HC Deb 28 October 2002 vol 391 cc558-60 4.28 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have in my hand the 22nd edition of "Erskine May", and I seek your guidance. Many of our constituents would consider it extraordinary that tomorrow the Commons is to discuss whether we close down at 7 o'clock or 10 o'clock on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than Colin Powell's statement that this is a key week and that there would be no difficulty in forming a coalition against Iraq.

My point of order is this, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you advise me where in "Erskine May" the parliamentary rules suggest that there is any rule to prevent an hon. Member raising an issue of urgent public importance under what used to be Standing Order 9 and then 10, and which is now 24?

As I understand it, pages 309 and 310 suggest that it is practice and custom rather than rules that prevent an hon. Member who is determined to do so from raising an issue under Standing Order No. 24. If it is custom and practice, it is one thing; if it is rules, it is another. Were it not so important a subject, I would not be difficult about custom and practice. However, the issue that I wish to raise—war and peace—should surely take precedence over tomorrow's business, which, however important it is to Members of Parliament, can surely wait.

Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, allow me to move as a matter of urgency that the House discuss Colin Powell's statement at the weekend that this was a key week and that there would be no difficulty in finding a coalition? If that is so, the only coalition that one can think of is the British Prime Minister and Ariel Sharon. When Secretary Powell spoke about there being no difficulty in getting a coalition—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, who has long experience as a Member of Parliament, which we all respect. However, he is in danger of turning a point of order into a point of debate. I must advise him that, within the powers given to Mr. Speaker to interpret the Standing Orders, Mr. Speaker has already ruled that he cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's subject for debate. I certainly cannot alter the ruling that the Speaker has made in that respect.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm whether the ruling existed before Madam Speaker Boothroyd and whether it is enshrined in the rules of the House of Commons? Perhaps there could be reflection on that subject, because custom and practice is one thing; rules are another.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It has been the custom and practice of this House for 10 years, as was established during the time of Mr. Speaker Weatherill.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the Order Paper, the Government propose to move two orders tomorrow suspending the devolved Administration—the Executive and Assembly—in Stormont. You would not want me to go into the substance of that issue, and I will certainly not do so. However, the proposal involves the suspension of the constitution of part of our country and imposing, essentially, a form of colonial rule on Northern Ireland. This is an important and controversial matter. Obviously, the Government do not want the arguments to be aired too publicly and the issues to be exposed to public view, so they have decided to take the orders in Committee, rather than on the Floor of the House—where, self-evidently, they belong. Is there any power open to you to enable us to debate that controversial procedural decision?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The short answer is no. This is a matter for the Government to decide, as is laid down in the Standing Orders, and is not a matter that the Chair can determine.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to my previous point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At your convenience, could we have the reference for when Mr. Speaker Weatherill made such a ruling? Mr. Speaker Weatherill was a very benign Speaker in these matters, and I am curious about when the ruling was made.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It was 16 October 1991. I should say to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that all Speakers are benevolent.