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Points Of Order

Volume 204: debated on Friday 21 February 1992

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2.53 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, concerning the vote on the closure motion on the Referendum Bill. Would it be possible for you to inquire where in the precincts of the House the bells did not ring and to report to the House on Monday or at your convenience?

I made inquiries and it seemed clear to me that the bells were operating in most places. As there might have been some slight doubt, I added two minutes to the Division.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker concerning the Shops (Amendment) Bill, which deals with Sunday trading and was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). There has been reluctance on the part of the Government to make proposals to deal with Sunday trading and there has been an extraordinarily helpful and detailed White Paper—

Order. We cannot debate the Bill now. If there is a point of order I shall take it.

Yes, indeed. My point of order is this. As we have seen the White Paper, as the Bill is in detail before us—in greater detail than many Bills introduced by the Government—as there was a vote of 224 to 4 for the Bill to be debated, and as I presented a plea to the House from my council of churches and all the bishops in Wales—

No. The point of order is that, given all that background, is it not an outrage that we are not allowed to debate the Bill? Will you use your good offices to persuade the Government to make a statement early next week to explain how they will respond to the fact that one solitary voice—which has now disappeared—called against the Bill? That would give the House the opportunity to debate the issues properly and constructively, so that legislation could be clear to the general public and to business. Will you use your good offices to that effect?

I have many duties, but one of them is not to persuade the Government to make statements. However, I am sure that what the hon. Gentleman has said will have been heard by those on the Government Front Bench.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I appreciate that you heard an objection to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, but others did not. May we have some clarification of whether the Government, who have presided over antidiscrimination legislation on employment in Northern Ireland and on race and religion throughout the United Kingdom, object to civil rights for disabled people? I speak for the people of Northern Ireland, who are concerned about the issue.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was talked out by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward). Today, when the motion to resume the debate was moved, you were close to the Government Whip, the hon. Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), and you heard him object—or perhaps the Clerk did. One thing is certain: Opposition Members did not hear the guilty whisper. Under Standing Orders, if hon. Members object, they have to object not merely to you, but to the House. The Government Whip also whispered "Object" to the Cold Weather Credits Bill, to the Housing (Fitness Standard) (Amendment) Bill and to the Animal Experimentation (Cosmetics) Bill. We would prefer him to stand up and be man enough to tell the world what the Government are up to.

You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have a duty to ensure in future that if hon. Members object from a sedentary position they speak out so that everyone knows who the guilty people on the Government Front Bench are who are stopping the passage of important Bills on behalf of people such as the disabled. It really is a scandal.

It is my job to carry out the procedures of the House as they are at present. We have been round this course many times at 2.30 pm on a Friday, and if hon. Members wish the procedure to be changed I suggest that they put their point to the Select Committee on Procedure.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is absolutely outrageous that the Government Whip should object in a whisper to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. You may have heard him, but I suspect that the majority of hon. Members in the House did not hear him. How are Members to follow proceedings if we do not know what is going on? There could be chaos. We might all be speaking together and it would become a tower of Babel. It is disgraceful that the Government Whip should object to such an important Bill in a whisper. It should be made known clearly. The Whips should be made to stand up and object, if that is what they propose to do.

Order. It is my job to ensure that the current procedures of the House are carried out. If hon. Members are dissatisfied, they are free to put their points to the Select Committee on Procedure.

Further to that important point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Other than when there is a Division or when a point of order is raised during a Division, you would insist that all legitimate interventions must be made by an hon. Member on his feet. Sedentary interventions are not accepted by the Chair. Therefore, will you consider the fact that sedentary objections are not a legitimate or acceptable part of the business of the House? Whoever objects should stand on his feet to register the objection.

The short answer is that that is not the case with objections and never has been.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can confirm what so many other hon. Members have said—that when the third motion was put, we could not hear the word "Object" being said. I did hear a noise but I do not know what it was. Being so much closer to the possible source of the noise, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may have heard the word "Object", but there was so much background noise that there is a serious danger that you or the Clerks might hear another noise, such as someone clearing his throat or two hon. Members whispering to one another, and think that the word has been uttered. If the word "Object" is not said clearly, there is a serious danger that you or the Clerks may be misled.

I am giving away no secrets when I tell the House that the Chair has powerful amplifiers that enable me to hear very distinctly everything that is said.