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Ten-Minute Bill

Volume 950: debated on Wednesday 24 May 1978

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can help me in relation to the Ten-Minute Bill on televising the proceedings of the House, which I was to seek leave to introduce at this time. I understand that in accordance with normal custom the debate on the motion for the Adjournment of the House for the Spring Recess should take precedence. I also understand that that debate might go on until 7 o'clock, when the Government business down from 7 o'clock until 10 o'clock will take precedence. If that is so, the motion on my Ten-Minute Bill, that I have had down for some weeks now, will lapse, and the debate on it will not take place.

I should like to raise two points with you, Mr. Speaker. First, can you protect the interests of hon. Members who put in for a Ten-Minute Bill on any subject to enable them to receive their normal and accustomed rights—namely, to have their Bills debated briefly at or about 3.30 p.m., or at any rate after the end of Question Time?

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, I should like you to say whether you agree that it is probably the wish of most hon. Members present that we should bring an up-to-date process of thought on television—

I believe that most hon. Members present would like to see cameras come into the Chamber.

I believe that it is right that we should have an opportunity of expressing our up-to-date opinion, as is laid down on the Order Paper by virtue of the Ten-Minute Bill, leave to introduce which I want to move in a few minutes.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the point of order. I call the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) further to that point of order.

May I add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has said, Mr. Speaker, that not only is it of great importance to many Back Benchers but it is of critical importance to many people in the country that the Bill be debated at this time?

We are beginning to have expressions of opinion. I believe that the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) was a little optimistic in some of his observations. If he is not, the debate on the motion for the Spring Recess Adjournment will collapse quickly and his Bill will be discussed; if the debate on that motion does not last until 7 o'clock, his Bill will duly be discussed.

My sole responsibility is to guard the rules of the House in this matter. The order of business is plainly laid down in "Erskine May". If the hon. Gentleman succeeds in reaching his Ten-Minute Bill before 7 o'clock, and finishes it before 7 o'clock, there will be an opportunity for the House to express an opinion. Otherwise, the hon. Gentleman will have to cast his bread upon the waters another day.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am very disturbed to hear your ruling, quoting "Erskine May" in this matter. Notwithstanding what may be said by "Erskine May", there is an understanding in the House that we can expect to debate a Ten-Minute Bill. That is one of the special privileges of Back Benchers, which are daily being eroded. My feeling is that the privileges of Back Benchers, which are so few, have been considerably eroded by this decision, albeit backed by the great wisdom of "Erskine May" which I do not think is law.

This afternoon we have seen a Back Bencher's attempt to bring to the attention of the House and the public a matter which is, whether they like it or not, of great importance. It is of great importance that the proceedings of the House should be communicated by means of television. The attempt is to be denied and put into a backwater. I am very sorry about this ruling, Mr. Speaker.

You will recollect, Mr. Speaker, that I had given you notice of an intention—

If that is an accusation that I am illegitimate, I can assure my hon. Friend that I am not.

I had given notice of my intention to oppose the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), because no Bill is necessary to televise the House, and it is rather an abuse to propose a Bill.

If the hon. Gentleman is able to move his motion less than 10 minutes before 7 o'clock, will there be an opportunity for opposition under the Ten-Minute Rule?

I can answer that at once. If the hon. Member for Harborough spoke for less than five minutes and the House wished to move to a decision, it would have the opportunity so to do. That is dependent upon the debate on the motion concerning the Adjournment finishing in a short while.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that within the past decade the House clearly voted that Ten-Minute Bills should be taken at 3.30 p.m. and not at 10 p.m. The present arrangement, although certainly following the precedents of "Erskine May", appears to many of us to go against the spirit, though of course not the letter, of the arrangements of the House.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, would it be possible for you to raise with those who arrange the business of the House whether this sort of thing can be avoided by phasing a Ten-Minute Bill away from the day upon which the debate upon the motion for the Adjournment for the Recess is taken, so that the Bill may be raised again at 3.30 p.m., which was always the intention of the House?

I shall listen to all these points of order and answer them collectively.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. Surely the complaint of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), which I think is well justified, is not against the rules of the House but against the Prime Minister's action. It was open to the Prime Minister to put down his motion as a debatable motion for the first Order of the Day. It is not because of the rules of the House but because the Prime Minister has elected to put down his motion in such a way as to cut out my hon. Friend that the House is deprived of its Private Members' rights.

As the Prime Minister has not thought it right to be present, Mr. Speaker, would you feel able to ask the Leader of the House, as the senior Government Minister who has the right to alter the Government's Orders of the Day, to withdraw from the "Notices of Motions" under the heading
"At the Commencement of Public Business",
and substitute as the first Order of the Day his motion, which would then be taken immediately after my hon. Friend's Ten-Minute Bill? The motion would then be dealt with in such a way that it was bound to come to a resolution, without depriving a Back Bencher of his Ten-Minute Bill rights.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. After the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) I am almost inclined to say "Well done, Prime Minister"—if I ever thought that the right hon. Gentleman did well. Should not the House be grateful that, as a result of this procedure, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has enabled us to register our views on this despicable matter without the nausea of the debate?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you reply to the several points of order that have been raised, will you bear in mind that I have always claimed to have the most articulate constituency in the country and that so far I can say without hesitation that I have not had a single letter asking for the proceedings of this House to be broadcast or televised? May I express the hope that the feelings of my constituents in Jarrow will be borne in mind when you reply to the various points that have been raised?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is obviously great interest in the subject with which my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) seeks to deal in his Ten-Minute Bill, particularly since the proceedings of the House are now broadcast. There is a good deal of interest outside about televising our proceedings. May I put it to the Leader of the House, who is in his place, that it would be perfectly possible for him to put today's business on tomorrow and allow the Ten-Minute Bill to come forward today? Alternatively, the right hon. Member could arrange a debate at another time, soon after we return, so that we can have a vote on the issue of televising our proceedings.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As we have had rather more than ten minutes' debate may we now proceed to a vote?

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I have listened with great care to every observation that has been made. There is nothing that I can add to what I said earlier. I am bound by the Orders of the Day.