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Points Of Order

Volume 262: debated on Thursday 22 June 1995

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

5.4 pm

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Prime Minister has announced his resignation as leader of the Conservative party and has announced that he will be a candidate in any forthcoming election. Have you had any notification of that statement? Have you had any notification that the Prime Minister will come to the House and make a statement? Have you any indication as to whether the most appropriate thing to do in all these circumstances would be to call a general election?

Order. I can deal with that now. I have had no such indication.

It is on the same subject, but it is a different point. If the news that has been imparted to you by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. Bell) is true, it has raised a constitutional issue which requires that before the House adjourns, there should be a statement from the Government. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) is the Prime Minister, not just the leader of the Conservative party. We need to know who is running the country, if indeed anybody is doing so.

My understanding is that the right hon. Member for Huntingdon has not announced his resignation as Prime Minister. They are two separate offices. Whatever the ins and outs of this, it is not a matter for the Chair.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a different point of order. Will you take this opportunity to condemn the growing practice of making important statements about key constitutional issues, regardless of the niceties as to whether someone is the Prime Minister or the leader of a party, to press conferences rather than to the House of Commons?

My understanding is that this matter does not relate precisely to the House of Commons.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is not the information that we have just heard unprecedented in modern political times? I have searched my memory, to the extent that I can, and I do not believe that such an event has happened before this century. Does not that raise some fundamental issues which it would be right for the House to have an opportunity to consider? Is there some mechanism available by which these issues can be discussed in that part of the day's business which is still available, in view of the speedy resolution of the matter with which we have just been concerned?

I have already indicated clearly that this is not a matter on which the Chair can rule. It is not a matter for the Chair.

It is a different point in that you have the power to suspend the House for a period of time during which discussions could take place. These are grave matters and it is ludicrous that the House has no opportunity to discuss them. I understand your difficulties, but a short suspension at this time would be helpful for us all.

My overriding duty in the Chair is to ensure that the business before the House on this day is transacted.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We all appreciate the difficulties that face you. I hope that you will also appreciate the difficulties facing hon. Members and Ministers who might want to participate in debates today. Given the news that we have just heard, there is a serious question about the authority that Ministers have to come to the Dispatch Box and speak on behalf of the Government and the Prime Minister.

There is a complete sense of disintegration within the Government, not just from the Prime Minister but from other Ministers. All of us who participate in debates, whether from the Opposition or the Government Benches, have noticed that in recent weeks. During the remaining proceedings in the House today, we need to be sure that Ministers who speak do so with the authority of the Prime Minister and that clearly is not the case.

I believe that the hon. Lady was not in the Chamber when I made my earlier announcement about the fact that the position of Prime Minister has not been renounced and so for Ministers it all goes on.

Yes. When the leadership of a country is in such disarray, as it obviously is today, surely it is a matter for the House. You are entirely right, Madam Deputy Speaker, that being leader of a party is different from being the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, it is of enormous importance to the public and to hon. Members that other countries that may be looking on will see that the Government appear to be disintegrating from the top. Surely that matter should be the subject of an urgent debate. Perhaps there should be an Adjournment of the House to consider the matters and—subsequently—a debate on these enormously important developments.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It would greatly assist hon. Members if the Leader of the House were to make a statement to explain the situation. I understand that the Leader of the House is in the building and it would be helpful to everyone if he were to make a statement. If he cannot be present at this precise moment, perhaps the only option open to the House is a brief suspension of the sitting so that hon. Members may ascertain all the circumstances and so that Conservative Members, who have been coming in and out of the Chamber for the past few minutes trying to find out what is happening, may have their position clarified as well.

Such a degree of uncertainty is obviously very unsatisfactory, not least because there have been many opportunities during the afternoon for the Prime Minister to make the statement inside this House that he has just made outside it. When the Prime Minister and other Ministers do not have the courage to say in the House what they are prepared to say outside it, the role of the House is placed in doubt. Perhaps other people can throw light on the matter. The Leader of the House—at least—should make a statement and the sitting should be suspended until that statement is made.

I have already said that I see no reason to suspend the sitting. I have no doubt that those sitting on the Treasury Bench will have heard the points made and—presumably—will be able to work through the usual channels. I have nothing further to add. I cannot allow this to develop into a general debate.

It is a different point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Clearly you were not aware of the situation about which hon. Members have spoken. I wish to know whether Madam Speaker was informed and, indeed, whether Her Majesty the Queen was informed about the situation because it raises a poignant constitutional point. Can Madam Speaker come to the House to say whether she was made aware of the situation?

That is entirely a matter for Madam Speaker. It is not for me to tell her what she should or should not do.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The House obviously understands your difficulty. It is a very sudden announcement. Madam Speaker ought to come to the House and use her authority to explain what is required under such circumstances. In that case, would you, Madam Deputy Speaker, consider a brief suspension of the sitting so that Madam Speaker may come to the House, which is her right and her duty as I see it?

It is entirely a matter for Madam Speaker whether she returns to the Chair. It is not for me to send for her.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I accept and understand the point that you are making. We are in an extremely unusual and difficult position. In view of the concern in the House and throughout the nation, could a message be sent immediately to Madam Speaker to ask whether she could come to the Chamber so that the matter may be clarified?

Clearly, if the matter is of concern to hon. Members, the usual channels should be invoked. I see representatives of the usual channels present. If it is their wish to use such means, they should get on with it.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. You have made a helpful and constructive suggestion. As the hon. Member responsible for my party's participation in the usual channels, we and the official Opposition would certainly like the opportunity to have discussions through the usual channels. Would not the best way to effect that immediately be to suspend the sitting for a short period to enable discussions to take place?

Order. I do not regard that as necessary. Discussions can take place between the usual channels while the House is sitting.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. With regard to the business of the House, the Crown Agents Bill [Lords] has been discussed and the Adjournment debate was about to start. Am I correct? In those circumstances, the House is likely to rise early and there may not be later opportunities to raise urgent matters on subsequent points of order. Would not it therefore be advisable to suspend the sitting?

Order. The hon. Gentleman disappoints me. I have been amazed at the ingenuity of hon. Members in keeping business going when they choose to do so.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The resignation of a Prime Minister, a leader of a party in power, is obviously enormously important. The Prime Minister has recently answered questions in the House and while points of order have been raised with you, Ministers, obviously quite perplexed by what has happened, have been running in and out of the Chamber. Has not great discourtesy been shown to the House? Announcements have—it appears—been made regardless of the House. Is it proper for a Prime Minister to answer questions at Prime Minister's Question Time and not to mention such things? Is it correct procedure for a Prime Minister to resign as leader of his party and, therefore, place his position as Prime Minister in some jeopardy, without—it appears—properly consulting Ministers who are designated as Ministers by this House—

Order. I have heard enough. I have already made it clear that there is a constitutional distinction to be drawn between the leader of a party and the Prime Minister. I have—

Order. I have already made it very clear that this is not a matter for the Chair or one on which I can intervene. I have made a practical suggestion that the usual channels should get together and Make any decisions that they wish. In the meantime, I have a duty to ensure that the business of this House continues.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The argument has been put by several Opposition Members that the Prime Minister has resigned as leader of the Conservative party and that he should have made that announcement to the House of Commons. With respect to those who have put that argument, they fail to make a distinction which lies at the very heart of our system of Government. Any Minister must learn very early in his career as a Minister the difference between party business, where he is not entitled—[Interruption.] This applies to any Minister at any level in the Government. Any Minister must learn the difference between party business, in which he is not entitled to the support of the civil service machine and on which he is accountable to a party audience, not to a House of Commons or Government audience. That is a fundamental distinction at the heart of any Minister's discharge of his responsibilities.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has observed that central distinction. He has made the announcement outside this House about his status as the leader of the Conservative party because he is not accountable to this House for it. It does not affect his status as the Queen's First Minister, in which capacity he continues to answer as Prime Minister to this House and in which capacity he leads a Government in which all those sitting on the Treasury Bench continue to serve as members of the Queen's Government.—[interruption]

Order. I expect to have courtesy and consideration in the House. I will certainly hear no more points of order if there are ructions and rumpuses.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Secretary of State for National Heritage has raised an important point. Of course we all appreciate the difference between being leader of the Conservative party and being Prime Minister. The fact is, however, that although the Prime Minister may have resigned, for the time being or permanently, as leader of the Conservative party, he is still Prime Minister of this country and his first obligation ought to be to come to the House of Commons. The Prime Minister is responsible to the House of Commons; he has spoken in the House today.

It is clearly the case that Conservative Members, including members of the 1922 Committee, have come to the Chamber since the matter was raised because they do not know what is happening. This situation is not good for Parliament and not good for the country. Why cannot the Prime Minister or the Leader of the House come to the House? We have time available. It would be foolish to move on to the Adjournment before we get a clear statement to the House.

What concerns hon. Members is the fact that the Prime Minister is treating this House with contempt. The position of the Prime Minister is not simply an internal matter for a few members of the Conservative party; it matters to this country as a whole. There are implications for this country as a whole and there are implications for any international negotiations in which the Prime Minister or other Ministers are involved over the next few weeks. It simply is not good enough for members of the Conservative party to think that all this can be done behind closed doors without Parliament being informed and without any repercussions for the country as a whole. This House demands and this House needs a clear statement.

Order. I have already made the position quite clear from the point of view of the Chair. I can deal only with matters that affect the Chair. The point of view that has been expressed has been clearly expressed; it has now been repeated on a number of occasions. I have made the only suggestion that I can make, namely, that the usual channels get together and see whether they can make some arrangements. It is not a matter for me and I cannot allow what would turn into virtually a full-scale debate on this.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that in none of the changes of the Labour leadership and in no change of the Tory leadership over the past 20 years during which I have been in the House, has there been a debate? Should not the Labour party realise that the big difference is not between being leader of the Tory party and being Prime Minister, but between being leader of the Labour party and Prime Minister? There has been a gap of 17 years and, judging by Labour's behaviour today, there is likely to be a gap of another 17 years.

I ask whether you, Madam Deputy Speaker, in view of what is going on here and in view of the possibility that good order in the House is in jeopardy, would be prepared to suspend the sitting. Surely you have the power to do so. That would give everyone the opportunity to have discussions outside rather than to have these exchanges across the Floor.

I have told the House already—perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not here at the time—that I do not see fit to adjourn the House. I have a duty to the agenda before us to ensure that it is completed.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It may be helpful for me, as one of the Conservative Members who has come down into the Chamber, to explain to the shadow Leader of the House that I was in no doubt about what had happened. I came into the Chamber because I saw that something untoward was happening here. It seems to me, Madam Deputy Speaker, that what you have ruled is entirely appropriate.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. There was a rather bizarre contribution, in the form of a point of order, from the Secretary of State for National Heritage in which he appeared to confuse the role of the Conservative party and the Prime Minister, acting as though this was a one-party state where the office of Prime Minister was within the gift of the Conservative party. Do you, Madam Deputy Speaker, think that you have been shown grave discourtesy in terms of the way in which the Government have behaved this afternoon? This House and, more importantly, the public on every street in this country have been shown discourtesy. The Conservative party plays fast and loose with these important issues. Should not you, Madam Deputy Speaker, insist that the Prime Minister now comes to the House to make a statement about his resignation and about what plans there are either for his replacement or, more hopefully, for an imminent general election?

The Secretary of State for National Heritage made at rather greater length the point I made earlier—that it is important constitutionally to draw a distinction between the leadership of a party and the office of Prime Minister.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not a convention of the constitution that the leader of the party with the majority in the House of Commons is Prime Minister, appointed by the Queen on the advice of Privy Councillors, usually the outgoing Prime Minister? Is it not the case that when a party's leader has been the Prime Minister, on no occasion since the second world war has that party's leadership been changed without notice having been given to Her Majesty?

It is not for me to know what advice has been tendered to Her Majesty.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As one of the hon. Members who listened to the Prime Minister making his statement at 5 o'clock tonight, live on Sky television, I distinctly heard the Prime Minister make the point that he was resigning as the leader of the Conservative party, but that he would be a candidate in the forthcoming election for the leadership of the Conservative party. He also added that if he lost, he would immediately resign as Prime Minister. Given that he made it clear that he was only a challenger and that he might lose, and given the possibility of a new Prime Minister, is it not important that the House should be suspended to allow the Leader of the House to come here to clarify the matter?

I did not have the advantage of hearing the statement. Even so, it seems to reiterate the point that has already been made. The Prime Minister remains as Prime Minister of this country.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Opposition sometimes consider that there is an awful lot of humbug about the constitutional relationship between the Government and the monarch. The Tory party is selective in that, when it suits it, it ignores that relationship. There arc precedents. Lord Callaghan, Lord Wilson and others always said that they had advised the Queen of the fact that they intended to trigger an election in their political parties. Those are the ground rules by which they played. We have a right to know from the Prime Minister whether he has informed the head of state that there will be an election in the principal party. After all, being leader of that party gives the mandate to be Prime Minister. We need to know whether Buckingham palace has been informed and what its response has been. There are constitutional precedents for this. When Lord Wilson announced that he was stepping down as Prime Minister—

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point at some length. I have already told the House that I do not know what has passed between the Prime Minister and Her Majesty the Queen. I cannot know and it is certainly not my responsibility in the Chair. This matter has now been sufficiently aired. I propose to take no more points of order on it and I will move on.

I beg to move, That strangers do withdraw.

Notice being taken that strangers were present, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Standing Order No. 143 (Withdrawal of strangers from House), put forthwith the Question, That strangers do withdraw:—

The House proceeded to a Division:

(seated and covered): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I understand that four Opposition Members are declining to come out of the Lobby and are delaying the vote.

Order. If that be the case, I have my remedies to hand.

The House having divided: Ayes 10, Noes 216.

Division No. 172]

[5.28 pm


Banks, Tony (Newham NW)Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Corbyn, JeremyMahon, Alice
Cox, TomO'Hara, Edward
George, Bruce

Tellers for the Ayes:

Gordon, Mildred

Mr. Harry Barnes and

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Mr. Peter Pike.


Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanCoe, Sebastian
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Cohen, Harry
Allen, GrahamColvin, Michael
Amess, DavidCongdon, David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Conway, Derek
Arbuthnot, JamesCook, Frank (Stockton N)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Cormack, Sir Patrick
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Ashby, DavidCurry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Austin-Walker, JohnDavies, Quentin (Stamford)
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Denham, John
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Deva, Nirj Joseph
Barron, KevinDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bates, MichaelDowd, Jim
Batiste, SpencerDuncan, Alan
Battle, JohnDuncan Smith, Iain
Bayley, HughDunn, Bob
Beckett, Rt Hon MargaretElletson, Harold
Beggs, RoyEvans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Beith, Rt Hon A JEvans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Bell, StuartEvans, Roger (Monmouth)
Berry, RogerFaber, David
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFabricant, Michael
Boateng, PaulForman, Nigel
Booth, HartleyForsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Boswell, TimForsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Forth, Eric
Bowden, Sir AndrewFoster, Rt Hon Derek
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesFoster, Don (Bath)
Brandreth, GylesFox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bray, Dr JeremyFreeman, Rt Hon Roger
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterGallie, Phil
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)Gapes, Mike
Browning, Mrs AngelaGardiner, Sir George
Burns, SimonGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Burt, AlistairGarnier, Edward
Butler, PeterGerrard, Neil
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)Gillan, Cheryl
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Godman, Dr Norman A
Carrington, MatthewGoodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carttiss, MichaelGorst, Sir John
Chapman, SydneyGrant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Chidgey, DavidGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Clappison, JamesGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyGrocott, Bruce

Hague, WilliamRedwood, Rt Hon John
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Rendel, David
Hannam, Sir JohnRiddick, Graham
Hendry, CharlesRobathan, Andrew
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelRobertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hill, Keith (Streatham)Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hoey, KateRoche, Mrs Barbara
Hoon, GeoffreyRoss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Horam, JohnRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)Sackville, Tom
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Sedgemore, Brian
Hutton, JohnSheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Jack, MichaelShephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Jenkin, BernardShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Jessel, TobySims, Roger
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreySkinner, Dennis
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)Soames, Nicholas
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)Soley, Clive
Khabra, Piara SSpearing, Nigel
Kirkwood, ArchySpellar, John
Knapman, RogerSpencer, Sir Derek
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)Spink, Dr Robert
Lait, Mrs JacquiSpring, Richard
Lawrence, Sir IvanStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Legg, BarryStem, Michael
Leigh, EdwardStreeter, Gary
Lennmox-Boyd, Sir MarkSweeney, Walter
Lestor, Joan (Eccles)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lidington, DavidTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Thomason, Roy
Luff, PeterThompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Macdonald, CalumTimms, Stephen
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTownsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
MacKay, AndrewTredinnick, David
Mackinlay, AndrewTrend, Michael
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidTrimble, David
McLoughlin, PatrickTwinn, Dr Ian
Madden, MaxVaz, Keith
Maddock, DianaViggers, Peter
Maitland, Lady OlgaWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Malone, GeraldWallace, James
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianWaller, Gary
Merchant, PiersWard, John
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Wareing, Robert N
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)Watts, John
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)Wells, Bowen
Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesWhitney, Ray
Morley, ElliotWhittingdale, John
Mudie, GeorgeWicks, Malcolm
Neubert, Sir MichaelWilletts, David
Norris, SteveWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)Yeo, Tim
Olner, BillYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Pawsey, James
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth

Tellers for the Noes:

Powell, William (Corby)

Mr. Timothy Wood and

Randall, Stuart

Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.

Question accordingly negatived.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It arises from the advice that you gave us a short time before the Division, when you said that the best way to proceed might be for the usual channels to have some discussions to see whether the Leader of the House was willing to make a statement. During the Division, such discussions did take place, but the Leader of the House indicated that he was not willing to make a statement because he regarded the resignation of the Prime Minister as leader of the Conservative party as nothing to do with this House. I do not think that the country as a whole will think that this is just a cosy matter for members of the Conservative party.

The matter raises some important questions about the workings of Parliament during the next few weeks. If the Prime Minister believes that he does not have the confidence of his own party, he clearly does not have the confidence of the House. There are questions for this House because we need to know with what authority Ministers will speak from the Dispatch Box. We need to know when Ministers are speaking as Ministers and when they are speaking as candidates in the Conservative party leadership election. We saw during the Division that several potential stalking horses were present. If we cannot—

Order. This is now becoming a general debate, and the hon. Lady's point is not a matter of order for the Chair.

If we cannot have a statement from the Leader of the House because he refuses to give one, and if we cannot have a statement from the Prime Minister because he also refuses to give one, may we have a statement from the President of the Board of Trade?

Order. The matter has been thrashed out exhaustively by means of points of order. There are no more points of order that I can deal with, and it is now my duty to ensure that the next business is considered.

Order. I am taking no more points of order on the Prime Minister's statement at his press conference.

Order. I am not taking any more points of order. [Interruption.] Members must sit down.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance on the Standing Orders of the House.

It must be a totally different matter. I am taking no more points of order on the Prime Minister's statement.

Yes, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your guidance regarding the Standing Orders of the House. We have a procedure for debating urgent and important issues under Standing Order No. 20. Do you consider that this matter is urgent and important and should therefore be accepted for a debate under Standing Order No. 20?

Standing Order No. 20 cannot be used in the way in which the hon. Gentleman wishes.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. A little while ago I received a letter from the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary informing me that the Prime Minister would be unable to answer questions on Tuesday 27 June as he would be attending the European Council in Cannes. Quite apart from the prudence of the Prime Minister being out of Britain next week, may I ask whether you have received any indication that the Prime Minister has revised his plans and no longer intends to ask the Lord President of the Council to answer questions on his behalf next Tuesday?

Order. I call Mr. Spearing, on what I trust will be a different point of order.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. When an unexpected matter of common knowledge arises which you regard as of sufficient significance, is it in order for an hon. Member to apply to you for permission to move the adjournment of the debate?

It is perfectly possible, but whether it is accepted by the Chair is another matter.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In that case, may I ask permission to move such a motion for the following reason? The stability of the Government of Her Majesty depends on the stability of the Privy Council and, in particular, on its sub-committee known as the Cabinet. The Prime Minister is First Lord of the Treasury, and in that role he discharges many duties, including that of attending the important conference of which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has acquainted the House. In view of the representational difficulties which may arise at that conference in the context of the full backing of the majority in the House, such as it is, for the conference and the carrying on of the business of the Queen's Government—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Order. If there is one thing that I cannot deal with, it is two points of order at the same time.

It is clear from the points of order during our previous debate and subsequently that there is some uncertainty. Pending a statement from the Leader of the House, who ought to be here, has been requested to be here and has not said that he will make a statement, I beg leave to move such a motion.

Order. Is it the hon. Gentleman's wish that the debate be now adjourned?

I beg to move that the debate on this matter be adjourned pending a statement from the Leader of the House. If there is no such statement, the pros and cons of the uncertainty will not be laid before the House. Other hon. Members may wish to give reasons for the motion, such as the stability of the Government and the majority that they can command in the House being in question.

It is clear that the instability in the Government ranks is not sudden. It is as if a grumbling appendix has been worsening among Conservative Members for a number of weeks. The grumbling has caused a good deal of comment in the press and has affected not only the position of the Prime Minister; there is also a great deal of speculation about the position of the Foreign Secretary, who is due at the Cannes conference in a few days' time. Without some sort of stability between the Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be, and the Foreign Secretary, can Her Majesty's Government—still less the people of this country—be properly represented at that conference?

The agenda at the Cannes conference is of prime constitutional importance. Yesterday there was a six-hour debate in the House about many of the issues to be raised at Cannes. The matters to be discussed are not dissociated from the divisions in the ranks of Government supporters—if they are indeed Government supporters—[Interruption.]

Will my hon. Friend bear it in mind that it is not just a matter of the Government's credibility in their external relations, because the hiatus that will persist over the next two weeks will have profound internal implications for the country and for the business of the House? For example, it may delay the Nolan committee which is considering allegations in respect of matters which are vital to hon. Members. One consequential if not intended effect must be that.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The domestic consequences for legislation or what happens in the House is of prime importance to many citizens. Just a short while ago the Leader of the House announced next week's business. What guarantee can there be that that business will proceed? What guarantee have the general public that representations to their Members of Parliament over the weekend at their advice surgeries, in newspapers and in letters will be aired next week?

It is not unknown for Cabinets and Leaders of the House to change the business. We do not know whether the Leader of the House may be a candidate for leader of his party. Sponsors of certain legislation set down for next week might be thought to be enhancing themselves by an appearance at the Dispatch Box and could thus receive undue publicity. We just do not know.

If the hon. Gentleman intends to ask further questions, I will gladly give way.

In the light of the hon. Gentleman's views on Europe, does he not feel that he would be far safer in the hands of the present Prime Minister at the Cannes conference than in the hands of his leader, who would sell this country down the river?

I do not think that the leadership of my party is in any way in question. The big question is the leadership of the Conservative party. I will therefore not be tempted down the beguiling road indicated by the hon. Gentleman. As we know from those who were present at yesterday's debate, if an objective observer—I stress the word "objective"—were to compare the stances of my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) and that of the Foreign Secretary, who respectively outlined Opposition and Government policies in that debate, I am not too sure that the distinction would be that obvious. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's point is irrelevant.

Central to the events of the past hour or so is the fact that the abscess which has apparently being growing and festering and which has now burst among the ranks of Conservative Members was started by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath). There was division in the Conservative party on that matter from the day I entered the House—25 years ago last Sunday. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who entered the House on that same day, has ample evidence and full knowledge of that festering.

The Prime Minister said at his press conference that he had resigned as Tory party leader. That means that the Tory party is leaderless. The important thing to remember is that that is not enough. If the Prime Minister has lost the confidence of the governing party, he has a duty to go to the Queen and ask to be allowed to call a general election so that the country can decide. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is the only way out of this impasse?

Constitutionally, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know of no reason why the Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), if he so wishes, should not get into his motor car, go to see Her Majesty and seek a Dissolution. In the House we have to be careful about the Crown and I should not like to speculate about what Her Majesty would say. However, I suggest that the Prime Minister has been so mobbed, as it were, by differing views, so provoked and discomfited and, I would not say exhausted, but has had so much difficulty balancing the two views in his party that it is hard for him to carry on the business of government. Indeed, the fact that there have been two views has clearly interrupted the Prime Minister's efficiency in the conduct of government.

I shall give way later. I am answering my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The Prime Minister has been so discomfited that, like a person surrounded by bees or wasps, he has picked up his swatter and said, "Look, if you don't stop, I will go to Her Majesty and you can all go to the electorate."

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In moving the motion, my hon. Friend has several times drawn attention to the situation of the Queen and the issue of whether the Prime Minister should go to her. What powers has the House to ask for an opinion from, or send a message to, the Queen as to exactly what she ought to do in this situation? Does this not illustrate the problem of having a monarch rather than an elected president to deal with such problems?

I very much doubt whether Her Majesty needs the detailed advice of the House.

I said that the Prime Minister had a duty to go to the Queen, but he had better wait another half an hour or so as she will not be back from Ascot yet.

I wish to develop that point as it is of constitutional importance. If we were in the position of the monarch—you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as our No. 2 representative to the monarch can imagine the position—what would we see? Her Majesty would survey the broken state of the Conservative party.

I will give way in a moment.

Unlike the position with the left and right wings of Mr. Wilson's party, the Conservative party is unstable. The Queen might well say, looking at the opinion polls, that it was her duty to grant a Dissolution. It is not a matter on which it is for us to advise Her Majesty in the sense of giving a corporate view from the House, although it would be possible to move a suitable motion. It is a matter of the advice of the people in respect of the Government.

My hon. Friend will note that the Conservative Benches are now denuded. Does he think that that is because Conservative Members are already outside laying their bets and doing their canvassing? In the circumstances, does that not support my hon. Friend's excellent motion and suggest that we should all go out and put a few bets on?

Not yet, because we have yet to ventilate—and to a much greater extent than I have been yet been capable of—the plight not only of the Conservative party but of Her Majesty's Government and, therefore, the British people, who are currently leaderless.

My hon. Friend has referred to the position in respect of a general election. Constitutionally, that should of course take place in view of the Government's position. However, is my hon. Friend at all surprised that with the situation which exists in the country, with hardly a single Tory seat being held in by-elections, the Prime Minister simply refuses to go to the country because he knows what the result would be? Is that not a conspiracy against the British people to deny them the right to elect another Government? We should give them their democratic rights instead of going through the farce of the Prime Minister trying to save his job by having an internal election? What respect does he show to the House of Commons by refusing to come and make a statement?

Order. I remind hon. Members in their excitement that they should be addressing me rather than other hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) makes a fascinating speculation. I suspect that it is not a matter of disrespect but of desperation.

I have more suggestions about what Conservative Members are doing. They are either grouping together around various of their right hon. Friends and getting their party leadership election machines ready, or perhaps they are hastening back to their constituencies for the very possibility that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Does my hon. Friend recall the statement a few moments ago by the Secretary of State for National Heritage, who strained to distinguish between the roles of Conservative leader and Prime Minister? Is it not fair to draw the attention of the House—and, indeed, your attention, Madam Deputy Speaker—to the fact that the announcement was made from No. 10 Downing street and not from Conservative central office? That illustrates and buttresses the fact that the Government always confuse the Conservative party and Britain when it suits them. When they find themselves in the mire, they try to make a distinction. For far too long the Government have tried to imply that the Conservative party represents Britain, but when it causes them embarrassment they try to make a distinction.

The fact that the Prime Minister made his announcement in the grounds of No. 10 Downing street conflicts with the rules that he laid down for Ministers that such places are not to be used for party political purposes. He should have done it from central office. The fact that it was done in Downing street emphasises the fact that either he or the Leader of the House should be here to make a statement.

I am grateful again for the constitutional suggestions of my hon. Friends. One of the purposes of debate in the House, all too frequently ignored, is that we gather together the totality of human knowledge and political wisdom and distil it in Hansard to be put on record for ever and aye.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock is right. I recall that at the time of general elections our late right hon. Friend Lord Wilson, then Mr. Wilson, first went to the office of his party, which in those days was Transport house in Smith square. The problem for the Prime Minister has been demonstrated by certain constitutional matters relating to expenditure and responsibility for debt. The Conservatives cannot run their own party, let alone the country. Who and what is the Conservative party? So far as I can see, it is the single person of the Prime Minister. My hon. Friend was right to point out the constitutional anomaly whereby the chairman of the Conservative party is not elected by anyone but appointed by the Prime Minister. Perhaps the Prime Minister has been discomfited by the performance of his party chairman.

I see that the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) is anxious to intervene.

This is the poorest political performance that I have observed from the Labour party. The hon. Member is floundering as well as flannelling. The fact is that the Prime Minister has made a courageous move. It is a very clever move and one as a result of which he will win. It will give him the confidence to go on and to continue to run the country, deliver growth with low inflation and win the next election. The Opposition do not like it because their fox has been shot.

The suggestion that I am floundering is very novel. I have been wonderfully sustained in my speech by my hon. Friends, which is more than can be said for the Prime Minister. I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), who is my own Member of Parliament.

I have been seeking to help my hon. Friend on a constitutional matter. As I understand it, we do not need to trouble the Queen—she can stay at Ascot until the last train leaves. The matter depends on whether a majority can be commanded by the Prime Minister in the House. The proper route would have been for the Prime Minister to call for a vote of confidence here in the House, but his problem would then be that he would not know which way to vote.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The great difference between the Prime Minister and the leader of the Labour party is that the majority of the party in the country and in the House behind the Leader of the Opposition is massive compared with the divisions and splits among the Conservatives. One can only imagine the coming weeks in politics and the band-width of possibilities this weekend.

My question is prompted by the very fair-minded answer that I received from the Prime Minister today to a question about Brent Spar. My hon. Friend is a decent fair-minded man. Has he no sympathy whatever at a personal level for a tormented and distressed Prime Minister?

My hon. Friend ingeniously ventilated the problem of Brent Spar during Prime Minister's Question Time this afternoon. Despite the cheers from the Conservatives, the affair is an enormous embarrassment to the Government. Had the Prime Minister got his way, or had he been wiser, environmental policies relating to the health of the sea would perhaps have been such that the Government would not have allowed such a terrible infection of the deep sea ever to be contemplated.

My hon. Friend will have heard the point of order that I raised a little while ago relating to the role of the monarch in these circumstances. The real problem is that the Prime Minister resigned as leader of the Conservative party and said that he will fight in the leadership election, but we, as elected representatives of the people, cannot set out constitutional guidelines about how things should be done. I suspect that the Government will try to manoeuvre the business of the House so that there can be no discussion.

If we had a head of state who was accountable to the elected representatives, there would have to be clear constitutional guidelines about whether we should have a general election or a vote of confidence, instead of matters being decided in the murky halls of power as they are at present.

The structure of power in this country rests—or should rest—entirely in the Chamber and the Lobbies on either side. I recall that when the last Government fell on a vote of confidence—by only one vote, but that was enough—Lord Callaghan, as he is now, sprang to the Dispatch Box and said that he was going to the palace tomorrow. That is what the Prime Minister should do now because he has lost the confidence of his party and the country.

Does my right hon. Friend remember that, during the visit of the G7 nations to Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Prime Minister responded to some questions by saying that he had a coalition Government? Does my hon. Friend think that there is a possibility that the Prime Minister might apply to join the Labour party?

That is perhaps taking things a little far. Being a Londoner, and acquainted with south London, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—we are both, of course, knowledgeable about east London—I have often noticed in the Prime Minister a certain understanding of and sympathy with ordinary people, which I do not always find in the party that he leads. I have a suspicion that some of his difficulties and some of the distrust that he has improperly attracted from members of his own party might be because, behind everything else, there is a lurking and, I would suggest, praiseworthy sensitivity to some of the things that ordinary people experience and which he has experienced but which all too few of his hon. Friends have experienced. I believe that the British public feel that strongly, but it has added to his difficulties.

My hon. Friend is a well known constitutional expert and we appreciate his knowledge.

The hon. Gentleman knows a lot about rubbish, but nothing about the constitution.

The head of state usually calls on the leader of the party which commands a majority in the House to form a Government, but there is no longer a leader of the majority party. In those circumstances, would it not be up to the head of state to summon a Conservative Member whom she thought able to command a majority in the House? I understand that she is on her way back from Ascot; might she not at this very moment be contemplating sending for the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has already made an appearance?

That is not merely a hypothetical question, but something with which we may have to deal in the next few days. It is possible for the Conservative party to have a quick election, but—

Not yet—I want to finish this point.

Because of the lack of confidence, which has been clearly demonstrated by the events of today, it is possible that the Prime Minister might advise Her Majesty to send for Mr. X or someone else. It may have been forgotten but, not too many years ago—after the election in February 1974—there was a little conversation when the answer, given formally or informally, was, "Yes Madam, I will see if I can." That person then had to ascertain whether there was a majority.

I can imagine Her Majesty calling a certain right hon. Gentleman—it could be someone whom anyone here could name—but he might not be able to say at that stage, "Yes, Madam, I will" and then kiss hands, actually or metaphorically. That right hon. Gentleman would have to go to the Committee Room upstairs and see whether he could command a majority among the Conservatives. I am not sure whether any particular candidate—or, at least, any masculine candidate that I can think of—would necessarily be able to do so. If he could not, the House would have to be dissolved or—I have not yet worked out the mathematics of this—it might be possible that a combination of other parties would be more in a position to command consistent support, as happened with the Lib-Lab Government.

May I draw my hon. Friend back to the invitation tendered to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who pleaded for sympathy for the Prime Minister because of the rebuff that he suffered from an oil company? Does my hon. Friend think that this gives a new meaning to the phrase, "Go Well, Go Shell"?

Alas, the oil wells of the North sea did not let Britain go well despite the thousands of millions of pounds worth of oil that were gushing out of the North sea, as is the case with gas now. That gas is publicly owned although it may be privately distributed and pirated. As a maritime country, we should pay much greater attention to the well-being of our marine life, as my hon. Friend, with his knowledge and experience, will confirm. The disgraceful incident to which he refers is not a good example of a responsible attitude.

I am listening carefully as the hon. Gentleman manages to pack his two-minute speech into three quarters of an hour. Can he tell the House how his own reselection is going? Is he making any progress on that front?

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) winds up his speech on this unprecedented constitutional crisis, will you confirm the nature of the current proceedings? Is it the case that my hon. Friend is initiating a debate on the Adjournment which can continue until at least 10 pm so that the House can have an opportunity in the remainder of the evening to make its views felt on this unprecedented crisis?

The position is that the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend is moving a motion that the current debate—not the House—be adjourned. That, of course, is debatable and could continue. It is not for me to say how long it might continue.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Presumably, if an application for a closure were made to you in the course of the debate, you would consider that matter. If you decided that the closure should be put, the House would be asked to vote on a closure motion. If that were carried, would it have the effect of adjourning the House, or would you then have to consider a further application for the Adjournment of the House?

I must make it clear that we are not debating the Adjournment of the House. If the adjournment were carried, it would not mean the Adjournment of the House. It would be the adjournment of the current business.

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you would give me your guidance. In considering the closure, or any application for a closure, do you take into account the fact that a speech is being made which is demeaning Parliament? Do you take into account the fact that remarks are being made by people who present themselves as worthy people of great substance and age but who are behaving like juvenile children? Or do you simply do it on the basis of how long this farce continues?

I take all manner of factors into account, but I do not share those with the House.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. We are obviously in an unprecedented position. Constitutionally, in the circumstances forecast previously when people have suggested that a hung Parliament might be the indecisive result of a general election and therefore the obligation would be on the monarch and her advisers as to whom to summon to form a Government, it has been contended that those advisers take soundings of Members of Parliament and the people concerned with that position. In circumstances such as these, when Parliament is sitting and the monarch must reach a judgment on the fact that the present holder of the seals of office as Prime Minister is not the leader of the majority party of the House because he has resigned as such, should not the House have the opportunity to give its advice to the monarch? Should there not be provision for a debate in which we might reach a conclusion on that matter?

That is not a point of order for the Chair. I hope that we shall not return to the series of points of order that we had before. The House has the opportunity to have this debate on the adjournment of the present debate. I ask the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) to resume his speech.

I hope that my hon. Friends will allow me to conclude my speech without further interruptions, although I am grateful for the matters that they have mentioned.

With regard to the point of order raised a few moments ago, it is my understanding that if the closure is moved and is successful we proceed to the Adjournment debate to be initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) and the business on the Crown Agents would therefore be terminated—unless the closure was defeated, in which case that debate would be resumed until 10 o'clock. In the circumstances of the day, perhaps only the business of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North might be appropriate.

I wish to conclude on perhaps an even more serious note than the future of the Prime Minister.

No—I am worried about the future of the House. I will leave the—[Interruption]

Order. I wish to hear the hon. Gentleman. That becomes difficult, particularly when much of the noise seems to be coming from the hon. Gentleman's friends.

Conservative Members should contemplate very seriously, because they are in Government, the fact that the difficulties which have existed in their party for the past few years—which started, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover and I know only too well, long ago—arise from the acknowledgment by the Crown, on the advice of the House, of certain very testing obligations in respect of domestic matters as well as those abroad: I refer to a series of treaties, the obligations of which are essentially destabilising to any party in the House because no party can any longer go with certainty to the electorate and place before them its full, free choice of legislation.

I shall not take that argument further now—it would not be opportune to do so—save to say that I believe that the difficulties of the Conservative party arise directly from that matter, and that that matter would be there for any Government, of any party, to solve. I hope that this incident alone may perhaps illustrate that, as I envisage Members on the Opposition side of the House moving to the Government side of the House after the next general election.

6.26 pm

I do not intend to speak at the same length as the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing). I believe that his last remarks were correct; that the split over Europe in the Labour party is as significant as the split in the Tory party. It is fair to say that. It is also true that, were we to have a Labour Government, they would probably need a majority of about 100 before they could outnumber their European rebels.

It would be unfair to say that the Labour party is wrongly using this opportunity. When one has a Labour party in Parliament whose members cannot stand in the Tory leadership election, which cannot nominate anyone for the Tory leadership election and which cannot vote in it, it feels left out.

The Labour party is used to its own system, which allows trade union leaders to decide 70 per cent.—or, shortly, 50 per cent.—who its leader should be. It has also introduced a new constitutional position whereby the leader of the Labour party becomes involved in who should be the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union.

If I may digress on that for a moment, the Labour leader's pet candidate, Jack Dromey, said in his election speech that he wanted the Transport and General Workers Union to be a first-class trade union, not a second-class political party. Neither Jack Dromey nor the leader of the Labour party said whether the expression, "a second-class political party", applied to the Transport and General Workers Union or to the Labour party. It had to apply to one or the other.

When we consider whether the debate on Third Reading of the Crown Agents Bill should be adjourned—

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will tell us whether he is likely to support the Secretary of State for Health as a candidate for the next election in the Tory party.

Order. I think that we had better get back to the Question before us, and that is that the debate be now adjourned. Of course it is a fairly tight motion, and I shall be listening with due attention.

As grandson of a former senior Crown agent, as I explained during an earlier stage of the Crown Agents Bill—there may have been a different Deputy Speaker in the Chair when I spoke about that—I want to continue my arguments as to why the debate on Third Reading should not be adjourned. It would be reasonably fair to be allowed one or two sentences to follow the 40 minutes from the hon. Member for Newham, South.

There is another relevant point. I was elected to the House in a by-election in 1975 and that marked the start of the loss of the previous Labour Government's majority in this place. From 1975 to 1979, Labour was propped up in government by the Liberals, the Ulster Unionists and by other nationalists. The Labour party has plenty of experience of trying to remain in government without a majority. In 1976 the Labour party changed its leader. There was no debate on the Floor of the House of Commons when Harold Wilson resigned.

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to Harold Wilson's decision to resign in 1976, he can draw no parallel with the current situation because Harold Wilson made it clear that he was resigning not merely as party leader but also as Prime Minister and that he would remain as a caretaker Prime Minister in the intervening period until an election was called and held and his successor found. There was no question of Harold Wilson's doing what the present Prime Minister is trying to do: resign as Tory party leader, hang on as Prime Minister and hope that he will win the ensuing leadership election and continue as Prime Minister. He wants to have his cake and eat it. While I am on my feet, I must ask: who is the hon. Gentleman going to vote for?

I do not actually expect that there will be a contest. The hon. Gentleman is using the example of Harold Wilson, who stood down as Prime Minister—[Interruption.]

The hon. Gentleman referred to the example of Harold Wilson. Harold Wilson stopped being the Prime Minister, but that will not happen in this case. If there was no debate in 1976, we do not need a debate now. Labour Members have said for the past hour or so that they regard this matter as more important than the final stages of the Crown Agents Bill, but it is clear from the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that they do not have a leg to stand on.

I want to answer one question that was put earlier in the debate. It is wrong to argue that the hon. Member for Newham, South has not been reselected because his constituency has changed. The fact that he has not been selected for the new constituency is something that happens in the Labour party quite often.

6.33 pm

I know that it is the Wimbledon season, but tennis is not oneof my talents.

I support the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) that we should adjourn the debate. I do so because of the totally unprecedented events that we have witnessed in the past hour and a half. I do not think that the public or hon. Members would understand if we were to continue with the affairs of this place as if nothing untoward had happened.

We are in a very unusual position. The House is sitting this evening, but tomorrow it is a non-sitting constituency Friday and it will not be possible to discuss any matters then—no doubt the Prime Minister took that into account when he made his decision. There is provision in the Standing Orders for the House to sit tomorrow, or on Saturday and Sunday should that prove necessary. The Government have the power to request Madam Speaker to recall Parliament, and that option is clearly open to them.

Conservative Members seem somewhat reticent when it comes to discussing the implications of the Prime Minister's decision. That seems rather strange to those of us who believe that the whole country is interested in what is going on and does not regard it as an internal matter for the Conservative party. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), who has now left the Chamber, accused my colleagues of demeaning Parliament by raising the subject. I think that the Prime Minister demeans Parliament when he makes statements of such importance outside the House and then ensures that no statement is made in this place.

My hon. Friend is entirely correct. The public will think it very strange that the Prime Minister stood at the Government Dispatch Box at 3·15 this afternoon and gave no indication that he was about to make an announcement of major national importance.

That proves that the Prime Minister is more concerned about his own position within the Conservative party than he is about respecting the rights of this House as a democratic body. His first responsibility should have been to hon. Members from all political parties who represent the people of this country. That was the Prime Minister's first and most significant mistake.

Is there not another more profound and worrying point? It is not the interests of the Conservative party that the Prime Minister is seeking to serve, but his own interests. Even if he were to win a leadership contest, what essential feature would change? The Conservative party would be exactly as it was and the divisions on Europe would remain. There might be a temporary respite for the Prime Minister—he may gain something—but the Conservative party would not win anything and certainly this country would lose as a result of that process.

My hon. Friend is correct. Today's events are the first in what could be a very long saga that will certainly continue to the next election. The divisions within the Conservative party, which have led to those events, will not go away simply because of a leadership contest—regardless of who wins—because those divisions are too deep.

Will my hon. Friend reflect on two issues? First, there is the constitutional issue. The right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) was asked by Her Majesty to form a Government on the basis that he was the leader of the majority party. He no longer holds that position. Is it not appropriate that he should go to the Queen?

Secondly, if the office of leader of the Conservative party is divorced from that of Prime Minister, will my hon. Friend reflect on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay), who said that it was wholly inappropriate for the Prime Minister to use his office, Downing street and the facilities of the Prime Minister to make an announcement of a party political nature?

My hon. Friend's last point is absolutely correct. We shall have to ask what machinery of government was used with regard to the Prime Minister's announcement today. It has been pointed out that when Harold Wilson resigned, he did so from his party headquarters; he did not use public resources. That was the honourable thing to do. Furthermore, he did not stand in a leadership contest; he stood down permanently. Questions must be asked about how much this exercise has cost. It shows that the Prime Minister does not know the difference between his responsibilities as leader of the Conservative party and his responsibilities as Prime Minister of this country.

There is another very intriguing problem, inasmuch as we know that there is now no leader of the Tory party. That occurred when the Prime Minister handed his seals of office as Tory party leader to none other than the chairman of the 1922 Committee, the right hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M: Fox). He has the title deeds of the Tory party at the moment. Therefore, we may assume that the chairman of the 1922 Committee is in charge of the Tory party until the election is concluded. It is a situation without parallel, when no Tory Minister will come into the Chamber to defend the position. Is it because they are all plotting? I think that it is high time that the Secretary of State for National Heritage came to the Dispatch Box to explain the exact situation.

My hon. Friend reinforces the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) raised a few moments ago.

Our current constitutional position is central to our discussions this evening. At the previous election, the Conservative party won a majority in the House and the Prime Minister led a majority Tory Government in the House. The Queen, not the chairman of the Conservative party, sent for the present Prime Minister as the leader of the majority party in Parliament. He commanded a majority at that election. Today, he does not command a majority in the House and certainly would not claim to command a majority in the country. Significant constitutional issues are being raised this evening and it is astonishing that Ministers—who may or may not be sure whether they are still members of the Government—are not willing to explain the position, as they understand it, to the House.

Has my hon. Friend noticed that, although we are debating a matter of great importance to the House of Commons, the Leader of the House, who I assume is in the building, is not here? The right hon. Gentleman always comes to the House on any internal matter. No one could criticise him on that score. There is no sign that he is coming in. Should we take his absence to mean that he could well be a candidate in the leadership election? Has my hon. Friend any information about that?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the Leader of the House would normally make a statement. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) pointed out that the Leader of the House will be answering Prime Minister's questions next Tuesday, I am not sure whether we should take that as an indication of his candidature. It is possible, but I understand that the Leader of the House is chairing a meeting of the Select Committee on Standards in Public Life that was set up some time ago. I admit that I should be there too, but given the importance of today's events, I thought that I should be in the Chamber to hear what Ministers might have to say about recent developments.

I should inform my hon. Friend that the Select Committee is due to finish its deliberations at 7 o'clock. The Leader of the House may be prepared to come to the House afterwards, to give us the benefit of his advice—and perhaps his inside information—and let us know whether he wishes to make any arrangements for the House to have a full debate on the implications of the Prime Minister's announcement.

There is a danger that we are losing sight of the constitutional point, that the Prime Minister received his mandate on the basis that he was leader of the Conservative party. That has been rehearsed two or three times in the Chamber this afternoon. I intervene because the Leader of the House has not come to the Dispatch Box to answer a very important and, I believe, central question. Has the palace been advised and has the palace acquiesced in the interim arrangements? We have a right to know.

If the palace has not been approached, first, it is a discourtesy and secondly, it is arguably constitutionally incorrect. If the palace has been advised and has acquiesced, we have a right to be told. On other occasions when Prime Ministers announced that they would head a caretaker Government pending an election, the monarch as head of state not only acquiesced, but gave her approval. This time we are in a vacuum. We do not know whether the head of state has fulfilled her constitutional duty.

Order. Interventions are traditionally short and I hope that the House will keep that tradition, even in the more excited atmosphere this evening.

Interventions should be short, but the House will appreciate that my hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point that he is right to emphasise. It is not just the case that the House is being left uninformed; more importantly, the public are being left uninformed. We have a responsibility to try to make sure that they know what is going on as well as we do. On that basis, my hon. Friend raises a valid point.

The other aspect of the constitutional position concerns the authority of the Prime Minister during the leadership election. He has said that he is resigning as Conservative party leader and he will seek re-election, but other candidates may—and some people believe will—enter the field. That means that when he speaks on behalf of Britain in international forums, he speaks with less authority than he would have done had he not decided to follow that course of action.

The Prime Minister told one of my hon. Friends that he will be at the meeting of the European Council in Cannes next Tuesday. What will our international colleagues think and with what authority will the Prime Minister speak on that occasion? Will he speak with the collective support of the Cabinet behind him? Will Cabinet government continue?

There is a near precedent, when Baroness Thatcher was in almost the same position in 1990. She went to France as well. That time it was Paris. Unfortunately, the Prime Minister will go trotting off to Cannes without Bernard Ingham at his side to push all the reporters away. I can visualise the plotters on the Tory Benches running slates. There will be opinion polls. I have already been approached because the reporters got it wrong. The ones from The Sunday Times and The Observer were asking me about it. They are now asking all the Tory Members who they are going to vote for, so the whole thing will maximise itself in the next few days, with the result that the Prime Minister will lack total authority. If he takes my advice—and it is not for me to tell him—he should keep away from Cannes.

The Prime Minister may consider my hon. Friend's advice. I have often noticed that the Prime Minister takes great care to listen to my hon. Friend and he may well be listening now and considering that advice. However, I am not absolutely sure that it is a disadvantage for the Prime Minister not to have Bernard Ingham with him. My hon. Friend is right to say that the power, authority and position of the Prime Minister will certainly be undermined in whatever discussions he has in Cannes. Some time ago, one of his hon. Friends remarked that the Prime Minister was in office but not in power, so today's developments are only bringing to a head problems that have existed for some time. Presumably the Prime Minister has had time to consider his action.

May I ask for a misunderstanding to be cleared up? Is it not the case that once the leader of a majority party has been appointed Prime Minister, it is a continuing requirement of his occupancy of No. 10 Downing street that he remains the leader of the majority party?

My hon. Friend raises an important and interesting point. He is correct, although in those circumstances the Prime Minister would have to be able to command a majority in the House, however that was cobbled together. From my observations in the House and the mood of the House, it is very unlikely that the present Prime Minister or any of the possible contenders whom we have heard about so far could do that.

The other constitutional point about the authority of the Prime Minister relates to the authority of other Ministers. Clearly, if the Prime Minister is seeking a new internal mandate, there is an implication that, were he to win, he might introduce some changes to his Cabinet. That means that every member of the Cabinet has had his or her authority undermined. Whatever issue a Cabinet Minister takes up, he or she will not be able to guarantee that other events will not ensue. The President of the Board of Trade and the Secretaries of State for Employment and for Education have all been mentioned as official candidates in the forthcoming campaign. Sonic people are speculating that the Prime Minister made his announcement today to divert attention from Labour's education policy statement. I am not sure whether that is true. Clarification could come later.

It is clear that discord has overtaken the Government. The Cabinet is disintegrating, as is the Conservative party, before our eyes. Our main concern, however, must be about the impact of the Prime Minister's announcement on the country. What will happen? Will we see a run on the pound? What will happen to the negotiations in Northern Ireland? As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland set out in his unprecedented letter to The Times, there is a difficult situation. What will happen in respect of Bosnia? The difficulties in Bosnia surely require a Prime Minister and Ministers who can act with authority. We cannot—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I left the Chamber a few minutes ago to telephone Her Majesty the Queen's assistant private secretary, Robin Janvrin, at Windsor. He said that unlike the occasion when Harold Wilson said that he would trigger an election for leadership of the Labour party, which resulted in Lord Callaghan, as he now is, becoming leader, there has been no statement from the palace. Mr. Janvrin cannot confirm or deny whether there has been consultation with or acquiescence by the head of state about the constitutional hiatus with which we are faced.

It is time that someone from the Government Benches—for example, the Leader of the House—clarified a perfectly proper constitutional point. I hope that you will not mind me pressing this matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We could find that the palace is placed in a position in which it is unnecessarily and unfairly embarrassed, as happened constitutionally in Australia in 1975, by people not following proper ground rules and not insisting that those who advise play by the constitutional rule book.

I suspect that the hon. Member knew that his point of order had nothing to do with the Chair. It had not.

I shall he brief, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

We should concentrate on the constitutional position. It was said earlier—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) for interrupting her. I cannot but notice that the Government Whips are chattering. I am not complaining about that. Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, resist any attempt to force a closure? Several hon. Members wish to speak. The suspicion is growing on the Opposition Benches that Government Whips are trying to persuade the Chair that when my hon. Friend concludes her speech and resumes her place, the closure will be moved and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will accept it. Will you assure us that that will not happen?

The Chair cannot anticipate anything that any hon. Member does. That is one of the challenges of the job.

It was said earlier that the Queen does not need the advice of the House on matters of this sort. I take issue with that statement. The monarch needs to know who commands a majority in the House. Morality demands more. It requires a Prime Minister who commands a majority in the House and the support and confidence of the country. We need a Prime Minister in whom the House and the country can have confidence. We need a Prime Minister who is competent to govern the country, and that is clearly not the position at present. We need not an internal contest within the Conservative party, but a general election.

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:—

The House proceeded to a Division.

( seated and covered)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have noticed that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is now in the Chamber. Are we to take it that we shall have a statement from him about whether he will contest the leadership?

Order. The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that the Chair has no control over who makes statements on the Government Benches.

The House having divided: Ayes 149, Noes 51.

Division No. 173]

[6.54 pm


Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanCoe, Sebastian
Amess, DavidColvin, Michael
Arbuthnot, JamesCongdon, David
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Conway, Derek
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Ashby, DavidCope, Rt Hon Sir John
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Cormack, Sir Patrick
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Couchman, James
Baldry, TonyCurrie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bates, MichaelDavies, Quentin (Stamford)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasDavis, David (Boothferry)
Booth, HartleyDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Boswell, TimDuncan, Alan
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bowden, Sir AndrewDunn, Bob
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesDykes, Hugh
Brandreth, GylesElletson, Harold
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterEvans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Browning, Mrs AngelaEvans, Roger (Monmouth)
Burns, SimonFaber, David
Burt, AlistairFabricant, Michael
Butcher, JohnForman, Nigel
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Forth, Eric
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Chapman, SydneyFox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Clappison, JamesFreeman, Rt Hon Roger
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyFrench, Douglas

Gallie, PhilNorris, Steve
Gardiner, Sir GeorgePattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon TristanPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Garnier, EdwardPickles, Eric
Gillan, CherylPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairPowell, William (Corby)
Gorst, Sir JohnRenton, Rt Hon Tim
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Riddick, Graham
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Robathan, Andrew
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchibaldRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hawksley, WarrenRowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Hendry, CharlesRyder, Rt Hon Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelShepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Horam, JohnSims, Roger
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Hunter, AndrewSpencer, Sir Derek
Jack, MichaelSpicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Jenkin, BernardSpicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Jessel, TobySpink, Dr Robert
Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreySpring, Richard
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Kirkhope, TimothySteen, Anthony
Knapman, RogerStern, Michael
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)Streeter, Gary
Knight, Greg (Derby N)Sweeney, Walter
Lait, Mrs JacquiTaylor, Ian (Esher)
Lawrence, Sir IvanTemple-Morris, Peter
Legg, BarryThomason, Roy
Lennox-Boyd, Sir MarkThompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Lidington, DavidThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Luff, PeterTredinnick, David
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasTrend, Michael
MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTwinn, Dr Ian
MacKay, AndrewViggers, Peter
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidWaller, Gary
McLoughlin, PatrickWaterson, Nigel
Maitland, Lady OlgaWatts, John
Malone, GeraldWells, Bowen
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Whitney, Ray
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)Whittingdale, John
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr BrianWilkinson, John
Merchant, PiersWilletts, David
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)Yeo, Tim
Neubert, Sir Michael

Tellers for the Ayes:

Newton, Rt Hon Tony

Mr. Timothy Wood and

Nicholson, David (Taunton)

Mr. Andrew Mitchell.


Abbott, Ms DianeHutton, John
Allen, GrahamJones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C&S)
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)
Barnes, HarryMacdonald, Calum
Battle, JohnMackinlay, Andrew
Bayley, HughMadden, Max
Bell, StuartMichie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Boateng, PaulMitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Corbett, RobinMorley, Elliot
Corbyn, JeremyMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)Mullin, Chris
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Murphy, Paul
Dewar, DonaldO'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Dowd, JimO'Hara, Edward
Foster, Rt Hon DerekOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Foster, Don (Bath)Pike, Peter L
George, BruceRandall, Stuart
Godman, Dr Norman ARoche, Mrs Barbara
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Skinner, Dennis
Grocott, BruceSmyth, The Reverend Martin
Hoon, GeoffreySoley, Clive

Spearing, NigelWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)Winnick, David
Trimble, David
Vaz, Keith

Tellers for the Noes:

Wallace, James

Ms Estelle Morris and

Wareing, Robert N

Mr. John Austin-Walker.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question, That the debate be now adjourned, put accordingly and negatived.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 151, Noes 21.

Division No. 174]

[7.07 pm


Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanGardiner, Sir George
Amess, DavidGarel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Arbuthnot, JamesGarnier, Edward
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Gillan, Cheryl
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Ashby, DavidGorman, Mrs Teresa
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)Gorst, Sir John
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Baldry, TonyGreenway, John (Ryedale)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Bates, MichaelHague, William
Bonsor, Sir NicholasHamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Booth, HartleyHawksley, Warren
Boswell, TimHendry, Charles
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Bowden, Sir AndrewHoram, John
Brandreth, GylesHowarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Browning, Mrs AngelaHunter, Andrew
Burns, SimonJack, Michael
Burt, AlistairJenkin, Bernard
Carlisle, John (Luton North)Jessel, Toby
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Carrington, MatthewJones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Carttiss, MichaelKirkhope, Timothy
Chapman, SydneyKnapman, Roger
Clappison, JamesKnight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Clifton-Brown, GeoffreyKnight, Greg (Derby N)
Coe, SebastianLait, Mrs Jacqui
Colvin, MichaelLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Congdon, DavidLegg, Barry
Conway, DerekLeigh, Edward
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Lidington, David
Cope, Rt Hon Sir JohnLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Cormack, Sir PatrickLuff, Peter
Couchman, JamesLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)MacKay, Andrew
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)Maclean, Rt Hon David
Davis, David (Boothferry)McLoughlin, Patrick
Dorrell, Rt Hon StephenMaitland, Lady Olga
Duncan, AlanMalone, Gerald
Duncan-Smith, IainMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Dykes, HughMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Elletson, HaroldMerchant, Piers
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Faber, DavidNeubert, Sir Michael
Fabricant, MichaelNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Fishburn, DudleyNicholson, David (Taunton)
Forman, NigelNorris, Steve
Forth, EricPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Foster, Don (Bath)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)Pickles, Eric
Freeman, Rt Hon RogerPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
French, DouglasRendel, David
Gallie, PhilRenton, Rt Hon Tim

Robathan, AndrewTemple-Morns, Peter
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)Thomason, Roy
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Ryder, Rt Hon RichardTwinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, David (Dover)Viggers, Peter
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)Wallace, James
Sims, RogerWaller, Gary
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)Waterson, Nigel
Watts, John
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)Wells, Bowen
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)Whitney, Ray
Spink, Dr RobertWhittingdale, John
Spring, RichardWilkinson, John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWilletts, David
Steen, AnthonyYeo, Tim
Stern, Michael
Streeter, Gary

Tellers for the Ayes:

Sweeney, Walter

Mr. Timothy Wood and

Taylor, Ian (Esher)

Dr. Liam Fox.


Barnes, HarryMackinlay, Andrew
Bayley, HughMcWilliam, John
Corbyn, JeremyMadden, Max
Cox, TomPike, Peter L
George, BruceSkinner, Dennis
Godman, Dr Norman ASoley, Clive
Gordon, MildredSpearing, Nigel
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)Wareing, Robert N
Hutton, JohnWinnick, David
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n)

Tellers for the Noes:

Livingstone, Ken

Mr. Chris Mullin and

Macdonald. Calum

Mr. John Austin-Walker.

Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.