The Clerk just read out as the next business the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill. The Motion which we have just agreed states that proceedings upon that Bill and the Criminal Law Bill may be taken at any hour, though opposed. I understood that today was a day of Government business and that, therefore, the next business should be the Criminal Law Bill.
Standing Order No. 15 states:
The orders of the day shall be disposed of in the order they stand upon the paper.
It also says that the right is reserved to Her Majesty's Ministers
… of arranging government business, whether orders of the day or notices of motions, in such order as they may think fit.
I shall be glad of your Ruling on the point, Mr. Speaker.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for putting his point so concisely and clearly. It is an ingenious point. The business which is before us now is, as he said, governed by the Motion which the House has approved, but the Government can arrange business in their own order. They have power over their part of the Order Paper and neither the Speaker nor the hon. Gentleman can change the Government's right to do that.
As I understand the matter, Private Members' Bills are governed by a Standing Order which dictates the order in which they appear on the Order Paper, and what determines, as I understand Standing Order No. 15, what is Government business and what is not is whether it is starred on the Order Paper. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill is not so starred. Therefore, it must take its place among other Private Members' Bills, according to the Standing Order.
Order. I hope that one of the Speakers' Panel of Chairmen will not interrupt the Speaker when he is dealing with a point of order.
From time to time—I make no comment on the wisdom or otherwise of the Government decision—the Government make room in their own time for private Members' business. If the hon. Gentleman will look, for instance, at the bottom of page 303 of Erskine May, he will find the passage:
Occasionally the Government find themselves bound to provide time for subjects the discussion of which is demanded by a substantial number of Members whether supporters or opponents of the Government.
The Government have, in their wisdom or otherwise, found time for this Bill, and, having done so, it is their right to place it, if they want to do so, on the Order Paper.
On a point of order. You have decided, Mr. Speaker, not to select some Amendments which are on the Notice Paper. I do not question that in any way, shape or form. But I noticed on Tuesday last, when Government business was being hotly contested by the Official Opposition and by—if I may so refer to them—the regular band of opponents below the Gangway, that we managed, on that hotly contested Bill, on which the House was divided, to cope with Amendments at the rate of 35 minutes per Amendment and went through Third Reading very quickly. Perhaps 35 minutes is not a long time—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—but it was possible to do that with official Government business, which was hotly contested. May I ask—
Order. I have been receiving advice all through the week on bow to conduct this evening's business. It will be no secret to the House that the advice varied. In fact, very often I received diametrically opposed pieces of advice. I am not prepared to receive advice from any hon. or right hon. Member as to when I should apply the Closure on debates.
Order. I know that the hon. and gallant Member will listen while I address the House.
We have before the House serious business on which the House is divided, divided fundamentally. I would imagine that the opponents and supporters of the Bill would want to debate the issues, rather than spend time on points of order. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] We come to Amendment No. 27.