I wish to say something to the House about what happened when I was in the Chair late last night. I allowed the Leader of the House to make a statement about the business for today, the Finance Bill (Allocation of Time) motion. I thought that that was for the convenience of the House.An analogy is when the Government of the day are defeated in a Division. On such occasions the Leader of the Opposition sometimes rises on a point of order to ask what are the Government's intentions. That is not really a point of order at all, as I have stated more than once, I think. My practice has been to allow a statement by the Government spokesman and one further question. That is what I did last night. I called the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) after the Lord President. I refused to take points of order on the statement because, in my view, there could not possibly be a valid point of order. The Lord President had used parliamentary language, the course which he proposed was in accordance with Standing Orders and no valid question of order could arise. I must remind the House that the use of points of order to advance arguments or to comment unfavourably or favourably on Government actions is an abuse which is growing in frequency, and it occurs on both sides of the House. If the House wishes a change of business to be announced in some other way, the Procedure Committee could be asked to examine the matter. That Committee might also consider how the Chair might be helped to deal with points of order.
May I thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for clarifying the position? We were a little worried lest a new precedent should have been created. I understand that it has not, and I am grateful to you.
I wonder whether the point could be referred to the Procedure Committee, Mr. Speaker? The matters which you have indicated to the House are with precedent, as you rightly said. What the House finds difficult—and it may be a matter for the Procedure Com- mittee to consider—is that the House is invited to vote on a matter and a Minister afterwards gives his reasons why it is right that we should have done so. It would be nice if we could reverse the process, as has always been the tradition of the House.
I do not think that that is a matter for the Chair.
Thank you for your statement, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you about one aspect of it? Erskine May, on page 430, reads as follows:
I wish to refer to three remarks which you made last night, Mr. Speaker. For the sake of accuracy I have consulted the report of the proceedings, which is not yet published. You are reported as saying, on three occasions:"it is also the right of any Member who conceives that a breach of order has been committed … to rise in his place, interrupting any Member who may be speaking, and direct the attention of the Chair to the matter, provided he does so the moment the alleged breach of order occurs."
"I may perhaps take points of order afterwards."
"I might perhaps take a point of order after that."
I ask you to rule, Sir, that an hon. Member has a right to raise a point of order. It was quite obvious last night that several hon. Members wished to raise points of order. I wished to refer not to the statement that had been made but to what had happened previously, and that was the first opportunity I had to do so. It is important that the Chair should not be seen in any way to restrict the right of hon. Members which is so clearly stated in Erskine May.'If I think it appropriate, I will take the point of order after I have heard the right hon. Gentleman."
The Chair has no such desire. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) was called last night on a point of order, so he does not have much about which to complain.The Chair is in great difficulty with points of order. Until it has heard the points of order it cannot always say whether it is a good one. For example, the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) yesterday was indignant and said he wished to raise a new point of order. It turned out not to be a point of order but to refer to something which the Lord President had said on the length of time to be given to the Report stages of Finance Bills. That is not a matter of order and not a matter for the Chair. If on occasion the Chair thinks thmat a point of order cannot be a valid one it must allow the House to get on with its business. It can be seen from the number of points of order that are raised that I have no desire to restrict hon. Members' rights.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the explanation and the statement that you have made, which are entirely satisfactory as no precedent has been set. May I just explain the point of order which I intended to raise? I was intending to make a point of order not on the matter which was currently under discussion but on the Division which had just taken place. In view of your satisfactory explanation, Mr. Speaker, may I take this opportunity to give public notice that I shall withdraw my motion of censure.
I am obliged.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In your remarks just now, you pointed out that you did not see how a point of order could arise and, of course, the Chair must have discretion in such matters. Like my hon. Friends the Members for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) and Honiton (Mr. Emery), I wished to raise a point of order, not on your ruling about the statement of the Leader of the House but about what had immediately gone before. Unless you were willing to listen to the first few words, you could have had no idea of what I was intending to say.
I suspected that it might be that, because the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) had already raised that point of order. That business had been concluded. The hon. Member was too late to raise a point of order about the Division. I had announced the result of the Division. However, we will not go into that now.