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Points Of Order

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 22 May 1990

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3.47 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, Ministers are answerable to the House and we are in a position to table questions to Ministers. What about the new situation that has arisen, whereby the Secretary of State for Energy has become the Government co-ordinator? Am I therefore in a position to go to the Table Office and table questions directly to him about that particular aspect of Government policy?

Order. We are well past the time of points of order. Mr. Donald Thompson.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, on the next business. You will remember, Sir, that yesterday I asked you, on a point of order, what it would be in order to mention today with regard to some of the communities that had been community charge capped. I repeat, what are the parameters within which we can debate?

I am pleased to clarify the position now that I have seen the motion on the Order Paper. In respect of today's motion, I see no need to relax the sub judice rule, which means that the legality of charge capping proposals should not be questioned. However, the general principle of charge capping may be referred to. Of course, when the individual orders are before the House, the sub judice rule will not apply.

Mr. Speaker, last week you chided me for trying to speak from the Front Bench, and I understand that that is merely a convention of the House, and have no real disagreement with you about it. However, you will have noticed that Government Ministers restrict themselves to speaking from the Front Bench and do not take the opportunity to move to the Back Benches; they are not in suspended animation and do not become peripatetic. However, numerous Opposition Front-Bench Members live in an atmosphere of suspended animation, floating between the Front and Back Benches. I have no hesitation in accepting versatility, but I am seeking some understanding of the Speaker's restrictions on the use of the Front Bench. You will have noticed, Mr. Speaker, that there are extreme advantages in speaking from the Front Bench, particularly now that television is in the House.

My hon. Friend can go and sit there if he wants, but I notice that he occupies the Front Bench. There are extreme advantages, particularly now that television is in the House. Will you, Mr. Speaker, review your views on restricting people from using particularly the Opposition Front Bench, and allow those in the minority parties, who choose to do so when it is their day, to take advantage of glasses of water, the lecterns and the other paraphernalia that the alternative Government think are their right?

The hon. Gentleman deserves an answer, and I am pleased to clarify the position. An hon. Member must speak from the place whence he has been called. I called the hon. Gentleman from his usual seat and he then moved to the Dispatch Box. Had he simply moved to another Back-Bench seat, I would still have called him back to his original position. That is the long-established rule of the House.

I am constantly enjoined not to take any notice of the television cameras, but when I see the House of Commons on television Members look rather better against the panelling on the Back Benches than they do on the Front Benches.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may have noticed that the Labour party has this morning denounced the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation as being dominated by the Trotskyist Militant Tendency. Has the Leader of the Opposition asked to come to the House to make a statement on the withdrawal of the Whip from those Labour Members who support that Trotskyist Militant organisation and are refusing to pay the poll tax?

I do not receive requests to make such statements from the Leader of the Opposition. With a little ingenuity, that is the sort of matter that could perhaps be raised in today's debate.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), Mr. Speaker. It is a matter of concern to the House that hon. Members should be able to question the new Government co-ordinator who is responsible for Government funds. Before the previous election, Central Office increased fivefold the amount of money spent trying to explain Government policy. The legislature should be able to challenge the Executive on that expenditure through questions on the Order Paper to the Government co-ordinator.

I understand that a probing question to the Prime Minister has already been put down on that matter and that it is in order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For better or worse, I seek your guidance on whether an hon. Member has the right to propose amendments to a Bill which is to be scrutinised by the Select Committee on Unopposed Bills.

Without knowing the particular Bill to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, it is difficult for me to give an instant ruling on the matter. Will the hon. Gentleman write to me or, even better, come and see me?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your ruling on today's debate and the sub judice rule, may I take it from that that when the orders are laid each will be debated separately?

I do not know, because they have not yet been laid. That will depend on whether any agreement is reached. The orders are statutory instruments, so they are not subject to the sub judice rule, which was the purport of my ruling.