HC Deb 31 January 2003 vol 398 cc1147-8

Order for Second Reading read.

11.53 am
Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West)

On a point of order, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER I beg to move, That the House sit in private.

Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motion to sit in private):—

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 23.

Division No. 70] [11:54 am
Tellers for the Ayes: Jim Knight and Mr. Mark Hendrick
Bellingham, Henry Loughton, Tim
Bercow, John Maclean, rh David
Browning, Mrs Angela Norman, Archie
Cable, Dr. Vincent O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Öpik, Lembit
Cormack, Sir Patrick Osborne, George (Tatton)
Forth, rh Eric Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David Thurso, John
Hoban, Mark (Fareham) Wiggin, Bill
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Lansley, Andrew Tellers for the Noes:
Leigh, Edward Phil Hope and
Lilley, rh Peter Huw Irranca-Davies

Question accordingly negatived.

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for Labour Members to use a parliamentary device to kill a Bill that has widespread support from all parties, simply because the Government are embarrassed to hear the case against compensation for company directors who have failed in their role? They have taken no action in the past and hope that, by obscuring debate, they can take the matter off the table and ensure that their inactivity receives no press attention.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it extraordinary that about 30 or 40 Labour Members are in the Chamber and have chosen not to go through the Division Lobby? By that strange device, under the Standing Orders of the House, they have allowed the Bill to fall. If we were in a Standing Committee, the number of people present would be counted, not the number of people who voted. Should not the Procedure Committee examine that?

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not there a convention in the House that the vote and the voice should go together? Is not it slightly extraordinary that no one voted in the No Lobby having shouted?

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If none of the interpretations offered by my hon. Friends the Members for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman), for North Wiltshire (Mr. Gray) and for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) is correct, the only remaining possible explanation is that a number of hon. Members who came this far with the intention to vote were somehow physically prevented from entering the Division Lobby, to which problem we would obviously need to attend.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst)

I understand the disappointment of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) in the circumstances, but nothing out of order has taken place. If hon. Members are dissatisfied with any aspects of the procedures of the House, there are opportunities for pursuing that. I am sure that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir N. Winterton), as Chairman of the Procedure Committee, would always be willing to entertain approaches for matters to be examined by his Committee.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given the turn of events, which must have taken many hon. Members who are in other parts of the parliamentary estate watching what is happening by surprise, will you consider suspending the sitting briefly to give them time to attend the next debate? They will have assumed, in all reasonableness, that the debate on the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) would have taken some time. Surely in fairness, given what has just happened, a brief suspension of the sitting is in order to allow colleagues to gather themselves properly for the next debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, who is punctilious in matters of attendance in the House, would expect the same standard to be observed by all hon. Members. Everyone is expected to know the Order Paper for the day and to make themselves available within the normal periods of time that the House allows for both Divisions and debates.

Mr. Bercow

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course the interpretation of the rules that you offer is not to be disputed or contradicted in any way, but I wonder whether it might be courteous and germane to take account of the fact that, despite the unparalleled assiduity of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), he does have to trouble himself only to come in from a London residence in Kennington. Is the inclement weather not a relevant factor in the circumstances and might we not allow for it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Of all the matters of which the Chair has to take account, inclement weather is the least of them. Indeed, it might be said that some hon. Members are closer to the parliamentary estate than they might otherwise have chosen to be, with constituency duties in mind.