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Column 991Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory
and Mr. Tom Sackville.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Godman, Dr Norman A.
Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Macdonald, Calum A.
Mahon, Mrs Alice
Pike, Peter L.
Quin, Ms Joyce
Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Frank Haynes and
Mrs. Llin Golding.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered this day.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be grateful if you could tell us whether you were notified of the intention of the new Leader of the House to make a business statement after midnight. Certainly the Opposition were not so notified-- [Interruption.] Given the chiacking of those opposite, normally referred to as the Conservative party, one would have expected them to endorse the idea that the customs and practices of the House should be carried out.
I think you will confirm that, certainly within the memory of any Opposition Member, it has been the custom and practice of the Government to inform the Opposition in advance of any intention to make a business statement in the House. We regard it as a most inauspicious start for the new Leader of the House, the first time some sort of crisis occurs, not to follow the usual courtesies. Therefore, I should be grateful to know whether you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were notified in advance. It is only right that hon. Members should know such things in advance so that they can be in their places if they so wish.
Let me take this opportunity to make it clear that, from 9 o'clock this evening, the official Opposition received no approaches whatever from the Government about any of the matters under consideration. [Interruption.] I understand from the cries from the Government Benches that many Conservative Members were not around. Opposition Members were present. This shambles, like the shambles of the carry-over Session, results from the Government's incompetence and inability to plan or to pass their legislation.
In view of the fact that 18 months ago I was criticised by Mr. Speaker for not making our protests about guillotine motions clear, it is proper for me to register the
Column 992fact that we are entirely dissatisfied about not receiving the usual warning or usual courtesies that make the usual channels possible.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I shall deal with this point of order first. I was not in the Chair at the time, but I understand that the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) is under a misapprehension. The Leader of the House rose to move that further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned. In doing so, as he was entitled to do, he made a speech. It is not customary for the Chair, or anyone else, to receive notice of such a motion.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short statement about the changes in the business for this week"? How was it possible for the people working the annunciator to display "Business Statement" on the annunciator when the Leader of the House rose, giving some hon. Members the opportunity to scurry into the Chamber? Why were we not given the normal warning? Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Let me deal with this point of order. I can only repeat what I have told the hon. Gentleman, which is that what happened was perfectly in order. It may be, and I shall make inquiries about this, that when the annunciator operators realised that in moving the motion the Leader of the House had made a statement about future business, they thought it might be of some assistance to display that for the House. I repeat that what happened was perfectly in order. The Leader of the House rose to move that further consideration of the Bill be now adjourned and made a short speech. It is not normal for the Chair, or anyone else, to be informed of when such a motion is to be moved.
Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The fact is that two items were dealt with. One was the motion that debate on the Companies Bill be adjourned, but there was a separate issue. The Leader of the House used the words "business statement" and announced changes in this week's business to the House. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were not in the Chair when I raised a point of order with Madam Deputy Speaker and asked for questions to be allowed. However, because the Leader of the House had not distinguished between the two items clearly, we continued by discussing the motion on the reporting of progress on the Companies Bill.
The changes that the Leader of the House has announced for the business for the week are still outstanding. I cannot recall any occasion when a business statement was made--those were the words that the Leader of the House used--but hon. Members were denied an opportunity to ask questions. I was denied the opportunity to finish my speech, but I would have incorporated questions to the Leader of the House in it, expecting him to reply at the end of the debate. That was stopped by the closure motion, which was accepted rather prematurely after only an hour and a half of debate.
Mr. Cryer : If I can explain, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was taking into account the fact that there is a convention that, ordinarily, a debate lasts two hours before a closure is accepted, but, occasionally and unusually, Mr. Speaker or a Deputy Speaker may accept a closure within a short time. This clearly must have been one of those occasions.
Surely hon. Members should be allowed to ask questions on the business statement, as is the usual custom and practice of the House, long hallowed by the tradition of this place. As the Leader of the House used those words, it seems only right and proper that we should be given such an opportunity.
Mr. Spearing : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have some sympathy with the Leader of the House, having got into an office when there are several unique problems. I can understand the difficulties. However, although, as you say, it was absolutely in order to make a short speech in moving the adjournment of the debate and to explain the reason why that was being done at that time, the absence of the usual courtesies and practices of the House precluded any hon. Member from asking questions about the business statement. That is of great importance.
Strictly speaking, in accordance with your ruling, Sir, no statement has yet been made. All we have had is a speech from the Leader of the House supporting his motion for an adjournment, which has now been passed, but we have had no statement as such. I saw the annunciator when I was in the Library, so I hastened to the Chamber, but I was too late to hear the statement by the Leader of the House. Would it be proper and in accordance with the practice of the House for the Leader of the House to make a statement--I think that we have a short text--and then for short questions to be asked? I have a question which I have not been able to ask and which is consequent upon the statement. If I cannot do so that way, I wonder whether I can do it through a point of order, because it is a point of order about Friday's business and its conduct.
Mr. Nellist : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Neither you nor I were in the Chamber at 12 midnight when the Leader of the House moved the adjournment motion and announced a change of business. I was in my office upstairs, three floors above the Chamber, when, at 12 o'clock, the annunciator indicated a business statement. I suspect that 95 per cent. of hon. Members in the Chamber at the moment were not in the Chamber at 12 o'clock.
I suspect that 95 per cent. of hon. Members currently in the Chamber were not here at 12 o'clock, because-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Nellist : I shall try to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The annunciator did not warn of the statement. That has become the practice in recent months and years when business statements are about to be made. I have two questions. First, in future, will you, Mr. Speaker, other Deputy Speakers and the authorities in the House in charge of the annunciator system reconsider whether there must be clear guidelines on how much notice is given to the operators so that they can give a minimum amount of notice to hon. Members that a business statement is about to be made? I suggest at least half an hour.
Secondly, given that we had no notice, in support of my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) and for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), will you now allow questions on the business statement to be put so that hon. Members who are now in the Chamber can ask questions?
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sympathise with the Leader of the House. He has been flying around the world for the past five years and he is a bit out of touch with the procedures of the House. He has had to consult the Tory Chief Whip to find out what to do--[ Hon. Members :-- "He cannot hear you, Frank."] You can hear them, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but you are not doing anything about it.
I have been in the Chamber all night. The Leader of the House stood at the Dispatch Box and said that he was going to make a business statement-- [Interruption.] The Leader of the House may shake his head and say that he did not say that. I heard him say that. He made his statement about the change in the business for tomorrow and Friday.
I want you to clarify this, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House is denying this by shaking his head, as he did in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer). I hope that Hansard is not fiddled with. That is the danger, and that would be entirely wrong.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have allowed these points of order to continue for a long time. They are an extension of the motion with which we have already dealt. I can only repeat that the motion that we debated, during which some hon. Members spoke at length and were able to deploy their arguments, was perfectly in order. It was moved by the Leader of the House and the House eventually reached a conclusion on it. It is wholly out of order to extend the debate on a motion on which the House has reached a conclusion. Furthermore, I have a shrewd suspicion that we may return to this subject tomorrow--or today.
Mr. Dobson : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have rightly ruled, and I recognise your difficulties because you were not in the Chair at the material time, as they would say in court. I was not in the Chamber at the material time either. Having been here all evening, I was having a cup of coffee. I was not warned about the statement and neither were the Opposition Chief Whip and Deputy Chief Whip. No one was warned. Whether or not that is in order, it is plainly contrary to the usual practices.
The present Leader of the House's predecessor and Chair of the Services Committee announced some time ago that it would be the practice to warn Members of the
Column 995imminence of a statement with an announcement on the annunciator. If we are to receive warnings only when it suits the Government, that undertaking was not worth the breath he spent on it.
In view of the fact that, like me, you were not in the Chamber at the material time, will you consult with those who were in the Chamber and with Mr. Speaker to ensure that in future the customary warnings are given? Had they been given, we could all have gone home some time ago.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I am satisfied that my ruling is correct. The points that the hon. Gentleman is raising now are not for the Chair. They would be better dealt with through the usual channels. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have already allowed points of order, which have been an extension of a debate that was concluded some time ago, to continue for a considerable period. I am not prepared to take any further points of order on the same subject. If there are points of order on a different subject, I will take them. We must be fair to the rest of the business of the House. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are waiting patiently to take part in an important debate on merchant shipping.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I will take no further points of order on the previous issue, which I have dealt with clearly and on a number of occasions. If there are different points, I will hear them.
Mr. Spearing : On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As one of those who is waiting for the next debate, I thank you for that remark. Please stop me if the point of order that I am about to raise is within the category you have mentioned.