Broadcasting (Motion and Amendment)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 December 1969.

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Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

I wish to raise a point of order on today's business, and to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether the Amendment to the Opposition Motion on broadcasting is in order.

In common with other hon. Members, I signed the Motion. At a later stage, when I saw it, I also signed the Amendment. On presenting my name at the Table Office, I was informed that it was impossible for an hon. Member to sign both the Motion and the Amendment—[Laughter.] Hon. Members are right to laugh, because the assumption behind that is that the two are incompatible.

But my point of order, perhaps, will remove the smiles from hon. Members' faces. I suggest that the Amendment is out of order for the reason that it is not incompatible with the Motion. I wish to pray in aid Erskine May

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will put his point of order briefly. For the moment, it suggests to me a crisis of conscience in his mind.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

The assumption must be that a Motion and an Amendment are incompatible, that they are mutually exclusive and, therefore, that hon. Members cannot reasonably sign both. Presumably, any hon. Member doing so would be in error.

There are two questions, Sir—

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

First, my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) has succeeded in signing both the Motion and the Amendment. May I ask you how this occurred in his case and why I was not allowed to do the same?

My second question is a more serious one, and on it I wish to draw your attention to Erskine May. Chapter XVIII is concerned with the process of debate and, on page 414, under the heading Object of an amendment and effect on debate", Erskine May says: The object of an amendment may be either to modify a question in such a way as to increase its acceptability"— I do not think that anyone will suggest that the Amendment is for the purpose of increasing the acceptability of the Motion— … or to present to the House a different proposition as an alternative to the original question. This is not an alternative to the original Question.

The two propositions are not mutually exclusive. The Motion says: That this House regrets that the policy of Her Majesty's Government will cause a serious deterioration in the quality of broadcasting.

The Amendment opposes proposals for private enterprise commercial local radio stations. The two are not mutually exclusive. It is reasonable and proper for hon. Members to be in favour of both.

In the circumstances, I respectfully suggest that you should rule the Amendment out of order, and that the debate should take place on the Motion, so that hon. Members have an opportunity of voting for or against it.

Several Hon. Members:

Several Hon. Members rose

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. Dr. Winstanley, I understand, on the same point of order.

Photo of Dr Michael Winstanley Dr Michael Winstanley , Cheadle

Mr. Speaker, it will be within your knowledge that for several weeks hon. Members have requested an opportunity to debate the B.B.C.'s plan "Broadcasting for the Seventies" and the Government's policy in relation to it. Several answers have been given to the requests of hon. Members by the Leader of the House and, on Thursday of last week, the House was informed that an opportunity for such a debate would occur today.

Is it not a fact, however, that the Amendment on the Order Paper which, presumably, we shall be asked to debate, is on a totally different subject? While I feel sure that we shall be allowed to discuss various matters, will it not prevent us expressing our opinions in the Lobby on the urgent matter of the B.B.C.'s plan and the Government's policy in relation to it?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I hope that we shall not waste too much time on points of order.

The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) asked whether the Amendment on the Order Paper is in order. He has referred me to page 414 of Erskine May: The object of an amendment may be either to modify a question in such a way as to increase its acceptability …. That means its acceptability to some Members in the House. … or to present to the House a different proposition as an alternative to the original question. On both counts, the Amendment is in order.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I am dealing with a point of order.

This is not the first time in history that hon. Members have found themselves in difficulty in deciding whether to vote for a Motion or an Amendment. It is probably not the first time in history that hon. Members have wished to vote both for the Motion and for the Amendment.

The hon. Member for the High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson) adopted the unusual course of putting his name, that of a Government supporter, to an Official Opposition Motion, and then seeking to put his name to the Amendment of his own side of the House. I understand that he was advised by the Table that he must choose which. That was unusual, if not unique in the history of Parliament.

I have to rule that the Amendment is in order. I have selected it, but my selection of the Amendment in no way cramps the debate on the B.B.C. and broadcasting.

Photo of Mr Hugh Jenkins Mr Hugh Jenkins , Wandsworth Putney

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask whether, in the circumstances, there will be an opportunity for hon. Members to vote both for the Amendment and for the Motion? Will it be possible for those who are in favour of both to vote for both?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The Question will be. That the Amendment be made. The hon. Gentleman will have to decide whether he votes that the Amendment be made, or against the making of the Amendment, or abstains from voting. That is why I suggested that his was a crisis of conscience. There are only two methods of voting on any Question before the House —plus abstention.

Photo of Mr William Wilkins Mr William Wilkins , Bristol South

Mr. Speaker, arising from that point of order, and following your request to my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) to be brief, I imagine that you will remember the very famous occasion when a point of order was raised by an ex-colleague of ours, the then Member for Oldham, West, on ritual murders, in the course of which he addressed the Chair for 20 minutes and was not ruled out of order. Indeed, when hon. Members sought to have him ruled out of order, the Chair ruled that he was in order.

My point of order is this. When an hon. Member raises a point of order, is he restricted in the length of time that he can occupy, in view of the precedent that I have cited?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am sure that everyone has very precious memories of Mr. Leslie Hale. However, I am not sure that one would take Mr. Hale as a precedent for everything.

All that I did was to request the hon. Member for Putney to put his point of order briefly. Side by side with order is the economy of time in the House. I try to preserve both.

Photo of Sir Harmar Nicholls Sir Harmar Nicholls , Peterborough

You said, Mr. Speaker, that you did not want points of order to waste the time of the House. I feel that this matter ought to be pursued, because it is not wasting the time of the House. You read out a quotation from Erskine May, as did the hon. Member Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins), but you did not give any Ruling. I should think that many Members in the House would put the same interpretation on the words as did the hon. Member for Putney.

The wording of the Motion and the Amendment strikes me as being an abuse of the procedure of the House, because the Amendment completely alters the nature of the debate compared with the main Motion. I should think that any interpretation of the words read out from Erskine May by the hon. Gentleman would mean that it is not truly an Amendment. If it is not an Amendment, then it ought not to have been accepted by the Chair as an Amendment, because it completely changes the nature and subject of the debate.

Looking behind the reasons for it on this occasion, it means that, on an issue where the House has asked to be put in a position where it can give a clear indication to the Executive of what it wants, this is making it hazy. It is because of the haziness that I say it is an abuse of the procedure of the House.

Photo of Mr Michael English Mr Michael English , Nottingham West

Further to that point of order. Is it not the case that your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, was entirely correct for the simple reason that my hon. Friends or hon. Gentlemen opposite could, if they wished, have tabled Amendments to the Amendment? Surely, the cause of this difficulty, as is often the case, is that the Opposition Motion was put down at so late a date that any Amendments had to be tabled at a very late date. Am I not right in my belief that it would have been possible for my hon. Friends, or hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they wished, to have tabled a further Amendment compounding the two, and upon which the House could have voted?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

On the very narrow issue, with which the hon. Gentleman completed his support of the Chair, for which I am grateful, it would have been possible for hon. Members to put down Amendments of their own to the Amendment dealing with the problem which has, quite seriously, confronted the minds of some hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) seemed doubtful whether I had ruled. I have ruled that the Amendment is in order.

Photo of Mr Jeremy Thorpe Mr Jeremy Thorpe , North Devon

Further to that point of order. I wonder whether you can help us, Mr. Speaker. We are about to debate a subject selected by the Opposition for their Supply day. This is traditionally an opportunity for the Opposition to debate an aspect of Government policy. Therefore, it is a valuable constitutional right enjoyed by the Opposition. But instead of being in a position to express an opinion for or against some aspect of Government policy, we now find ourselves faced with a totally different situation because the Government, for their part, turn round and say to the House, "What we would like you to vote on is not our policy, but what we believe to be the Opposition's policy on this subject".

I am not particularly interested in what the Official Opposition's policy may be on broadcasting. They are entitled to their particular view. I am more interested, as I believe is the whole House, in debating the actual policy which the Government of the day are intending to implement before a General Election which will, therefore, be the policy with which this country, for better or worse, will be saddled.

Therefore, I ask what protection we have when the Government, rather than meet the challenge to their own policy, turn round and, as I see it, use their only weapon of defence to turn on the Opposition and say, "We would much rather not discuss our policy, but your policy, because we do not like it".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I have some respect for the right hon. Gentleman's submission, but it is in order for the right hon. Gentleman or anybody else in debate to advance the fact that he prefers the Government's policy to that of the Opposition, or that he has no time for either. The Ruling that I have given does not preclude any hon. Member from discussing any aspect of broadcasting policy. There is no cramping of the debate.

Photo of Mr Ian Gilmour Mr Ian Gilmour , Norfolk Central

On a point of order. Is there not a general point of considerable importance here? Your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, means that, if they wish the Government can prevent, until the end of this Parliament, the Opposition ever having a vote on a Motion which they put forward, because the Government can always put forward an Amendment about our policy or about some other matter. Surely it is an abuse of parliamentary procedure that the Opposition should not be allowed, on their own Supply day, a vote on their own Motion.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The Opposition cannot expect, on their own Supply day, as an unquestionable right, the right to table a Motion and also to forbid the Government the right to table an Amendment to that Motion. This in no way hurts the right of the Opposition to choose the topic, to debate it as they will, and to vote in the end for their Motion by voting against the Government's Amendment. This is not a new phenomenon in parliamentary procedure.

Photo of Mr Frank Tomney Mr Frank Tomney , Hammersmith North

Further to that point of order. To facilitate business, it would appear that our colleague on this side who supported the Motion and the Amendment has a split political affinity. Could we not allow him a split vote?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That would be a unique phenomenon in the history of Parliament.