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House of Commons

Friday 20 January 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Richmond, Yorks By-Election

9.36 am

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : It is my duty this morning to move the writ for Richmond, Yorks--

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : On a point of order Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I have sent you a copy of a newspaper article that is relevant to the matter. I believe that it is both a breach of the privilege of the House--

Mr. Speaker : Order. If it is a breach of privilege, the hon. Gentleman must write to me in the usual way. I have said that to him. The matter cannot be raised on the Floor of the House.

Mr. Skinner : Well, Mr. Speaker, we have made a pretty reasonable start. It almost seems that someone on the other side of the House is behaving like me. But I am certain that the matter is very important.

I beg to move,

That Mr. Speaker, do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County constituency of Richmond, Yorkshire, in the room of the right hon. Leon Brittan, QC, who since his election for the said county constituency hath accepted the office of steward or bailiff of Her Majesty's Manor of Northstead in the County of York.

Well, I have heard the Common Market called a lot of things in my time, but "Manor of Northstead" is completely new to me. It might fool people in the Common Market, but I do not think that many hon. Members on either side of the House will buy that one.

The writ is in many ways a very complicated business, and I want to use a few opportunities today to illustrate the way in which these things must be done. I have spent many years in this place watching successive Chief Whips move writs and thinking, "This is a part of life that I have missed out on. I do not really know what the game is all about."

When I started to delve into the moving of writs, I suddenly discovered that there was a side to parliamentary life on which we were missing out. Chief Whips, as we know, are men and women of few words. They stand at the Dispatch Box and move the writ ever so quickly, generally just before Question Time, and before we know what has happened it is on the way. Yet when a Back-Bench Member moves a writ, he has to explain it. One cannot get away with just standing up, because there has not been a discusision through the usual channels. Therefore, one must try to convince one's right hon. Friends and Government Members. In order to get a writ carried, one must convince a majority. One cannot rig it beforehand.

It is a matter difficult to discuss. I read "Erskine May", which is a complicated tome, but I use it a lot. It can be

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very handy on occasions. It is like reading the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. When I worked in the pits, I read that Act thoroughly to outwit the management. When I became a Member, I thought that, after 21 years, that was the end of it--but then I discovered that I would need a new way of weaving and dodging, and I came across "Erskine May". The Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and Erskine May are about the same.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : Given the proposal in the Government's Employment Bill, does my hon. Friend recommend that the women of the nation read the Mines and Quarries Act 1954? Is it a riveting read?

Mr. Skinner : I say to the Speaker, who is leaning forward a little at this point, that I acknowledge that the point raised by my hon. Friend is, without a doubt, not one for today's business. However, I may have to organise seminars--which I believe is the yuppie word for them--telling women, who may or may not go down the pits if the Employment Bill is passed, how to deal with the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. I say en passant- - [Laughter.] I have used that expression before, and it always goes well--it is like one of Les Dawson's. Once one gets to know the rules and procedures in any walk of life, that knowledge can be very handy. Some of us are very thorough about doing so. To get a writ through from the Back Benches, as opposed to moving it from the Dispatch Box, the first point one discovers is that it is the first item of business and should precede everything else. If a writ is to be moved on a day when there are parliamentary questions, that must be done at the beginning of business. If it is objected to, then it can be dealt with after Question Time. It can take up a considerable amount of time. It is no bad thing for the House to discuss a writ. It may be that in future years, given that Back Benchers as well as Whips can move a writ, that device will be used extensively.

There are about 28 references in "Erskine May" to moving a writ, so if anyone has any ideas for the future, I suggest that they start at page 26 and work their way through to page 327. I should not want to bore the House by reading every page of "Erskine May" relating to writs--unless I am pressed.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I am worried by the line that my hon. Friend takes. I am not sure that "Erskine May" deals with the weather. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend has taken the trouble to study the constituency's boundaries, and realises that much of it goes into the high Pennines area. In the next three to four weeks, the weather there may not be particularly good. Has my hon. Friend taken that into account?

Mr. Skinner : I have. I shall deal with the constituency's contours and geography, because, when right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House go electioneering in the constituency after the writ has been agreed, it is important that they know where they are. They could easily become lost.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : The hon. Gentleman should correct the geography of his hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), in referring to the north Yorkshire moors as the Pennines. That is an insult to every Yorkshireman.

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Mr. Skinner rose--

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Will my hon. Friend point out to the hon. Gentleman the geographer royal on the Conservative Benches that a substantial part of the constituency's geographical area includes the Yorkshire Pennine dales of Wensleydale and Swaledale?

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is hardly relevant as to whether or not there should be a by-election.

Hon. Members : It certainly is.

Mr. Skinner : To be fair, the Speaker is trying to say that it is wrong to talk at unnecessary length about the constituency, even though such tactics have been used in the past, when writs have been moved from the Back Benches. The Speaker is saying that it is wrong to refer to every little village and hamlet. However, the constituency of Richmond has many important characteristics, and I shall refer to them later.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : Does my hon. Friend agree with me, as a Member representing a Pennines constituency, that the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) may cause offence? What on earth is wrong about living in the Pennines?

Mr. Skinner : As a matter of fact, I am just off the edge of the Pennines.

Mr. David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : The hon. Member is off the edge of most things.

Mr. Skinner : I heard the remark of the ex-leader of the Liberal Party, if that is what it is called these days, about being off the edge. We do not want to go into that, either.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough) : A large part of the Hillsborough constituency is in the Pennines. Returning to an earlier point, does my hon. Friend advocate that, after the women of our country have all read the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, that they should then read "Erskine May"? Most right hon. and hon. Members are not used to moving a writ, but occasionally they receive one. Does "Erskine May" say anything about that?

Mr. Speaker : Order. That may be a different kind of writ. We must return to the question of the Richmond writ.

Mr. Skinner : The problem can be easily resolved. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who started this discussion, is well known for climbing the hills and mountains of the Pennines, and of Richmond. I suggest that he goes climbing in the constituency, and takes "Erskine May" with him. He, too, is well versed in that tome. I will also give him a copy of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. He can then hold a seminar on Scargill high moor, overlooking the constituency. All those elements combined together will produce a reasonable solution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) knows, all those who take that exercise will feel better when they have finished. They can then descend the Pennines, call in at his place in Sheffield, and then go up the lovely little Ribble valley that my hon. Friend uses on occasions, when he takes those glorious walks of his.

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Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Will my hon. Friend return to my serious point concerning the weather? I remind him that at the top of Swaledale is Tan hill, and that in 1947, the pub there had no visitors for three months because of the weather. Is it fair to move the writ at a time when there may be a month or more of snow, posing considerable difficulty to people wanting to vote? My hon. Friend ought to take the weather into account-- unless he had the foresight to find out what weather we are to have over the next three or four weeks.

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and it is one we must discuss. We must debate whether now is the appropriate time for the by -election. We all recognise that it is not a good idea to be electioneering in bad weather. General elections have been held in February.

I am not suggesting for one moment that this by-election writ should be accepted on the old register. I want it to take place on the new register, which is important because it will give the greatest possible opportunity to the largest number of people within the enfranchisement of the Richmond constituency.

We must balance the two issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has doubts and I must convince him of my argument. We must bear in mind the weather, plus the greatest number of people registered. One has to strike balances in life--I sometimes find that difficult. That is the nature of this place, especially when one is trying to have a writ carried.

My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish should not just get caught up with the weather. All hon. Members know that he understands the weather, clouds and changes in climate because he has lived that kind of life. We are talking about the new register and giving more people a chance to vote. That is one reason why I have come along with the writ today. We are approaching the time when the new register will be in force.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : I understand the point made by my hon. Friend. In 1905-06 a radical Government were elected during the Christmas period and, in February 1974, the Labour party did not do too badly when there was a snowstorm in some constituencies. However, would my hon. Friend really like to be electioneering on the high moors in the weather that we can expect in the next few weeks?

Mr. Skinner : They are already doing it. It is not yet the proper election period, but we know that the main parties have selected their candidates. Our candidate, Frank Robson, who increased his vote by 35 per cent. between the 1983 and the 1987 elections, is already hard at it in the villages and hamlets.

I do not want to overlay this debate with too many plugs, but my colleague up there is fighting a doughty battle. he will certainly not be put off by the weather, Tories, Liberals or the party that dare not speak its name. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish should be up there--I think he will be--because if there is bad weather and the question of getting back to base arises, who better to bring the lost sheep down the mountains- -or whatever other analogy is suitable?

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) : The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is giving a plug for his party's candidate in the Richmond by- election. It is only fair in the interests equity, that I should refer to the superb

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prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate, whom I happen to know personally. He was the president of the Oxford Union when I was there. [ Hon. Members :-- "What is his name?"] His name is William Hague.

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is an intervention. Please get it over with.

Mr. Tredinnick : I am grateful to Opposition Members for falling into my little trap. I have William Hague's curriculum vitae with me. I was perusing it. [ Hon. Members :-- "Read it."] I have been told to read it, but you Mr. Speaker, have pointed out that this is an intervention. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has tried to pre-empt some of the actions that should take place in the forthcoming by-election in Richmond if the writ is successful. It would be grossly unjust if I did not put one or two of the finer points about William Hague.

Mr. Speaker : That is something which the hon. Gentleman can do if he is called to speak later in the debate but not in an intervention.

Mr. Skinner : If the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) were to speak--you will decide that, Mr. Speaker and not me--it would be a good idea. It would not be the most helpful contribution for the Tory candidate if the hon. Gentleman went on at length. I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker and can explain more fully the name and background of the candidate, which, initially, he did not seem to know.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Can I make an unhelpful contribution? My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is wrong to move the writ. I am puzzled by his lack of curiosity. On 27 January 1986, and often before and since, he has asked the important question that should be resolved before he moves any writ. He asked why there should be an inquiry into the gross abuse of a Law Officers' letter by the former hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan). The Prime Minister replied

"I did not know about the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's own role in the matter of the disclosure until the inquiry had reported."-- [ Official Report, 27 January 1986 ; Vol. 90, c. 657.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is not relevant. We must return to the writ.

Mr. Dalyell : Under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, before such a writ is moved, there should be a tribunal into the happenings of January 1986. I am surprised that my hon. Friend--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I am not saying that the hon. Gentleman could not advance his argument if he were called to speak, but it is not relevant at the moment.

Mr. Skinner : As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) knows, although I am not carrying him with me today, I quite favour the tribunal idea. Moving the writ will not make a great deal of difference to that. I shall support my hon. Friend on the issue of the tribunal in the future, irrespective of what happens regarding the writ.

Today we are here to carry through, if possible, this particular writ. As a Back Bencher, I have to convince a majority. If I cannot convince my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow on the advisability of it, it looks as if

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matters are getting a bit dodgy and I shall have to try harder. A Front Bencher, could move the writ at 2.30 pm and that would be fairly easy but I must convince people. Today, I am striking a blow for Back Benchers, many of whom have asked many times, "Why cannot we have the right of Privy Councillors and the Front Benchers?" I am demonstrating that, in this matter, a Back Bencher should have the rights and powers that are normally preserved for Front Benchers only. It may be difficult to convince Front Benchers of that. I think that, on balance, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow would agree, taking into account the tribunal and everything else, it would be better to strike a blow for the Back Bencher's right to move into that territory of moving writs that is normally reserved for the Chief Whip of the respective parties. That would be a worthwhile achievement, over and above the tribunal argument. It would represent a blow for democracy. I am wooing my hon. Friend back to me ; I thought he was with me at the beginning.

Mr. Flannery : I just want to thank my hon. Friend, because by his deep reading of "Erskine May", he has revealed that there are things in it which we wotted not of. We have not a lot of privileges on the Back Benches but I now gather that we have privileges that we did not know about. My hon. Friend will remember that I said to him this morning that I did not know that a Back Bencher could move a writ. We have a tendency to convey to people that we Back Benchers know everything, but it is obvious that we do not. My hon. Friend has taught me that I can move a writ. I should like to try sometime, so I shall study the procedure.

Mr. Skinner : I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point, because I have the appropriate page from "Erskine May". Page 326, under the item (3), "Motion for New Writs", states :

"The next item to be taken after any such communication"-- that is any communication from the Palace--

"is any motion for an order of the House to the Speaker to make out his warrant for the issue of a writ for the election of a new Member to fill a vacancy arising in the course of a session."

That means that the moving of a writ must be the first item of business after any communication from the Palace. It must take precedence.

The next part is important and is what my hon. Friend will probably remember if he wants to move a writ in future. It states : "Such motions are moved normally, but not necessarily, by the Chief Whip of the party to which the Member vacating the seat belonged." That is the very essence of it. "Erskine May" is saying to Back Benches, "You have the right". We have not chosen to develop that right, except on rare occasions, because a lot of people on coming into the House tend to take things for granted. I hope that my hon. Friend has the point. It is in "Erskine May"--Chief Whips generally, but not necessarily.

Mr. Flannery : My hon. Friend has taught us a great deal. I have a lot to do with teachers and education, and we always talk about in-service training, which is expensive. Does my hon. Friend believe that Members of Parliament need a good deal of in-service training?

Mr. Skinner : One of the main reasons for doing what I am doing today--referring constantly to "Erskine May"

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--is that one of my burning desires since coming to this House has been for all Back Benchers to understand the quaint and archaic procedures of this place, so that they can have power, most times over the Government, and sometimes over their own parties. I say that with my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) present. He is helpful in this regard and he will understand the point I am making. I want us to be in the position to challenge even our own party establishment when it is necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough has struck the very kernel of the argument that motivates me to do what I am doing.

If my hon. Friend still has connections with the National Union of Teachers, and, if he believes it is necessary for me or others like me to explain the antediluvian procedures of the House to some of the kids in the Sheffield area--I am making a rod for my own back here ; I had better be careful--obviously I shall be helpful in that regard. Together, we could be a sort of dual repertory company which explains these procedures.

Mr. Flannery : If my hon. Friend does explain these procedures to teachers and people connected with education, does he believe that it would be relevant--when the question of the absence from schools of young people and children is raised--to explain to them the degree of absenteeism that goes on in this House? Those absent are often the Members who raise the question of absenteeism in our schools.

Mr. Skinner : Absenteeism is not really germane, but it is important to understand that on this Friday morning there is a good turn-out. It would not have been a bad idea if the televising of the House had begun this morning. It would not have been a bad start, would it?

Mr. Flannery : Attendance would have been better, would it not?

Mr. Skinner : We would not have needed too many seminars about parliamentary procedure. We could have had the entire nation saying tomorrow, "Do you know how to move a writ?" It could have been number one in the tabloids. We could have broken new ground, because we would have been educating the great British public about the procedures of this House. My guess is that, when the House is televised, only some of the normal run- of-the-mill, so-called major debates in which Privy Councillors tend to participate will be shown, whereas this is really a Back-Bench day. It therefore has great possibilities. I am letting my mind wander now as to when I shall be moving my next writ, so that we shall be able to inform those millions of people who will be tuned into the parliamentary channel-- that is what they claim. At least there might be more tuned into that channel than the Sky channel.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : I realise that my hon. Friend has been drawn away from one or two things, but he still has not answered my earlier question about the weather in Richmond. I just wonder whether he has any information about the weather. Even if we wait for the new register, would we have weather suitable for a by-election? As well as its importance to the by-election, many other people would like to know what the weather will be like during the next two to three weeks.

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Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend has been in this place for some time and I have discovered that he is diligent, but, by God, he takes some persuading. I am doing my best with this writ, but he is asking me to control the weather. I am stopping people from queue-jumping with motions and things--I am not allowed to talk about that--but does my hon. Friend really believe that I am the sort of John Kettley of Parliament? He could not get it right. What guarantee is there that in June or July the skies will not open up? If there was an election in June in Richmond how do we know that people would not be tramping through the streets in pouring summer rain? We do not know what the weather will be. There are some things in life that even I cannot control.

I say to my hon. Friend that I want his vote, but I cannot control the weather. Not even the Prime Minister has laid claim to being able to do that. She is into the green things. I cannot visualise her in that green anorak and sandals or the wooly hat from the jumble sale. I suggest that my hon. Friend should ask the Prime Minister if she has got round to controlling the weather.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon) : My hon. Friend in replying to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said in his characteristic fashion how important it was to balance these matters. The balancing factor which we introduced was the aim to get the maximum number of people to vote, which would mean waiting for the new registers. If the writ was moved today--working to the maximum 18 days from the moving of the writ--does not the time run out on Monday, 15 February? The election would have to be on that day, at the latest. The new registers would be available at 9 o'clock that morning, but the voting booths would be open at 7 o'clock that morning. Therefore, the new register would not be available.

Mr. Skinner : There is some flexibility. Often the election day does not correspond with the formal date, in terms of the number of weeks, from when the writ was moved, notwithstanding holidays and all the rest of it. I do not believe there is a problem, but if there is, I am sure that the Government--the seat represents a vacancy in their party--will ensure that the election takes place after 15 February.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : My hon. Friend should enlarge on the question of the date, but not quite yet. My hon. Friend has pointed out that he needs the support of the majority of the House. I understand his natural and habitual desire to lash out at Conservative Members, but I must remind him that he will need votes from the Conservative Benches as well. I appeal to my hon. Friend to be a little more reasonable in his attitude. He is conducting this matter as though only one side of the House should be consulted, and I believe that he is treating Conservative Members quite scurvily. It is rare for me to intervene to defend the Conservative Benches, but several Conservative Members have tried to intervene on my hon. Friend's speech, only to be brushed aside. I appeal to my hon. Friend to look across at the Conservative Benches sometimes today. Let us have a bit of fair play ; otherwise we will not get the votes.

Mr. Skinner : Well, "you can't win them all."--that is roughly what my hon. Friend means. I have got to come here on a Friday morning and act out a role that does not

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suit me. I gave way to two Tories, but, with all due deference--I think that that is the way I should say it--the last one I gave way to cocked it up. I gave him a chance, but he got muddled. I decided that if that was the case, why should I repeat the mistake? I decided that I should rely on the old-fashioned idea of letting my hon. Friends have a go. But, okay, if my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) wants me to try to inculcate Conservative Members into my web, I shall.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been somewhat deflected from his theme about the barometer of the weather. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that by-elections are generally seen as a barometer of public opinion. The hon. Gentleman's primary function today is to secure the replacement of a Member of Parliament. The replacement of Members is not a trivial matter ; there have been an average of 53 by-elections in each Parliament since 1918. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the replacement of a Member and not the weather is the most important thing? What does he intend to do about that?

Mr. Skinner : It is clear that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) has not only been reading "Erskine May", but has obviously been looking at the records. It is possible that there could be a contribution from the Conservative Benches on this matter if the hon. Lady catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. That would give a Conservative Member the opportunity to explain, maybe at length, what happened in those past by- elections ; who moved the writs ; whether they were all moved from the relevant Front Bench ; and whether there were any exceptions to the rule. It is possible that we could look forward to a good, wholesome contribution about this. I am pleased to note that the hon. Lady supports the idea of a writ.

Mr. David Martin (Portsmouth, South) : The hon. Gentleman has talked about absenteeism and about the new register. One must take into consideration the postal vote. Is he satisfied that, if there is a new register in the time available, people will know who the new Tory candidate is? There might be the slogan : "Don't be vague, ask for Hague". That could help the electorate. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied about the arrangements that will be made for postal votes in the event of a new register?

Mr. Skinner : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman follows electoral law as closely as some of us, but important changes have occurred in the past decade, not only to postal votes, but to people's ability to register, almost immediately, at any given time during the year.

When I acted as a local government agent, one of the things that disturbed me most was that people could not get on the electoral register except at one time in the year. People can now get on those registers within a month, at any time of the year. From time to time, parties of all descriptions have increased the number of people on the registers during a given year.

Postal votes are important, because the demographic make-up of the Richmond, Yorks constituency is not much different from the rest of Britain. There are a considerable number of elderly people in that constituency. We all know that, despite the attacks on the National Health Service, advances in medical science have meant

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that people are living longer and longer into their 70s and 80s. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) is correct : postal votes are important. They will be of continued importance throughout the forthcoming decades, as the population gradually ages. We must pay attention to the avalability of postal votes in Richmond, Yorks.

Mr. Dalyell : Rather than discussing Sir Leon Brittan again, I want to comment on the weather.

Does my hon. Friend know that those of us who did their national service in the cavalry, did our basic training at Catterick camp? Can my hon. Friend imagine what it was like for me, along with other 18-year-olds, trying to dig out a trapped vehicle in the snow near Leyburn?

I assure my hon. Friend that those of us who were in the cavalry at Catterick know very well that the weather conditions in north Yorkshire from January to April are no laughing matter. Therefore, could my hon. Friend postpone the writ?

Mr. Skinner : You see, it is a strange place, this the House of Commons. It is only 10 minutes since I thought I was gradually pulling my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow towards me, but here we are moving on to the weather. Another thought has passed through my hon. Friend's head, and off he goes again.

My hon. Friend should remember my initial remark about balance, and forget for one moment the drudgery of Catterick camp. My hon. Friend should try to remove from his mind yomping--I think that is the word--up and down Richmond, Catterick and Leyburn or calling at Leeming Bar to meet his friends in the Royal Air Force. When the writ is carried, my hon. Friend could go back and renew old acquaintances. Undoubtedly he will bump into some Labour people who will say, "Is that Tam Dalyell at the door?" They will say "Come in, Tam. We hated him as much as you did." What a welcome! Imagine my hon. Friend being let loose during this by-election--that could be a valuable weapon. The sooner my hon. Friend understands that he could play a tremendous role, the better. My hon. Friend should vote with us today, if we reach a vote, so that we can get on the move. If we get the vote, we shall hot-foot it up the A1 to Catterick, where my hon. Friend has been many times.

Mr. Tredinnick : It is true that the weather is relevant to a by- election at this time of the year, but the hon. Gentleman should also consider the possibility of writs being moved in other parts of the country other than north Yorkshire. This time last year, the east midlands suffered extremely bad weather. What the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said about his service with the cavalry and the difficulties with trapped vehicles could pertain to areas further south than Yorkshire. It is not only the moors in that beautiful part of the huge constituency of Richmond, Yorks, which suffer from heavy snowfalls. When the M69 motorway is blocked by snow and there are difficulties on the M1, that reinforces the importance of considering whether a writ should be moved at this time of year at all. If that is the case, does it not put a slightly different complexion on the argument that the hon. Gentleman is deploying, and should he not, in deference to the House, explain the situation for other parts of the country? He is taking a very narrow view.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : This is an enormously long intervention and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman may be able to catch my eye a little later.

Mr. Tredinnick : I apologise. I had not intended to delay the House, but I felt that I must raise the point.

Madam Deputy Speaker : I think that the House has got the point.

Mr. Skinner : The lad is full of earnest endeavour. If we encourage him, he may yet be helpful. However, he has got a thing about the weather-- we all understand that--and I am getting a bit resentful of the idea that people in the north cannot stand the weather. It is beginning to stick in my craw when I hear comments that people in the south can handle all kinds of weather. Do hon. Members think that up in the north, and in Richmond in particular, people worry about the weather and that they were concerned when my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow was yomping through Catterick camp and elsewhere? The people in the north are made of stern stuff. Just imagine sending a message from the House to Richmond saying, "Do you know that in the House of Commons today they deferred the writ for Richmond because they were frightened that people in the north of England cannot get out in bad weather?" They would regard that as nothing less than contempt.

Ms. Marjorie Mowlam (Redcar) : As a Member representing a neighbouring constituency, may I reassure the House that in Cleveland and north Yorkshire we do not have worries about the weather and we shall be out voting for Labour and Frank Robson regardless of the weather? Last weekend, I went to Wensleydale in Richmond constituency. I invite hon. Members to go up for a weekend to walk there : it is beautiful countryside.

Mr. Skinner : I went up there last year as well. We had a meeting in Richmond before all this and I met Joan Maynard. She used to be a Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Brightside and she now lives at Thirsk. She used to be on the local authority there. Thirsk has been in the Richmond constituency since 1983. Previously, it was in the consituency of Thirsk and Malton, but the Tories changed the boundaries, so Joan Maynard lives in Richmond constituency. I went up for a meeting in Richmond, little knowing that we should be having a videoed re-run later on. The meeting took place in the market hall and it was packed out. We had to bring chairs in from an adjoining room and folk filled all the seats. The place was alive. We discussed matters of a serious and heavy political nature including those that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow has mentioned, and which he would, no doubt, like to mention at more length today. It was a straightforward public meeting, which had a good atmosphere. Richmond is a quaint market town with a lovely little theatre. It is like going back in time : one finds places like that in Britain. Sadly, I flit in and out and only spend a few hours in places, so I do not see enough of the wonderful places that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) has mentioned. She lives nearby and has been to Richmond recently, but I do not have enough time to see all the beauty of these places. When the writ is agreed, I am looking forward to going up there and revisiting Richmond, Northallerton, Catterick camp and Leeming Bar. I and Peter Heathfield were held up there on our way

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to a meeting during the miners' strike. That is a real diversion, but I just remembered that when I looked at the map. I remember those two hours at Leeming Bar service station because it looked as if we would not get to Northumberland for the meeting. The constituency is, in many ways, part of old England and there it is, stuck up in the north, surrounded by several Labour constituencies.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, West) : I am much persuaded by what my hon. Friend is saying about having the Richmond by-election as soon as possible. As he has been going round some of the places in the constituency, clearly knows them well and is an expert on etymology, I wonder whether he can explain to me why a parish in the constituency is called Snape with Thorpe. Can my hon. Friend throw some light on that because it seems a strange combination of names? It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is not here to try to explain. The name may mean nothing. It may be just a bit of innocent pillow biting. I hope that my hon. Friend will explain.

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