It is my duty this morning to move the writ for Richmond, York—
On a point of order Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? I have sent you a copy of a newspaper article that is relevant to the matter. I believe that it is both a breach of the privilege of the House—
Order. If it is a breach of privilege, the hon. Gentleman must write to me in the usual way. I have said that to him. The matter cannot be raised on the Floor of the House.
Well, Mr. Speaker, we have made a pretty reasonable start. It almost seems that someone on the other side of the House is behaving like me. But I am certain that the matter is very important.I beg to move,
Well, I have heard the Common Market called a lot of things in my time, but "Manor of Northstead" is completely new to me. It might fool people in the Common Market, but I do not think that many hon. Members on either side of the House will buy that one.That Mr. Speaker, do issue his warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the County constituency of Richmond, Yorkshire, in the room of the right hon. Leon Brittan, QC, who since his election for the said county constituency hath accepted the office of steward or bailiff of Her Majesty's Manor of Northstead in the County of York.
When I started to delve into the moving of writs, I suddenly discovered that there was a side to parliamentary life on which we were missing out. Chief Whips, as we know, are men and women of few words. They stand at the Dispatch Box and move the writ ever so quickly, generally just before Question Time, and before we know what has happened it is on the way. Yet when a Back-Bench Member moves a writ, he has to explain it. One cannot get away with just standing up, because there has not been a discusision through the usual channels. Therefore, one must try to convince one's right hon. Friends and Government Members. In order to get a writ carried, one must convince a majority. One cannot rig it beforehand. It is a matter difficult to discuss. I read "Erskine May", which is a complicated tome, but I use it a lot. It can be very handy on occasions. It is like reading the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. When I worked in the pits, I read that Act thoroughly to outwit the management. When I became a Member, I thought that, after 21 years, that was the end of it—but then I discovered that I would need a new way of weaving and dodging, and I came across "Erskine May". The Mines and Quarries Act 1954 and Erskine May are about the same.The writ is in many ways a very complicated business, and I want to use a few opportunities today to illustrate the way in which these things must be done. I have spent many years in this place watching successive Chief Whips move writs and thinking, "This is a part of life that I have missed out on. I do not really know what the game is all about."
Given the proposal in the Government's Employment Bill, does my hon. Friend recommend that the women of the nation read the Mines and Quarries Act 1954? Is it a riveting read?
I say to the Speaker, who is leaning forward a little at this point, that I acknowledge that the point raised by my hon. Friend is, without a doubt, not one for today's business. However, I may have to organise seminars—which I believe is the yuppie word for them—telling women, who may or may not go down the pits if the Employment Bill is passed, how to deal with the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. I say en passant—[Laughter] .1 I have used that expression before, and it always goes well —it is like one of Les Dawson's.Once one gets to know the rules and procedures in any walk of life, that knowledge can be very handy. Some of us are very thorough about doing so. To get a writ through from the Back Benches, as opposed to moving it from the Dispatch Box, the first point one discovers is that it is the first item of business and should precede everything else. if a writ is to be moved on a day when there are parliamentary questions, that must be done at the beginning of business. If it is objected to, then it can he dealt with after Question Time. It can take up a considerable amount of time. It is no bad thing for the House to discuss a writ. It may be that in future years, given that Back Benchers as well as Whips can move a writ, that device will be used extensively. There are about 28 references in "Erskine May" to moving a writ, so if anyone has any ideas for the future, I suggest that they start at page 26 and work their way through to page 327. I should not want to bore the House by reading every page of "Erskine May" relating to writs—unless I am pressed.
I am worried by the line that my hon. Friend takes. I am riot sure that "Erskine May" deals with the weather. However, am sure that my hon. Friend has taken the trouble to study the constituency's boundaries, and realises that much of it goes into the high Pennines area. In the next three to four weeks, the weather there may not be particularly good. Has my hon. Friend taken that into account?
I have. I shall deal with the constituency's contours and geography, because, when right hon. and hon. Members from all parts of the House go electioneering in the constituency after the writ has been agreed, it is important that they know where they are. They could easily become lost.
The hon. Gentleman should correct the geography of his hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), in referring to the north Yorkshire moors as the Pennines. That is an insult to every Yorkshireman.
Mr. Skinner rose—
Will my hon. Friend point out to the hon. Gentleman the geographer royal on the Conservative Benches that a substantial part of the constituency's geographical area includes the Yorkshire Pennine dales of Wensleydale and Swaledale?
Order. That is hardly relevant as to whether or not there should be a by-election.
It certainly is.
To be fair, the Speaker is trying to say that it is wrong to talk at unnecessary length about the constituency, even though such tactics have been used in the past, when writs have been moved from the Back Benches. The Speaker is saying that it is wrong to refer to every little village and hamlet. However, the constituency of Richmond has many important characteristics, and I shall refer to them later.
Does my hon. Friend agree with me, as a Member representing a Pennines constituency, that the remarks of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) may cause offence? What on earth is wrong about living in the Pennines?
As a matter of fact, I am just off the edge of the Pennines.
The hon. Member is off the edge of most things.
I heard the remark of the ex-leader of the Liberal Party, if that is what it is called these days, about being off the edge. We do not want to go into that, either.
A large part of the Hillsborough constituency is in the Pennines. Returning to an earlier point, does my hon. Friend advocate that, after the women of our country have all read the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, that they should then read "Erskine May"? Most right hon. and hon. Members are not used to moving a writ, but occasionally they receive one. Does "Erskine May" say anything about that?
Order. That may be a different kind of writ. We must return to the question of the Richmond writ.
The problem can be easily resolved. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), who started this discussion, is well known for climbing the hills and mountains of the Pennines, and of Richmond. I suggest that he goes climbing in the constituency, and takes "Erskine May" with him. He, too, is well versed in that tome. I will also give him a copy of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954. He can then hold a seminar on Scargill high moor, overlooking the constituency. All those elements combined together will produce a reasonable solution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) knows, all those who take that exercise will feel better when they have finished. They can then descend the Pennines, call in at his place in Sheffield, and then go up the lovely little Ribble valley that my hon. Friend uses on occasions, when he takes those glorious walks of his.
Will my hon. Friend return to my serious point concerning the weather? I remind him that at the top of Swaledale is Tan hill, and that in 1947, the pub there had no visitors for three months because of the weather. Is it fair to move the writ at a time when there may be a month or more of snow, posing considerable difficulty to people wanting to vote? My hon. Friend ought to take the weather into account—unless he had the foresight to find out what weather we are to have over the next three or four weeks.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point, and it is one we must discuss. We must debate whether now is the appropriate time for the by-election. We all recognise that it is not a good idea to be electioneering in bad weather. General elections have been held in February.I am not suggesting for one moment that this by-election writ should be accepted on the old register. I want it to take place on the new register, which is important because it will give the greatest possible opportunity to the largest number of people within the enfranchisement of the Richmond constituency. We must balance the two issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has doubts and I must convince him of my argument. We must bear in mind the weather, plus the greatest number of people registered. One has to strike balances in life—I sometimes find that difficult. That is the nature of this place, especially when one is trying to have a writ carried. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish should not just get caught up with the weather. All hon. Members know that he understands the weather, clouds and changes in climate because he has lived that kind of life. We are talking about the new register and giving more people a chance to vote. That is one reason why I have come along with the writ today. We are approaching the time when the new register will be in force.
I understand the point made by my hon. Friend. In 1905–06 a radical Government were elected during the Christmas period and, in February 1974, the Labour party did not do too badly when there was a snowstorm in some constituencies. However, would my hon. Friend really like to be electioneering on the high moors in the weather that we can expect in the next few weeks?
They are already doing it. It is not yet the proper election period, but we know that the main parties have selected their candidates. Our candidate, Frank Robson, who increased his vote by 35 per cent. between the 1983 and the 1987 elections, is already hard at it in the villages and hamlets.I do not want to overlay this debate with too many plugs, but my colleague up there is fighting a doughty battle. he will certainly not be put off by the weather, Tories, Liberals or the party that dare not speak its name. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish should be up there—I think he will be—because if there is bad weather and the question of getting back to base arises, who better to bring the lost sheep down the mountains—or whatever other analogy is suitable?
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is giving a plug for his party's candidate in the Richmond by-election. It is only fair in the interests equity, that I should refer to the superb prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate, whom I happen to know personally. He was the president of the Oxford Union when I was there. [HON. MEMBERS: "What is his name?") His name is William Hague.
Order. This is an intervention. Please get it over with.
I am grateful to Opposition Members for falling into my little trap. I have William Hague's curriculum vitae with me. I was perusing it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Read it.") I have been told to read it, but you Mr. Speaker, have pointed out that this is an intervention. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has tried to pre-empt some of the actions that should take place in the forthcoming by-election in Richmond if the writ is successful. It would be grossly unjust if I did not put one or two of the finer points about William Hague.
That is something which the hon. Gentleman can do if he is called to speak later in the debate but not in an intervention.
If the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) were to speak—you will decide that, Mr. Speaker and not me—it would be a good idea. It would not be the most helpful contribution for the Tory candidate if the hon. Gentleman went on at length. I hope that he will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker and can explain more fully the name and background of the candidate, which, initially, he did not seem to know.
Can I make an unhelpful contribution? My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is wrong to move the writ. I am puzzled by his lack of curiosity. On 27 January 1986, and often before and since, he has asked the important question that should be resolved before he moves any writ. He asked why there should be an inquiry into the gross abuse of a Law Officers' letter by the former hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan). The Prime Minister replied
"I did not know about the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's own role in the matter of the disclosure until the inquiry had reported."—[Official Report, 27 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 657.]
Order. That is not relevant. We must return to the writ.
Under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, before such a writ is moved, there should be a tribunal into the happenings of January 1986. I am surprised that my hon. Friend—
Order. I am not saying that the hon. Gentleman could not advance his argument if he were called to speak, but it is not relevant at the moment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) knows, although I am not carrying him with me today, I quite favour the tribunal idea. Moving the writ will not make a great deal of difference to that. I shall support my hon. Friend on the issue of the tribunal in the future, irrespective of what happens regarding the writ.Today we are here to carry through, if possible, this particular writ. As a Back Bencher, I have to convince a majority. If I cannot convince my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow on the advisability of it, it looks as if matters are getting a bit dodgy and I shall have to try harder. A Front Bencher, could move the writ at 2.30 pm and that would be fairly easy but I must convince people. Today, I am striking a blow for Back Benchers, many of whom have asked many times, "Why cannot we have the right of Privy Councillors and the Front Benchers?" I am demonstrating that, in this matter, a Back Bencher should have the rights and powers that are normally preserved for Front Benchers only. It may be difficult to convince Front Benchers of that. I think that, on balance, my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow would agree, taking into account the tribunal and everything else, it would be better to strike a blow for the Back Bencher's right to move into that territory of moving writs that is normally reserved for the Chief Whip of the respective parties. That would be a worthwhile achievement, over and above the tribunal argument. It would represent a blow for democracy. I am wooing my hon. Friend back to me; I thought he was with me at the beginning.
I just want to thank my hon. Friend, because by his deep reading of "Erskine May", he has revealed that there are things in it which we wotted not of. We have not a lot of privileges on the Back Benches but I now gather that we have privileges that we did not know about. My hon. Friend will remember that I said to him this morning that I did not know that a Back Bencher could move a writ. We have a tendency to convey to people that we Back Benchers know everything, but it is obvious that we do not. My hon. Friend has taught me that I can move a writ. I should like to try sometime, so I shall study the procedure.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that point, because I have the appropriate page from "Erskine May". Page 326, under the item (3), "Motion for New Writs", states:
that is any communication from the Palace—"The next item to be taken after any such communication"—
That means that the moving of a writ must be the first item of business after any communication from the Palace. It must take precedence. The next part is important and is what my hon. Friend will probably remember if he wants to move a writ in future. It states:"is any motion for an order of the House to the Speaker to make out his warrant for the issue of a writ for the election of a new Member to fill a vacancy arising in the course of a session."
That is the very essence of it. "Erskine May" is saying to Back Benches, "You have the right". We have not chosen to develop that right, except on rare occasions, because a lot of people on coming into the House tend to take things for granted. I hope that my hon. Friend has the point. It is in "Erskine May"—Chief Whips generally, but not necessarily."Such motions are moved normally, but not necessarily, by the Chief Whip of the party to which the Member vacating the seat belonged."
My hon. Friend has taught us a great deal. I have a lot to do with teachers and education, and we always talk about in-service training, which is expensive. Does my hon. Friend believe that Members of Parliament need a good deal of in-service training?
One of the main reasons for doing what I am doing today—referring constantly to "Erskine May" —is that one of my burning desires since coming to this House has been for all Back Benchers to understand the quaint and archaic procedures of this place, so that they can have power, most times over the Government, and sometimes over their own parties. I say that with my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) present. He is helpful in this regard and he will understand the point I am making. I want us to be in the position to challenge even our own party establishment when it is necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough has struck the very kernel of the argument that motivates me to do what I am doing.If my hon. Friend still has connections with the National Union of Teachers, and, if he believes it is necessary for me or others like me to explain the antediluvian procedures of the House to some of the kids in the Sheffield area—I am making a rod for my own back here; I had better be careful—obviously I shall be helpful in that regard. Together, we could be a sort of dual repertory company which explains these procedures.
If my hon. Friend does explain these procedures to teachers and people connected with education, does he believe that it would be relevant—when the question of the absence from schools of young people and children is raised—to explain to them the degree of absenteeism that goes on in this House? Those absent are often the Members who raise the question of absenteeism in our schools.
Absenteeism is not really germane, but it is important to understand that on this Friday morning there is a good turn-out. It would not have been a bad idea if the televising of the House had begun this morning. It would not have been a bad start, would it?
Attendance would have been better, would it not?
We would not have needed too many seminars about parliamentary procedure. We could have had the entire nation saying tomorrow, "Do you know how to move a writ?" It could have been number one in the tabloids. We could have broken new ground, because we would have been educating the great British public about the procedures of this House. My guess is that, when the House is televised, only some of the normal run-of-the-mill, so-called major debates in which Privy Councillors tend to participate will be shown, whereas this is really a Back-Bench day. It therefore has great possibilities. I am letting my mind wander now as to when I shall be moving my next writ, so that we shall be able to inform those millions of people who will be tuned into the parliamentary channel—that is what they claim. At least there might be more tuned into that channel than the Sky channel.
I realise that my hon. Friend has been drawn away from one or two things, but he still has not answered my earlier question about the weather in Richmond. I just wonder whether he has any information about the weather. Even if we wait for the new register, would we have weather suitable for a by-election? As well as its importance to the by-election, many other people would like to know what the weather will be like during the next two to three weeks.
My hon. Friend has been in this place for some time and I have discovered that he is diligent, but, by God, he takes some persuading. I am doing my best with this writ, but he is asking me to control the weather. I am stopping people from queue-jumping with motions and things—I am not allowed to talk about that—but does my hon. Friend really believe that I am the sort of John Kettley of Parliament? He could not get it right. What guarantee is there that in June or July the skies will not open up? If there was an election in June in Richmond how do we know that people would not be tramping through the streets in pouring summer rain? We do not know what the weather will be. There are some things in life that even I cannot control.I say to my hon. Friend that I want his vote, but I cannot control the weather. Not even the Prime Minister has laid claim to being able to do that. She is into the green things. I cannot visualise her in that green anorak and sandals or the wooly hat from the jumble sale. I suggest that my hon. Friend should ask the Prime Minister if she has got round to controlling the weather.
My hon. Friend in replying to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said in his characteristic fashion how important it was to balance these matters. The balancing factor which we introduced was the aim to get the maximum number of people to vote, which would mean waiting for the new registers. If the writ was moved today—working to the maximum 18 days from the moving of the writ—does not the time run out on Monday, 15 February? The election would have to be on that day, at the latest. The new registers would be available at 9 o'clock that morning, but the voting booths would be open at 7 o'clock that morning. Therefore, the new register would not be available.
There is some flexibility. Often the election day does not correspond with the formal date, in terms of the number of weeks, from when the writ was moved, notwithstanding holidays and all the rest of it. I do not believe there is a problem, but if there is, I am sure that the Government—the seat represents a vacancy in their party—will ensure that the election takes place after 15 February.
My hon. Friend should enlarge on the question of the date, but not quite yet. My hon. Friend has pointed out that he needs the support of the majority of the House. I understand his natural and habitual desire to lash out at Conservative Members, but I must remind him that he will need votes from the Conservative Benches as well. I appeal to my hon. Friend to be a little more reasonable in his attitude. He is conducting this matter as though only one side of the House should be consulted, and I believe that he is treating Conservative Members quite scurvily.It is rare for me to intervene to defend the Conservative Benches, but several Conservative Members have tried to intervene on my hon. Friend's speech, only to be brushed aside. I appeal to my hon. Friend to look across at the Conservative Benches sometimes today. Let us have a bit of fair play; otherwise we will not get the votes.
Well, "you can't win them all."—that is roughly what my hon. Friend means. I have got to come here on a Friday morning and act out a role that does not suit me. I gave way to two Tories, but, with all due deference—I think that that is the way I should say it—the last one I gave way to cocked it up. I gave him a chance, but he got muddled. I decided that if that was the case, why should I repeat the mistake? I decided that I should rely on the old-fashioned idea of letting my hon. Friends have a go. But, okay, if my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) wants me to try to inculcate Conservative Members into my web, I shall.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been somewhat deflected from his theme about the barometer of the weather. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that by-elections are generally seen as a barometer of public opinion. The hon. Gentleman's primary function today is to secure the replacement of a Member of Parliament. The replacement of Members is not a trivial matter; there have been an average of 53 by-elections in each Parliament since 1918. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the replacement of a Member and not the weather is the most important thing? What does he intend to do about that?
It is clear that the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) has not only been reading "Erskine May", but has obviously been looking at the records. It is possible that there could be a contribution from the Conservative Benches on this matter if the hon. Lady catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. That would give a Conservative Member the opportunity to explain, maybe at length, what happened in those past by-elections; who moved the writs; whether they were all moved from the relevant Front Bench; and whether there were any exceptions to the rule. It is possible that we could look forward to a good, wholesome contribution about this. I am pleased to note that the hon. Lady supports the idea of a writ.
The hon. Gentleman has talked about absenteeism and about the new register. One must take into consideration the postal vote. Is he satisfied that, if there is a new register in the time available, people will know who the new Tory candidate is? There might be the slogan: "Don't be vague, ask for Hague". That could help the electorate. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied about the arrangements that will he made for postal votes in the event of a new register?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman follows electoral law as closely as some of us, but important changes have occurred in the past decade, not only to postal votes, but to people's ability to register, almost immediately, at any given time during the year.When I acted as a local government agent, one of the things that disturbed me most was that people could not get on the electoral register except at one time in the year. People can now get on those registers within a month, at any time of the year. From time to time, parties of all descriptions have increased the number of people on the registers during a given year. Postal votes are important, because the demographic make-up of the Richmond, Yorks constituency is not much different from the rest of Britain. There are a considerable number of elderly people in that constituency. We all know that, despite the attacks on the National Health Service, advances in medical science have meant that people are living longer and longer into their 70s and 80s. The hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Martin) is correct: postal votes are important. They will be oft continued importance throughout the forthcoming decades, as the population gradually ages. We must pay attention to the avalability of postal votes in Richmond, Yorks.
Rather than discussing Sir Leon Brittan again, I want to comment on the weather.Does my hon. Friend know that those of us who did their national service in the cavalry, did our basic training at Catterick camp? Can my hon. Friend imagine what it was like for me, along with other 18-year-olds, trying to dig out a trapped vehicle in the snow near Leyburn? I assure my hon. Friend that those of us who were in the cavalry at Catterick know very well that the weather conditions in north Yorkshire from January to April are no laughing matter. Therefore, could my hon. Friend postpone the writ?
You see, it is a strange place, this the House of Commons. It is only 10 minutes since I thought I was gradually pulling my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow towards me, but here we are moving on to the weather. Another thought has passed through my hon. Friend's head, and off he goes again.My hon. Friend should remember my initial remark about balance, and forget for one moment the drudgery of Catterick camp. My hon. Friend should try to remove from his mind yomping—I think that is the word—up and down Richmond, Catterick and Leyburn or calling at Leeming Bar to meet his friends in the Royal Air Force. When the writ is carried, my hon. Friend could go back and renew old acquaintances. Undoubtedly he will bump into some Labour people who will say, "Is that Tam Dalyell at the door?" They will say "Come in, Tam. We hated him as much as you did." What a welcome! Imagine my hon. Friend being let loose during this by-election—that could be a valuable weapon. The sooner my hon. Friend understands that he could play a tremendous role, the better. My hon. Friend should vote with us today, if we reach a vote, so that we can get on the move. If we get the vote, we shall hot-foot it up the A 1 to Catterick, where my hon. Friend has been many times.
It is true that the weather is relevant to a by-election at this time of the year, but the hon. Gentleman should also consider the possibility of writs being moved in other parts of the country other than north Yorkshire. This time last year, the east midlands suffered extremely bad weather. What the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said about his service with the cavalry and the difficulties with trapped vehicles could pertain to areas further south than Yorkshire. It is not only the moors in that beautiful part of the huge constituency of Richmond, Yorks, which suffer from heavy snowfalls. When the M69 motorway is blocked by snow and there are difficulties on the MI, that reinforces the importance of considering whether a writ should be moved at this time of year at all. If that is the case, does it not put a slightly different complexion on the argument that the hon. Gentleman is deploying, and should he not, in deference to the House, explain the situation for other parts of the country? He is taking a very narrow view.
This is an enormously long intervention and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman may be able to catch my eye a little later.
I apologise. I had not intended to delay the House, but I felt that I must raise the point.
I think that the House has got the point.
The lad is full of earnest endeavour. If we encourage him, he may yet be helpful. However, he has got a thing about the weather—we all understand that—and I am getting a bit resentful of the idea that people in the north cannot stand the weather. It is beginning to stick in my craw when I hear comments that people in the south can handle all kinds of weather. Do hon. Members think that up in the north, and in Richmond in particular, people worry about the weather and that they were concerned when my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow was yomping through Catterick camp and elsewhere?The people in the north are made of stern stuff. Just imagine sending a message from the House to Richmond saying, "Do you know that in the House of Commons today they deferred the writ for Richmond because they were frightened that people in the north of England cannot get out in bad weather?" They would regard that as nothing less than contempt.
As a Member representing a neighbouring constituency, may I reassure the House that in Cleveland and north Yorkshire we do not have worries about the weather and we shall be out voting for Labour and Frank Robson regardless of the weather? Last weekend, I went to Wensleydale in Richmond constituency. I invite hon. Members to go up for a weekend to walk there: it is beautiful countryside.
I went up there last year as well. We had a meeting in Richmond before all this and I met Joan Maynard. She used to be a Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Brightside and she now lives at Thirsk. She used to be on the local authority there. Thirsk has been in the Richmond constituency since 1983. Previously, it was in the consituency of Thirsk and Malton, but the Tories changed the boundaries, so Joan Maynard lives in Richmond constituency. I went up for a meeting in Richmond, little knowing that we should be having a videoed re-run later on. The meeting took place in the market hall and it was packed out. We had to bring chairs in from an adjoining room and folk filled all the seats. The place was alive. We discussed matters of a serious and heavy political nature including those that my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow has mentioned, and which he would, no doubt, like to mention at more length today. It was a straightforward public meeting, which had a good atmosphere.Richmond is a quaint market town with a lovely little theatre. It is like going back in time: one finds places like that in Britain. Sadly, I flit in and out and only spend a few hours in places, so I do not see enough of the wonderful places that my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam) has mentioned. She lives nearby and has been to Richmond recently, but I do not have enough time to see all the beauty of these places. When the writ is agreed, I am looking forward to going up there and revisiting Richmond, Northallerton, Catterick camp and Leeming Bar. I and Peter Heathfield were held up there on our way to a meeting during the miners' strike. That is a real diversion, but I just remembered that when I looked at the map. I remember those two hours at Leeming Bar service station because it looked as if we would not get to Northumberland for the meeting. The constituency is, in many ways, part of old England and there it is, stuck up in the north, surrounded by several Labour constituencies.
I am much persuaded by what my hon. Friend is saying about having the Richmond by-election as soon as possible. As he has been going round some of the places in the constituency, clearly knows them well and is an expert on etymology, I wonder whether he can explain to me why a parish in the constituency is called Snape with Thorpe. Can my hon. Friend throw some light on that because it seems a strange combination of names? It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) is not here to try to explain. The name may mean nothing. It may be just a bit of innocent pillow biting. I hope that my hon. Friend will explain.
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is an extremely skilful parliamentarian, will not go down that road and answer that question directly.
You are right, Madam Deputy Speaker, because that name conjures up many wild ideas and I shall not go down that road. If I did, someone else would jump up and come up with another matter, and on it would go. However, I must tell my hon. Friend that it is all right for him to raise such points, but we are about the serious business of getting the writ through and we could spend all morning talking about Snape with Thorpe.I shall say only that we know that all these quaint little names are usually derived from somthing of a geographical nature. The chances are that it is to do with a River Snape meeting a River Thorpe. I am not saying that for sure, but it is usually something of that nature. I hope my hon. Friend does not get any wild ideas, because there is probably a simple explanation.
I am grateful for that explanation; my hon. Friend has reassured me somewhat. But let us consider the people of Hutton Hang, which is also in the constituency. The people may want something said, in the course of the by-election, about why they should be living in a place called Hutton Hang. I thought that Hutton was one of the great Yorkshire cricketers. I would not like to be a Yorkshireman living in a place called Hutton Hang. I am sure that they do not want to hang Hutton and that they will want one of the candidates to say that, when elected, he or she will do something about that. Names are important in such a constituency.
Possibly Hutton Hang is a peaceful haven for retired spies.
I am conscious of the warning given about this, but the point that I want to make is important in understanding the effects on the nature of the constituency of etymology and history. The old Anglo-Saxon names have changed, and that is often resented by the people living there. Let us take a good old-fashioned name for a small river, such as Gash Beck. There must be tremendous resentment that, with the advent of the Normans, that become Scargill.
As I said earlier, the constituency is overlooked from the west and north-west by Scargill high moor and he—that is, the moor—could be looking down on the whole proceedings. I suppose that it is a nice tidy place to which to go, and if we go there, we shall probably find someone from British Coal stuck at the top.
Together with other hon. Members, my hon. Friend is showing us graphically—the imagination boggles—what a wide constituency Richmond, Yorks, is. There is often trouble in people's minds about which is the Richmond in Yorkshire and which the Richmond in Surrey. Dr. Arne once wrote a lovely song about the "Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill", and the contest about which Richmond he meant is still going on.I should like to refer briefly to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who was in the cavalry. I knew Catterick because I was in the Scottish infantry towards the end of the war—in fact, in the Royal Scots, which I believe was my hon. Friend's regiment. Perhaps he and I could canvass together and as we yomp home he could go on horseback because he is a cavalryman. As an infantryman, I would have to yomp on foot. Does my hon. Friend think that that is a good idea?
Order. I must now bring the debate back to the motion.
You are absolutely right, Madam Deputy Speaker. When the by-election writ is issued, people will be doing different jobs and it is becoming obvious to everybody that two people will be sent to Catterick camp. One will be my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow, and we now know that my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough will be with him. I think that they should knock on the door and say, "We have come to canvass in the by-election. We are not here to advocate market forces, and if the Goernment applied market forces to Catterick camp, they would privatise it." That would be a good line for my hon. Friends to follow, because 38 per cent. of the population in the Richmond constituency have connections with the services and related industries. It is important that people understand that high incidence of 38 per cent. In the rest of Britain the figure is normally about 20 per cent. It is so high in Richmond because of Catterick camp and Leeming Bar. I am sure that people will understand that market forces have nothing to do with providing the wherewithal for the Army and the RAF, However, although there is a good political point in that, I am not going to develop it.
I wish that my hon. Friend would follow up that point about the election to the possible presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) as it raises many constitutional issues. I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow saying that he was in the cavalry. We have an image of Tam on a horse, digging out a tank. The Scots Greys and the cavalry are a phoney element in all this, because the real force at Catterick is the Royal Tank Regiment, in which I served. The most important instruction given when some of the cavalry were brought into tanks was the one saying that officers of field rank and above need not wear spurs in the tanks.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I fail to see what the military career of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has to do with the moving of a writ for the constituency of Richmond, Yorks. Surely the House should concentrate on the important issue before it instead of on these long diversions into personal anecdotes.
The House will be aware that on more than one occasion I have said that we must now debate the writ before us. I hope that hon. Members will take that point to heart and that the hon. Member for Bolsover will proceed along those lines.
Mrs. Wise rose—
If my hon. Friends will give me just a minute, I will answer that point. I do not want to get into any difficulties with the Chair. Up to now you" Madam Deputy Speaker, and Mr. Speaker before you, have not admonished me. Some of my hon. Friends may have been a little exuberant, but I can understand that. However, I have not yet received any admonitions from the Chair. That is unusual, but it is true, and I am trying my best not to get one.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is pushing the Chair into that position at the moment. I should be glad if he would now return to the moving of the writ.
On this question of the writ, when reading "Erskine May" I became aware of another aspect of this matter which it is important that we should understand. As I said at the beginning, Back Benchers should know what it is that enables the Front Benchers, who normally do this job, to move the writ.A curious anomaly exists nowadays, which arises out of the Common Market. I was speaking to the chief Clerk yesterday about this—said he, name dropping. I was surprised by what I read in "Erskine May". In 1973, the Speaker's conference on electoral law recommended that the writ should normally be moved within three months of a vacancy arising. In strict theoretical terms, that has happened in this case, because Leon Brittan wa a Member of the House until the Christmas recess so in those strict terms, three months have not elapsed. However, I think that we should consider—this could be a matter for a future Speaker's conference, which is why I have thrown it in—whether if somebody is given a job in the Common Market on 22 July—irrespective of who that person is—can we argue, in purely analytical terms, that that lapse of time is according to "Erskine May". The section on page 26 that deals with new writs states:
or, and this is the interesting thing—"Whenever vacancies occur in the House of Commons from any legal cause, after the original issue of writs for a new Parliament by the Crown, writs are issued out of Chancery by a warrant from the Speaker, which he issues, when the House is sitting, upon the order of the House of Commons. The causes of vacancy are the death of Members or their succession to a peerage,"
The important word there is "acceptance". Was 22 july the date of the acceptance of a disqualifying office? I am making this point seriously, so that hon. Members and others who may take part in future electoral changes can consider whether the announcement of the job of European Commisioner means the acceptance of a disqualifying office, albeit that in this case the hon. Member continued to serve his constituency until the end of December—several months later. That important issue must be resolved and if we do nothing else this morning, at least we will have drawn the attention of hon. Members of all parties to the fact that that anomaly must be cleared up while we continue to appoint Commissioners to Europe. I do not mean this in any mealy mouthed way, but the question of Members of the European Parliament should be cleared up at the same time. I accept that it is not easy, but this point applies right across the board and I am sure that hon. Members will accept it. Perhaps, as a result of this short debate, those concerned will consider this matter to find out whether the acceptance of a disqualifying office means the nomination for Commissioner, as opposed to the time when the hon. Member decides to apply for the Manor of Northstead."the acceptance of a disqualifying office,"
Does my hon. Friend think that being an EEC Commissioner is a disqualifying office? Surely a disqualifying office is an office of profit under the Crown. As I understood it, the former Member of Parliament for Richmond, Yorks had to apply for the Manor of Northstead in order to get an office of profit under the Crown, and therefore had to give up his seat.
My hon. Friend is well versed in this subject. However, during discussions on this subject, which I have gone into at length, I have discovered that "office of profit under the Crown" is no longer the phrase used. The phrase now is "a disqualifying office". I had been brought up believing that the way to become disqualified from Parliament was to take on an office of profit under the Crown. I used that phrase earlier deliberately. The phrase is actually "disqualifying office". Page 26 of "Erskine May" gives a lead to the idea that the acceptance of that job could be—not necessarily, but could be—sufficient disqualification. Although I do not want to make heavy weather of that in this case, that issue must be dealt with in the future.
I shall give way to my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras.
Will my hon. Friend confirm the rather curious situation that some offices of profit under the Crown are not disqualifying offices? A lawyer who is a Member of the House can be a recorder or a temporary judge and obtain substantial rewards from the Crown without ceasing to be a Member of Parliament, because that legal job is not included in the list of disqualifying offices.
The list of disqualifying offices is rather strange. I did not complete it. Other disqualifying offices are
My hon. Friend has raised a point that I hope will be taken up by a future Speaker's Conference on this whole question."succession to a peerage,…elevation of Members to the peerage,…bankrupty, lunacy, the establishment of any other legal disqualification for sitting and voting".
I should like to ask my hon. Friend a question in the context of disqualification in a wider sense. I started off agreeing with my hon. Friend, but he has begun to lose me. In view of what some of our hon. Friends have said, it seems that the only candidates fit to contest an election in this area are people who served in the Royal Tank Regiment or the infantry. That excludes all women in the House of Commons and even many men.
My hon. Friend knows only too well that I think there are not enough women elected to the House and that there are not enough women Opposition Members. At the recent Labour party conference, I and many others supported the idea that that situation should be improved. However, that issue will have to be dealt with on another occasion.Earlier I said that the disqualification should start from the date that people accept the job. I want to develop that argument. In local government that would apply. If somebody in local government disqualifies himself from being a member of a local authority, there could immediately be a call by the contending parties, or even individual electors, to fill that vacancy. That could happen except just before an overall election. For most of the year it is possible for somebody in local government who it could be argued, does not wield as much authority as a Member of Parliament—although that is not true in some cases—to expect to have that vacancy filled straight away. For elections to Parliament, it seems as if the whole affair can drag on for a long time.
One learns much by listening to my hon. Friend, who is such an expert in these matters. I have the 18th edition of "Erskine May" and I suspect that my hon. Friend has an earlier one. In my edition, I can see no list of disqualifying offices. I can see a reference to the acceptance of a disqualifying office. I understand that this by-election will be brought about because becoming a Commissioner is considered to be a disqualifying office.
That is the point. I should like to know exactly why there has to be a by-election. Would it not be possible for Leon Brittan to be a Commissioner and to continue as a Member of Parliament?
That is an interesting point. The writ is being moved this morning as a result of Leon Brittan accepting the Manor of Northstead and taking on a disqualifying office in that name. My hon. Friend will remember that I spoke about the Manor of Northstead at the beginning of my speech. That is the disqualifying office in this case, and not the Common Market office. Many people believe that we should stay in the Common Market for ever, but I am not one of them.
Those people are misguided.
As my hon. Friend says, they are misguided. However, since many people believe that that will happen, we must clear up this matter. There will be others in future, and that is why I draw specific attention to it. The disqualifying office is not the Common Market; it is the Manor of Northstead in this case.
In order to save time I should like to put a question to my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who cannot be here today, yesterday tried to get the Leader of the House to make some definitive statement on what exactly are offices of profit, given the European Community situation. This is a central and important point.
We are in an interesting area. The disqualifying office is a grey area. When I had not been a Member of this House very long, in one of the general elections in 1974 a Liberal Member, now Lord Winstanley, was elected in a constituency in the Greater Manchester area, the constituency of Hazelgrove. I came in here one day and saw on the annuciator a strange little reference to some quaint little Bill that was to be moved at 3.30 in the afternoon. I thought, "What's all this then?" I made some inquiries and found that before and during the general election campaign that Liberal Member had unwittingly held a disqualified office. He was a doctor acting for tribunals and therefore receiving money from the Crown. I made some inquiries and said to Ted Short, now Lord Glenamara, "What are you going to do here then, because I think that this Bill is retrospective legislation."At that time, the Labour Government seemed to lean over backwards to help the other side. I never quite discovered why, but they were very good at it. It is the old thing about the Labour movement being very impartial while the others trample all over us. Lord Glenamara said, "We are going to undisqualify him." I said, "Why? We have one down already and we have a tiny majority." It was like playing cricket but they do not quite say that now. What happened? Madam Deputy Speaker was probably here at that time, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) was definitely here, and he will probably elaborate on it. I was mystified as I watched this developing piece of retrospective legislation that would allow a Liberal Member not to be disqualified. As a Labour Member of Parliament, I thought that that was what I was here for, to get rid of the enemy. I learned something that day, I was almost alone and friendless, but I carried out the opposition.
I give way to the Common Market man here.
Hon. Members have been listening with admiration—I hope that he will forgive me for using that word—to the hon. Gentleman's polemical skills. This is a parliamentary rather than a party occasion. The hon. Gentleman made some valid points about the complexities of disqualification. Earlier, he spoke proudly about not receiving an admonition from the Chair, whereas other hon. Members had received such admonitions because they had digressed in interventions. That was equally impressive. Then the hon. Gentleman began to spoil his speech because he went back into his traditional terrain of attacking the Common Market. That was rather disappointing because, as he knows, many hon. Members, including a growing number of Labour Members, are keen on the Common Market. That is a fascinating spectacle to observe, because in the past Labour Members have always denied that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to get into that territory, because he would regret it and might lose some of the admiration for his polemical skills. In that context may I ask him to comment on the interesting difference between the date of the appointment by the Chancellor to the Manor of Northstead and 1 January—or is it 4 January—the starting date for the new Commissioner? Constitutional lawyers who are expert in European and national matters might say the 4 January was the valid one. That might affect the date of the by-election.
That is the argument of Members on the Government Front Bench, some of whom are trying to escape from their Common Market pasts. They are not doing that very strongly, and we are having a lot of cosmetics and window dressings from the Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman should not be so sure about this vis-a-vis the Common Market. The landscape is moving a little. The argument is whether the grounds of a disqualifying office came into effect when the offer was made on 22 July or when the Commissioner started the job. That point should be cleared up.The Government are currently discussing the possibility of stopping someone who works for one local authority being a local government representative in another. If there no disqualifying office vis-a-vis the Common Market, it is a double standard to say to people in local government that they cannot work for one local authority and be a representative of another just because many of those people are Labour people.
The hon. Gentleman has been on his feet for almost one hour and 20 minutes. It is not unique for a private Member to move writs for an election. I moved 15 of them on 17 December 1958 in two minutes, and in 12 lines of Hansard.However, it is unique for such a debate to take place on the moving of a writ. This is being used as a dilatory motion to frustrate private Members' time. All private Members normally wish to safeguard that time. Although the hon. Gentleman has been very humorous, this act of procedure does not help the House generally. It does not help the House's reputation and will not be understood by people outside the House.
May I tell the hon. Gentleman, who is Chairman of the Procedure Committee, that there is without doubt a majority of people in this House who, contrary to the views that he has expressed about dilatory motions from Opposition Members, regard the question of Back-Bench Members jumping the queue in the private Members' Ballot and getting to the top of the list as a practice to be deplored. If there is a question—
Order. We have strayed a long way from the motion before us. I remind the House that I am careful about precedents, and during today's debate I am following precedents.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has just, however obliquely, referred to me and accused me of a piece of parliamentary malpractice—queue jumping. Is it in order for me to reply to him during the debate, because it is possible that we shall never reach my debate?
Obviously, any hon. Member in the Chamber who catches the eye of whoever might be in the Chair may well be called. I would hope to call the hon. Lady in due course.
I want to take my hon. Friend back to "Erskine May" on the question of moving writs because this is important in the teaching role that he has adopted. The moving of a writ takes precedence over other business. I should like to know how frequently the same writ can be moved. If, surprisingly, my hon. Friend fails to persuade hon. Members today, could someone re-introduce the writ next week?
At least one Conservative Member has spoken of dilatory action. It was suggested a few days ago that the moving of a writ was a means of developing such action. The Clerks were unsure of the ground here. This has been a learning process for me, my hon. Friends and those people who advise the Chair, because that point was a matter for consideration. I shall not name names, but there was a complete blank on the question as to whether it was possible for a further writ to be moved within days of another having been moved and not dealt with satisfactorily. That very question was a puzzle for at least a week.So far as I understand it—I shall be on record in Hansard—the matter has been resolved. The writ can be moved again. However, a writ cannot be moved again—this is another part of the learning process—if it is defeated. That is why I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow that I am not hereabouts trying to get it defeated. I would not attempt to do that, because I want to win over the House and get the writ accepted; but, if I thought for one moment that I could not carry a majority, I would make absolutely sure that it was not defeated. If it is defeated, that is a different question. That would mean that the writ would fall for the rest of the Session, and none of us want that. This is all part of understanding more about the quaint procedures in the Commons. It is interesting to note that, for a whole week, the establishment in the House of Commons was not sure about the answer. I can give the answer today in the affirmative, because I embarked on this procedure. We are beginning to dot a few i's and cross a few t's on the procedures of the House simply because this debate is taking place. Some people think that it is ritual, but it is not. It is a way of drawing some of these procedures to the attention of the House. I was dealing with the question of the Common Market and how it is counterposed to people who lose or leave their seats in local government. That is also part of the valuable learning process, so I am pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) raised that point. It could not have been cleared up if I had not embarked on this procedure a few days ago.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. I thought for a while that, because he received an admonition from me, I would not have the chance to intervene again. I am grateful that he is at last letting me make a remark.Does my hon. Friend think that the contribution from the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), is something to be proud of? Is it something to be proud of, to move 15 writs in two minutes or 12 lines of Hansard? I could scarcely believe it. Is that anything to be proud of, or could it be said to be treating the electors' interests with scant regard? I should like to discuss at greater length the interests of the voters and potential voters in that constituency because there are pros and cons and some of us have not yet made up our minds. Generally speaking, we want an early by-election so that we do not leave people unrepresented, but we must think again of convenience and practicality from the voters' point of view. We have not examined that enough.
I hope to examine those pros and cons, but there is limit to how far I can examine the pros and cons of, for example, the Health Service with regard to the Richmond by-election in terms of strict party political objects. The subject could certainly be touched upon. My hon. Friend may well do that if she catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, and if that is what she means.
No, I do not mean that at all. We must examine the characteristics of this constituency. Referring back to the weather, has my hon. Friend considered the extent of car ownership in the Richmond, Yorks constituency? Has he taken into account the fact that women have very little access to cars, even if there is a car in the family?In response to other comments that have been made today, as a northerner born and bred, I am not insulting the people of the north when I suggest that the weather must be taken into account. When I was a little girl on Tyneside I grew up believing that Yorkshire was the start of the south. I do not speak with any prejudice against northerners. However, the fact remains that voting can be very difficult for women voters without access to cars, especially if they are Labour voters and the Labour party may be short of cars because we represent the non-car owning classes to a large extent. Has my hon. Friend taken that into account?
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is now 11 o'clock, and this is the point on a Friday when statements are made if they are going to be made. I would be grateful if you could say whether you have received any sign from the Secretary of State for Transport that he will respond to our representations that he should make a statement about certain circumstances revealed today in one of London's local newspapers, the Hampstead and Highgate Express? It revealed that, although the Secretary of State announced that Dr. Tony Ridley, the Chairman of London Underground Ltd., had offered his resignation, which the Secretary of State had accepted on 10 November, Dr. Ridley is still occupying an office at London Underground, is receiving the help of a paid secretary and personal assistant and has a chauffeur-driven car and a car phone. All that is provided at the expense of London Underground. That seems to be in flat contradiction with what the Secretary of State told us on 10 November. I want to know whether he intends to make a statement.
Mr. Speaker has received no such application from any Minister to make a statement.
This is a most important matter. When the House was told, and I quote—
Order. I cannot allow the hon. Gentleman to pursue this matter by way of a point of order. I have already made it absolutely clear to the House that no such application has been made to Mr. Speaker. The Chair has no authority over such statements made by Ministers. We must now proceed.
I accept that, Madam Deputy Speaker. However, the Leader of the House is here. Most hon. Members would appreciate it if he could carry a message to the Secretary of State for Transport saying that we wish—
Order. Unhappily the hon. Gentleman is attempting to enter into debate, which I will not allow. He has quite rightly made the point that the Leader of the House is present. Mr. Speaker has had no such application. It must be left at that.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I gave Mr. Speaker notice that I would raise this point of order at this time earlier this morning.I wish to raise a point of order concerning the deportation of Mr. Viraj Mendis. He is due to be deported from Gatwick airport in 58 minutes' time. I raised this matter during business questions yesterday, and asked for a statement to he made about the Government's intentions which would enable a Minister from the Home Office to report to the House. He could have told us whether discussions and efforts have been made overnight and this morning to try to defer the deportation to allow discussions to take place to find a safe refuge for Mr. Mendis in a third country—and if they had been completed. My next point is central to my point of order. Yesterday, during business questions, and today in an amendment to early-day motion 287, I drew the attention of the House to a case last December in which, after making representations on behalf of a political activist who was a Pakistan national—
Order. Of course I must listen to points of order. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will raise a point of order with which I can deal from the Chair. Otherwise, it is an abuse of the House.
I recognise that completely. I know from experience that written assurances from Home Office Ministers that individuals face no risk of persecution if they are deported to certain countries are not worth the paper that they are written on. I was told last December that this individual faced no risk—
Order. The hon. Gentleman is not making a point of order. He is making a speech to the Chair the subject of which has been dealt with by the House earlier. I can reply to the hon. Gentleman's original point of order, which asked me whether Mr. Speaker had received an application from a Home Office Minister to make a statement. The answer is no. Mr. Speaker has received no such application, and no Home Office Minister is to make a statement this morning.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the last thing that my hon. Friend wants to do is challenge your authoritiy Madam Deputy Speaker, and nor would I. We recognise your predicament. However, similarly you recognise our predicament that emergencies are not allowed to happen in the House of Commons on a Friday. No doubt on any other day of the week, my hon. Friend could have raised the matter as a Standing Order No. 20 application and that is not intended to challenge your authority. The rules of the House do not allow the Standing Order No. 20 procedure on a Friday. My hon. Friend want to refer to an emergency and a genuine problem which merits discussion. We would appreciate guidance from the Chair on the methods available to my hon. Friend to raise an issue of this importance on a Friday.
The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has had an opportunity to express his feelings on the matter through a point of order, and a very long point of order at that. He asked whether Mr. Speaker had had an application from the Home Office to make a statement. I am observing the practice of the House in responding to that, by saying that no such application has been made. I am sure that hon. Members would not wish to abuse our procedures. The fact that there can be no Standing Order No. 20 application on a Friday morning is something that the Chair can do nothing about. We must now proceed.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The point that I am trying to make is that, despite written assurances, the man for whom I was trying to get political asylum was arrested as he walked off the plane in Pakistan. He remains in prison and many of us fear that the same destiny awaits Mr. Mendis if he is deported in 58 minutes' time.
Order. The Chair has no authority over such matters. It is an abuse of our proceedings that such matters be raised at this time in that way.
On a point of order. I understand that the Chair has no jurisdiction in that respect. However, the House is owed something. We were given assurances and statements were made by the Home Secretary from the Dispatch Box earlier in the week. We were given news. It seems appropriate that we should ask that the Leader of the House should arrange for a further report to be made to the House so that hon. Members are kept abreast of the latest developments. We should be exchanging those views.My point of order is that, in view of the fact that we heard statements and were given assurances, we are now entitled to receive from the Dispatch Box the latest. information available to Ministers, and I think that the proceedings should allow that.
All I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that no Minister has applied to come to the House this morning to make a statement. We must leave it at that. I call Mr. Skinner.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There is a great deal of concern among Back Benchers, certainly on the Labour Benches, about the welfare of Mr. Viraj Mendis. You are a custodian, as is Mr. Speaker, of Back Benchers' rights. There must be a way in which those rights can be exercised in an emergency such as this. We have heard that the procedures do not allow that to happen on a Friday. That must be wrong. We were given assurances that Mr. Viraj Mendis would be given an opportunity to go to a third country. Is he going to go to a third country or—
Order. That is not a question which the Chair can answer. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, if it is thought wrong that our procedures do not allow that matter to be raised on a Friday, it is up to the House to amend the procedures to meet those demands. I call Mr. Skinner.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that people do not think that the issue that we have been discussing this morning is one in which we are adopting a kind of ruse. We honorably want to know about Viraj Mendis. It is wrong that hon. Members do not know things that the outside world probably knows at this moment. As Members of Parliament we have the right to know what is happening.
Hon. Members are raising with the Chair matters of debate which are not points of order. I answered the crucial point of order by saying that, to Mr. Speaker's knowledge, no Minister is coming to the House this morning.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is now a serious matter, and it involves you. We learnt this morning that the Home Secretary lied to us when he made his statement about Viraj Mendis.
Order. I cannot allow the hon. Lady to proceed in that manner. Will she withdraw that and rephrase her question?
The Home Secretary led us to believe that he was giving an assurance, which has proved to be false. He sat there and told us—[Interruption.] He gave an assurance to the whole House— [Interruption.]
Order. To the best of my knowledge, the hon. Lady has withdrawn and rephrased what she had to say.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You were right in your interpretation of what I said. [Interruption.]
Order. Did the hon. Lady withdraw her original statement?
I certainly withdrew the word and rephrased what I said.We are talking about a man who might be going to his death. It is a serious matter. In the past year, 700 people have been killed in Sri Lanka, and the Government of Sri Lanka cannot give assurances because a political movement is behind it. The Home Secretary gave us the assurance that there would be enough time to consider Viraj Mendis going to a third country. He is now moving so fast that that assurance is worthless. The Home Secretary has misled the House. He has given us a false assurance. The Leader of the House should tell us whether the Home Secretary will come to the House and explain how he misled us in that way.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members have already explained to the House the difficulty about raising Standing Order No. 20 on a Friday. There is also a time-honoured custom in the House that hon. Members who are dissatisfied because there is no statement may raise points of order. I realise that that creates difficulties for the Chair, but it also creates some difficulties for hon. Members who have other important business. I am sure that you are aware that, on occasions, in various ways, hon. Members have raised points of order for anything up to half an hour or longer while the usual channels negotiate to see whether a statement can be made. Such attempts place the Chair in considerable difficulty.Clearly, many Opposition Members feel sufficiently strongly about the matter to be tempted to continue trying to raise points of order in an effort to get a statement. Obviously, that procedure is unsatisfactory. When the Chair feels that a point of order has been put repeatedly, it is possible for the Chair to state that it would help the House if a statement were made. I wonder whether you would consider that point, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I have considered very seriously all the points of order that have been put to me. There may be time for negotiations to take place and for a Minister to come here in due course, but I can only repeat that Mr. Speaker has had no such application. To the best of my knowledge, no Minister is coming here to make a statement this morning. I can only say to hon. Members who have raised points of order that, as has been pointed out, the Leader of the House is here and has no doubt taken notice of what has been said.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is within the recollection of all of us that, on occasions such as this Friday, the Leader of the House has seen fit to intervene during exchanges to say that the Government would make a statement at a certain time. I plead with him. Mr. Mendis is due to be deported to an uncertain destiny in 45 minutes. I tried to mention the matter on Wednesday, but I was prevented. I raised it with the right hon. Gentleman yesterday, and he heard what I said. I have raised it with colleagues today. I appeal to the Leader of the House to tell us when the Government will make a statement about their intentions.
We have now had sufficient points of order on this matter. I will take the last one from the hon. Lady.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Mr. Viraj Mendis was taken to Gatwick some time ago. We are entitled to a statement, as we were given an assurance that he would be given the opportunity to go to a third country. The House is entitled to know what is happening.
Yet again, and I hope for the last time, to the best of Mr. Speaker's knowledge, no Minister is coming to the House this morning to make any such statement.
They make enough statements when we are not here.I was dealing with the—
On a different point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is plain that the Government will not respond to the issue and do not care a jot for people such as Mr. Viraj Mendis—[Interruption.]
Order. We have had a number of points of order this morning. Let us keep the temperature down. I asked the hon. Gentleman to come directly to his point of order.
All through the last series of points of order that all hon. Members were concerned about, there was a constant gabble from the Government side of the House—an outrageous gabble in the circumstances. I found it difficult to hear what some of my hon. Friends were saying. That shows what little interest Conservative Members have for the life of an individual.
The Chair has no control over human behaviour.
Before I give way, I must deal with the question about disqualifying offices. Luckily, as a result of the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras—I managed to get hold of a book on disqualifying offices, including being a Member of Parliament. My hon. Friend, the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and other hon. Friends wanted to know about it. There is a list—it is longer than I thought. It would be sheer repetition to read it out. However, one immediately comes to mind. In recent times, there has been a change in the number of disqualifying offices. It is on page 16 in the House of Commons—
Which book is it?
It is not "Erskine May". We are now dealing with the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, which has been amended on occasions.We are now discussing whether the office of Commissioner should be a disqualifying office. In 1985 there was added to the list any member of a residuary body established by part 7 of the Local Government Act 1985 or is in receipt of remuneration. That means that, notwithstanding our entry to the Common Market in 1973, the Government of the day managed to change the list or add to the number of disqualifying officers, as a result of the abolition of the GLC. Why has there been no attempt to add the office of Euro-Commissoner? The inclusion of a member of a residuary body means that the matter has been looked at, but not in respect of the commissioner. That is an anomaly.
My hon. Friend knows much about the subject. If a Member of Parliament has accepted an office of profit under the Crown, which is one of the disqualifying offices, and he leaves—that is why we are having a by-election in Richmond—at some later stage is it possible for that person to stand for election and return to the House? That is the first point.If there were any difference, could it be that a Commissioner has not been added to the list of disqualifying offices, for the simple reason that the establishment believes that it is most appropriate for a commissioner who gives up being Commissioner to come back to the House of Commons. I should like my hon. Friend to clear up that point.
That is the point that I was developing. [Interruption.] Part of the problem is that as the Common Market is of the establishment orientation it does not want to tread on any toes and stop these people returning. It is important to recall—[Interruption.] It does not matter. Hon. Members do not want to listen.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I receive many letters from constituents saying how unhappy they are about what goes on in this Chamber and I seek your guidance on what I should say to them. They dwell on many issues, not least the fact that every time a motion on abortion appears various tactics are used, such as moving the writ this morning, to prevent a free debate and a free vote. Will you allow us to move to a vote on this matter? Clearly, for a by-election writ to be discussed for an hour and three quarters is an abuse of procedures.
The hon. Gentleman has raised two points. I am extremely flattered that he has asked my advice on responding to his constituents' mail. I should have thought that he was capable of replying himself. Secondly, several hon. Members wish to speak in this debate, and I cannot accept a closure motion at this stage.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you say whether it would be possible for the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) to move the closure motion when an hon. Member is moving a motion such as this?
At this stage no hon. Member could possibly move the closure, because the motion before the House has not yet been finally moved.
Perhaps you could be clearer on that point, Madam Deputy Speaker, and confirm that it is not possible to move a closure motion on the mover of this motion.
That is absolutely correct.
It is not for me to get involved in applications for motions from Conservative Members. Hon. Members on both sides of the house have had letters of complaint about Members of Parliament who want to queue-jump from seventh to first place. There is no argument about that.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I shall deal with the question why the Euro-Commissioner is not included in the list of disqualifying officers. The establishment of this place has decided that it would be good if people went out there and came back. Woy Jenkins of the wadicals did exactly that. [Laughter.] he got a job as a Commissioner, then became the President and then came back as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead. Commissioners are not included simply because in the past people have gone to the Common Market and reserved the right to be re-elected as a Member of Parliament, if they can get in. In this case, Leon Brittan has expressed the wish to reserve the right to return.If members of the London residuary body or any other residuary body are disqualified for taking that job, I would have thought that a Commissioner should also be disqualified. If they could return, so be it. That does not matter. It is not the important question. My question is what happens at the beginning.
Is it not wrong of the hon. Gentleman to introduce personalities? Should he not stick to technical, constitutional and legal points? Is he right or wrong in saying that a Commissioner post is an office of profit under the Crown in the conventional sense? Does it come under the original conventional list in its intention or the present list? The hon. Gentleman may be right in saying—
Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in this, but he has strayed from the motion.
With respect, Madam Deputy Speaker, and forgive me for saying this, because I always like to take your guidance and advice, this is an important and interesting question. Many parliamentarians would not know whether a Commissioner holds an office of profit under the Crown in the conventional sense or a new post created by a treaty to which this country acceded later, so it is only indirectly an office of profit under the Crown because the United Kingdom has acceded to that treaty and the Crown is the representation of our signing that treaty. The hon. Gentleman is wrong, but perhaps he thinks that he is right.
I come down on the opposite side to the hon. Gentleman simply because Commissioners receive British taxpayers' money. They do not get all their money from Britain. The money is put into one pot and they get £97,000 out of it. Their salary has been increased. They get taxpayers' money and in simple, straightforward, legal terms that means money from the Crown.Moreover, Commissioners also swear an oath of allegiance to the Common Market. A member of the London residuary body does not do that. That is a second reason why the Speaker's Conference should examine this. It should examine this on remuneration grounds and on the question of taking the oath of allegiance to the Common Market. That is why this is an important matter, as the hon. Gentleman rightly suggested.
Is my hon. Friend happy about the comparison between Roy Jenkins and Leon Brittan? Leon Brittan did something quite different. He negotiated the resignation correspondence. Never in the history of our country has resignation correspondence from the Prime Minister of the day ended by saying,
How on earth would she have written that, given the events of Westland, for which Leon Brittan was the scapegoat, unless there had been—"I hope it will not be long before you return to high office to continue your ministerial career."
Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that the motion before us is whether or not a writ is issued for the county constituency of Richmond in Yorkshire, and he is straying far from the point.
We were discussing the number of disqualifying offices and I said that I was surprised that the long list does not yet include EEC Commissioners, which would be a likely addition at a future Speaker's Conference. I was saying that Commissioners take an oath of allegiance and get remuneration which is partly paid by the British taxpayer—and we know what the Prime Minister thinks about taxpayers' money, except apparently on this occasion. I was about to refer to some other matters, including the surprise to me that one of the disqualifying offices is that of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. I can see why when think about it, but I wonder whether the list will include the new ombudsman for The Sun as well. I can hardly believe that he qualifies as an ombudsman in the real sense. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West wants to talk about residuary matters.
No, I do not want to talk about the residuary body. I look forward to the day when I can walk over to county hall and personally deliver the dismissal note from my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) as Prime Minister to Godfrey Taylor, the present chair of the London residuary body, but that is another matter and I can wait a few more months.Technically speaking, there is no need to have a by-election in Richmond, Yorks because the position of Commisssioner is not an office of profit under the Crown. It has nothing to do with the Crown in that respect. My hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said that it was an office above the Crown when one thinks about the EEC. Technically, it was not necessary for Leon Brittan to resign. He could have remained as the Member of Parliament for Richmond, Yorks and been on his nice little earner over at the EEC . It is not a question of the EEC taking Britain's taxes, but of Brittan taking Britain's taxes.
In strict theoretical terms, that is absolutely correct. Unquestionably if the office of Commissioner is not on the disqualifications list, obviously Leon Brittan could have continued. It is true that it is possible for some Members of Parliament to have a dozen other jobs moonlighting while carrying on as Members of Parliament. It is conceivable that they could be Euro-Commissioners such people resign because, in the first instance someone in that position resigned. Once the practice was established, it would have been frowned upon to act otherwise.Let us clear the matter up. It has been valuable for me to draw these points out this morning in moving the writ because hon. Members on both sides of the House, including Front Benchers, will be able to consider again whether a person who swears an oath of allegiance to another body and who receives, in part, taxpayers' money for taking on the job should be equated with a member of a residuary body, an ombudsman or whoever else is on the list.
My hon. Friend is getting close to an interesting question. Why is he moving a by-election writ? Is it not within the rules of the House of Commons that being a Commissioner of the European Community is incompatible with being a Member of Parliament. The rules of the EEC make it impossible for such a Commissioner to be a Member of a national Parliament, because that person cannot take the oath of loyalty to the European Parliament and forget his British loyalties. My hon. Friend has got it the wrong way round.
That is another aspect of study that I would have to develop if I were moving a writ in the Common Market. I shall never do that—it is just not my scene. It is worth while examining that point, and I shall do so after the debate. If that is true, it means that the Government are concerned more with Common Market rules than with the rules of Parliament. That is an interesting point. We have long argued that the Common Market has laws which are over and above those in this country. If my hon. Friend is correct, we have discovered in that narrow area another reason why the Common Market can superimpose its views on what is commonly called the Mother of Parliaments.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but the debate is moving so fast that I want to take him back to an important point that he made just before 11 o'clock. I should like to clarify this point because it is important in terms of how the subsequent debate develops. I think that the hon. Gentleman said that, if his motion to move the writ failed, it would not be possible to move the writ again this Session. Did he say that? I had intended, if I were fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye later, to oppose the motion on the ground that it was premature. If I understand the hon. Gentleman correctly, I shall have to attempt to persuade him instead to withdraw the motion rather than merely bring it to a vote. I should be grateful for clarification.
This exercise has been one of testing opinion. I said at the beginning of my speech—I think that the hon. Gentleman has been here all the time—that writs are an aspect of parliamentary practice that are owned by the Front Benchers. Most hon. Members except for the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), who moved 17 writs in two minutes—
It was 15 writs.
Apart from the hon. Gentleman, most of us have never dealt with this aspect of parliamentary practice. This morning, apart from moving the writ, I was trying to gauge opinion. If I have tested the water correctly, I believe that some hon. Members have some reservations. But I am not sure yet. Obviously, we shall reach a point when the matter will pan out and we shall get a feeling as to whether it will be possible to carry the writ into practice. Make no mistake—I am not one of those people who would thwart the opportunities of the electors in Richmond, Yorks by being foolhardy and wanting to carry matters to the Nth degree. That is not my scene. Many hon. Members, including me, managed to pick up on the road this morning a few points on how writs are dealt with, what that is all about, whether it is satisfactory, whether we should add to the list of disqualified officers and whether some should be brought back. Those questions have emerged this morning—[Interruption.]
Does my hon. Friend agree that a dangerous aspect of the rules of the House is being disclosed? My hon. Friend has told us that he would not risk defeat of the motion, but perhaps not everyone would act as responsibly as my hon. Friend intends. I am extremely worried by the disclosure that, if the motion is defeated, it will fall for the rest of the Session. I strongly feel that this is the wrong time of year to embark on the Richmond, Yorks by-election. If I were faced—
Order. Interventions should be brief.
My hon . friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is miserly in his willingness to give way to me, so I have to take the opportunity to intervene on the rare occasions he gives way. Will my hon. Friend examine the point which I have raised? I accept that he said that he will not press the motion to a vote, but he may change his mind during the debate and those of us who want to oppose the motion could be left in an embarrassing position. If we oppose the motion now—
Order. the hon. Lady should respect the practice and conventions of the House.
I did not give way earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston because my attention was distracted by Bertie Wooster, who had just come in. I thought that he was going to come round with the Croft Original. The Minister for Trade is standing at the Bar. I was distracted when I saw him out of the corner of my eye. He is looking leisurely and I have no doubt that he is dressed for the occasion. He has Richmond clothes on—I shall rephrase that, he has Richmond Tory clothes on.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is a sportsman and doughty adversary whose qualities I have recognised for many years, but it is a bit off to criticise a Member when he is on the other side of the Bar and cannot answer back. I am in the Chamber, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows because he follows parliamentary affairs attentively, because I an answering for the Government in an Adjournment Debate at half-past two.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am concerned less about Bertie Wooster, who has just come in, than about Mr. Mendis, who may be going out in less than 20 minutes. You have just taken the Chair, M r. Deputy Speaker, and the Leader of the House has been in and out of the Chamber several times in the past few minutes. You will not know that, earlier this morning, a number of us pressed the Leader of the House to make a statement on Mr. Mendis, who is due to be deported from Britain via Gatwick airport at 12 o'clock.
Order. If the hon. Member has already rehearsed those points of order, I do not see the point of raising them again with me and so far I do not see any point of order for me.
Further to the point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was raising the matter to ask if, on your way to the Chair, you had received any information from the Leader of the House as to—
Order. What I have done on the way to the Chair is not a matter for debate in the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has made a somewhat humorous attack on the Minister for Trade claiming that he is rather strangely dressed. But, whereas most of us have appeared in the Chamber today dressed in suits—
Order. Let us get on.
First let me thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and not only to me. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise): I think that my hon. Friend has been very generous in giving way, and I know that he will continue to be so.I want to raise a point about which many people are concerned. We are learning today about Commissioners. Is it always the Prime Minister—who, as Prime Minister, has an office under the Crown; I know that the Commissioner's job is not an office under the Crown—who alone has it in her gift to nominate a Commissioner? That does not seem a very democratic practice.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The question of how patronage is abused in the House of Commons, particularly by the Prime Minister of the day, would entail another five-hour debate. Many Opposition Members would argue that one of the things that a future Labour Government should do is get rid of much of that patronage and dwell more on the question of accountability.My hon. Friend has spotted exactly what goes on. It all adds to the problems of the electorate and the Back Benchers, and I hope that it will be a consideration in the Richmond by-election. The question of being a Member of Parliament vis-a-vis being a commissioner is bound to crop up. The election may turn on it: who knows? This issue of patronage as opposed to accountability is very important, and there may in the end be a verdict on my hon. Friend's point. We shall never be able to decide exactly what amalgam of points decides elections, but one thing is certain: the question whether patronage is a good thing and should be allowed will be part and parcel of the issue in the elector's mind.
Hitherto in by-elections the anger of the electorate has been clearly shown, sometimes to the detriment of Labour Members. It is characteristic of the electorate to record its anger in its vote. In Ashfield, for instance, a Labour majority of over 20,000 disappeared because the electorate was clearly angry that anyone should be given such a job and that one person should be able to say who should have it.
There are many examples, but we do not want to get into an argument with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on grounds of repetition. Since I have been in Parliament there have been about six cases in which it could be said that one of the ingredients of by-election defeat has been the connection with the Common Market. The patronage issue is another element. I have no doubt that if, rather than being endowed by patronage, the job was obtained through some form of election, electors' views would be completely different. The point is that it is handed out on a plate by the Prime Minister of the day—and that also applies to Labour Members who are given jobs. Although recommendations can be made, at the end of the day it is the Prime Minister who hands out the jobs.
All these constitutional points are interesting, but will my hon. Friend return to a question that he has been dodging all the morning—whether it is suitable to hold a by-election in Richmond in such inclement weather? Has my hon. Friend made any inquiries of North Yorkshire county council about its present policy on road gritting, and how much it has had to spend? My impression is that the council has cut back, and that on polling day, in late February or early March, road conditions could be very treacherous. Would it not be wiser to leave the by-election until April, when the weather may be better?
I could spend a bit of time answering that question, but I must tell my hon. Friend—for he is my hon. Friend—that I cannot spend too much time on the weather at this stage.
It is a crucial point.
By-elections take place all the year round. We had one recently, and it could have snowed. The fact that there are people who say that we shall not have snow because of the breakdown of the ozone layer is neither here nor there. I cannot control the weather, and my hon. Friend must not ask me to control it. The Prime Minister might be able to help him, but I cannot sort that job out. All I can say is that by-elections have often taken place at this time of year.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, especially as I have come into the Chamber so recently, having been detained elsewhere.My hon. Friend may not know that a council by-election was held in my constituency last night. On a very old register, there was a turn-out of 33 per cent. The SLD vote went down to 125, and there was a large swing to Labour. The people in Gillespie ward, where Jenny Sands was elected as a councillor, were determined to come out whatever the weather because they hate the Government so much. They wanted to show their support for Labour and they did.
I want to bring my hon. Friend back to the question of why we need to move the writ today. I thought that we had established that it was possible under House of Commons rules for an EEC Commissioner to remain here as a Member of Parliament: we now understand that it is EEC rules that prevent that. No doubt the EEC will be rewriting "Erskine May" for us before long.It seems wrong to me—I am sure that my hon. Friend will feel the same—for someone who has recently stood in a general election and offered himself to the electorate, as Leon Brittan did to the electors of Richmond, and who has then been returned, to leave that electorate, as it were, in the lurch. I feel that we should look at our rules again. When an hon. Member dies, as happened in the case of Pontypridd, the circumstances are simple and straightforward and we know exactly what we need to do. But once a Member of Parliament has entered into a contract with the electors, I think that he should fulfil that contract until the next general election.
The situation is best summed up in this way. We have heard about four or five different inadequacies in the system for issuing writs, about disqualifying offices, and about the grey area of a link with the Common Market. Now that we have heard all those things, we must do something about them. We can talk all morning about why the Common Market should take precedence over the House of Commons. We could spend a lot of time and bore the Deputy Speaker. However, we must educate and organise ourselves. I refer to all the Committees in which the parliamentary Labour party and Conservative Members play a part, because some right hon. and hon. Government Members have been listening as well. We must use the evidence we have and make an imput into the Committees so that eventually, it gets through to the electoral law conference organised intermittently by Mr. Speaker. In that way, changes will take place, there will be more accountability, and the Common Market mess will be cleared up.This morning's discussion will enable us to take the evidence we have into the various byways and highways of parliamentary Committees of one kind or another—including all-party Committees, which are not my scene, but are for some right hon. and hon. Members—and strictly partisan parliamentary Committees, so that we may change the system. One can include other matters. One can introduce a procedural system to prevent people queue-jumping with Bills. That is important, but it is not what we are discussing this morning. As I draw to a close the analytical part of my argument, I repeat that we must use the ammunition we have been given this morning. That is not to say that I want everybody to bury their heads in "Erskine May". Some right hon. and hon. Members will do that, while others will impart other information to the rest of us. That is the lesson to be learned this morning.
This morning, we have heard a great deal about the by-election procedure. Five minutes ago, I thought that I was about to learn more about the physical structure of the House. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was speaking, the hon. Member for Rochdale (Sir C. Smith) entered the Chamber and sat at the other end of the same Bench occupied by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), who was seated at the other end. If that Bench were a see-saw, the hon. Member for Mossley Hill would have shot skywards and come down again, with snow on him. That might have required another by-election. We have learned that the structure of the Benches in this Chamber do not allow that to happen. That is one thing that we do not have to worry about.
That was not up to the standard of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). It was very poor. The hon. Member for Bolsover will have to give his hon. Friend lessons.
The political see-saw was developed by the Conservative and Labour parties. Now the see-saw is occupied by the provos led by "Dr. Death", the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the SDP' at one end, and by the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the SLD at the other. The occupants of the see-saw are different now. That will be a factor in the Richmond by-election, in which both occupants of that see-saw will be taking part. Right from the beginning, I knew there was something wrong between the Liberals and the SDP in the last general election, because the leaders of those two parties travelled on separate coaches on their visits up and down the country. The Richmond by-election will show that different considerations still apply.I wish to make one further comment concerning the residual body, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent will be interested to learn that one of the disqualifying offices is the Registrar of Public Lending Right. I cannot for the life of me understand why that should be a disqualifying office. Perhaps there is a genuine reason, but it is odd that that should be a disqualifying office, whereas someone else can get a Commissioner's job in the Common Market for £97,000 a year.
Does it pay that much now?
Yes, it has just gone up. I make that point about disqualifying offices before moving on.
My hon. Friend makes the point that the by-election could be delayed. I am sure other right hon. and hon. Members will be as surprised as I was to learn that Sir Leon Brittan and others in his situation can claim both their salary as a Common Market Commissioner and their parliamentary salary. I know that my hon. Friend is opposed to both salaries being claimed. I understand why, and I agree with him. However, is there not a case to be made for allowing Sir Leon to remain a member of the House while taking up his new post as a Commissioner, and giving his parliamentary salary to a worthy cause—such as saving the Settle to Carlisle line, about which, as a former Member of the relevant constituency, he must be concerned.
He could buy the Settle to Carlisle line.
We have found out—we believe, the information is correct—that a Commissioner cannot be a Member of Parliament, not because of these rules, which should be changed, but because of Common Market rules under which a Commissioner has to swear an oath of allegiance. That is a matter that we should clear up. A person is apparently debarred by the rules of the Common Market, not by those of the House.
I appreciate that and thank my hon. Friend for that education. He also said that Sir Leon Brittan will earn £97,000 per annum, and it would not be unreasonable for him to give half that salary to the campaign to save the Settle to Carlisle line.
The Settle to Carlisle railway will be a consideration in this by-election and we cannot avoid mentioning it. I think that it does not actually run right through the constituency, although it may pass through it at one tiny point. My guess is that it runs along the western side of the constituency.I would be straying from the subject if I started talking about the pros and cons of the Settle to Carlisle railway being saved. Other hon. Members might do so. I cannot visualise any set of circumstances in which this particular issue will not be foremost in the minds of the many electors because it is so close. There has been a resurgence of interest in that issue in Britain. Most certainly, it will be considered a matter of importance in that constituency.
It has just been suggested that the Commissioner should give half his salary to the Settle to Carlisle campaign. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) cut off the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) who, I thought, was about to suggest that he would give half his salary to that cause.
What I am trying to do at all times is to ensure that we discuss the question of the writ in a way which the Chair regards as a proper fashion. The issue of the railway will be a factor but, although I am a supporter of saving it, I shall not make it a strong part of my consideration of the writ today.Having dealt with disqualifying offices, I must make it abundantly clear that I am trying to move on to the constituency itself, and to describe what is a beautiful constituency.
Will my hon. Friend accept that, over the years, some by-elections have been affected by dramatic Government action, taken because they thought that it might influence the by-election result. I seem to remember that the Humber bridge had some connection with a by-election. Will my hon. Friend take into account the fact that the date of the by-election could be significant in saving the Settle to Carlisle line? I am sure that the Government would not want to see its closure finally announced during the by-election.
If we obtain the same result in this election as we did in Hull that time, we shall be clapping our hands and making dramatic changes.
I have listened to the preamble of my hon. Friend with great interest. Before he goes on to the main part of his speech I should like to turn briefly to the question of Lord Winstanley—I do not know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if it is proper to refer to him by name. A Bill was introduced to rectify disqualifying action that he had taken during an election campaign. Will my hon. Friend elaborate on that because it may be of concern to me as a member of the same profession?
We have trodden that ground, as regards the disqualifying officers. In 1974, after the first election, retrospective legislation was passed to ensure that Lord Winstanley, who represented Hazel Grove at that time, and held a disqualifying office as a member of a tribunal panel—as a doctor—was allowed to stay. The Labour Government at the time reached out to the Liberals and allowed the hon. Gentleman to keep his seat. I was dumbfounded, because we had brought the election and we were allowing this Liberal Member to keep his seat. I thought the election campaign had been all about keeping the Liberals out. The way in which this disqualification was removed to help the hon. Gentleman has been dealt with before.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I realise that under the Standing Orders of the House, it would probably be inappropriate to move the closure, bearing in mind that the mover has not finished speaking. Perhaps you could confirm, however, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that a number of other important issues are on the Order Paper, which should be debated. Mr. Speaker decided not to use his discretion in provoking the ten-minute rule but the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has now been speaking for 144 minutes. That is a great intrusion on Private Members' time. It is not the hon. Gentleman's debate.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is now 12 o'clock and I believe that the House should be told whether Mr. Mendis has been deported from Gatwick to Sri Lanka, or whether he is being allowed to remain in this country, so that discussions can take place to find a third country—
Order. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I believe he recognises that this is not a point of order for me.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope you might be able to give guidance to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Abortion is a serious matter about which many people feel strongly. Surely the House should have the option to decide on a free vote. This is an abuse—
Order. I have listened carefully to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). Doubtless, he will have regard to the point that has just been made, but so far he has not tested my tolerance to the point of my ruling him out of order.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to return again to Mr. Viraj Mendis.
May I just explain my point of order?
It is not a point of order.