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Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. No discourtesy was intended to the House, and I hope that you will feel that what happened was, in all the circumstances, proper and in order.
I felt that it was tidy to have four Tellers to report to the House. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has asked me a question, and I am in the process of explaining what is in order. I invited the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to fill the space. The House has to move quickly and the Speaker has to take snap decisions. My snap decision will go into "Erskine May"[Interruption.] Perhaps in 100 years from now, when a Teller is missing, the House will refer to the precedent that has been established today. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that the vote that was delivered was perfectly valid, and that there is no need for a re-run.
Mr. Leigh : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course, I would never seek to question any of your rulings, but surely the whole point of the Teller system is to have one person who counts and another who checks that; the two then report back to the House. Of course this would not happen now, but there might have been difficulties in the past, and there might be misreporting. I should not want the age-old custom to be in any way upset.
Mr. Speaker: Order. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the age-old custom has been protected, because it has been clearly reported to me that there were four Tellers, two counting the Aye votes and two counting the No votes. Therefore, that stage was well and truly completed; only the reporting was different. Three of the original Tellers out of four have reported. That is very tidy, and I do not know what is worrying the hon. Gentleman. If he wants a re-run, I can assure him that it certainly will not be tonight.
Mr. Forth: Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the whole point of our voting procedure is to have one Teller for one side of the argument and one for the other. It seems that there was a Government Teller in the Lobby, but we know not whether the other Teller verified what the Government Teller told the Clerks. The House is now in the invidious position of
Mr. Speaker: Order. Three Tellers out of four have reported the result to the House. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that both the Government Teller and the Liberal Teller were in the appropriate Lobby, counting the votes. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman, so that he does not have a sleepless night, that if the Speaker is wrong, and there was no Teller in that Lobby, he can report to me and I shall deal with the matter. However, I can assure him that the Teller was in the Lobby.
Mr. Speaker: Well, that may be worse, but I have seen the right hon. Gentleman from time to time coaching and helping inexperienced Tellers, and a very nice practice it is too, to help those who are less experienced than he is.
Mr. Stunell: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who has been raising points of order on the conduct of the vote, did not in fact pass through either Lobby, and therefore cannot offer the House any useful information?
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): I have to inform the House that the number of signatories on this petition has not been verified by Tellers, but I am assured that there are 979 of them. My constituents, like those on the Isle of Wight and in neighbouring areas, are concerned about the way in which Tetra masts have been implanted on the landscape without planning permission, and about the implications of this.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to take immediate steps to halt the roll-out of the Tetra system until such time as it has been proved absolutely and beyond any doubt in the mind of the public that it is completely safe.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): My debate is about the despicable and callous decision made just before Christmas by Conservative councillors on Essex county council to scrap, with little more than three months' notice, the county's school meals service from 1 April. This is a deplorable act against children, many of whom are from disadvantaged families. Even "milk-snatcher" Thatcher, infamous for doing away with school milk