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Farriers (Registration) Bill

Volume 885: debated on Monday 27 January 1975

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Before calling the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) to raise a point of order, I should inform the House that I have carefully read the Official Report of Friday's proceedings, and I have also discussed the matter with the Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. The hon. Member must confine himself to the point: what has this to do with the Chair?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to ask whether you are in a position to give a ruling, as was requested in a number of points of order raised after the Division on Friday on the Farriers (Registration) Bill.

I ask this not just because I feel aggrieved personally, but because this is a matter of principle which could affect any private Member in trying to introduce non-controversial and non-party legislation. When the Government of the day behave in the way they did, when a Minister stands up to speak and recommends that the House should vote against a Bill, when the Government put Tellers in the Lobby and the Minister then does not vote after having earlier recommended that a vote should be taken, when the Government Front Bench contains at least 10 Members who, by implication, are against the Bill, and when the Government Whips go so far as to restrain one of their own Ministers from trying to vote on the Bill—arc those not matters which represent a gross abuse of procedure of the House?

Whatever it may be, it is not a matter for the Chair. Nothing happened that was out of order. I can deal only with matters that were out of order.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not here on Friday—I was with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Canterbury—but I have inquired carefully into what happened. May I at once say that I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). Nevertheless, the Government did not vote against the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman had done what many other hon. Members have done over the years in this House—namely, ensured that he had a quorum—he would have got his Bill through without difficulty. However, there are a number of other opportunities left in this Session, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have better luck next time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We appreciate that your responsibility is limited, but I very much support what my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) said about what happened on Friday. [An HON. MEMBER: "You were not here."] I was not here, but I read what happened. The onus surely is on the Government to find a satisfactory solution to the situation. If they do not do something about it we shall want to look at this matter on another occasion.

We have a very important debate to come, and I do not want to delay it. There are very many speakers on my list.

The matter raised by the hon. Member for Petersfield is a procedural point and I would have no objection to the Procedure Committee looking into it. However, I should like to know how any of the matters referred to so far, are suggested to me to have been out of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was present on Friday and raised this matter then. May I refer to the occasion when the Hare Coursing Bill was subject to a bit of manipulation in the House which Mr. Speaker ruled out of order? What happened then was that Tellers were put in who did not put their votes and their voices together. We now have a roughly similar situation since the Government could have allowed the Bill to go through unopposed. After the Minister decided that the matter should be voted upon, the Government decided not to vote. I sug- gest that that constitutes a gross abuse of the procedure of the House.

There is no compulsion on hon. Members to vote even though they shout "No".

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you consider referring one matter to the Procedure Committee—a point which was raised on Friday when I was in the House? If objection is taken to the manner in which a Division is called, it has to be made before the result of the Division is declared. On Friday it was difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) and the other promoters in the "Aye" Lobby to know what had transpired and to take objection before the result of the Division was declared. I should be grateful if you would consider that matter and refer it to the Procedure Committee.

So far as concerns the point that arose on Friday, it was directed to whether a Member's vote should follow his voice. It is only that limited point, which has to be raised before the figures are given to the Chair to announce.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to prolong this matter, which is procedural, but there is one important point which should be referred to the Procedure Committee and on which we should have the benefit of your advice. On Friday, as the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President has fairly said, hon. Members often need to decide which of a number of official engagements they should attend. I am a principal sponsor of the Bill in question and I had to consider whether I should attend the House on Friday or an official engagement as representative of an organisation of the House. I elected to go elsewhere simply because I had ascertained, having read the Second Reading debate in another place, that the Government had put on record the fact that they were in favour of the Bill. If the Government change their mind between the passage of a Bill in another place and the House of Commons, should not hon. Members have some way of knowing from the Order Paper what the situation is likely to be to assist them in their difficult decision as to whether their presence in the House is more important than their presence elsewhere?

Again I have some sympathy with the lion. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). No doubt it was precisely because of that kind of contingency that the figure was put as low as 40.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I assure the House that on my part there was no manoeuvring or deviousness about what happened on Friday. It was only the Monday before that that the Legislation Committee of the Government decided what to do about a private Member's Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) made no attempt to contact me concerning the Government's attitude. I did not attempt to contact him about any decision the Government might take. I can assure the House that on Friday nothing was done which went in any way against the procedure of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what the Minister said, is it not fair to the House that she should now explain what the Legislation Committee is in such matters? I have never heard it discussed before. Could she explain to the House the considerations which led the Legislation Committee last Monday to overthrow the considerations which the Government put forward in the Upper House when the matter was discussed there? Surely the Leader of the House will ensure that the minutes of the Legislation Committee are published. Since there has been reference to them, is it not incumbent upon the Government to lay them on the Table? Why wait for another three years until they are published by one of the hon. Lady's colleagues in the Cabinet?

I certainly cannot allow the hon. Lady to answer that question. The debate on education has not yet started.