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Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Is it not possible that the Leader of the House, as a result of a particularly pressing engagement, has absented herself, but only temporarily, and that we might reasonably hope--

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especially if my right hon. Friend is wise enough to pursue his remarks at a leisurely pace--to observe her return before long?

Mr. Forth: That must be our fervent wish, without wanting to detract in any way from the Parliamentary Secretary, who is in his place as ever, jovial as ever, and anxious to help, as ever he is. I have a modest list of questions, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to answer.

My first question is: do we anticipate a normal day's business, possibly leading up to the receipt of Lords messages?

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): I notice that my right hon. Friend quoted from page 284 of "Erskine May" and pointed out that item 6 of business taken after questions was consideration of Lords amendments. Has he noticed, however, that item 5 is personal statements? Might the motion be in preparation for the Chancellor coming tomorrow to make a personal statement about the erroneous statements that he made in the House recently?

Mr. Forth: Would that it were so. I go even further and say that I should like the Prime Minister to elucidate for the House some of the grotesque errors that he has made, no doubt inadvertently, at the Dispatch Box, including not a few this very day. We live in hope of that.

The scene is set by the apparently innocuous motion for various possibilities to arise. On page 610 of "Erskine May", I found some helpful information, as one would expect. I shall read a brief extract, as I do not want to detain the House unduly. Under the general heading "Communications between the Lords and the Commons"--

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm for those who are fortunate enough to observe our proceedings that they are witnessing a classic filibuster?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Such matters can safely be left to the Chair.

Mr. Forth: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not mean to suggest that a motion that has been properly tabled and, so far, properly debated, is an abuse of the House. I hope that he does not suggest that such matters should not be debated.

I shall return to "Erskine May" and quote from it in a spirit of helpfulness. On page 610, under the heading "Communications between the Lords and the Commons", it states:

That partially answers one of the questions that I asked earlier. I was speculating, probably rather wildly, that an accelerated legislative process lay behind the apparently innocent motion. It now appears that there is no such intention--perhaps the Minister can confirm that, and that we are probably considering

    "other matters connected with the proceedings of Parliament."

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    That gives us a clue that we can work on in the absence of guidance from the Minister.

Under the heading "Messages"--we may be getting a bit warmer--"Erskine May" states:

    "A message is the most simple mode of communication; it is frequently resorted to, for sending bills from one House to another"--

we have partially eliminated that possibility--

    "for the interchange of reports and other documents, for communicating about joint committees or private bills, or for requesting the presence of a Member or Officer of one House, to give evidence before the other House".

It is therefore entirely possible, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) suggested, that the other place could send a message to summon the Prime Minister or the Chancellor to explain the misinformation that has flowed from the Government, not least from Nos. 10 and 11, in the past two and a half years. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his suggestion.

Mr. Hogg: Another possibility is that the other place wants to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister his reasons for believing that it is proper for the new Minister of Transport to be a Member of another place, and not accountable to hon. Members in this House.

Mr. Forth: That suggests some intriguing possibilities. More and more Ministers are in another place, and a peculiarly large percentage are from Scotland. I cannot begin to imagine the reason for that, although I am sure that they are people of great integrity and of even greater ability. I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his suggestion. The nature of the relationship within Government between the two Houses of Parliament may emerge from passing messages back and forth, for which the motion provides.

I move on to page 611.

Mr. Maclean: The crucial page.

Mr. Forth: I should warn the House that I have not got into my stride yet; I am still on my preliminary remarks.

Page 611 of "Erskine May" states:

That is interesting because the subsequent day cannot be Friday 17 December as the House is not sitting. By implication, it will have to be the following Monday. In the absence of knowledge about next Monday's exact business, we are left to speculate that if a message from the Lords, which resulted from the motion, contained anything that required action, it would be

    "set down for a subsequent day."

The motion does not necessarily relate to the business for one day; it could affect at least two parliamentary days. That really has surprised me, because on my initial reading of the motion I thought that only a day's business would be affected. Does not that show the value of "Erskine May"?

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his generosity in giving way. As there will be no further

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Prime Minister's questions before the House rises for Christmas, is it not especially significant that any Lords message might facilitate a statement by the Prime Minister on either Monday or Tuesday next week because that would enable him to put the record straight on taxation? My right hon. Friend, with his encyclopaedic memory, will recall that the Prime Minister said on 21 September 1996 that Labour had no plans to raise taxes at all, whereas today, very significantly, he did not use the words "at all" at any stage--only, and rather frequently, the word "actually".

Mr. Forth: I was not in my usual place, for reasons that I shall not go into, but I was in the Chamber and I heard the Prime Minister say that. Now that my memory has been jogged, I recall what he said previously. It is possible that such a statement might be made, but I think that my hon. Friend is falling into his usual optimism in expecting one. Be that as it may, we are left with a teasing conundrum: we not only have no idea of the content of the messages, but were we to approve the motion--which is no foregone conclusion--it may affect tomorrow's business and the business for a subsequent day. That is what "Erskine May", at page 611, allows.

We have made some progress because we have an idea of the possible scope of the business and the messages, and we know that two days business, instead of one, could be affected. I want to round off these comments by referring back to page 545 of "Erskine May", which also deals with Bills, although I think that I have, almost to my own satisfaction, eliminated the introduction of a Bill as a possibility. However, for the sake of completeness, "Erskine May" says:

That reintroduces the possibility of a Bill--perhaps an emergency Bill or a surprise Bill of some kind--being introduced in the other place that may be sent to the House of Commons by message or through that process. That is rather less likely and, to set our minds at ease, perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary might rule it out categorically. He is in possession of much more information about what is happening in the other place, particularly with regard to Government business, although he may not be able to be absolutely categoric about private Member's business there.

Mr. Hogg: There is, of course, a further possibility that my right hon. Friend might care to bear in mind. The other place may want to communicate with the House to the effect that certain Bills now proceeding through the House are not sufficiently well thought out to justify their further progress until there has been yet further consultation. Speaking for myself, in relation to the Terrorism Bill, which was discussed last night, might not the other place like there to be further consultation before it makes further progress in the House? There could be messages from the other place about a multitude of Bills which we know the Government have in mind.

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