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Procedure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 27th February 1986.

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Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton 6:50 pm, 27th February 1986

The Select Committee, which was charged with looking at all public Bill procedures and making recommendations to the House, did not seek, nor does it claim to have achieved in its recommendations, perfection. It sought improvement, and that is what its recommendations will achieve. It did not arrive at them quickly. Its Chairman allowed full debate — not just one observation from each of the Committee members — and the subject to be worked over until some consensus or irrevocable dissent had been arrived at.

I cannot share the view of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) that he should possess a veto on the recommendation of the Select Committee.

The major Committee recommendation before the House is one that will avoid useless wastage of time and improve the scrutiny of legislation. That is its objective, and that it will secure more perfectly than the present arrangement. From all sections of the House, appeals to the Committee have come, both before it was seized of this subject and during discussions, to grasp the nettle. Therefore, I am glad that the Government have given prime time to debate this matter. I am less happy at the pressure that is being put on Ministers and others to vote, not on the merit of the argument, but according to the wishes of the Government.

My right hon. Friend made it clear that he was unaware that we were also debating the "take note" motion. We are debating "take note" of the first report of the Select Committee on Procedure. As a matter of interest, I point out that there are precedents for the House considering the passage of a "take note" motion to be an authority—not just an approval. I have had correspondence with the Accountant of the Hòuse, which went to Mr. Speaker Thomas, over what authority, if any, there was for paying the expenses of Select Committees when they were within the United Kingdom taking evidence but outside the Palace of Westminster. The answer was a "take note" motion on a report of a Select Committee, not on a motion to approve.

Therefore, it is highly relevant to know, on the "take note" motion, what the views of the two Front Benches are—the Opposition Front Bench refused to give its view—on paragraph 6 of the first report. That quite clearly recommends against the existing practice—it is not a Standing Order—whereby successive Speakers have let it be understood that they disapproved strongly of a Standing Order No. 10 application being raised on a matter that had already been the subject, by the same Member, but only by the same Member, of a private notice question.

This is absurd, as the Select Committee agreed unanimously, for two reasons. First, the rules under which a private notice question is granted are not the same as the rules governing a Standing Order No. 10 application. Secondly, that interdiction does not apply to any of the other 649 Members, but only to the Member who has raised a private notice question application. That in itself is absurd.

The Committee also looked at the injustices that can arise as a result of accusations being made against a person or body exterior to the House by a Standing Order No. 10 application, which cannot be answered because the procedures do not give any opportunity to answer them. Therefore, there is a lot to be said for a freer granting of a private notice question, where the subject can be responded to by other hon. Members, within the limitations of Mr. Speaker's discretion. That is not the case in the constraints of an application under Standing Order No. 10, to which, however unbased the charges made, there can be no reply. Even if hon. Members, on another occasion, engineer the occasion for a reply, it will never get the same publicity as the original application. That is why, in paragraph 6 of the first report, that specific recommendation was made.

Therefore, it is unfortunate that, by the Government not tabling this as a specific motion, the only way in which we can discover whether Mr. Speaker will be guided by the Select Committee on the matter is if he is good enough to make his own determination known, either of his own volition, or in response to a point of order, made, one would hope, with reasonable notice to him. Other points have been made so well that I do not wish to detain the House on them. I merely wished to make the one point, to which insufficient attention has been paid.