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A similar situation to that confronting the House tonight could never arise under a Labour Government. We are therefore entitled to demand a proper explanation from the Conservative party before it cheats again--it is cheating on the rules of the House by creating Conservative Members of Parliament for one purpose and suspending them for another.

The motion is all about trying to keep a weakened Prime Minister in power. The Opposition and the public demand that the Conservatives get their act in order. They should publish their accounts and make written rules about the conduct of those who are and are not members of the Conservative parliamentary party. They should define the twilight area in which Conservative Members who are elected by the people according to their election addresses and their party's programme are then cast aside by a member of their party, the given leader, without any approval from their colleagues. All of a sudden, however, the Government then turn round and say, "No, no, they are really part of us collectively, because we need to keep our majority to force through the House all the legislation that we want." The Conservative Government want to maintain their numbers on any Standing Committee--Conservative Members currently account for more than half the membership of a Committee--because they claim that more than half of the Members of the House are members of the Conservative party. That is not true. We already know that the Conservatives won less than half the votes of the electorate.

Tonight the Government are cheating on the rules. They are placing the Clerks of the House in an impossible position. They are sending the wrong signals to the Committee of Selection, which, frankly, puts the Chairman and the rest of that Committee in a dishonourable position. I am not claiming that individuals are acting dishonourably, but that the collective arrangements are dishonourable.

The Leader of the House owes it to the House and his party to explain how the Conservative parliamentary party can operate without any written rules, unlike the parliamentary Labour party. At some time, I also hope that I shall get the courtesy of a reply to the letter that I wrote to the chairman of the 1922 Committee. 5.55 pm

Mr. Newton: With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to reply to the debate.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) said that he felt that I had been uneasy as I presented my arguments. That may have been the impression gained through some deficiency in my presentation, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I believe strongly in the points that I put, for reasons that I shall come back to in a moment.

We have had a rather good-natured debate in the circumstances and a number of engaging interventions, not least from some of my hon. Friends whose position is at issue. My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) made a characteristically perceptive speech about some of the difficulties of presenting the issues in the House. I am not sure that I can go as far as saying that I agreed with every word of his speech, but I had some sympathy with the perceptions that he expressed about those difficulties.

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I am grateful to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) for the effective way in which he demolished some of the arguments of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) and others.

I give an undertaking to the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) that I shall draw his remarks to the attention of those responsible for the appointment of Members to the bodies he mentioned. The Committee of Selection is not, of course, responsible for those appointments.

I respect the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and the reasons he gave for tabling his amendment. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South about the impracticability of the proposals contained in my hon. Friend's amendment. I understand the reasons behind them, but, in practice, his proposals could not be operated as he envisages. They would represent a mathematical nightmare for the Committee of Selection. The position of the Members in question would be a good deal worse if they were added to the long list of those to be represented in the Committee of Selection by the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire than under the proposal I sketched in my speech. The biggest difference that I have with my hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, North and for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) is their belief that, were my motion to be passed, the power of the Executive would somehow increase. The weight of my argument is that, as a result of the motion, the position and power of the Whips would be enshrined in the procedures and Standing Orders of the House for the first time. I believe strongly that what should determine the status of Members of the House for the purpose of its procedures is what they were elected as and what they declare themselves to be. I hope that, for reasons going well beyond today's debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North would continue to wish to declare himself a Conservative.

Mr. Marlow: What the Opposition suggest in their amendment may do that, but nothing that my right hon. Friend has said or that I have said would enhance the power of the Whips.

Mr. Newton: We have a difference of view. I regard this as establishing the constitutional position of Members of Parliament in relation to the electorate and their own opinion of what their party affiliation is.

Lastly, if what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) says about the Labour party's constitution is right--frankly, I thought that, with every word that was uttered by him, and by the hon. Members for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), they dug a deeper hole-- it is inconsistent with the amendment that they and other Opposition Members have tabled, which says that, if anyone is denied the Whip, that person is effectively expelled from the parliamentary party and cannot be counted as belonging to that party. The letter that the hon. Member for Perry Barr sent to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox) says

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that, in those circumstances, the Labour party would continue to claim them. There is a hopeless inconsistency there. I have no intention of discussing it further.

I commend my excellent motion to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made:--

The House divided: Ayes 285, Noes 327.

Division No. 33] [6.00 pm


Column 192

Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Alton, David

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy

Ashton, Joe

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret

Beith, Rt Hon A J

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Betts, Clive

Blair, Rt Hon Tony

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Caborn, Richard

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D N

Canavan, Dennis

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chidgey, David

Chisholm, Malcolm

Church, Judith

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John

Dafis, Cynog

Dalyell, Tam

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Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)

Denham, John

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H

Dowd, Jim

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foster, Don (Bath)

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Godman, Dr Norman A

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Gordon, Mildred

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Hardy, Peter

Harman, Ms Harriet

Harvey, Nick

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Henderson, Doug

Hendron, Dr Joe

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hodge, Margaret

Hoey, Kate

Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)

Home Robertson, John

Hood, Jimmy

Hoon, Geoffrey

Howarth, George (Knowsley N)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hoyle, Doug

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