Previous Section Home Page

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is an extremely skilful parliamentarian, will not go down that road and answer that question directly.

Mr. Skinner : You are right, Madam Deputy Speaker, because that name conjures up many wild ideas and I shall not go down that road. If I did, someone else would jump up and come up with another matter, and on it would go. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that it is all right for him to raise such points, but we are about the serious business of getting the writ through and we could spend all morning talking about Snape with Thorpe.

I shall say only that we know that all these quaint little names are usually derived from somthing of a geographical nature. The chances are that it is to do with a River Snape meeting a River Thorpe. I am not saying that for sure, but it is usually something of that nature. I hope my hon. Friend does not get any wild ideas, because there is probably a simple explanation.

Mr. Banks : I am grateful for that explanation ; my hon. Friend has reassured me somewhat. But let us consider the people of Hutton Hang, which is also in the constituency. The people may want something said, in the course of the by-election, about why they should be living in a place called Hutton Hang. I thought that Hutton was one of the great Yorkshire cricketers. I would not like to be a Yorkshireman living in a place called Hutton Hang. I am sure that they do not want to hang Hutton and that they will want one of the candidates to say that, when elected, he or she will do something about that. Names are important in such a constituency.

Mr. Skinner : Possibly Hutton Hang is a peaceful haven for retired spies.

Mr. Stern : I am conscious of the warning given about this, but the point that I want to make is important in understanding the effects on the nature of the constituency of etymology and history. The old Anglo-Saxon names have changed, and that is often resented by the people living there. Let us take a good old-fashioned name for a small river, such as Gash Beck. There must be tremendous resentment that, with the advent of the Normans, that become Scargill.

Column 603

Mr. Skinner : As I said earlier, the constituency is overlooked from the west and north-west by Scargill high moor and he--that is, the moor--could be looking down on the whole proceedings. I suppose that it is a nice tidy place to which to go, and if we go there, we shall probably find someone from British Coal stuck at the top.

Mr. Flannery : Together with other hon. Members, my hon. Friend is showing us graphically--the imagination boggles--what a wide constituency Richmond, Yorks, is. There is often trouble in people's minds about which is the Richmond in Yorkshire and which the Richmond in Surrey. Dr. Arne once wrote a lovely song about the "Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill", and the contest about which Richmond he meant is still going on.

I should like to refer briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who was in the cavalry. I knew Catterick because I was in the Scottish infantry towards the end of the war--in fact, in the Royal Scots, which I believe was my hon. Friend's regiment. Perhaps he and I could canvass together and as we yomp home he could go on horseback because he is a cavalryman. As an infantryman, I would have to yomp on foot. Does my hon. Friend think that that is a good idea?

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I must now bring the debate back to the motion.

Mr. Skinner : You are absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the by-election writ is issued, people will be doing different jobs and it is becoming obvious to everybody that two people will be sent to Catterick camp. One will be my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, and we now know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough will be with him. I think that they should knock on the door and say, "We have come to canvass in the by-election. We are not here to advocate market forces, and if the Goernment applied market forces to Catterick camp, they would privatise it." That would be a good line for my hon. Friends to follow, because 38 per cent. of the population in the Richmond constituency have connections with the services and related industries. It is important that people understand that high incidence of 38 per cent. In the rest of Britain the figure is normally about 20 per cent. It is so high in Richmond because of Catterick camp and Leeming Bar. I am sure that people will understand that market forces have nothing to do with providing the wherewithal for the Army and the RAF, However, although there is a good political point in that, I am not going to develop it.

Mr. Buchan : I wish that my hon. Friend would follow up that point about the election to the possible presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) as it raises many constitutional issues. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow saying that he was in the cavalry. We have an image of Tam on a horse, digging out a tank. The Scots Greys and the cavalry are a phoney element in all this, because the real force at Catterick is the Royal Tank Regiment, in which I served. The most important instruction given when some of the cavalry were brought into tanks was the one saying that officers of field rank and above need not wear spurs in the tanks.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I fail to see what the military career of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has to do with the moving of a writ for the constituency of

Column 604

Richmond, Yorks. Surely the House should concentrate on the important issue before it instead of on these long diversions into personal anecdotes.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The House will be aware that on more than one occasion I have said that we must now debate the writ before us. I hope that hon. Members will take that point to heart and that the hon. Member for Bolsover will proceed along those lines.

Mrs. Wise rose --

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) rose --

Mr. Skinner : If my hon. Friends will give me just a minute, I will answer that point. I do not want to get into any difficulties with the Chair. Up to now you,, Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr. Speaker before you, have not admonished me. Some of my hon. Friends may have been a little exuberant, but I can understand that. However, I have not yet received any admonitions from the Chair. That is unusual, but it is true, and I am trying my best not to get one.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is pushing the Chair into that position at the moment. I should be glad if he would now return to the moving of the writ.

Mr. Skinner : On this question of the writ, when reading "Erskine May" I became aware of another aspect of this matter which it is important that we should understand. As I said at the beginning, Back Benchers should know what it is that enables the Front Benchers, who normally do this job, to move the writ.

A curious anomaly exists nowadays, which arises out of the Common Market. I was speaking to the chief Clerk yesterday about this--said he, name dropping. I was surprised by what I read in "Erskine May". In 1973, the Speaker's conference on electoral law recommended that the writ should normally be moved within three months of a vacancy arising. In strict theoretical terms, that has happened in this case, because Leon Brittan wa a Member of the House until the Christmas recess so in those strict terms, three months have not elapsed. However, I think that we should consider-- this could be a matter for a future Speaker's conference, which is why I have thrown it in--whether if somebody is given a job in the Common Market on 22

July--irrespective of who that person is--can we argue, in purely analytical terms, that that lapse of time is according to "Erskine May".

The section on page 26 that deals with new writs states : "Whenever vacancies occur in the House of Commons from any legal cause, after the original issue of writs for a new Parliament by the Crown, writs are issued out of Chancery by a warrant from the Speaker, which he issues, when the House is sitting, upon the order of the House of Commons. The causes of vacancy are the death of Members or their succession to a peerage,"

or, and this is the interesting thing--

"the acceptance of a disqualifying office,".

The important word there is "acceptance". Was 22 july the date of the acceptance of a disqualifying office? I am making this point seriously, so that hon. Members and others who may take part in future electoral changes can consider whether the announcement of the job of European Commisioner means the acceptance of a disqualifying office, albeit that in this case the hon. Member continued to serve his constituency until the end of December--several months later. That important issue

Column 605

must be resolved and if we do nothing else this morning, at least we will have drawn the attention of hon. Members of all parties to the fact that that anomaly must be cleared up while we continue to appoint Commissioners to Europe.

I do not mean this in any mealy mouthed way, but the question of Members of the European Parliament should be cleared up at the same time. I accept that it is not easy, but this point applies right across the board and I am sure that hon. Members will accept it. Perhaps, as a result of this short debate, those concerned will consider this matter to find out whether the acceptance of a disqualifying office means the nomination for Commissioner, as opposed to the time when the hon. Member decides to apply for the Manor of Northstead.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend think that being an EEC Commissioner is a disqualifying office? Surely a disqualifying office is an office of profit under the Crown. As I understood it, the former Member of Parliament for Richmond, Yorks had to apply for the Manor of Northstead in order to get an office of profit under the Crown, and therefore had to give up his seat.

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is well versed in this subject. However, during discussions on this subject, which I have gone into at length, I have discovered that "office of profit under the Crown" is no longer the phrase used. The phrase now is "a disqualifying office". I had been brought up believing that the way to become disqualified from Parliament was to take on an office of profit under the Crown. I used that phrase earlier deliberately. The phrase is actually "disqualifying office". Page 26 of "Erskine May" gives a lead to the idea that the acceptance of that job could be--not necessarily, but could be--sufficient disqualification. Although I do not want to make heavy weather of that in this case, that issue must be dealt with in the future.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Skinner : I shall give way to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.

Mr. Dobson : Will my hon. Friend confirm the rather curious situation that some offices of profit under the Crown are not disqualifying offices? A lawyer who is a Member of the House can be a recorder or a temporary judge and obtain substantial rewards from the Crown without ceasing to be a Member of Parliament, because that legal job is not included in the list of disqualifying offices.

Mr. Skinner : The list of disqualifying offices is rather strange. I did not complete it. Other disqualifying offices are

"succession to a peerage, elevation of Members to the peerage, bankrupty, lunacy, the establishment of any other legal disqualification for sitting and voting".

My hon. Friend has raised a point that I hope will be taken up by a future Speaker's Conference on this whole question.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : I should like to ask my hon. Friend a question in the context of disqualification in a wider sense. I started off agreeing with

Column 606

my hon. Friend, but he has begun to lose me. In view of what some of our hon. Friends have said, it seems that the only candidates fit to contest an election in this area are people who served in the Royal Tank Regiment or the infantry. That excludes all women in the House of Commons and even many men.

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend knows only too well that I think there are not enough women elected to the House and that there are not enough women Opposition Members. At the recent Labour party conference, I and many others supported the idea that that situation should be improved. However, that issue will have to be dealt with on another occasion.

Earlier I said that the disqualification should start from the date that people accept the job. I want to develop that argument. In local government that would apply. If somebody in local government disqualifies himself from being a member of a local authority, there could immediately be a call by the contending parties, or even individual electors, to fill that vacancy. That could happen except just before an overall election. For most of the year it is possible for somebody in local government who it could be argued, does not wield as much authority as a Member of Parliament-- although that is not true in some cases--to expect to have that vacancy filled straight away. For elections to Parliament, it seems as if the whole affair can drag on for a long time.

Mr. Tony Banks : One learns much by listening to my hon. Friend, who is such an expert in these matters. I have the 18th edition of "Erskine May" and I suspect that my hon. Friend has an earlier one. In my edition, I can see no list of disqualifying offices. I can see a reference to the acceptance of a disqualifying office. I understand that this by-election will be brought about because becoming a Commissioner is considered to be a disqualifying office.

Mr. Skinner : No.

Mr. Banks : That is the point. I should like to know exactly why there has to be a by-election. Would it not be possible for Leon Brittan to be a Commissioner and to continue as a Member of Parliament?

Mr. Skinner : That is an interesting point. The writ is being moved this morning as a result of Leon Brittan accepting the Manor of Northstead and taking on a disqualifying office in that name. My hon. Friend will remember that I spoke about the Manor of Northstead at the beginning of my speech. That is the disqualifying office in this case, and not the Common Market office. Many people believe that we should stay in the Common Market for ever, but I am not one of them.

Ms. Primarolo : Those people are misguided.

Mr. Skinner : As my hon. Friend says, they are misguided. However, since many people believe that that will happen, we must clear up this matter. There will be others in future, and that is why I draw specific attention to it. The disqualifying office is not the Common Market ; it is the Manor of Northstead in this case.

Mr. Dalyell : In order to save time I should like to put a question to my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who cannot be here today, yesterday tried to get the Leader of the House to

Column 607

make some definitive statement on what exactly are offices of profit, given the European Community situation. This is a central and important point.

Mr. Skinner : We are in an interesting area. The disqualifying office is a grey area. When I had not been a Member of this House very long, in one of the general elections in 1974 a Liberal Member, now Lord Winstanley, was elected in a constituency in the Greater Manchester area, the constituency of Hazelgrove. I came in here one day and saw on the annuciator a strange little reference to some quaint little Bill that was to be moved at 3.30 in the afternoon. I thought, "What's all this then?" I made some inquiries and found that before and during the general election campaign that Liberal Member had unwittingly held a disqualified office. He was a doctor acting for tribunals and therefore receiving money from the Crown. I made some inquiries and said to Ted Short, now Lord Glenamara, "What are you going to do here then, because I think that this Bill is retrospective legislation."

At that time, the Labour Government seemed to lean over backwards to help the other side. I never quite discovered why, but they were very good at it. It is the old thing about the Labour movement being very impartial while the others trample all over us. Lord Glenamara said, "We are going to undisqualify him." I said, "Why? We have one down already and we have a tiny majority." It was like playing cricket but they do not quite say that now. What happened? Madam Deputy Speaker was probably here at that time, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was definitely here, and he will probably elaborate on it.

I was mystified as I watched this developing piece of retrospective legislation that would allow a Liberal Member not to be disqualified. As a Labour Member of Parliament, I thought that that was what I was here for, to get rid of the enemy. I learned something that day, I was almost alone and friendless, but I carried out the opposition. Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Skinner : I give way to the Common Market man here.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Hon. Members have been listening with admiration--I hope that he will forgive me for using that word--to the hon. Gentleman's polemical skills. This is a parliamentary rather than a party occasion. The hon. Gentleman made some valid points about the complexities of disqualification. Earlier, he spoke proudly about not receiving an admonition from the Chair, whereas other hon. Members had received such admonitions because they had digressed in interventions. That was equally impressive. Then the hon. Gentleman began to spoil his speech because he went back into his traditional terrain of attacking the Common Market. That was rather disappointing because, as he knows, many hon. Members, including a growing number of Labour Members, are keen on the Common Market. That is a fascinating spectacle to observe, because in the past Labour Members have always denied that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to get into that territory, because he would regret it and might lose some of the admiration for his polemical skills. In that context may I ask him to comment on the interesting difference between the date of the appointment by the Chancellor to

Column 608

the Manor of Northstead and 1 January--or is it 4 January--the starting date for the new Commissioner? Constitutional lawyers who are expert in European and national matters might say the 4 January was the valid one. That might affect the date of the by-election.

Mr. Skinner : That is the argument of Members on the Government Front Bench, some of whom are trying to escape from their Common Market pasts. They are not doing that very strongly, and we are having a lot of cosmetics and window dressings from the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman should not be so sure about this vis-a-vis the Common Market. The landscape is moving a little. The argument is whether the grounds of a disqualifying office came into effect when the offer was made on 22 July or when the Commissioner started the job. That point should be cleared up.

The Government are currently discussing the possibility of stopping someone who works for one local authority being a local government representative in another. If there is no disqualifying office vis-a-vis the Common Market, it is a double standard to say to people in local government that they cannot work for one local authority and be a representative of another just because many of those people are Labour people.

Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : The hon. Gentleman has been on his feet for almost one hour and 20 minutes. It is not unique for a private Member to move writs for an election. I moved 15 of them on 17 December 1958 in two minutes, and in 12 lines of Hansard. However, it is unique for such a debate to take place on the moving of a writ. This is being used as a dilatory motion to frustrate private Members' time. All private Members normally wish to safeguard that time. Although the hon. Gentleman has been very humorous, this act of procedure does not help the House generally. It does not help the House's reputation and will not be understood by people outside the House.

Mr. Skinner : May I tell the hon. Gentleman, who is Chairman of the Procedure Committee, that there is without doubt a majority of people in this House who, contrary to the views that he has expressed about dilatory motions from Opposition Members, regard the question of Back-Bench Members jumping the queue in the private Members' Ballot and getting to the top of the list as a practice to be deplored. If there is a question--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. We have strayed a long way from the motion before us. I remind the House that I am careful about precedents, and during today's debate I am following precedents.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has just, however obliquely, referred to me and accused me of a piece of parliamentary malpractice--queue jumping. Is it in order for me to reply to him during the debate, because it is possible that we shall never reach my debate?

Madam Deputy Speaker : Obviously, any hon. Member in the Chamber who catches the eye of whoever might be in the Chair may well be called. I would hope to call the hon. Lady in due course.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : I want to take my hon. Friend back to "Erskine May" on the

Column 609

question of moving writs because this is important in the teaching role that he has adopted. The moving of a writ takes precedence over other business. I should like to know how frequently the same writ can be moved. If, surprisingly, my hon. Friend fails to persuade hon. Members today, could someone re-introduce the writ next week?

Mr. Skinner : At least one Conservative Member has spoken of dilatory action. It was suggested a few days ago that the moving of a writ was a means of developing such action. The Clerks were unsure of the ground here. This has been a learning process for me, my hon. Friends and those people who advise the Chair, because that point was a matter for consideration. I shall not name names, but there was a complete blank on the question as to whether it was possible for a further writ to be moved within days of another having been moved and not dealt with satisfactorily. That very question was a puzzle for at least a week.

So far as I understand it--I shall be on record in Hansard --the matter has been resolved. The writ can be moved again. However, a writ cannot be moved again--this is another part of the learning process--if it is defeated. That is why I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that I am not hereabouts trying to get it defeated. I would not attempt to do that, because I want to win over the House and get the writ accepted ; but, if I thought for one moment that I could not carry a majority, I would make absolutely sure that it was not defeated. If it is defeated, that is a different question. That would mean that the writ would fall for the rest of the Session, and none of us want that.

This is all part of understanding more about the quaint procedures in the Commons. It is interesting to note that, for a whole week, the establishment in the House of Commons was not sure about the answer. I can give the answer today in the affirmative, because I embarked on this procedure. We are beginning to dot a few i's and cross a few t's on the procedures of the House simply because this debate is taking place. Some people think that it is ritual, but it is not. It is a way of drawing some of these procedures to the attention of the House.

I was dealing with the question of the Common Market and how it is counterposed to people who lose or leave their seats in local government. That is also part of the valuable learning process, so I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) raised that point. It could not have been cleared up if I had not embarked on this procedure a few days ago.

Mrs. Wise : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I thought for a while that, because he received an admonition from me, I would not have the chance to intervene again. I am grateful that he is at last letting me make a remark.

Does my hon. Friend think that the contribution from the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), is something to be proud of? Is it something to be proud of, to move 15 writs in two minutes or 12 lines of Hansard ? I could scarcely believe it. Is that anything to be proud of, or could it be said to be treating the electors' interests with scant regard? I should like to discuss at greater length the interests of the

Column 610

voters and potential voters in that constituency because there are pros and cons and some of us have not yet made up our minds. Generally speaking, we want an early by-election so that we do not leave people unrepresented, but we must think again of convenience and practicality from the voters' point of view. We have not examined that enough.

Mr. Skinner : I hope to examine those pros and cons, but there is limit to how far I can examine the pros and cons of, for example, the Health Service with regard to the Richmond by-election in terms of strict party political objects. The subject could certainly be touched upon. My hon. Friend may well do that if she catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and if that is what she means.

Mrs. Wise : No, I do not mean that at all. We must examine the characteristics of this constituency. Referring back to the weather, has my hon. Friend considered the extent of car ownership in the Richmond, Yorks constituency? Has he taken into account the fact that women have very little access to cars, even if there is a car in the family?

In response to other comments that have been made today, as a northerner born and bred, I am not insulting the people of the north when I suggest that the weather must be taken into account. When I was a little girl on Tyneside I grew up believing that Yorkshire was the start of the south. I do not speak with any prejudice against northerners. However, the fact remains that voting can be very difficult for women voters without access to cars, especially if they are Labour voters and the Labour party may be short of cars because we represent the non-car owning classes to a large extent. Has my hon. Friend taken that into account?

Mr. Dobson : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is now 11 o'clock, and this is the point on a Friday when statements are made if they are going to be made. I would be grateful if you could say whether you have received any sign from the Secretary of State for Transport that he will respond to our representations that he should make a statement about certain circumstances revealed today in one of London's local newspapers, the Hampstead and Highgate Express? It revealed that, although the Secretary of State announced that Dr. Tony Ridley, the Chairman of London Underground Ltd., had offered his resignation, which the Secretary of State had accepted on 10 November, Dr. Ridley is still occupying an office at London Underground, is receiving the help of a paid secretary and personal assistant and has a chauffeur-driven car and a car phone. All that is provided at the expense of London Underground. That seems to be in flat contradiction with what the Secretary of State told us on 10 November. I want to know whether he intends to make a statement.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Mr. Speaker has received no such application from any Minister to make a statement.

Mr. Dobson : This is a most important matter. When the House was told, and I quote--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to pursue this matter by way of a point of order. I have already made it absolutely clear to the House

Column 611

that no such application has been made to Mr. Speaker. The Chair has no authority over such statements made by Ministers. We must now proceed.

Mr. Dobson : I accept that, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, the Leader of the House is here. Most hon. Members would appreciate it if he could carry a message to the Secretary of State for Transport saying that we wish

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Unhappily the hon. Gentleman is attempting to enter into debate, which I will not allow. He has quite rightly made the point that the Leader of the House is present. Mr. Speaker has had no such application. It must be left at that.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I gave Mr. Speaker notice that I would raise this point of order at this time earlier this morning.

I wish to raise a point of order concerning the deportation of Mr. Viraj Mendis. He is due to be deported from Gatwick airport in 58 minutes' time. I raised this matter during business questions yesterday, and asked for a statement to be made about the Government's intentions which would enable a Minister from the Home Office to report to the House. He could have told us whether discussions and efforts have been made overnight and this morning to try to defer the deportation to allow discussions to take place to find a safe refuge for Mr. Mendis in a third country--and if they had been completed.

My next point is central to my point of order. Yesterday, during business questions, and today in an amendment to early-day motion 287, I drew the attention of the House to a case last December in which, after making representations on behalf of a political activist who was a Pakistan national--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Of course I must listen to points of order. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will raise a point of order with which I can deal from the Chair. Otherwise, it is an abuse of the House.

Mr. Madden : I recognise that completely. I know from experience that written assurances from Home Office Ministers that individuals face no risk of persecution if they are deported to certain countries are not worth the paper that they are written on. I was told last December that this individual faced no risk--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is not making a point of order. He is making a speech to the Chair the subject of which has been dealt with by the House earlier. I can reply to the hon. Gentleman's original point of order, which asked me whether Mr. Speaker had received an application from a Home Office Minister to make a statement. The answer is no. Mr. Speaker has received no such application, and no Home Office Minister is to make a statement this morning.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the last thing that my hon. Friend wants to do is challenge your authoritiy Madam Deputy Speaker, and nor would I. We recognise your predicament. However, similarly you recognise our predicament that emergencies are not allowed to happen in the House of Commons on a Friday. No doubt on any other day of the week, my hon. Friend

Column 612

could have raised the matter as a Standing Order No. 20 application and that is not intended to challenge your authority. The rules of the House do not allow the Standing Order No. 20 procedure on a Friday. My hon. Friend want to refer to an emergency and a genuine problem which merits discussion. We would appreciate guidance from the Chair on the methods available to my hon. Friend to raise an issue of this importance on a Friday.

Madam Deputy Speaker : The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has had an opportunity to express his feelings on the matter through a point of order, and a very long point of order at that. He asked whether Mr. Speaker had had an application from the Home Office to make a statement. I am observing the practice of the House in responding to that, by saying that no such application has been made. I am sure that hon. Members would not wish to abuse our procedures. The fact that there can be no Standing Order No. 20 application on a Friday morning is something that the Chair can do nothing about. We must now proceed.

Mr. Madden : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point that I am trying to make is that, despite written assurances, the man for whom I was trying to get political asylum was arrested as he walked off the plane in Pakistan. He remains in prison and many of us fear that the same destiny awaits Mr. Mendis if he is deported in 58 minutes' time.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The Chair has no authority over such matters. It is an abuse of our proceedings that such matters be raised at this time in that way.

Mr. Tony Banks : On a point of order. I understand that the Chair has no jurisdiction in that respect. However, the House is owed something. We were given assurances and statements were made by the Home Secretary from the Dispatch Box earlier in the week. We were given news. It seems appropriate that we should ask that the Leader of the House should arrange for a further report to be made to the House so that hon. Members are kept abreast of the latest developments. We should be exchanging those views.

My point of order is that, in view of the fact that we heard statements and were given assurances, we are now entitled to receive from the Dispatch Box the latest information available to Ministers, and I think that the proceedings should allow that.

Madam Deputy Speaker : All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that no Minister has applied to come to the House this morning to make a statement. We must leave it at that. I call Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is a great deal of concern among Back Benchers, certainly on the Labour Benches, about the welfare of Mr. Viraj Mendis. You are a custodian, as is Mr. Speaker, of Back Benchers' rights. There must be a way in which those rights can be exercised in an emergency such as this. We have heard that the procedures do not allow that to happen on a Friday. That must be wrong. We were given assurances that Mr. Viraj Mendis would be given an opportunity to go to a third country. Is he going to go to a third country or--

Column 613

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a question which the Chair can answer. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, if it is thought wrong that our procedures do not allow that matter to be raised on a Friday, it is up to the House to amend the procedures to meet those demands. I call Mr. Skinner.

Mr. Skinner rose --

Mr. Flannery : Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that people do not think that the issue that we have been discussing this morning is one in which we are adopting a kind of ruse. We honorably want to know about Viraj Mendis. It is wrong that hon. Members do not know things that the outside world probably knows at this moment. As Members of Parliament we have the right to know what is happening.

Next Section

  Home Page