Skip to main content

Points Of Order

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 4 July 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

4.43 pm

I shall take the points of order, but I must point out to hon. Members that a very important debate is to follow. Therefore, I hope that those hon. Members who wish to raise points of order will have some consideration for their colleagues. I shall take first the point of order of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett).

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that I have already given you notice of this point of order. I have also given the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) notice of it, although he is not in his place now.

You will be aware, Sir, of the importance that all Back-Bench Members place on Adjournment debates. It provides us with the opportunity to raise very important constituency issues in the House and to receive a ministerial reply. You will also be aware that, if any other hon. Member wishes to take part in the debate, he must obtain the prior permission of both the Minister and the hon. Member whose Adjournment debate it is. I draw to your attention—they appear in today's Hansard—the events that took place last night during the Adjournment debate that I had sought and obtained on the over-the-horizon radar planning application by the Ministry of Defence for a site at St. David's in Pembrokeshire. The hon. Member for Rhondda, who may have been tired because it was a late night debate, went to the Dispatch Box as the official Opposition spokesman on defence and interrupted my speech. He was told that I was not prepared to give way on a constituency matter, but during the next 25 minutes he proceeded to disrupt the debate continually on points of order and had to be told by Mr. Deputy Speaker to sit down. A shouting match took place then. He further aggravated the matter by using an unparliamentary expression against me, which he then withdrew.

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has apologised to Mr. Deputy Speaker, but he has not apologised to me for causing such disruption. May I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, in the light of yesterday's events, when the Minister was unable to finish his speech and answer the points that I wished to raise on behalf of my constituents, to defend the rights of Back Benchers so that Adjournment debates can take place without interruption from Front-Bench spokesmen?

I have read Hansard and I have discussed the matter with Mr. Deputy Speaker. What he said is plain, and I repeat that it is an hon. Member's right, if he secures an Adjournment debate, to have full time, unless he is prepared to offer part of it to another hon. Member. Occasionally, hon. Members give way to their colleagues during an Adjournment debate, but what happened last night was not in the best traditions of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Order. I do not think that it can be further to the point of order. The hon. Member was not concerned in that debate. I shall take another point of order from the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. John Reid).

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It arises out of Scottish Question Time. I regret the chaos and confusion into which those questions degenerated and the impossible position in which you have been placed. Unless the procedure is changed, the problem will arise again.

I have sympathy for my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie), specifically in relation to Question No. 14. The Secretary of State for Scotland came to the Dispatch Box and announced what amounted to the abandonment of half of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill which is at present in Committee. Two points arise out of that. First, by announcing that abandonment—a major decision—during Question Time, the Secretary of State did not permit the breadth of responses and questions that, had it been a statement, it would have merited.

The second point reflects equally on the House. Many people in Scotland cannot but regard today's announcement as a deal done outside the House—

Order. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's first point of order, but the second one appears to be an extension of Question Time, which would be out of order. Apropos Question 14, the Secretary of State was asked if he would make a statement about part II of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill. It is implicit in the hon. Gentleman's point of order that, as with what happened yesterday, I have authority to say that the Secretary of State ought not to answer the question but should make a statement. I have no such authority. The Secretary of State, or any other Minister, must answer the question on the Order Paper. I judged it to be of such general importance to hon. Members with Scottish constituencies that I allowed a bit of a run on it. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) was distressed, but that is the reason why we did not reach his question.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I assure you that nothing that I shall say implies criticism of the Chair. On the contrary; part of my anger, and that of my colleagues, is precisely due to the fact that, for the second day running, you have been placed in the same position because of the Government's conduct of business. We do not wish that to be imposed upon you.

It must have been clear to the Secretary of State for Scotland that the issues raised by his statement today went far beyond the normal scope and scale of Question Time. He chose to make a major statement by means of the mechanism of Question Time, in response to Question 14 on the Order Paper. That was clearly bound to distort Question Time, both before and after the statement. In normal circumstances, Question No. 14 might not have been reached.

In all the circumstances, was any contact made with you, Sir, by the usual channels about the manner in which the statement was to be made by the Secretary of State? If not, will you make it clear, Mr. Speaker, that what happened today was an abuse of the House which must not be repeated?

Order. I am dealing with one point of order at a time.

Certainly it was not an abuse of the House to answer a question on the Order Paper. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the usual channels, and, as the shadow Leader of the House said yesterday, this House proceeds by consent. On matters of this kind, it is for the usual channels to get together to decide on the best way to resolve difficulties of this kind. It is not a matter for the Chair. It puts the Chair in a difficult, if not intolerable, position if the occupant is constantly accused of failing to uphold the interests of Back Benchers because of something for which he has no direct responsibility. It is for the usual channels to resolve these matters.

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett), Mr. Speaker. Although I was not in the House last night, you can be assured that I shall be here for the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell) tomorrow on the Boundary Commission's inquiry into Lincolnshire and Humberside.

I want to raise a general point of order about Adjournment debates. In the event of an Adjournment debate being disrupted by hon. Members without the permission of the hon. Member who has that Adjournment debate, with the effect that that hon. Member loses one third of the time allocated, would it be possible to ensure that that hon. Member's Adjournment debate was extended by 10 minutes?

That is not within our Standing Orders, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. I am glad that he will be here tomorrow night for the Adjournment debate, and if he wishes to take part, I hope that he will seek the permission of his hon. Friend the Member for East Lindsey (Sir P. Tapsell).

Further to the point of order about the events of yesterday and today, Mr. Speaker. Today we have seen a repetition of some of the difficulties that occurred yesterday, which caused great difficulties for the House and for you, Mr. Speaker. The reply given today by the Secretary of State for Health surely underlines how absurd it was for the Government to think that to interpolate that type of statement into Question Time was a proper way in which to deal with the House. The proceedings on the statement went on for an hour and a half and show how necessary it was for that statement to be given today. The strong expressions of opinion made yesterday by Opposition Members were directed not against you, Mr. Speaker, but against the Government for choosing to seek to make such an important statement at the end of Question Time.

What happened yesterday illustrated the seriousness of the matter, especially given that the Government pretended that there was an agreement through the usual channels when there was no such agreement. Given yesterday's events, surely it was all the more absurd, outrageous or offensive—whatever word one might choose—for the Government to come along today and repeat the offence. They made a statement in the House, even though they knew what had happened yesterday.

Even though a question was on the Order Paper, the Government have a responsibility to treat the House properly. They should have learnt from what happened yesterday and decided to make the statement about Scotland in the same way as the statement given on the health service. Surely, Mr. Speaker, you should use your influence to try to encourage the Government to treat the House fairly in such matters, particularly as we have had two examples in two days of what injury can be done if the Government do not abide by that practice.

Order. I am indeed seeking to use what influence I have in such matters—

I am certainly seeking to use what influence I have in such matters. Today's problem could have been avoided if an arrangement had been made through the usual channels to take the question at the end of Question Time, given that it concerned a major matter. Even though I may make such suggestions informally, I am not responsible for carrying them out.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the end of the debate on schools yesterday, a number of us witnessed the loutish behaviour of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) towards a lady Member of the House.

Order. Is the hon. Member sure that this is helpful to the House? If so, he should withdraw the word "loutish", which seems to be designed to encourage disruption rather than to calm the House.

I withdraw that word, but I should be grateful for your guidance on what you intend to do about the physical intimidation of a lady Member of the House, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science.

Again, I was not in the Chair at the time, but Madam Deputy Speaker dealt with it very well.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] Yesterday, during the Division I crossed the Chamber and berated the Minister about young children in Coventry being taught in toilets. It has been put to me that that was intimidatory and that that was harassment. It is now being said that that harassment was physical. I wish to make it clear that it was not intended in that way. It has been put to me that I should apologise, and I accept that. I do not apologise for my speech. I think that the entire education team should resign in disgrace about our bairns in Coventry.

If, as I judge, the hon. Gentleman has apologised to the House, I accept that. I think that Madam Deputy Speaker, who was in the Chair, would also appreciate a note from him.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seldom trouble you with points of order and hon. Members with the seniority of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) are seldom ordered out of the Chamber. Those facts demonstrate that the credibility of Scottish government was called seriously into question at Question Time. That must be a matter for you, not only because of the disruption caused before and after Question 14—as my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said—but because this is a serious matter which should command your attention. A Committee is sitting upstairs dealing with important legislation, and the Secretary of State for Scotland—

Order. This is an extension of Question Time. I am not concerned with a Committee sitting upstairs; I am concerned with what happens on the Floor of the House.

Order. In relation to what happened yesterday and today, such demos do the House immeasurable harm in the eyes of the public. We are now seen on television, and such disruptions are damaging to our reputation. I also regret that the question tabled by the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) was not reached, and I hope that he will come to see me about it so that I can resolve the matter with him. I cannot say any more than that.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Scottish questions, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) called my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State a liar. One does not expect—

Order. If he did, I did not hear it. If I had heard it, I would have caused him to withdraw it. If the hon. Gentleman heard it he should have risen immediately on a point of order and I could have dealt with it then. I cannot deal with it now. I did not hear that remark and it is not helpful to pursue it now.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have obviously been reading Hansard quite a lot lately when you have not been in the Chair. I want to draw your attention to another matter that you obviously missed when, the other night, the Government were kept up until about half-past 2. You, Mr. Speaker, will know that there is a Standing Order about Members spying strangers. It is normally used by Back Benchers in an attempt to keep open government, to frustrate a Government with a massive majority and to stop them trampling over democracy—that is roughly it. What happened the other night—if you have not read it—

Order. I think I can save the time of the House—I have read it. As the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) said yesterday, I know a good deal of what goes on in this Chamber, even when I am not present. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order for me?

The point of order is this: as I explained earlier, the Standing Order is usually used by Back Benchers against the Government. Yesterday, the Government did not have 100 to closure the debate so they got a Back Bencher of their own, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), to come in and, rather surprisingly, shout "I spy strangers" so that they could have a vote and waste parliamentary time in order to find out whether they had got 100 Members. If that is going to happen, it is time you put a stop to it.