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Points Of Order

Volume 205: debated on Friday 13 March 1992

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On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The disgraceful manner in which the Government dealt with the Third Reading of the Army Bill will cause much concern throughout the House. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have consistently defended the rights of Back Benchers when you have occupied the Chair, will you please advise us—although your advice may be of little use during the course of this Parliament —whether it is in order for a Minister, having opened a debate, to interrupt in midstream the very next speaker in that debate, and not to allow right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House freedom of speech? To deal in such a shabby manner with the gross betrayal of the Ulster Defence Regiment is a disgrace to the House.

What occurred was perfectly in order. I well understand the hon. Member's feelings, but the matter was in order, we have disposed of that business, and we cannot continue the debate now.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any precedent for what occurred today? The Government, in one move, disbanded the Ulster Defence Regiment, with only one Back Bencher being allowed to take part in the debate. Is there any precedent for such a lack of democracy within the Conservative party?

I am sure that the right hon. Member is not disputing the judgment of the Chair, which is a difficult one for the Chair to have to make. The Chair is able to do so in accordance with long-established precedents, and it does not give reasons. What has happened was perfectly in order. We cannot continue the debate now.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps you can help me. Is it not in accordance with the rules of the House that, before the Question is put on a closure motion, Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy Speaker must be satisfied that there has been a full and adequate debate on the topic before the House? How can there have been a full and adequate debate when Members were rising in their places who had not spoken and when Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies were denied the right to be members of the Committee that considered the various elements of the Bill?

In acting in defence of minority parties in the House, Mr Deputy Speaker, could the Chair be satisfied that there had been a full and adequate debate when only one Back-Bench Member was allowed to speak after the Minister had completed his opening remarks, that Back-Bench Member not being allowed to finish what he had to say?

I am sure that the hon. Member is not questioning the discretion of the Chair. I have exercised my discretion to the best of my ability, and the House has come to its decision. There is nothing further that I can add.

On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are not questioning your ruling on this matter. It is [Interruption.] The problem with the Conservative party is that it wants to steamroller the people of Northern Ireland without even listening to the voices of the Members who represent them. As I have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, we are not questioning your ruling. It is—[Interruption.] Conservative Members are interrupting because they are ashamed of what they have done today against the people of Northern Ireland. We are asking only whether there is a precedent for the Chair accepting a closure motion when no one from the Opposition Benches has been given the opportunity to speak in the debate.

As I have said already, there is nothing further that I can add to what I have said. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for reassuring me that he was not questioning the judgment of the Chair.

I understand that the Cardiff Bay Barrage Bill motion is not to be moved.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Sackville]

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I sought to give notice that I would raise this matter. I refer to a press release which was issued by the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, which I received this morning. The release announces that the decision of the Committee will be delayed untii 2 April, when there will be no Select Committee and no Chairman of it, because all of us will have been dissolved by that date, only seven days before the general election.

The possibility has been raised that a Select Committee report is being used for political purposes, when otherwise we would expect the report to be a helpful one. For the Committee to bring out a report in the teeth of an election must devalue any of its work. Surely it would have been better if the report had been published on Wednesday two days ago, when it was agreed by the Committee.

Would you agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that it is out of order, or most inappropriate, for the report to be published on 2 April? Do you agree also that it would be much better if it were published this coming Monday with the other report that was agreed on Wednesday by the Select Committee? Secondly, will you ensure that no taxpayers' money will be spent on the press conference that is to be held at Swansea on 2 April at the same time as the report is published?

Thirdly, even if taxpayers' money is spent on holding the press conference, with the present Chairman of the Select Committee present, would you agree that it is entirely wrong for a document to be issued by the Committee Office of the House that will effectively publicise someone who will then be only a Labour candidate?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although we do not expect the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) to return to this place, I do not think that he is going to be dissolved in the way that he suggested. His fate will be rather more pleasant than that. It is disgraceful, however, that he should suggest that the dates involved any political manipulation. The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs has been run in an entirely impartial, non-partisan manner by its splendid Chairman for many years, and has enjoyed the respect of Members in all parts of the House. It is wrong to end this Parliament on such a note.

This afternoon, we have witnessed an undemocratic display, when a fascinating and interesting debate in which many of us would have liked to take part was disgracefully guillotined. An attempt is now being made to manipulate the timetable in a way that is to the benefit of the Conservative party, but nothing will help the Conservative party in Wales. It will lose several seats in Wales and—

Order. I have got the drift of this point of order. This is obviously a political argument, not a point of order for the Chair. Perhaps, however, I can make two points both to the hon. Gentleman and to the House which might be helpful. First, the time when Select Committees publish reports is a matter for them. They are frequently published during a recess, so that is in order.

Secondly, it would not be in order for a member of a Select Committee to call a parliamentary press conference when Parliament is prorogued. If he did something on an individual basis, I assume that it would be as a parliamentary candidate, but it would not be in order for him to call a parliamentary press conference. We shall start the Adjournment again.