|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Skinner : The political see-saw was developed by the Conservative and Labour parties. Now the see-saw is occupied by the provos led by "Dr. Death", the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the SDP at one end, and by the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the SLD at the other. The occupants of the see-saw are different now. That will be a factor in the Richmond by-election, in which both occupants of that see-saw will be taking part. Right from the beginning, I knew there was something wrong between the Liberals and the SDP in the last general election, because the leaders of those two parties travelled on separate coaches on their visits up and down the country. The Richmond by-election will show that different considerations still apply.
I wish to make one further comment concerning the residual body, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent will be interested to learn that one of the disqualifying offices is the Registrar of Public Lending Right. I cannot for the life of me understand why that should be a disqualifying office. Perhaps there is a genuine reason, but it is odd that that should be a disqualifying office, whereas someone else can get a Commissioner's job in the Common Market for £97,000 a year.
Mr. Cohen : My hon. Friend makes the point that the by-election could be delayed. I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members will be as surprised as I was to learn that Sir Leon Brittan and others in his situation can claim both their salary as a Common Market Commissioner and their parliamentary salary. I know that my hon. Friend is opposed to both salaries being claimed. I understand why, and I agree with him. However, is there not a case to be made for allowing Sir Leon to remain a member of the House while taking up his new post as a Commissioner, and giving his parliamentary salary to a worthy cause--such as saving the Settle to Carlisle line, about which, as a former Member of the relevant constituency, he must be concerned.
Mr. Skinner : We have found out--we believe, the information is correct--that a Commissioner cannot be a Member of Parliament, not because of these rules, which should be changed, but because of Common Market rules under which a Commissioner has to swear an oath of allegiance. That is a matter that we should clear up. A person is apparently debarred by the rules of the Common Market, not by those of the House.
Mr. Cohen : I appreciate that and thank my hon. Friend for that education. He also said that Sir Leon Brittan will earn £97,000 per annum, and it would not be unreasonable for him to give half that salary to the campaign to save the Settle to Carlisle line.
Mr. Skinner : The Settle to Carlisle railway will be a consideration in this by-election and we cannot avoid mentioning it. I think that it does not actually run right through the constituency, although it may pass through it at one tiny point. My guess is that it runs along the western side of the constituency.
I would be straying from the subject if I started talking about the pros and cons of the Settle to Carlisle railway being saved. Other hon. Members might do so. I cannot visualise any set of circumstances in which this particular issue will not be foremost in the minds of the many electors because it is so close. There has been a resurgence of interest in that issue in Britain. Most certainly, it will be considered a matter of importance in that constituency.
Mr. Tredinnick : It has just been suggested that the Commissioner should give half his salary to the Settle to Carlisle campaign. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) cut off the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) who, I thought, was about to suggest that he would give half his salary to that cause.
Mr. Skinner : What I am trying to do at all times is to ensure that we discuss the question of the writ in a way which the Chair regards as a proper fashion. The issue of the railway will be a factor but, although I am a supporter of saving it, I shall not make it a strong part of my consideration of the writ today.
Having dealt with disqualifying offices, I must make it abundantly clear that I am trying to move on to the constituency itself, and to describe what is a beautiful constituency.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Will my hon. Friend accept that, over the years, some by-elections have been affected by dramatic Government action, taken because they thought that it might influence the by-election result. I seem to remember that the Humber bridge had some connection with a by- election. Will my hon. Friend take into account the fact that the date of the by-election could be significant in saving the Settle to Carlisle line? I am sure that the Government would not want to see its closure finally announced during the by-election.
Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy) : I have listened to the preamble of my hon. Friend with great interest. Before he goes on to the main part of his speech I should like to turn briefly to the question of Lord Winstanley--I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if it is proper to refer to him by name. A Bill was introduced to rectify disqualifying action that he had taken during an election campaign. Will my hon. Friend elaborate on that because it may be of concern to me as a member of the same profession?
Mr. Skinner : We have trodden that ground, as regards the disqualifying officers. In 1974, after the first election, retrospective legislation was passed to ensure that Lord Winstanley, who represented Hazel Grove at that time, and held a disqualifying office as a member of a tribunal panel--as a doctor--was allowed to stay. The Labour Government at the time reached out to the Liberals and allowed the hon. Gentleman to keep his seat. I was dumbfounded, because we had brought the election and we were allowing this Liberal Member to keep his seat. I thought the election campaign had been all about keeping the Liberals out. The way in which this
disqualification was removed to help the hon. Gentleman has been dealt with before.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that under the Standing Orders of the House, it would probably be inappropriate to move the closure, bearing in mind that the mover has not finished speaking. Perhaps you could confirm, however, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a number of other important issues are on the Order Paper, which should be debated. Mr. Speaker decided not to use his discretion in provoking the ten-minute rule but the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has now been speaking for 144 minutes. That is a great intrusion on Private Members' time. It is not the hon. Gentleman's debate.
Mr. Madden : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is now 12 o'clock and I believe that the House should be told whether Mr. Mendis has been deported from Gatwick to Sri Lanka, or whether he is being allowed to remain in this country, so that discussions can take place to find a third country--
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope you might be able to give guidance to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Abortion is a serious matter about which
Column 626many people feel strongly. Surely the House should have the option to decide on a free vote. This is anabuse--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Doubtless, he will have regard to the point that has just been made, but so far he has not tested my tolerance to the point of my ruling him out of order.
Mr. Corbyn : It is a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been deeply and intimately involved in the problem for a long time, especially during the past 24 hours. I have visited Mr. Mendis in prison and I met the Minister concerned last night. We know that negotiations are going on throughout Europe--
Mr. Corbyn : My point of order for the Chair is that the House received infomation earlier this week that the Government intended to deport Mr. Viraj Mendis. We know that there are negotiations going on with European Governments and others towards getting asylum applications considered and dealt with in order for them to be communicated to the Home Office. My point of order is that Mr. Viraj Mendis is on a plane, which has not yet taken off, and he is threatened with removal from this country. Will you ask a Minister to come to this House now and accept in good faith- -
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have no power--nor has Mr Speaker--to instruct any Minister to make a statement. Doubtless the views expressed in the House will have been heard. If a request for a statement is received, the Chair will consider it in the usual way.
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can I have your assurance that, if a Minister of State for the Home Department requests permission to make a statement, he will be allowed to do so? Negotiations have been going on all morning. Mr. Mendis is on the plane at the moment and it would be helpful if you could give us that assurance.
Further to what the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has said, I seek to press you on how we deal with procedures on Fridays when business
Column 627has been named for private Members' motions. After this morning's proceedings have been completed, will you give some consideration to the way in which we go about dealing with business, especially on those days when there is a motion on the Order Paper that has been balloted as No. 1? Effectively that motion has been gazumped by people queue-jumping by introducing a writ this morning.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The Chair is always anxious to protect private Members' time. If there are matters for concern arising out of today's proceedings, the hon. Gentleman might well consider making a submission to the Procedure Committee.
I make no comment on what has happened thus far this morning, which must be in order otherwise the Chair would have ruled otherwise. I want to reinforce what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has said. There is important business ahead of us, which many Members have returned to the Chamber to hear. The issue is not just abortion, but procedure.
For a long time, the House has been denied the opportunity to reach any conclusion on procedure. The distinguished Chairman of the Procedure Committee returned from overseas to be present today. In the debate on 30 November, he said that the way in which procedure had been used with regard to abortion was the most worrying feature as it affected Members and that that had been made clear to the Procedure Committee.
What has emerged--I ask you to consider this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if not now, then later--is that a private Member's Bill that commands a majority in this House-- [Interruption.] --all its predecessors have commanded a majority in this House and I would go further and say that there is evidence to suggest that they commanded majority support in the country--is being denied any effective progress because of the procedures that we follow, or rather the defects in those procedures.
This is a grave matter and it is particularly so because it touches upon the right of life. For that reason Mr. Deputy Speaker, even if you are unable to intervene now to permit discussion to take place at a reasonable hour on a private Member's day, I beg of you to give careful consideration to the whole matter together with Mr. Speaker so that this scandalous behaviour, which will outrage the country, is seen for what it is.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker. Order. The House will respect the fact that the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) is our most senior Member and Father of the House. I am sure that the House listened with respect to what he said, and, doubtless, Mr. Speaker will read his remarks in the fullness of time.
Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course I listened carefully to what the Father of the House said, but I could not detect any part of his intervention that could be construed as a point of order. What he was seeking to do was to make the case that he would have made had there been a general debate on the matter. Therefore, I submit to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that what has happened today is perfectly in order. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has not been out of order. He
Column 628has put his case simply and fairly and, I believe, in an agreeable manner to the House. He is operating the proper procedures of the House. The attempt to interfere with the proper procedures of the House came from some Conservative Members who should have known better. That is what is happening. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover--I should say my hon. Friend, but he should be a right hon. Member and, if it were in my power, I should appoint him, or he may be appointed after this--has shown himself to be in order for the two or three hours that he has been speaking, so he has every chance of being in order for the rest of his speech.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I should say to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman that I extended to the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) a tolerance that I believe that the House would expect me to show to the Father of the House and I know that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to support that. As I said earlier, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has not so far tested my tolerance to the point where I have had to say that his remarks are out of order. I share the right hon. Gentleman's hope that the hon. Member for Bolsover will now be allowed to resume his speech.
Mr. Skinner rose--
Miss Widdecombe : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point of my motion, which was drawn fairly first in the ballot, was to allow the House to decide whether it approved my motion or not, and I was therefore willing to respect and abide by the will of the House, but this dilatory motion is a deliberate attempt to thwart the will of the House and not to allow my motion. Is it fair--even if it is technically in order--for one hon. Member to speak for more than three hours?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The repeated points of order only serve the very matter that the hon. Lady has criticised. The motion before the House is not technically a dilatory motion. I detected, I hope, that the hon. Member for Bolsover was about to enter his peroration and it may be as well for the House to listen to it.
Ms. Gordon rose --
Mrs. Wise rose --
Mr. Skinner : It may come as a surprise to some hon. Members who have raised points of order that I believe that one outcome of this morning's debate may be to draw the attention of the authorities of the House, especially all Back Benchers, to the need to ensure parliamentary time for all Back Benchers for all Bills, excluding queue-jumping Bills, and to allow them to proceed so that they can go on to the statute book. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) has introduced a Bill six times on the subject of pensions and providing the proper wherewithal. I should like to see him get to the top of the list. I believe that the Procedure Committee, in line with what has been said, should examine the question thoroughly. As a Back Bencher, I want to say to all hon. Members that I want the Front Benchers to give the opportunity to enable us to introduce Bills and to bring them to the statute book in a way that gives everyone a chance, and the Government of the day should concede
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that he is now opening the door to a different and much wider debate. We should get back to the motion that he is seeking to present to the House.
Mr. Skinner : I thought that it was important to make it clear that many of my hon. Friends would like nothing better than for the matter to be dealt with by the Procedure Committee so that all Bills may be given an opportunity.
Mr. Shersby : Perhaps, in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) who is the chairman of the Procedure Committee, I may help the hon. Gentleman. As a member of the Committee, I know that my hon. Friend listened carefully to the debate earlier and I have no doubt that what has been said this morning will form an urgent item on the agenda of the Procedure Committee. I hope that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We are now having what I feared the hon. Gentleman was leading us into--a much wider debate than the matter before the House and a debate on procedure. We are not going to have a debate on procedure. Although we have had points of order on it, I repeat that we are not going to have a debate.
Mr. Skinner : I was merely saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and this arises from that part of the debate that has been points of order, that the issue behind those points of order should be dealt with. Most hon. Member appreciate that from time to time some of our antiquated procedures must be brought up to modern practice to enable all hon. Members--of all parties-- to have equal opportunities.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that, if I allow him to continue his speech on that matter, in all equity I must allow other hon. Members to put counter points of view, and I am not prepared to do that. I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman will now get back on the road to Richmond.
Ms. Gordon rose --
Mrs. Wise rose --
Mr. Skinner : That is exactly what I am about to do, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply want to remind hon. Members that the Richmond, Yorks constituency is one of the biggest in Britain. A lot of work by all parties will be needed if we are to make sure that the election is properly carried out. The constituency covers about 950 sq miles : it is 50 miles across and 19 miles long. It is one of the most beautiful constituencies in the whole of Britain. I do not want to cause some of my hon. Friends--and other hon. Members--to get up and say that there are other constituencies just as beautiful. Many issues will be raised upon which which the verdict will be cast-- [Interruption.] and yes, the Settle-Carlisle railway line is one of them.
Mrs. Wise rose --
Mrs. Wise : My hon. Friend is now concentrating on the beauty of the constituency. He has at least had the grace to admit the size of the area, but he has not come back to my earlier question of whether he has studied the issue of car ownership and accessibility in that constituency and the ability of women to get to the polls in the sort of weather that may well occur in the next few weeks. My hon. Friend has not dealt with my point at all. I am beginning to think that he is evading it.
Mr. Skinner : Well, as a matter of fact, I have tried to deal with that point several times. When writs are moved many rural constituencies in Britain have transport difficulties. I hope that when my hon. Friend gets an opportunity to travel from Preston to that constituency, across the Pennines, she will raise the question of the inadequacy of the roads, the need for concessionary bus passes and all the rest of it. The car-owning population there is less than the national average. We are dealing with a country constituency, not one in an urban area, which would have a tendency to higher car ownership, so that answers my hon. Friend's point.
Mrs. Wise : No, it does not. I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, but I do not thank him very much for his answer. Visiting that constituency during the election would be too late to meet the point because the election is being held at a time when it is hard for women to express their views through casting their votes. The problem in this House on this and other matters may well be that there are not enough women Members of Parliament. There are far too many men here and women's considerations and needs are neglected. We have seen that happen often. Indeed, it happened last year in relation to a private Member's Bill that would have been defeated on Second Reading by 26 votes to 11 had the votes been cast only by women Members. I urge my hon. Friend to treat the needs of women in this election much more seriously. I challenge him to do that. It will be more difficult for women to get to the polls if the election is held in the next few weeks.
Mr. Skinner : That consideration has always been in my mind. That is way I said at the beginning--I think that my hon. Friend was listening-- that I do not take a dogmatic view on this. If I thought that a sufficient number of hon. Members--especially among my hon. Friends--believed that the writ that is being applied for was not applicable for the time of the year, I might be persuaded. The last think I want to do is to enable it to be defeated. I can assure my hon. Friend, who has been very persuasive, of that. I reassure my hon. Friend--and others--that I shall not pursue that matter in the dogmatic fashion that she assumed. I agree with her about accessibility in the constituency and about the fact that women are affected more than men. There is no question about that and that is why I fleetingly referred to the issue of transport and concessionary fares, upon which the electors will give their verdict when the election finally goes ahead.
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : I should like to ask my hon. Friend about the relationship of the writ to the conclusion of the Settle-Carlisle railway issue. Many of my constituents have had an opportunity to travel on this railway and have
Column 631written to me about it. I have written to Ministers because this route is important. Ministers told me that they were still looking at the Settle-Carlisle railway issue and that we could expect an announcement at any time.
The writ and the railway are important to many of my constituents because everyone knows that this is a marvellous, scenic railway and that complex negotiations have taken place about it. Even now British Rail is looking at private finance to enable the railway to continue if the Government discontinue their funding. Everyone with an interest in transport policy, the environment and the future of small rural communities will be concerned about this writ in that it relates to the Settle-Carlisle railway.
Ms. Gordon : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For 20 minutes I have been trying to ask the House to hold one minute's silence to mark the passing of the cherished tradition of tolerance in the field of human rights and the impact that that could have on any information about a human being whose life might be in danger.
There is a rumour going about which may prove to be correct--who knows?-- that the announcement about saving the Settle-Carlisle railway will probably occur about the first week of the election campaign proper. That will pose a dilemma for those of us who want to save it, but naturally, we shall support the saving of the railway. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) who has played a role in this affair will clap his hands. The Government, having gauged the feeling in that constituency and the views of many of the electors about the railway issue, may well make that announcement. I thought for a minute that the Leader of the House was about to rise to his feet and make the announcement there and then, but he has not.
Mr. Livingstone : I do not want to disrupt my hon. Friend's flow, but may I assure him that I visited the constituency about three years ago? I spent the period between Christmas and the new year in the village of Arkengarthdale and I assure my hon. Friend that he is right when he says that this is one of the most beautiful constituencies in Britain. It narrowly falls short of the conditions in Brent, East, but it is a stunning area. For these islands, it is also at a high altitude. I was forcefully struck by the cold there between Christmas and the new year three years ago. I took many walks through fields and took a trip to what I think is the highest public house in the British Isles.
The weather was bitterly cold and in many areas there were several inches of ice, and, shortly after I left, the people that I had stayed with were snowed in. I am worried about a by-election being held in this constituency at a time when many people might be denied the opportunity to participate in the electoral process because of a heavy
Column 632fall of snow and extremely inclement weather. Has my hon. Friend consulted the meteorological office about weather in the constituency during the by-election? Almost uniquely in this constituency, because of the elevation of many parts of it, the question of weather is more important than anywhere else.
Although my hon. Friend has tramped all over that constituency and been to that pub at the top where the milk race is held, I should point out to him that many Opposition Members are from Scotland. Those hardy people would resent the fact that a by-election would not be held in the north of England at that time of year when, in Scotland, they have had to put up with by-elections in the bleak mid-winter on many occasions. It is all a question of balance. As my hon. Friend is a man who is prepared--I was going to say "to compromise"--to consider the question as to when a writ should be moved, he will know that we have to take account of the weather, the new register and everything else. As we are considering this from the point of view of balance and not dogma, I shall take into account my hon. Friend's comments. However, I cannot be firm simply because he and other hon. Members have got cold feet about the weather.
Mr. Tony Banks : My point relates to weather in so far as we receive information in the House about the circumstances that govern our consideration of whether a writ should be issued. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the dangers of supersedeas writs. "Erskine May" states :
"If doubts should arise concerning the fact of the vacancy, the order for a new writ should be deferred until the House may be in possession of more certain information ; and if, after the issue of the writ, it should be discovered that the House had acted upon false intelligence"--
that could refer to the weather vanes--
"the Speaker will be ordered to issue a warrant for a supersedeas to the writ."
My hon. Friend should be aware that some of the questions asked by Opposition Members could have implications with regard to false intelligence being offered to the House. However, I assure my hon. Friend that that passage mostly refers to the question whether a Member is dead. It says :
"Thus on 29 April 1765, a new writ was ordered for Devizes, in the room of Mr. Willey, deceased. On 30 April it was doubted whether he was dead, and the messenger of the great seal was ordered to forbear delivering the writ until further directions. Mr. Willey proved to be alive, and on 6 May a supersedeas to the writ was ordered to be made out."
It is difficult to know whether some Conservative Members are alive or dead, but I simply wish to draw my hon. Friend's attention to some of the dangers in the procedure that he is adopting.
Mr. Skinner : I believe that page 29 of "Erskine May" refers to superseders. I think it is a bit dodgy. I do not believe that "Erskine May" has dealt with the matter thoroughly in present-day terms because the provisions regarding the death of a Member were drawn up long before the days of medical evidence regarding clinical death. What with spongiform and all the rest of it, "Erskine May" should be brought more up-to-date. There should be a provision to ensure that we refer to people as clinically dead because that is a grey area in this place and