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Points Of Order

Volume 229: debated on Friday 23 July 1993

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9.35 am

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Order. The House will realise that there are petitions today, but I shall take a point of order from the Leader of the House.

You will be aware, Madam Speaker, that a careful check of the Division lists in Hansard for the first Division last night reveals only 316 names for the Ayes and 317 for the Noes. On that basis, of course, the Opposition amendment would have been rejected without your casting vote. It would be wrong to expect you to make any immediate comment on this, but I think that the whole House would hope that you will feel able to inquire into whatever mistake or misunderstanding may have occurred.

Order. Let me deal with one point of order at a time. Is it on the same point of order?

Mine is, Madam Speaker; yours is different, Tam.

In view of what the Leader of the House has had to say about last night's vote, is it not significant that this Government, who have lost the authority and confidence of the House of Commons, have not even got Whips and Tellers who are capable of counting? No wonder the country is up to its neck in debt.

Order. We should not use up a great deal of time on this matter because I can deal with it. The matter raised by the Leader of the House will no doubt be looked into, but if there was an error such as he describes, it does not affect the main Question that was put to the House last night. Of course, today's proceedings are not affected by it at all.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. At the end of last night's vote I put to you article 1 of the Bill of Rights, which says:

"That the pretended power of suspending of laws or the execution of laws by regall authority without consent of Parlyament is illegall."
I am now able to put before you two items which indicate that that is in prospect. First, the Prime Minister said:
"The treaty in the Maastricht Bill—the European Communities (Amendment) Bill—is now law, as the House well understands. Royal Assent has been given …so the treaty will be ratified. Seventy-one separate votes in favour of the Bill should not be frustrated by one parliamentary motion expressing an opinion to the contrary."—[Official Report, 22 July 1993; Vol. 229, c. 526.]
The Prime Minister was determining which votes were valid and which votes were not, and he was doing it by the authority that he has as Prime Minister.

Secondly, and more significantly, the Government have indicated that if they lose today's vote there will be an election. Does the Prime Minister have the authority from the Queen? Has she said that there will be an election? [Interruption.] That is the issue. I am asking a straightforward question. If the Queen has given the Prime Minister the authority to dissolve Parliament, he should tell us so, as he would be using regal authority to destroy a Parliament that had reached a view with which he did not agree.

As the right hon. Gentleman and the House would have expected of me, I have given serious consideration to the point that was put to me last night. I am satisfied that today's motion is in conformity with section 7 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act and meets its requirement in the new situation following the Prime Minister's statement last night. By the same token, the amendment that stands in the name of the Leader of the Opposition is equally in order, and I have selected it.

On another point, may I remind the House that, as they are proceedings pursuant to an Act of Parliament, the debate today may continue until 4 o'clock.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Under the rules of the House of Commons as they pertain on a Friday, have you had any request from the Foreign Secreetary to make a statement on the significant compromise reached a few hours ago by the United Nations negotiators in Baghdad—[Interruption.] This might be a question of peace and war —on the negotiations that the United Nations is conducting, particularly with regard to the lifting of sanctions as part of that compromise?

Not so far, but there is a little time to go until 10 o'clock, so there is always hope.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect to the motion, there is presumably some difficulty in the fact that the treaty says that there will be a protocol on social policy but the Act of Parliament that we passed only last week expressly excluded the protocol on social policy. Does that create a difficulty for the motion?

No difficulty at all. The hon. Gentleman will have read the motion carefully and will understand what the debate is about. He will make up his own mind how he will vote at 4 o'clock.