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Mrs. Wise : Obviously, that is not a matter for me to comment on, but one to be sorted out in the hurly-burly of the election when it comes. I would not like to be misinterpreted in my remarks because I am not seeking to favour one candidate over another, even though one of them happens to be a women. I believe that the disadvantages attached to being an SLD candidate outweigh even the advantage of being a women candidate. My concern is for women in general in the constituency and the attitude that the House shows to women. Many hon. Members get up and say what women should do, how they should behave and how they should be represented, yet they do not take into account even the views expressed by the majority of women in the House. I have taken grave exception--although I have been careful not to rise to the bait--to the accusations that we are engaging in scandalous conduct. We are seeking this morning to protect the interests of women voters and we shall have the support of women voters in Richmond and elsewhere in our attempt to do that. The right for Back Benchers to intervene on the matter of whether a writ should be moved should be regarded as a precious right. There could be many occasions when there was collusion among Front Benchers that needed to be challenged by Back Benchers. I believe in the rights of Back Benchers, but I do not believe that those rights are expressed only, or even best, by considering who has won the raffle on a particular occasion. There are other rights and procedures, such as the one being invoked today, that are equally a part of Back Benchers' rights.
I have endeavoured to persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover that he would be wrong to pursue
Column 645the matter to a vote. I understand his feeling that there may be political advantage for us in having an early election, but I urge him to reconsider even that point because it could be held that the longer the campaign goes on and the longer there can be heightened interest in the constituency and the country at large, the better it will be for us because in the next few weeks, there will be more disclosures about electricity and water such as the interesting disclosures we have heard in the past week. However, that should not be our main consideration. Hon. Members on both sides may bring forward points of political advantage. We should be considering what will be helpful to the people of Richmond. The weather, the difficulties of transport in a rural area, the age of people on the voting register, the difficulty in ensuring that people have had a proper opportunity for postal votes, the problems not only of women but of elderly people and the fact that in a rural area people without cars are highly disadvantaged should lead my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover to withdraw his motion. I hope that he will do so and although I hope that he will not take us into the Lobby, in asking him to withdraw his motion I congratulate him on ensuring that extremely important and interesting issues that are not usually aired have been disclosed to us this morning.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : We are dealing with the motion for the granting of a writ for the Richmond, Yorks by-election. It is clear that extensive comment, directed solely to the character and career of Sir Leon Brittan would not be in order. I shall therefore confine myself to saying that the electors of Richmond
Mr. Dalyell : I know that that is the Chair's view, but may I ask by what reference we cannot consider the career and credentials of Sir Leon Brittan? I am willing to believe that that is so, but where is the reference?
Mr. Dalyell : Is it the assertion of the right hon. Gentleman--with all the authority of his great office speaking from the Dispatch Box--that we cannot consider the background of Sir Leon Brittan? I am simply asking by what authority the House of Commons, in discussing a writ, cannot consider an aspect of the background of Sir Leon Brittan and, especially, why certain things should not be brought before a tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 before we agree to do anything.
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his view, but I am also entitled to mine. I do not believe that this motion is suitable for this occasion. However, whether or not the motion is suitable for the occasion and whether or not the hon. Gentleman seeks to raise matters under it will be a matter for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should the hon. Gentleman catch your eye and seek to widen the debate in that fashion. I shall content myself by saying that
Column 646the electors of Richmond have been fortunate. For the past 14 years they have been represented by a most distinguished Member of this House. His long career on the Front Bench, both in Opposition and in Government, never prevented him from taking an assiduous interest in his constituents and working effectively on their behalf. We wish him and his colleague, the other new British Commissioner in the European Community, Mr. Bruce Millan, well in their new roles.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : On too many occasions by-elections are caused by deaths, over which no one has any control at the time, but on this occasion the by-election is caused by resignation. Surely Sir Leon Brittan should have taken into account the problems that would be faced by electors in his constituency. By staying on until Christmas he has left them with the prospect either of a by-election in some of the most difficult weather that we are likely to experience or of being unrepresented until April or May.
Mr. Wakeham : I have absolutely no doubt that my friend Sir Leon Brittan considered carefully all the issues facing him when he was offered his new job and had to decide the best course of action and the best way in which he could be of service to his country and to his constituents. He decided--rightly, I believe--to accept the important position that he now holds in Brussels and in which he will do an excellent job.
Mr. Dalyell rose --
It would be churlish, on whatever side of the argument one is, not to congratulate the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on his feat in moving the motion earlier today. It was a parliamentary occasion of particular significance and I am bound to say that it was very good. It reminded me of the last time I sat through an occasion of similar significance. It was when I was first elected to this House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) addressed the House for about four and a half hours on something about which he felt strongly. I did not rise higher than the position of glass carrier on that occasion. The hon. Member for Bolsover has achieved about 66 per cent. of the record of my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point. On that basis, I reckon that some time during the next 20 years or so he will be a serious candidate for the role of father of the House.
Sir Bernard Braine : I would not want my right hon. Friend to be inaccurate. I spoke for three hours and 16 minutes and was told at the time that that was the longest speech by a Back-Bench Member since 1828. It has since been surpassed. The point to be made--I should prefer my right hon. Friend make it rather than me--is that I was fighting for the safety of my constituents, a one-man battle on behalf of one constituency. The government of the day, a Labour Government, listened and set up an inquiry of a kind which led step by step to the greater safety of my constituents. There was a purpose in what I did.
Column 647boundaries changed and I moved to a different part of Essex slightly north of where I had been before, more people still thought that he was the Member of Parliament for the constituency that I had represented for 10 years than recognised that I had come and gone from the area. My right hon. Friend is distinguished in many fields, but no Member for Parliament--
Mr. Wakeham : I give way to nobody when I am paying a tribute to my right hon. Friend the father of the House. My right hon. Friend is distinguished for many things, and the vigorous way in which he fought for his constituents over the Canvey Island problem as he saw them and achieved substantial improvements over many years are a lesson for all of us.
Mrs. Gorman : The Leader of the House has brought an interesting matter to our attention, but before we sink into a slough of self- congratulation it is worth telling the House that Mr. Gorbachev often speaks in the Praesidium for eight hours while in Cuba speeches often go on for eight days non-stop. We have many targets yet to reach.
Mr. Wakeham : If my hon. Friend is recommending speeches of five hours or eight hours, good luck to her. I am not in favour of that, but when a Member makes a speech of some significance it is right not to be churlish.
I have one other important point to make about procedure. It is quite wrong to say, as some hon. Members have said, that the procedure Committee suggested any changes in procedure about the moving of writs. While I recognise that the Procedure Committee report has not yet been put to the House for decision, these matters were around not very long ago and I can only assume that the Procedure Committee was satisfied with the existing procedures of the House.
Mr. Tony Banks : As a member of the Procedure Committee I can confirm everything that the Leader of the House says. It has been an interesting exercise and members of the Procedure Committee who have been in their places during this debate will have learnt some valuable lessons. The right hon. Gentleman touched on the Procedure Committee report. Will he take this opportunity to tell us when we are to have a debate on it?
Mr. Wakeham : I cannot tell the House the date for a debate, but if there is a general desire to have one I shall arrange it. I hope that when we have it hon. Members will read the report before they take part. The report does not contain proposals as revoluntionary as some people seem to think. As I understand it, the report said in summary that two of the Fridays at present used for the remaining stages of private Bills should be lost and that two Mondays should be substituted. That is three extra hours for private Members. The report also said this was referred to in the debate--that private Members' business should not go on beyond 2.30 pm on a Friday.
Mr. Alton : The Leader of the House will recall that there is a precedent for what has happened today. On that occasion, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) decided to move the writ for the Brecon and Radnor by-election because there was a motion before the House allowing time for consideration of Mr. Enoch Powell's Bill to protect human embryos. Is it mere coincidence that, when there are motions before the House to protect life,
Column 648such writs are moved to take up time and to prevent Parliament considering these life and death matters? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this is a travesty, it turns our proceedings into a circus and that many people outside this place will be bewildered by the way in which our proceedings are conducted?
Mr. Wakeham : I am not sure that I can totally agree with the hon. Gentleman, but if the Procedure committee could give the House some guidance as to whether it believes that this is the best way to proceed, that would be helpful to the House. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concern.
The hon. Gentleman who moved the issue of the writ did so in a speech that touched on a variety of aspects of the question before the House. A number of other hon. Members, in their interventions, made points that are often passed over in terms of discussion in the House when the issue of a writ is decided.
We also heard the more predictable intervention of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). My response to his question is equally predictable--I have nothing further to add to what I have already said. Instead, I shall briefly set out the Government's position for the motion itself. As the House knows, although there are no fixed rules in these matters there are firm conventions and guidelines which I believe are generally accepted. It is perhaps ironic that the more the House becomes familiar with these conventions through their discussion during debates on the moving of writs, the more important it is to reassert them because the debate very often arises, as is the case today, as a result of a deviation from them.
The first set of conventions relates to the timing of the motion for a writ. These were set out in a letter from Mr. Speaker Lloyd to the then Prime Minister on 26 November 1973 following the Speaker's Conference on electoral law. The main conclusion was that the motion for a writ for a by- election should normally be moved within three months of a vacancy arising. The reason for this recommendation is clearly that no constituency should be unrepresented for an undue length of time. In the present case, of course, the vacancy arose less than one month ago when Sir Leon Brittan accepted the office of steward or bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the Leader of the House agree that the reason for that Speaker's Conference in 1973 was the undue delay in calling by-elections on some occasions? Does he not think it time for the matter to be discussed at another Speaker's Conference? There is a difference between the holding of a by-election as a result of a person's intention to resign and the holding of a by-election as a result of a death. Would it not be much more appropriate to have a shorter period between a person announcing his intention to resign and the holding of a by-election?
Mr. Wakeham : I do not wish to make a snap judgment about whether these matters should be reconsidered. If there were a general desire to do so, they should be reconsidered, but the implication that a Member who has indicated his intention to resign or not to stand at the next election could not and does not discharge fully his duties to his constituents until the time he leaves the House is not an assertion that the hon. Gentleman would wish to push too far.
Mr. Bennett : I am not pushing that point. I am suggesting that the political parties could arrange for a by-election to take place quickly after a resignation when they know that it is about to happen. A three- month delay is unreasonable because the procedure can be arranged to ensure quicker continuity.
Mr. Wakeham : The convention is not that there shall be a three- month delay, but that the maximum period shall be three months. In some circumstances, it may be desirable and possible to move more quickly. We intend to abide by the first convention and to move the issue of the writ before the three months have elapsed. We are keen that the voters of Richmond, Yorks should speedily have the opportunity to return a Conservative Member of Parliament, as they have done in every general election since 1918. We have an excellent candidate and we look forward to a good campaign.
It is certainly our intention to abide by the second convention, which states that such motions should be moved by the party whose hon. Member formerly occupied the seat and that it should have priority choosing the date of the by-election. In practice, the motion for the issue of the writ is usually moved by the Chief Whip of the party concerned. We intend to abide by that second convention although the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) seeks to disregard it.
Although there is widespread respect in the House for the judgment and knowledge of the hon. Member for Bolsover in relation to matters of procedure, in this instance I should prefer to rely on the judgment of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary. As the House will recognise, if we simply vote against the motion moved by the hon. Member for Bolsover the House will have resolved not to issue the by-election writ and the electors of Richmond, Yorks will continue to be unrepresented. I therefore beg to move, That the Question be not now put.
Mr. Alton rose --
This morning we heard a tour de force from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in moving the writ for the Richmond, Yorks by- election. Those of us who were privileged to be present in the Chamber will be aware that he made skilled use of the procedures of the House, but relied even more on the singularity of his own wit in a way which everyone who heard him will remember for a long time. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover raised a number of significant issues for the House to consider. He did us a service, although he did not talk very much about the circumstances of the departure of the former right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks, Sir Leon Brittan, or the circumstances in which the election will take place. In summary, we could say that Sir Leon Brittan's
Column 650relationship with his constituency involved him being parachuted in and helicoptered out. However, we do not want to talk about that at any great length.
I want to consider some of the very important issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover.
Mr. Dalyell : Did my hon. Friend notice the Parliamentary invention of the Leader of the House? The Leader of the House said that we must not discuss Sir Leon Brittan because that would be out of order. He then proceeded to give his views. I asked as politely as I could what authority was used and I was told that the Leader of the House did not know. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Leader of the House used an invention of convenience which we often see used to the disadvantage of Back Benchers when a Minister goes to the Dispatch Box and off the top of his head, for the convenience of the moment, invents an authority which simply does not exist?
Mr. Dobson : I am not aware of anything in "Erskine May" or from anything else that I have read or heard which suggests that in moving a writ, right hon. and hon. Members may not say things about the departing Member no matter whether that Member may have died or resigned. The Leader of the House seemed to invent a wonderful compromise precedent. He said that we could not discuss anything about Sir Leon Brittan, but he would like to say a few nice words about him. It is apparently a precedent with a ratchet--everything that is good can be said, and nothing that is bad is to be heard. If he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) will seek to remedy the imbalance that has already crept into the debate.
One of the major points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover was that the rules state that, when a Member accepts a disqualifying office, he will in effect be disqualified from membership of the House. Unless I have been supplied by the Library with an outdated version of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 as amended, or I cannot read it properly, membership of the European Commission does not of itself appear to be a disqualifying office. Under our law, there was no obligation for Sir Leon Brittan to resign, either when he accepted the post of European Commissioner, which was clearly in July of last year, or when he took it up, which was on 1 January of this year.
We seem to be in a rather remarkable situation. It appears that we are not bound by our own domestic law but by European Community law on the matter, because European Commissioners must swear an oath of loyalty to the European Commission and all its works. Moreover, they forswear any loyalty to the country from which they come. Clearly, that would be inappropriate for a Member of this House.
Mr. Dobson : As is sometimes the case, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has raised a question to which I have no answer. Perhaps he should address it to those Privy Councillors who take up such positions or those Privy Councillors who appoint them. It seems to be an oddity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has done us all a favour and a service by raising this important point.
Column 651If we are to disqualify 10 or a dozen closely printed lists of people from membership of the House, European Commissioners, who forswear any loyalty to this country to take up their office, should be on the list. I do not think that they are covered by the exclusion which refers to any member of the Foreign Compensation Commission, which is a disqualified office. Many Opposition Members consider that we have still not received sufficient foreign compensation for our membership of the EEC.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : I should like to pursue the matter relating to the Privy Council. It is rather interesting that Roy Jenkins went to the Commission. When he returned to the House, he kept his title, and he certainly kept his privileges. It was suggested that he wanted also to keep a particular seat. That is pushing it a bit too far.
Mr. Dobson : To some of us, there certainly seemed to be a touch of having his cake and eating it or, as it turned out, later, his own cake and eating it, when "Jock" Jenkins was returned for the seat of Glasgow, Hillhead. He then came back and claimed all the privileges of a Privy Councillor. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) raised an important point.
The other point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover raised, to which we clearly need to pay some attention, is the distinction between the two sets of circumstances which disqualify people from membership of the House. The disqualifying offices relate to someone who is not a Member and prevent him becoming a Member, but the disqualifying offices also disqualify people who are Members if they take up one of the disqualifying offices once they have become a Member. From the procedures followed in this case it appears that, strictly speaking, even then they are not disqualified immediately from membership of the House, but are expected to take up one of the mythical posts of steward or bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds or steward or bailiff of the Manor of Northstead, which is what has happened in this case.
The main reason why my hon. Friend moved the motion in favour of issuing the writ was that the House could consider these important matters. Broadly speaking, that purpose has been served. But it would not serve the House or the electors of Richmond for us to proceed any further because, as most hon. Members will be aware, if the motion were passed today, the immediate consequence would be a by-election which would not have been called at the time most convenient to the party whose member previously represented the seat--in this case the Tory party. Given the weather and geography it may not be a reasonable time for the electors to be expected to get around. I know that the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) is no longer present. For some obscure reason he has been insisting that the Pennines are not involved in this. He must think that the constituency is truncated and runs from near his constituency to the town of Richmond, but does not cover Wensleydale and Swaledale into the high Pennines, as it does. If the nearest local Tory Member is unaware of the geography of the constituency, it shows what close attention the Tory party is paying to the interests of the farmers in the dales.
Column 652of Pontypridd--my hon. Friend knows that I am sitting waiting to move the writ for Pontypridd--are represented in this place as fast as possible. I am surprised that he wants to deprive the people of Richmond, Yorks, of that right.
Mr. Dobson : With due deference to my hon. Friend, most hon. Members agree that the sooner the by-election, the better. But the convention is that a by-election should be called within three months of the event which necessitated it, and it is the Government's stated intention to comply with that. We shall comply with that convention and we expect them to do so. To press them for swifter progress than that may be unfair, particularly in the geographical and climatic circumstances which can prevail in Swaledale and Wensleydale in February and March.
Several hon. Members have drawn attention to their shivering experiences at Catterick camp during the winter. They know how cold it can get there. Even my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) pointed out that some times when the weather is not too inclement in Scotland it is still starkly cold in that part of the Pennines. Considerations in the interests of the voters are important.
All those consequences would result from the motion being passed today and what the Government might describe as a precipitate by-election. If the motion were not passed, the electors of Richmond, Yorks would not have the opportunity to cast their votes or to be represented by anyone until the next parliamentary Session. It would not be right for the electors of Richmond, Yorks to be deprived of representation that long.
In his brilliant speech on the motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover raised a number of significant issues relating to the issuing of writs, the calling of by-elections and, especially, the relationship of the House to well-paid appointees in the European Community--a matter which the House had not previously addressed or properly clarified and to which we should pay some attention. We owe my hon. Friend a debt of gratitude for raising those issues and for providing a well-informed and entertaining speech to occupy a substantial part of the morning. All of that was done when his throat was not in the best of condition. Over the past few days he has had a bit of a cold, so his speech is all the more to his credit. Although I was delighted to listen to my hon. Friend raise these major issues, I am not delighted at the prospect of his motion being put to the vote. That would be in breach of the general conventions on the calling of by-elections as agreed between the two parties--or, as my hon. Friend might see it, between the two Front Benches. It could result in a breach of that convention or in the by-election not being called in this parliamentary Session.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : There is one aspect on which my hon. Friend has not elaborated. Will he bear in mind that, before departing for the Common Market, Leon Brittan claimed that he would represent the nation's interests in the Common Market? No doubt that would have been noted in some detail by the electorate in the Richmond area because he was the local Member of Parliament. We know that he has to make a comprehensive oath to the College of the Commission which precludes the representation of national interests in
Column 653that College. Therefore, surely some time is necessary for this information to be disseminated in the Richmond area before a by-election can take place.
Mr. Dobson : I look forward to participating in the dissemination of that information. Indeed, I have been to Richmond a couple of times since the appointment of Leon Brittan was first mentioned. In deference to the convention introduced by the Leader of the House, I shall say nothing against our candidate, Mr. Frank Robson, in the Richmond, Yorks by- election, but I shall say a few things in his favour. He is a local man, a farmer, a man of great talent and wit and--this may be of some significance in relation to Catterick camp--a man with a startling war record. Many people are proud of what they did in the second world war, but our candidate has cause to be proud--
We think of the efforts and sacrifices made by people like Frank Robson, who did not run up Gold beach on D Day but was one of those paratroopers who parachuted behind the German lines to capture bridges so that they were not blown up to stop the allies establishing a beachhead on Normandy. Frank Robson is a man of great heroism, with an outstanding war record, which I am convinced will appeal to the people of Richmond, Yorks and, not least, to the soldiers at Catterick camp and those in the Air Force at RAF Leeming.
Having rightly paid tribute to our candidate, I shall now give way to other hon. Members. Once again, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover on his motion, but I hope that he will not put it to the vote.
Sir Peter Emery (Honiton) : It is with considerable sadness that I rise to speak. In the realm of parliamentary procedure, the steps taken today make for an unhappy situation. It seems to me rather like an old and broken love affair--the rejected supplicant devoted, keen and eager, willing to do anything to further
"the dedicated intent whilst the emotions against are relaxed and elated, knowing that whatever unusual or even unkind steps are taken the position will be secure."
First, let me make it clear--as there appears to be doubt in the media-- that you, Mr. Speaker, had no alternative but to call the moving of the writ as today's first business. The Chair showed no favouritism ; procedure made it clear that the first order of business had to be the calling of the writ, if it was to be moved. People outside must also know that at no time today, irrespective of what had happened, would it have been in order to debate the Abortion Bill [Interruption.] Today's debate is concerned entirely with procedural matters concerning whether a writ should be moved, or concerning private Members' time.
Mr. Tony Banks : I apologise to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure. He is raising some important points, and those of us who are following the debate to the end want to hear the conclusions that he is
Column 654drawing from his own experience. I should be most grateful, as, I am sure, would other hon. Members, if conversations both inside and outside the confines of the Chamber would cease.
Mr. Cryer : I am trying to concentrate on what the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is saying, because as Chairman of the Procedure Committee he has a good deal to say, and I want to encourage his hon. Friends to concentrate on his speech as well.
As I was saying, at no time have matters other than procedural matters been before the House today. What makes members of the Procedure Committee sad is this. The Committee is constantly fighting Governments of both parties to try to obtain more time for private Members' motions and private Members' Bills, and it cannot benefit the House for private Members' time-- whatever the motion, and whether or not one is in favour of it--to be frustrated.
Today we are seeking the establishment of another precedent that I do not think the House will welcome. I think that the use of dilatory motions should be strictly limited. Otherwise it seems that it will be good practice to use such motions to stop the debate of a Labour Member's motion, perhaps about unemployment or the Health Service, which Conservative Members do not like.
I do not think that the position that I have described would please the Opposition, or that it is good parliamentary practice or procedure.
Mr. Alton : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the rights of all Back Benchers are at stake today. The public may come to regard the private Member as someone who is unable to introduce legislation and have it placed on the statute book. I refer to what occurred in this House one Friday, one year ago to the day, when, by a majority of 45, the Abortion (Amendment) Bill was given a Second Reading. Subsequently, that Bill was talked out. I refer also to Mr. Enoch Powell's Bill concerning human embryo experimentation, and to what is occurring today in respect of the motion in the name of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe). Surely the Chairman of the Select Committee accepts that the matter should be urgently considered at its next meeting.
Sir Peter Emery : Frankly, I do not see the situation to the same extent as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). When, on the last occasion, petitions were used to frustrate our proceedings, the Select Committee recommended that we should do away with that device. That motion was on the Order Paper for weeks or months at the end of last Session. We have not been given an opportunity to debate and pass that recommendation. It may be that we ought to consider matters other than the moving of petitions, including the moving of writs. I have no doubt that the Select Committee will consider that point.
Column 655When a right hon. or hon. Member tries to make a wangle and to wriggle around the normal, accepted procedure, others will be clever enough to find ways of countering that attempt. I condemn both sides in this argument. I do not believe that either of them are right. The reason for today's debate on the writ is that someone tried to give preference to the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), beyond that which Standing Orders allow.
Sir Peter Emery : Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to finish my sentence. However intent the House may be on the passing of the writ--and, observing you moving to the front of your seat, Mr. Speaker, I know that I must keep in order--or however intent one may be on trying to ensure a debate on the private Member's motion, the House's normal Standing Orders and precedent must be observed. If they are not, we run into the kind of nonsense that confronts us today--
Mr. Tony Banks : Speaking as a member of the Select Committee on Procedure, I admire the way in which the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) chairs it, and I enjoy working with him. Does he agree that we have learned one good thing today, which is the importance of that Committee? In this House, procedure is all-important. Right hon. and hon. Members should add their support to the pressure that both the hon. Gentleman and myself, and other members of the Select Committee exert on the Leader of the House for an early debate on its report.
Sir Peter Emery : The hon. Gentleman reiterates what his right hon. and hon. Friends and mine have been saying for months, if not years--that there is little point in having a Procedure Committee, in which many senior right hon. and hon. Members spend hours attempting to modernise slightly, but not revolutionise, the procedure of the House and drag it gently into the 20th century--let alone 1992--if, when the Committee has reported, the Government do not allow time to debate its recommendations. May I again make it absolutely clear--I know that I do not please certain hon. Friends- -that there is no doubt in the mind of anybody who is trying to be unbiased about it, that the use of private Members' motions on procedural items is unusual and should not be encouraged. When it is used to try to avoid procedure--that the House has defined--it does nobody any good, and stimulates exactly what has happened today. All hon. Members should learn that lesson, if they learn nothing else from today's happenings.
Sir Bernard Braine : Let us forget the shadow boxing and concentrate on the real issue which is, surely, the continued use of procedures in this House to block the passage of Bills that command a majority. Will the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure at least ask his Committee to address itself to that?
Column 656that such Bills take is not the majority of the House but a majority that is taken on a Division. [Interruption.] I know that right hon. and hon. Members do not like it but they must consider the facts. Any hon. Member who introduces private Members' legislation must know that the chance of getting it through is next to nothing unless it commands the majority of both sides of the House. The hon. Member for Mossley Hill knows that unless there is major agreement on both sides of the House, the chances of success are negligible and it has always been so. If certain of the legislation of the previous Parliament had been agreed by some opponents in a modified form I believe it would have been passed. If the hon. Gentleman does not meet the criticism he must expect to be defeated.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : My hon. Friend talks about hon. Members successfully introducing private Members' legislation. Does he not recall that a previous Labour Government allowed special time for the Abortion Act 1967 to be passed? Our Government are not giving similar time to enable Back Benchers to have a vote of the House.
Mrs. Wise : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been reluctant to intervene on issues that are not before the House but I must draw attention to the fact that several interventions--by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and others, in particular the latest one from the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E.
Kellett-Bowman)--were not related to the issue before us. They were criticisms of the Government's attitude on Government time and various other matters unrelated to the business before us. If they are to be allowed, the Opposition should be allowed to retaliate
Mr. Speaker : The interventions occurred during the speech of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who was speaking as Chairman of the Procedure Committee and they were taking up points that he had made.