On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It will not have escaped your observant eye that as from last night there has been a realignment of hon. Members of this House, between those supporting the Government and those supporting the Opposition. It is a well-established practice of the House that Mr. Speaker should maintain a fair balance, particularly at Question Time, between official supporters of the Government and opponents of the Government when calling on Members to speak.
I am not suggesting that there has been any imbalance in your choice since the realignment, but I am seeking your guidance on whether you have accepted in practice for the future that when Members from the Liberal Party are called, even though they prefer to sit on the Opposition Benches rather than join their new marriage partners, you take account of this fact—[Interruption.]
All I am seeking guidance about is that we should have clarification that in future, Mr. Speaker, you will take account of the time occupied by Liberal Members and realise that, even though they sit on the Opposition Benches, their time should not come out of that allocated to Members of the official Opposition.
The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis) will not mind my telling the House that last night he gave me notice that he would raise exactly this point of order that has now been raised by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). I am grateful when hon. Members give me notice in advance that they are raising a point of order. I know that that is not always possible, but it is helpful.
The answer is quite straightforward. For centuries this House has vested in its Speaker complete discretion about who captures his eye and when. Certainly this goes back to Speaker Onslow's time in the eighteenth century, and possibly before that. I propose that until or unless the House takes that discretion away from the Speaker I shall exercise it as fairly as I can.