaker, should make it clear that those of us who represent service men and their wives and the country as a whole really must be allowed, like the American Congress, to reach a view on whether the bombing and the war should continue. For otherwise, we are spectators of our fate and not in any sense shapers of our future.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham)


Madam Speaker

Order. We cannot continue in this way. These are not points of order, but points of opinion, about which I am perfectly understanding, but to which, in many instances, I cannot respond.

Mr. Hogg

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to follow on from what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said. However, there is a great deal of anxiety in the House about the fact that we have never been asked to authorise or approve what is going on. We have had an opportunity to discuss it and we have had an opportunity to ask questions, but we have not been given the opportunity to give our authority. That is a lacuna in the processes of the House and it would be enormously appreciated, Madam Speaker, if you could give urgent consideration to how the Speaker can ensure that the House has a substantive motion to address.

Madam Speaker

For the past three or four Thursdays when I have been in the Chair, numerous Members on both sides of the House have put this matter to the Leader of the House, asking for a debate on a substantive motion, which if necessary can be amended, and a vote. The response of the Leader of the House is there for all to see. Right hon. and hon. Members must continue pressing the occupants of the two Front Benches if they are seeking a debate on this matter.

Back to