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Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman's point of order is a bit long. Perhaps he would like to come to a conclusion.

Mr. Kaufman: I would love to come to a conclusion, Mr. Speaker, but this is a point of order and, that being so, I regard it as my duty to provide the information appropriate for you to be able to give a measured reply. There has—

Mr. Speaker: Order. I have a measured reply.

Mr. Kaufman: In that case, sir, you cannot object to a measured point of order.

There was no further business statement today, Mr. Speaker. Now, I do not ask you, sir, to try to bring some order to the rabble on the Opposition Benches—that would be beyond both the United Nations and the SAS—but I ask you to tell us what is the position of Back-Bench Members of the House who come to take part in a debate that has already been announced, when the Opposition are in such a state of ungovernable confusion that the business is changed with no notification.

Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure you will agree that it is essential for the proper working of the House

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that we have a sensible balance between spontaneity and predictability. I am sure you will further agree that, from time to time, that balance comes under pressure; but I hope that in considering this issue—as you ever do, Mr. Speaker—you and other right hon. and hon. Members will realise that, perhaps in the Opposition's genuine effort to make the proceedings of the House as current, contemporaneous and spontaneous as possible, the Government may be taken by surprise every now and then.

I will certainly want to reflect, along with my colleagues, on the point that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) makes because there is some substance in what he says, but I know that you will be generous enough, Mr. Speaker—I hope that House will be, too—to accept that it is not necessarily a bad thing if we err on the side of spontaneity at the cost of predictability every now and then.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I will hear the hon. Gentleman and then I will reply to the original point of order—otherwise I might forget it.

Mr. Tyler: You will have noted, Mr. Speaker, that the Conservative party's replacement motion refers to events on Tuesday and Wednesday last week. The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) claims spontaneity and topicality, but there is clearly a very curious use of the word "spontaneity" if it took from the middle of the afternoon on Tuesday or Wednesday until six minutes before 3 o'clock on Friday to decide on the motion. If Conservative Members really wanted a topical motion, they should have chosen one on the crisis in the middle east.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. I believe that it is for the general convenience of Members and assists in the orderly dispatch of our business if, in normal circumstances, Members who wish to table motions to which amendments may be expected do so, to use a familiar Scottish expression, timeously. I believe that that should be the general practice of the House, applicable to Government and Opposition alike. As hon. Members will know, I have selected a manuscript amendment to the second Opposition motion today.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) rose

Mr. Speaker: I hope that it is not further to that matter.

Mr. Pound: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We have heard enough on that point of order.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) rose

Mr. Speaker: Is it is a new point of order?

Michael Fabricant: Not exactly.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) rose

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Mr. Speaker: I am sure that the right hon. Lady wants to continue the argument.

Miss Widdecombe: Very loosely. Mr. Speaker, will you confirm that it is not without precedent for Government and Opposition occasionally to change the business at the last moment, that you and I can recall an occasion when an amendment was withdrawn just minutes before a debate under the last Government and that, therefore, such things are not unprecedented?

Mr. Speaker: It happens, but no one should make a habit of it.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Notwithstanding your good advice to the House on this matter, will you confirm that no rule of the House has been broken by the official Opposition?

Mr. Speaker: Of course.

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not a serious discourtesy to you and other hon. Members, who spend many hours preparing for such debates, for Her Majesty's loyal Opposition to chop and change their minds like a butterfly with a frontal lobotomy?

Mr. Speaker: That is not a point of order.

Michael Fabricant: Would it be of benefit to the House, Mr. Speaker—to older right hon. Members as well as to young whippersnappers—to note that page 918 of the Order Paper shows that the speeches that they have prepared can be used on Tuesday 11 December?

Mr. Speaker: Order.

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Opposition Day

[6th Allotted Day]

Dissemination of Information

3.40 pm

Mr. Tim Collins (Westmorland and Lonsdale): I beg to move,

Let me make it clear at the outset that the Opposition have no criticism whatever of a certain absence on the Government Front Bench. I refer, of course, to the Deputy Prime Minister, who is not present today to defend the record of the Cabinet Office or of the Government's policies with regard to the civil service, for the perfectly legitimate reason that the right hon. Gentleman is on an official trip overseas which was arranged several days ago, and he graciously wrote to me about it some time ago. However, we find it simply breathtaking that the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions should have refused point blank to come to the Chamber to debate a motion that is specifically and personally critical of him. In all the annals of arrogance for which the Government and that Secretary of State have become notorious, this utter display of contempt for Parliament bulks large.

We gather that the Secretary of State's more pressing engagement was a minibus tour of a new bridge on Tyneside. We learned on "The World at One" today—

Mr. Mike Hall (Weaver Vale): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions as being in contempt of this Parliament?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is making a case during debate. It is up to any other Member to rebut that case.

Mr. Collins: I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) may have assumed that his intervention would find favour with the Government Whips Office and with No. 10 Downing street. I am sorry to say that he has further shattered what little political career he had.

We learned today on "The World at One" from the BBC's much respected political editor, Andrew Marr, that the Secretary of State's behaviour on this matter has once again produced a lot of irritation in Downing street.

Mr. Chris Pond (Gravesham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Collins: Before I give way to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has aspirations regarding ministerial office,

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I warn him not to try to defend the Secretary of State, because were he so to do he might find himself in trouble with No. 10. However, I am happy to give way to allow him to bury his career further if he wishes.

Mr. Pond: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Certain others of us in the House listened to "The World at One". Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to read into the record what was actually said by the BBC's political correspondent, which did not match what he has just told the House?

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