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Points of Order

Volume 506: debated on Thursday 25 February 2010

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you will recognise, the Wright Committee report is going to affect how Parliament develops for some years to come, so the votes next week are of considerable importance. I was, therefore, very disturbed when the Leader of House suggested that, although she was urging Members to table amendments, there would not be adequate time to debate any of those amendments. The whole purpose of an amendment is to allow the Member who has tabled it to explain why he or she does or does not want a particular thing to happen, and for that matter then to be discussed. I therefore submit that it is a travesty of parliamentary procedure if there is not a reasonable amount of time to debate amendments, especially amendments urged by the Leader of the House and selected by you, Mr. Speaker. Is there anything that you can do in your role as protector of the interests and procedure of this House to ensure that there is sufficient—not inordinately long, but at least some—time to debate substantive amendments?

I am happy to comment on that matter, but as the Leader of the House is present, she has an opportunity to respond, if she wishes to do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There were two reasons why we put on Monday’s Order Paper as remaining orders of the day all the motions that were going to be tabled by the Government: so that those on which there was unanimity could go through—about 11 of the 16 did go through—and so that colleagues could see our substantive motions well in advance of Monday’s debate and table amendments. Indeed, more than 130 Members did exactly that, and as a result when we had Monday’s debate there were amendments, as well as the Government motions, on the Order Paper. Therefore, the context of Monday’s debate was not only the Wright Committee report and the substantive motions, but the amendments that were already on the Order Paper, including those tabled by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). We will have some time for debate next week—about 90 minutes. That is enough time to discuss issues that were already within the purview of the debate on Monday, which lasted for six hours. The reality is that the hon. Gentleman should not believe that Members will not understand some of his proposals because they have not had a chance to debate them, and that therefore they might not vote for them. The truth is that we have had eight hours of debate on this, and there is no procedural issue of substance here. The point here is that we should be clear about what is on the Order Paper and get on and vote on it.

I do not want a prolonged exchange on this matter, but I am in a very generous mood, so if the hon. Gentleman wants to speak again, he can do so.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am extremely grateful to you for your generosity, but this is a matter that affects the House, and it will do so for some years to come. I am prepared to accept there being 90 minutes to debate those amendments that were already on the Order Paper and that Members know about, but the Leader of the House has herself urged us this morning to table further amendments. My point is that there must be at least another 90 minutes to debate those new amendments, which none of us has seen or knows about, so we do not know how we are going to vote on them. I therefore ask you, Mr. Speaker, to ensure—if you possibly can—that there is an extension of that 90-minute period for that purpose.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to raise the issue of the advice given by Clerks to Select Committee Chairmen. It is my belief that the advice the Clerks provided to the Science and Technology Committee Chairman was inadequate, in that the evidence taken by the Committee in its evidence check on homeopathy was biased, as they did not call representatives of the homeopathic profession and instead chose a professor who did not represent the alternative medicine world. They chose the one person who would give an answer that suited those who were in opposition.

It is conceivable that that issue might be a proper matter for consideration by the Liaison Committee. I say very clearly to the hon. Gentleman and the House that the reason why I will not comment on this matter is that the Speaker does not comment on matters that appertain to Select Committees, including the provision of advice to such Committees. What advice was, or was not, offered by the Clerk to that Committee is a matter between that Clerk and his or her Committee. If, notwithstanding what I have just said, the hon. Gentleman remains dissatisfied and is unable to get satisfaction from the Committee, he could consider an approach to the Liaison Committee.

Let me just come back to the issue that preoccupied the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack) and to which the Leader of the House has replied. I am afraid that I can add very little. The hon. Gentleman will know that I am almost invariably an enthusiast for the maximum debate. He will also know, on the strength of his 39 years and eight months of service in the House, that these are matters for the Government; the timetable is a matter for the Government and I cannot interfere with it. Moreover, I think it is fair to say, as the Leader of the House has done—it is important that people outside are conscious of this—that there has been a very substantial debate on these matters. Certainly, the amendments that were on Monday’s Order Paper regularly featured in the speeches and interventions made in the debate of that day. I do not have the figures in front of me, but it is my recollection that more than 20 Members made speeches, and a further 10 or more Members intervened—in some cases quite frequently—during the debate. So the debate was very well attended and there were many contributions to it. It would always be good to have more time, but I am not sure that I can offer any, and there will be an hour and a half on Thursday. If the hon. Gentleman is still dissatisfied, he can put in a plea to the Leader of the House or through the usual channels, but I am not sure that I can offer anything further.