HC Deb 22 April 2004 vol 420 cc457-61 1.27 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to you for allowing me to raise a point of order in advance of the debate. The debate that we are about to commence is on an extremely serious issue: the erection of a screen, separating us from our constituents and our electorates, which has cost £500,000. We have no papers on it. The Government tell us that it is such a serious issue—the security position being so demanding—that the screen had to be erected in advance of the House having an opportunity to debate the matter.

I do not see how we can have a proper debate and discuss the serious issues that have to be addressed without being able to meet in private. Some of the points that I would want to raise in an attempt to assess the balance of risk and the nature of the threat that we face in the Chamber might, if given wider currency, only play into the hands of our enemies.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, believing that there is a case for the House to meet in private to debate the issues, provided that we can be assured that Members attending—as I look around, I see mostly responsible right hon. and hon. Members—would not reveal any sensitive information; otherwise, I fear that if we asked the Leader or Deputy Leader of the House to explain the security advice given to the authorities, on which we are invited to rely, they would say simply that they could not provide that information because it was too sensitive. In that case, how could we have a proper debate? Before I formally move that the House sit in private, it might be helpful if other right hon. and hon. Members shared their views on the matter.

Mr. Speaker

Before any hon. Member rises to speak, I remind the hon. Gentleman that a memorandum is available in the Vote Office. Also, I must correct him in one respect: it was not the Government who brought this matter forward, but the House of Commons Commission, of which I am Chairman. I remind the House that I made a statement on this matter. One of the purposes of the temporary screen is to allow the public to be present, while affording us the protection that we desire. It is entirely up to the House as to whether it meets in private. The hon. Gentleman will know that I must put any motion to that effect before the House immediately. However, he will recall that not so long ago I had to clear the Public Gallery for a day because of misbehaviour. That was a sad day, for me and for the House.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth): the present circumstances of the terrorist threat are different from any previously experienced in our country's history. This is a very different scenario. There are questions to which I want detailed answers, but it is not appropriate for me to ask them, or to require the Leader of the House to answer them, in an open forum. We may feel that our democracy is under challenge, but the security available to hon. Members, the staff of the House and visiting members of the public must have primacy.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I call the Leader of the House.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Peter Hain)

I am grateful, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that what I have to say will help the hon. Members for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth) and for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). As they both know, this matter went before the House of Commons Commission. As I hope to explain shortly, it was also referred to senior Privy Councillors. The consensus to go ahead was reached on an all-party basis. I shall certainly aim to answer as many questions as I can, and I will make very clear, in graphic terms, the security advice that we received. I think that that should be done in open session. It is important both that people understand why the House is taking this decision, and that the House has the opportunity to explain matters to the public. We should not shut them out.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. First, I confirm that the Commission decided the matter. The shadow Cabinet was not consulted, and neither was the Cabinet, I believe. The matter was dealt with on an all-party basis in the Commission. Secondly, I agree that, given the interest that people have in this matter, we should hold our debate in such a way that they are able to know the arguments being deployed.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I am reluctant to take further points of order on this matter. If certain hon. Members feel that we should meet in private, the best way to proceed is to settle the matter now; otherwise, we are in danger of pursuing the debate by means of points of order.

Mr. Howarth

May I first thank you, Mr. Speaker, for correcting me and advising that this is not a Government but a House of Commons Commission matter? As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, it has been discussed by a very small number of hon. Members. Therefore, to assist the House and expedite the debate, I propose that we sit in private. We should be able to speak freely, without fear of betraying information that should not be in the public domain.

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 15, Noes 211.

Division No. 137] [1:34 pm
Amess, David Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Banks, Tony Gray, James (N Wilts)
Browning, Mrs Angela Hendry, Charles
Chope, Christopher Robathan, Andrew
Evans, Nigel Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Stanley, rh Sir John
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight) Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr. Eric Forth and
Winterton, Ann (Congleton) Mr. Gerald Howarth
Ainger, Nick Gibson, Dr. Ian
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Gilroy, Linda
Alexander, Douglas Goggins, Paul
Allan, Richard Green, Damian (Ashford)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen) Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Greenway, John
Arbuthnot, rh James Griffiths Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Griffiths Win (Bridgend)
Bailey, Adrian Grogan, John
Barker, Gregory Hague, rh William
Barnes, Harry Hain, rh Peter
Barrett, John Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Bayley, Hugh Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim) Hancock, Mike
Bell, Sir Stuart Hanson David
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Berry, Roger
Betts, Clive Harvey, Nick
Blizzard, Bob Hawkins, Nick
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Heald, Oliver
Bradshaw, Ben Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Hendrick, Mark
Heppell John
Bryant, Chris Hermon, Lady
Burden, Richard Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Burnside, David Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Burstow, Paul Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Byers, rh Stephen
Cairns, David Hughes Simon (Southwark N)
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife) Iddon, Dr Brian
lllsley Eric
Carmichael, Alistair Jackson, (Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Jamieson David
Jenkins Brian
Chidgey, David Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Coaker, Vernon Kaufman, rh Gerald
Coffey, Ms Ann Keeble, Ms Sally
Cohen, Harry Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Conway, Derek Keetch, Paul
Cormack, Sir Patrick Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Cotter, Brian Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Cranston, Ross Khabra, Piara S.
Cruddas, Jon Kidney, David
Cryer, Ann (Keighley) Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S) Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
David, Wayne Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Lamb, Norman
Dean, Mrs Janet Laws, David (Yeovil)
Denham, rh John Lazarowicz, Mark
Dismore, Andrew Linton, Martin
Djanogly, Jonathan Llwyd, Elfyn
Doughty, Sue Loughton Tim
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W) Love, Andrew
Drew, David (Stroud) Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Drown, Ms Julia Luke. lain (Dundee E)
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) McAvoy, Thomas
Eagle, Maria (L 'pool Garston) McFall, John
Edwards, Huw McIntosh, Miss Anne
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) McIsaac, Shona
Fitzpatrick, Jim Mackay, rh Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath) McKechin, Ann
Francois, Mark Mackinlay, Andrew
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick Selous, Andrew
McWilliam, John Shaw, Jonathan
Mallaber, Judy Simon, Siôn (B 'ham Erdington)
Mann, John (Bassetlaw) Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Maples, John Skinner, Dennis
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Martlew, Eric Soley, Clive
May, Mrs Theresa Spring, Richard
Merron, Gillian Steen, Anthony
Moore, Michael Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Morgan, Julie Stuart, Ms Gisela
Morley, Elliot Stunell, Andrew
Munn, Ms Meg Sutcliffe, Gerry
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood) Swayne, Desmond
Murrison, Dr. Andrew Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke) Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Thurso, John
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury) Tipping, Paddy
O'Hara, Edward Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Organ, Diana Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Pickles, Eric Tyrie, Andrew
Pickthall Colin Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Vis, Dr. Rudi
Plaskitt, James Ward, Claire
Pollard Kerry Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Weir, Michael
Whittingdale, John
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Willetts, David
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Prisk Mark (Hertford) Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Prosser, Gwyn Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Pugh, Dr. John Willis Phil
Quinn, Lawrie Wilshire, David
Randall, John Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent) Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wyatt, Derek
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Younger-Ross, Richard
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Sanders, Adrian Tellers for the Noes:
Sarwar, Mohammad Paul Clark and
Sedgemore, Brian Charlotte Atkins

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may not be aware that during the Division, Whips from both sides of the House were seeking to organise, instruct and guide Members on how to vote. As I thought that we had already established that this was strictly a House of Commons matter, is there anything you can do, Mr. Speaker, to protect innocent MPs from being badgered by Government and Opposition Whips on a House of Commons matter? Surely, something must be done to protect the House and its Members from such gratuitous intervention.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)


Mr. Speaker

Let me reply to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

The right hon. Gentleman is right: it is a House of Commons matter, but Whips like to tell people what to do—that is the nature of the beast. I can assure him that they were acting in a private capacity.

Mr. McLoughlin

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you think that, as one of the intentions of the vote was to ensure that the debate gets no publicity at all, had we moved to sit in private it would have got more publicity?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may have a point.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If Whips were acting in a personal capacity, should that not result in a deduction of one day's salary in respect of all those who receive public funds?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Speaker

Order. When I was in engineering, there was a practice called quartering workers—but that was not a day's salary.

Mrs. Browning

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was acting as a Whip in a personal capacity, so does that mean I will get paid?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con)

Further to the serious and genuine point of order made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), Mr. Speaker. When I voted in the No Lobby, two Government Whips were at the desk telling us when the next votes were likely to be. In such circumstances, it is important that, when the Leader of the House moves the motion, he again assures us that the vote is genuinely free—I did not have that impression when I was going through the Lobby.

Mr. Speaker

Not even I know when the next vote is likely to be, so perhaps a Whip will tell me, as I shall have to come back to the Chair.