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Motions And Bills (Amendments)

Volume 981: debated on Tuesday 18 March 1980

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On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point flows from yesterday's debate. I think that you will agree that days on which there are free votes in the House are esssentially what might be described in parliamentary language as Back Benchers' days. I believe that yesterday's debate was intended to give a clear message to the country—particularly to our athletes—about what we, as their elected representatives in Parliament, felt about the proposal to boycott the Olympic Games.

Because the selection of amendments to motions and Bills is left entirely to your discretion, Mr. Speaker—you are not accountable to anyone, and I agree that that should be so—I seek your guidance on what is best when we have a free vote such as yesterday's. Because of the restriction on amendments—in particular yesterdays' amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins)—the consequence of the vote was that far from being free it became a party vote. Anyone who examines the record will come to that conclusion. I wish to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether on future occasions you will consider not diluting—I say this with the greatest respect—the purpose and intent of a Back Benchers' free vote by restricting amendments unnecessarily?

The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. McGuire) was good enough to give me notice this morning that he would seek to raise this point of order. I say to him that when ever there has been an amendment on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, every one of my predecessors has thought it right to select that amendment. That is a long-established custom. As for my choosing another amendment, the House did not give me the power to do that. There must be a motion on the Order Paper enabling me to call another amendment if it is for the purpose of a Division.

Of course I could have selected every amendment on the Order Paper since my discretion is absolute. But if I had done that only one could have been voted upon. All the amendments were discussed, but only one amendment could be voted upon according to the Standing Orders of the House under which I operate. Therefore, much as I should have liked to help the hon. Member—I understood his feelings and those of other right hon. and hon. Members—I was bound by Standing Orders.