Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Miller: My Whip is sitting right next to me.

Mr. Ross: My Whip is sitting beside me too. Although I have served as a Whip, I have always believed that, if one wants to achieve good results and full co-operation, it is better to use kindness and purr like a cat than to use a cat-o'-nine-tails. I believe that a reasoned approach and careful explanation of the merits of the Government's and the party's position will always produce a far greater harvest of benefits than the thuggery in which, sadly, the major party's Whips occasionally indulge.

In the years since I was first elected to the House and walked through the doors of the Chamber, I have known many Whips. To my cost, I have learned that they are people not to be trifled with in any circumstances.

Mr. Fabricant: Mr. Martin, may I say how nice it is to see you in the Chamber, in your Chair?

Does the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) agree that, earlier today, the Government conceded that there is an argument that there should not be a conflict of interest between those who are in positions of power in the Government and those who are Members of the Dail? Ministers also said that they were minded to accept amendment No. 7. Should not Ministers therefore think that there would be more continuity in their position if they also accepted new clause 2?

Mr. Ross: That is the very point that I was making at the beginning of my speech. The plain truth is that the Government are duty bound--they are forced by their own admission, made earlier in our debates at about 4 am--to do so. That admission was made at about the same time as Ministers admitted that the Bill is a result of discussions that they had with Sinn Fein-IRA. These things are emblazoned on my mind. I am conscious that getting admissions from the Government was like squeezing blood from a rather dry stone.

Mr. Martin Bell (Tatton): Will the hon. Gentleman explain to one who has no Whips' marks on his back what purpose is served by these extended and lamentable proceedings?

3 pm

Mr. Ross: The reason for the lengthy proceedings is to try and get answers from the Government. The hon. Gentleman bears on his body the marks of his previous occupation, in which he made assiduous efforts to get at the truth. We are merely carrying on the hon. Gentleman's assiduity in that respect.

Mr. Swayne: Some of us are entering the 22nd hour scrutinising the Bill--

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. I will not tolerate any discussion of the length of our proceedings. I know as

25 Jan 2000 : Column 485

well as anyone else how lengthy they have been. Hon. Members must confine their remarks to the new clause and amendments.

Mr. Ross: I accept your strictures, Mr. Martin, but I hope that you can tell me whether it is in order for me to respond to an unjustified attack?

The First Deputy Chairman: The hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the amendments and the new clause.

Mr. Ross: In that case, I shall certainly try and stay in order.

Dr. Julian Lewis: The difficulty for the hon. Gentleman is that he is used to giving straight answers to straight questions, unlike the right hon. Gentleman who normally answers questions on a Wednesday.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is out of order.

Mr. Ross: I agree that the hon. Gentleman was slightly wide of the mark with that remark. However, I understand his frustration that, because of the Government's delaying tactics, he has no opportunity to question the Prime Minister.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman should not talk about the Prime Minister. The House is in Committee, and hon. Members must confine themselves to consideration of the amendments.

Mr. Gerald Howarth: On a point of order, Mr. Martin.

The First Deputy Chairman: I hope that it is a point of order.

Mr. Howarth: I believe that it is, Mr. Martin. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was trying to explain why he has moved his new clause. The intervention from the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) was out of order, not the remarks of the hon. Member for East Londonderry.

The First Deputy Chairman: That is not a point of order.

Mr. Ross: As you say, Mr. Martin, we must get on. The Minister must be tired and may have work to attend to. I do not want to keep him from that.

The Government earlier conceded the principle behind these important amendments. They should merely accept the amendments. New clause 8 states:

It is clear that the new clause recognises that a United Kingdom Cabinet Minister would be in a peculiar and impossible position. His duty would be to the people, the Crown and Parliament.

Such a Minister would normally be a Privy Councillor, and certain information would be given to him in strict confidence. That was alluded to some 20 hours ago. It

25 Jan 2000 : Column 486

would be difficult enough to keep such information from his friends and colleagues, but if he made the occasional slip it would be understood and the matter treated with due respect and confidence by his colleagues in the House. That would not necessarily be true if he made a mistake when dealing with a Minister who was a citizen of a foreign country with responsibilities to that nation, its constitution and its people. Such a person might use any information gleaned in that way to the benefit of that nation rather than that of the United Kingdom. I think that we should guard against that happening by making dead certain that the folk who make up the Government of the United Kingdom are citizens of this nation and no other.

I have already explained why the party Whips are included in this proposal. In addition, new clause 2 refers to

As has been said time and again, the plain truth is that people find it difficult to get the right words on to the amendment paper. I put down this wording, not because I was confident that it was right but to try and ensure that I caught all those not covered who could be considered as Members of the Government.

Mr. Levitt: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. I do not know whether you noticed, but the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), entered the Chamber a few minutes ago, took one look around and left in disgust. [Hon. Members: "Not true."] Is it permissible to inquire of the Father of the House whether he has ever seen such blatant filibustering in all the 50-odd years he has been a Member of the House?

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. Hon. Members, including the Father of the House, can come and go as they please. That is not a point of order.

Mr. Ross: That is not the recollection that I had of the Father of the House, whom I have known for a long time.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I do not need any more references to the Father of the House. He does not deserve to be treated in this manner. We must get to the amendments before us--that is the duty of hon. Members.

Mr. Ross: Perhaps the Father of the House was so enthralled with the strong defence that has been made--

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. I understand that the Chairman of Ways and Means has commented on the Standing Orders. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House longer than I, and he knows that he must keep to the narrow amendments before us.

Mr. Winnick: On a point of order, Mr. Martin. You told my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Mr. Levitt) that his point was not a point of order. If it is not, according to your ruling, that is the end of the matter--I would not dream of challenging your ruling. The speeches of Opposition Members are more or less in order--although I notice that you and your predecessors, Mr. Martin, have had to intervene to ensure that they are, certainly in the past few hours--but would you not agree that the proceedings are being unnecessarily prolonged?

25 Jan 2000 : Column 487

[Hon. Members: "By bogus points of order."] Although that may be in order, surely it is obvious that Conservative and Unionist Members are deliberately prolonging the proceedings as much as possible.

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. It is for the Chair to give guidance to hon. Members if they stray from an amendment or a new clause. That sometimes happens to hon. Members, so I am giving the Committee guidance. No one, as far as I am concerned, has been involved in causing any undue delay. If they did, I would give a ruling. The hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr. Ross), however, is straying from the amendments, and I appeal to him to return to them.

Mr. Ross: The problem is that although I try to stick to the amendments, I am constantly interrupted and I have to respond.

Mr. Fabricant rose--

Next Section

IndexHome Page