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could be open to challenge. As my hon. Friend knows, the last thing we want to do is to call upon Mr. Speaker, who has power under the mental health legislation to declare that someone is dead, when, under the new definition, he or she might not be clinically dead. Here we are again. We have now discovered another possible area where "Erskine May" may have to be brought up to date.

Mr. Corbyn : I am rather disturbed to hear that Mr. Speaker has powers under the mental health legislation. Perhaps my hon. Friend can confirm that. However, he has not answered the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) about the weather.

My brother is an expert on weather forecasting and long-range weather patterns. He confirms that in February we are in for a very cold spell, not just in London and the south which normally is frightened by such weather, but in the rest of the country as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) should consult my brother and the meteorological office about this serious matter. If my hon. Friend's motion is successful, that weather would occur when the by-election takes place. That cold weather and resultant snowing-in could disenfranchise people and deny them their democratic right to decide who should represent them in the House.

Mr. Skinner : There are experts and there are experts. I have heard about the advice from weather experts in the past. I used to pay some passing allegiance to one or two of them who used to appear on BBC television. However, after that hurricane in October 1987, I do not pay all that much attention to John Kettley and all the rest. That hurricane was around the corner and they did not spot it. I will not accept that there is someone in the land of great eminence who can somehow forecast what the weather will be on Scargill high moor overlooking Richmond, Yorks constituency after the new registers on 15 February. I am just not prepared to accept that notion. Therefore, we have to decide this issue not on the basis of weather forecasts.

Mr. Corbyn : What is wrong with science?

Mr. Skinner : We have to examine this on the basis of whether we believe it is right to have the election for other considerations. If we always doubted things like the weather, as Socialists we would never make any ground at all. We must think about those things that are logically correct as scientiific Socialists.

Mrs. Fyfe : I want to reassure my hon. Friend about the feelings of hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies. While it is generally true that the weather in Scotland is more severe than it is in England, and that is demonstrated to us every week when we come down to London, which is considerably warmer than Scotland, nevertheless certain parts of England, for example, the Pennines, have more severe weather in winter than anywhere in Scotland. Scotland is wetter, but it cannot match the snowfalls and snowdrifts which might lie for several days and which might snow-in communities in England. Even when the road from Cockbridge to Tomintoul is open, the Pennines are snowed in.

Mr. Holt : That is nowhere near the Pennines, you stupid woman.

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Ms. Abbott : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) to refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) as a "stupid woman"? Is that parliamentary language?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : In all the hubbub and noise, I find it difficult to hear anything. I certainly did not hear that remark. Mr. Skinner rose --

Mr. Holt : I could not possibly call the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) an intelligent woman.

Mrs. Wise : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Langbaurgh has just compounded the insult by saying that he could not possibly refer to my hon. Friend as an intelligent woman. Everyone heard that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : That was grossly discourteous, but I do not think that it is of such an order that I would feel obliged to compel the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remark.

Mr. Skinner : I was briefly referring to the fact that there are one or two verdicts on different issues which must apply in the by-election when it is held. There will be the dichotomy between those who favour bailing out the farmers over salmonella in Richmond--and there are plenty of those--as opposed to not bailing out pensioners after Barlow Clowes. There will be the big issue of farming generally. Green issues will undoubtedly be played out at length. I expect the election to be exceptionally exciting because it will cover such a large number of areas which form the basis of any decent electoral contest. I know that the odds are stacked against us. It has always been a Tory seat. It was not even opposed in the war years. We can appreciate what kind of constituency it is, but that should not deter those of us who will help to raise issues and provide a verdict on behalf of our candidate Frank Dobson-- [Interruption.] I am sorry, Frank Robson, who increased his percentage of the vote by 35 per cent. in the 1987 election. There are some wonderful rivers there. I expect The Independent political correspondent to go up there and look at the rivers. I shall give him a few names, as the Government might form river companies. There is the Swayle, the Ure, the Greta, the Blackbeck, and so on. There will be an interesting story there. People will find out not only that the Settle to Carlisle railway is to the western edge, but that a wonderful part of the line stretches from London to Scotland. The railway record was set in the constituency by the Mallard engine. All those issues will be important. There will be questions about roads, hospitals and--

Mr. Corbyn : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Skinner : No, I must conclude.

Mr. Corbyn : On the question about the--

Mr. Skinner : No, I must finish.

The election will be fought on the question about the protection of the countryside. Market forces will obviously be played to our advantage. We cannot pay service men at Catterick camp and RAF men at Leeming Bar on the basis of market forces, nor can we sustain farmers and people who work on the land if we apply strict market forces. I

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drop a few hints in that direction. There will be verdicts on house building, the need for local authorities to build old people's homes instead of building being done by the private sector. No doubt student loans will be part of the constituency's verdict. The plight of pensioners will be raised and how they compare miserably with other pensioners in the Common Market. No doubt there will be reference to why Ministers tell them to go to jumble sales to buy their clothes.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer should go there. If the writ is accepted, instead of being in purdah between now and 14 March, the Chancellor of the Exchequer should pay a long visit to the constituency. He should take note of all the considerations to which I have referred and all the issues that will undoubtedly crop up. Irrespective of the result, the verdict of the people will come down heavily in favour of providing services for the people, social services and better pensions, in favour of and helping those with mortgages, instead of pursuing the high interest rate policy. Instead of spending a few weeks alone, if he does that, he will find out how people in that constituency--that microcosm of north Yorkshire--feel about the issues.

I offer that challenge to the Chancellor. It will be worthwhile. As Back Benchers, Opposition Members have managed to find out something about writs that we were never able to gauge before the debate took place. With those few words, I hope the debate has been helpful.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Will the hon. Gentleman please bring his motion to the Chair?

12.39 pm

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : I do not wish to pursue the political arguments that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made in his peroration because this is simply about the principle whether the writ should be moved for the constituency of Richmond, Yorks. I have no wish to delay the House unduly, but wish to concentrate on that issue.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman has today chosen to move the writ for the constituency which has been vacated by my right hon. and learned Friend, now Sir Leon Brittan. If I can catch the hon. Gentleman's eye and attention for a moment, I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman to cast his mind back 12 years when his then right hon. Friend, now Lord Jenkins of Hillhead who sits in the other place, was appointed President of the European Commission in about July 1976.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the right hon. Gentleman took up that post at the beginning of January 1977 and he may recall that no writ was moved for the subsequent by-election in Stechford for several months. It surprises me that the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure would not have wished to see the people of Stechford unpresented for so long--he might have argued, although I would not, that they had been unrepresented for many years before that--did not move the writ for Stechford.

The moving of that writ was delayed and delayed because the Government of the day thought that the position could only get better. If hon. Members recall the state of the economy in 1976-77 and the International Monetary Fund stepping in to take over the Treasury, they will find it hardly surprising that the Government felt that the position could get no worse politically and that perhaps it could get better. As a result, they delayed through January and February until eventually well into

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March they moved the writ and the by- election took place on 31 March--three full months after the right hon. Gentleman, now Lord Jenkins, had taken up the post as President of the European Commission.

The hon. Gentleman will recall clearly that the Budget took place in the week preceding the by-election. I recall sitting in the Washwood Heath Conservative Club with the press in some fear--as we appeared to be winning the by-election--that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, would pull a few rabbits out of the hat and we would see that lead disappear. While I listened to that Budget broadcast, the journalist next to me turned and shook my hand, saying, "You're the next Member for Stechford after that Budget. It is deeply unpopular and there is no way that the people of Stechford will vote for the Labour candidate." That Labour candidate is now the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis).

What we and perhaps even the hon. Member for Bolsover did not know at that time--he can correct me if I am wrong--was that the right hon. Member for Leeds, East was not in control of the Treasury. It was being run by the IMF. Even if he had wanted to help the Labour candidate retain Stechford, he could not have done so because matters were beyond his control.

There was a second reason why the people of Stechford did not vote in sufficient numbers for the Labour candidate. It had nothing to do with him but was because they felt that they had been disfranchised for a long time, and they resented that their Member of Parliament, who had not been the most assiduous attender in the constituency of Stechford since it was formed in 1950, had gone to Brussels and his party had not seen fit to move the writ. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bolsover is a reformed character and now believes that writs should be moved more quickly, especially those involving European Commissioners.

The hon. Member for Bolsover said that he was seeking opinions. Like me, he is aware that, if the motion is defeated, another motion cannot be moved for three months, which would as unfairly disfranchise the people of Richmond, Yorks as the Labour party unfairly disfranchised the people of Stechford in 1977. I hope that, in the light of my comments and those of other hon. Members--some of whom have intervened and others of whom will try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker--the hon. Gentleman will decide that a majority in the House oppose the motion and that he will withdraw it. There are three reasons why the writ should not be moved. One is the new register, to which the hon. Member for Bolsover referred. He acknowledged, rightly, that it would be undemocratic to follow the old register because a large number of people who now live in Richmond, Yorks would be disfranchised. I think that most hon. Members would agree that we should follow the new register. It will not be published until next month and must be checked, so we will not be able to work off it until the end of February. I think that the hon. Member for Bolsover agrees that all candidates in the campaign would want the new register to be confirmed from the campaign's outset so that they could canvass and issue leaflets throughout the election, knowing full well they were targeting the existing residents of the constituency. I submit that there is no need to move the writ in the middle of January, because the by-election should take place on the basis of the new register. The convention is that

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campaigns may take place over a three-week period, so it would seem more appropriate for the writ to be moved next month, with the by-election being in early March.

Ms. Abbott : I am astonished at the hon. Gentleman. We are talking about a serious matter--when the by-election in Richmond, Yorks will be held and who will represent the residents, possibly for many years to come. It is appalling for the hon. Gentleman to say that the matter should be decided on the mere technicality of the state of the register. That shows a lack of seriousness about the political issues. We should not have regard to technicalities, the register, number crunching and procedure. We should decide the date of the by-election on the serious political issues and other issues, such as the weather--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I thought that the hon. Lady was making an intervention, not a speech.

Mr. MacKay : The only point on which I can agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) is that William Hague will represent Richmond, Yorks for many years to come. I am sad that the hon. Lady disagrees with the hon. Member for Bolsover and other Labour Members who, in earlier interventions, made it clear that they thought that the register was important. It cannot be right that people are unable to vote. It is important in our democracy that we encourage as many people as possible to vote in elections. The easiest way to do that is to ensure that the register is kept up-to-date. If it is a matter of the constituency of Richmond, Yorks, or any other consitituency, being unrepresented for a few weeks before a new register is available, I think that most hon. Members would willingly agree to wait.

Mrs. Wise : We would not all agree with my hon. Friend, although I normally agree with her. Number-crunching is precisely what elections are about : that is the essence of them. I feel that it would be improper for the House to try to decide by-election dates on judgment of the issues. The priority ought to be the interests of the electors, in which context the new register is an important consideration.

Mr. MacKay : It is unusual for the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) to come to my support, but I hope that this is the first of many such occasions.

Mr. Cohen : I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the use of the new register, and I agree that it is best to use it so that the majority of people have an opportunity to vote. But his remarks were somewhat hollow, coming from someone who supports the poll tax, which will take many people off the register--perhaps not in Richmond, but later on. They will then lose the right to vote.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is the by-election in Richmond that we are debating.

Mr. MacKay : I am tempted to answer back, because I entirely disagree with the hon. Gentleman's bogus point, but I shall not do so because I would be out of order. There will be other occasions on which to explain to the hon. Gentleman that the community charge will have no adverse effect whatever on the register.

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The hon. Member for Bolsover has mocked many of his colleagues who have talked about the weather. He was particularly unfair when responding to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), He said that there would be no problem : if by-elections in Scotland were held in the winter, why should they not be held in the winter in other constituencies?

This is the second reason why I should like the hon. Gentleman to think again. There is, I think, a subtle difference between rural and urban constituencies. Let us say for the sake of argument that there is a massive snowfall in Govan, where the hon. Gentleman's party had such a disastrous result in the most recent by-election. In the event of such a snowfall in the centre of a large city, I think that the majority of people would still be able to go to the polls. It would be different in a rural constituency area--of massive dimensions, as the hon. Member for Bolsover and others have mentioned today. An election on a very snowy day in Richmond would be a complete mockery. I agree with the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and other Opposition Members who have said that it would be wrong to hold a Richmond by-election at a time when it is likely to be very snowy and many people will be unable to go to the polls.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. MacKay : I will, because I know my hon. Friend's experience of the area.

Mr. Holt : As the Member of Parliament present who lives closest to the constituency--and bordering on the north side--let me take the argument to its logical conclusion. We had snow in November, and we frequently have snow in May. Is my hon. Friend suggesting that the only time at which a by- election is possible is in August?

Mr. MacKay : I do not wish to become involved in an argument about the depth of the snow, although I suspect that in the peripheral of months of May and November it is quite light. All that concerns the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and myself is the possibility of a snowstorm that would close the roads and stop people from going to the polls. I suspect that that is likely to happen in February and early March, which is why I am encouraging the hon. Member for Bolsover to consider not moving the writ until a by-election can take place in late March or early April.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : Does my hon. Friend agree that what the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) said earlier was absolute nonsense? It is terribly important that the by- election should be on the new register, especially in view of the substantial number of service men who live in Richmond and presumably vote there. Service men are particularly mobile, and a register 18 months out of date would disfranchise many of those in Richmond.

Mr. MacKay : I hope that the hon. Member for Bolsover will take particular note of what my hon. Friend has said, as he has a large service vote and understands the way in which the service vote moves around the country, so that the service men can easily be disfranchised. I suspect that in the light of the intervention from her hon.

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Friend the Member for Preston the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington will reconsider what she said earlier. My final reason for believing that the writ should not be moved is my view that conventions, if they work well, need not be changed. I know that the hon. Member for Bolsover is no reactionary and considers himself a radical Member of the House, but the convention of the party that has held the seat moving the writ seems to have worked tolerably well for a long time. The hon. Gentleman quoted "Erskine May", and it was clear that it is the norm for the party holding the seat to move the writ, although it is perfectly in order for any other hon. Member to move it. That, of course, is why we are having today's debate. That convention has served the hon. Gentleman's party and the minority parties perfectly well. To break it will set an unfortunate precedent that will hurt right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House.

As I said at the outset, it is not my intention to delay the House and to prevent others from speaking. However, I again ask the hon. Member for Bolsover to consider carefully my remarks and the interventions both from the Opposition and Government Benches. When the time comes to decide whether to press his motion, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that the majority of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House are against the writ being moved now. There is clearly also an overwhelming majority of right hon. and hon. Members who do not want to see a vote that will lead to the disfranchisement of the people of Richmond for at least three months.

Mr. Leigh : I beg to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : A number of right hon. and hon. Members still wish to catch my eye, and I believe that the House wishes to hear their views.

Mr. Leigh : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I respect your judgment, but the debate has continued for three and one-half hours. Those who wish to frustrate the right of a hon. Member whose motion has come first in the ballot--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is dangerously near to challenging my ruling. I know that he will not persist. I call Mrs. Audrey Wise.

Mr. Brazier : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I refer to your earlier ruling, when you referrred the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, who is now in the Chamber. I remind you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the Select Committee made several recommendations to curb abuses of the kind that is now occurring. The House has not yet been given an opportunity to debate those recommendations. The House has debated the writ for three and one-half hours. Will there be an opportunity to reach the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), which came top in the ballot? Many people throughout the country will be disappointed that their elected representatives are unable to debate a subject on which there is such strong feeling.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Whatever may be the Select Committee's recommendations, it is not for me to

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anticipate the view of the House on those recommendations. I cannot be seen to pre-empt the House in that way. As to the hon. Gentleman's request for an assurance that his hon. Friend's motion will be reached, clearly I cannot predict the course of events. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned to make progress it will help if right hon. and hon. Members do not persist in raising points of order.

Mr. Alton : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I join the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) in making a plea to you that the matter will be expeditiously placed before the Select Committee on Procedure. Many people in the country, learning of these proceedings--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not catch my earlier ruling. I advised that if he is sufficiently concerned about today's events, he should consider making a submission to the Select Committee on Procedure himself, rather than have me do so on his behalf.

Mr. Alton : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I heard your earlier ruling, but I wish to press you on this point. Although I am prepared to make representations to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, who is in his place, I hope that the Chair will ponder on what has occurred today. It is not right hon. and hon. Members who must be satisfied about the way in which we conduct ourselves, but the general public--who may come to believe that our proceedings are a circus, and that we make a travesty of democracy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I assure the hon. Gentleman that Mr. Speaker will be in the Chair for the latter part of today's proceedings. In any case, I know that he will study carefully the record of today's proceedings. I am certain also that the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure will note what has been said.

Mr. Holt : Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You said that your ruling was based on the number of hon. Members who were rising. On other similar occasions during my few years in the House Mr. Speaker has made his rulings according to whether he considers that the issue has been sufficiently debated--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I fear that the hon. Gentleman did not listen with sufficient care to what I said. I said that a number of hon. Members were rising and furthermore that I thought that the House would wish to hear other voices before reaching a conclusion.

Mr. Tony Banks : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a member of the Procedure Committee myself, I have learnt a great deal about the inadequacy of our procedures by sitting through today's proceedings. The debate has certainly not been wasted on me. I would ask you, Sir, to remind hon. Members that they should not refer to the moving of a writ as an abuse or a dilatory motion. It is a matter of privilege, which is why it has precedence over the other business.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : I said earlier that it was not a dilatory motion.

Mr. Flannery : Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It ill-becomes hon. Members who have

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tried to jump the queue and to stop other hon. Members' Bills coming in their proper order to try to stifle democracy by stopping us speaking.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman is opening the door to a much wider debate, and to a debate different from that which we ought to be having.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance as to when we might put the closure motion--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should be well aware by now that the Chair never does that. It would be quite improper for the chair to seek to give an indication of when it might be wise or unwise for an hon. Member to move the closure. The Chair has to judge the matter when it arises and in the light of the circumstances.

Miss Widdecombe : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have held back from making this point of order because I was hoping that we would eventually move on to discuss my motion. At least half a dozen allegations of queue-jumping have been made. [ Hon. Members :-- "Correct allegations."] Whatever else the motion was intended to achieve, it was not intended to achievethat--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order.

Miss Widdecombe : If hon. Members--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady must resume her seat when I am on my feet. I am sure that she will understand straight away from the response to what she has already said the difficulties to which she is exposing the Chair. If hon. Members make provocative statements in the guise of point of order, the Chair feels that it is under a heavy obligation to allow others to put a contrary point of view, which takes us into a very different debate. I think that we should return to the writ for the Richmond by-election.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett rose --

Miss Widdecombe rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. If hon. Members complain that we are not moving with sufficient haste towards other matters that are down for debate, they are not strengthening their case by persistently raising points of order, some of which have very little substance.

Miss Widdecombe : Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am persisting because the allegation of queue jumping has been made and it reflects on me. That is why I seek the leave of the House briefly to explain why, in my view those allegations are not substantiated--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I thought that I had made it clear to the hon. Lady that that is exactly what she cannot do. I think that I have shown her a fair amount of tolerance by allowing her to refute the point and I hope that she will not persist. As I have already said to her, if I allowed her to make the statement that she seeks to make I should have no option but to allow other hon. Members to put a contrary view. I hope that we can get on with the debate.

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Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will agree that during the past three and half hours we have had a substantial debate on the question of the writ. In seeking to hear the different voices will you, Sir, rule hon. Members out of order if they repeat time and time again points that have already been made?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Hon. Members will be aware that repetitiveness is a ground of reproach from the Chair, but I have not so far detected repetitiveness to the point at which such reproach would be justified.

1.04 pm

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : Normally I would consider that a by- election should be called as quickly as possible after the occurrence of the vacancy. As a general principle, we want people to be unrepresented for as short a time as possible. The keen interest which has been shown in this debate illustrates that I am not alone in my anxiety that it should be dealt with carefully. Generally speaking, the calling of a writ is not dealt with with sufficient seriousness by Back Benchers, nor is there sufficient participation by Back Benchers, who can represent the interest of electors at large. It is too commonly thought to be a routine matter which should be left entirely to those on the Front Benches. That is not a view that I hold. Incidentally, I would draw hon. Members' attention to the fact that an extraordinarily large number of private Members have participated in today's proceedings. Those who apparently seek to defend the interests of private Members are ignoring the fact that many private Members on both sides have spoken on this procedural motion. This is an odd Friday, because all the business before us is procedural. Some Members, however, seek to give preference to one procedural motion over another, but that can be no more than an expression of their opinions.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : The only reason that I am here today is that I optimistically hoped that we would reach motion No. 2 on the Order Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), because his motion refers to South Yorkshire and Humberside, in which my constituency is situated.

Mrs. Wise : The hon. Gentleman is optimistic, but I believe it will have done him no harm to be present in the House on a Friday. I am not averse to the idea that private Members should from time to time be present on a Friday even if, as I do, they represent provincial constituencies. It is a day when the private Members have the Floor and we should take advantage of that.

Mr. Irvine Patnick (Sheffield, Hallam) : As a Back Bencher on the Government side, I took part in a ballot to secure an opportunity to bring forward our problems in South Yorkshire. I believed that I would have an opportunity of discussing those problems. If I was my usual self, I would say that the House has spent a long time on motion No. 1. I believe that there are other subjects that are of interest to my constituents--as well as to the country--which should be debated.

Mrs. Wise : Of course, there are many other subjects. However, we are not dealing with other subjects, we are dealing with the business in front of the House. Although

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hon. Members may wish to press their constituency interests before the procedural needs of the House and the country, they are not entitled to any special consideration.

I shall now return to the narrow matter on which I started. As a general principle, I am in favour of by-elections being held quickly. Sir Leon Brittan, who has vacated the seat at Richmond, would have done his electors a favour if he had made his decision earlier. If he had done so, we could have had this election back in October and none of us would have needed to get to our feet today--or had the right to do so. If hon. Members wish to complain, they should complain to Sir Leon Brittan, who has placed the House and his former constituents in an invidious position.

A lot of comments have been made about the procedures of the House. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has done the House a favour in exposing certain peculiarities which I did not know existed, and of which, certainly, the people of this country are unaware. It is a matter of considerable interest, for example, that European Community rules and not rules of the House provoked the by-election.

We should consider carefully the list of disqualifying offices. One of the oddities that baffles the public is the procedure for applying for Northstead or whatever it is--[ Hon. Members :-- "The Manor of Northstead."] I am back in the days of the Chiltern Hundreds, which was hard enough to comprehend. Once the Chiltern Hundreds was left, I and most of the population were left behind. The House has a duty to ensure that the list of disqualifying offices and the procedures whereby Members of Parliament can resign from the House should be made much clearer.

Mr. Couchman : I am sure that the hon. Lady will be interested to know that on my second day in this House after being elected in June 1983 I was urgently summoned by the Deputy Chief Whip. I thought that it was a bit early to be in trouble with him, but he had read that I was the chairman of a health authority, which had appeared in the small biographical details published in The Times on the Saturday after a general election. There was great concern that I was still chairman of that health authority and, therefore, disbarred from taking my seat.

I was able to assure the Deputy Chief Whip that I had resigned in time, and had been perfectly entitled to stand as candidate for election and take my seat in the House. Due to a slip-up by The Times , it had failed to note that I had resigned from that position. It was only by luck that I knew that I had to do so to take a seat in this place. I agree with the hon. Lady that the list of disqualifying offices should be made more public and comprehensive. People who hold such positions should understand that they may not take a seat in this House.

Mrs. Wise : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for recounting his experience, and he is right. I hope that this matter will be considered closely by the House because it is important. It would have been extremely embarrassing for the Conservative party if the hon. Gentleman had not discovered--by luck--that he had to resign from the health authority. He may have had a short life in this House. I would not have regretted that, but I am sure that he and his colleagues would have done. If we allow such important matters to be decided by luck, it demonstrates the careless way in which we conduct our procedures.

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We must use our prerogative as Back Benchers to intervene in this matter rather than leaving it to the Front Bench spokesmen. We must decide as objectively as possible the proper way in which to proceed. We must also consider the interests of the electorate in the most careful and objective way possible. For that reason I am departing from my normal view that speed is the overriding factor in by-elections.

I believe that in the constituency of Richmond, Yorks there are people whose interests would be disadvantaged by an early election--the female electorate. I tried to make that point in earlier interventions, but, I fear, without much success. It is difficult for this House to consider women's interests because the vast majority of hon. Members--through no fault of their own--are men. They must try to overcome that disadvantage and look at matters through our eyes now and again. If I were an ordinary voter in Richmond, I have no doubt that I would be extremely keen that an election should be held quickly, but I would also be keen to ensure that that election would take place at a time when its conduct and the weather conditions would be as conducive as possible to political discussions.

Mr. Michael Brown : The hon. Lady is making the point about women representing Richmond. I can tell her that I understand that the Social and Liberal Democrats have selected a female candidate. The only problem for them is that she appears on the electoral register in my constituency. If the writ is issued, the SLD will say that it has the local candidate who lives in the constituency whereas she is actually on the new electoral register in my constituency and lives about two miles from me.

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