On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were in the Chair today when a number of us were trying to catch your eye during questions to the Leader of the House. Is it not time that the Government recognised that if you, in your wisdom, feel that you must curtail our rights as Back Benchers to ask the Leader of the House about matters relating to next week's business the Government should curtail their practice of making statements on Thursday? [HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Our rights are being directly interfered with.
A number of my colleagues were called—I accept that you work these matters out scrupulously fairly—and a number of people wanted to raise issues today relating to next week's business, particularly as we are approaching the end of the Session. We were prevented from doing so because you felt the Government had to be given time for this statement. I understand that the next business is important, but all business which comes on to the Floor of the House of Commons is important. It is quite wrong that we should be prevented from raising issues. A number of my colleagues were here, and I know that they are all equally concerned.
This offence is compounded by the fact that the second statement concerned a matter with which the Government have told us they had nothing to do. Good news or not, one wonders whether it was necessary to make a statement of that length on a Thursday about a matter in which the Government are not concerned.
Order. Perhaps it would be easier if I dealt with this matter. I am the first to appreciate the importance of business questions because they enable hon. Members who have not been called during the week to put a question to the Leader of the House. However, I also have to judge business questions against business which will come before the House later. The whole House knows that today we have an important debate before us, to which a great many right hon. and hon. Members want to make a contribution. I am sorry that I had to curtail business questions, but I did manage to call the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) during the statement, and I also called the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) during business questions—so what is the validity of this point of order?
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a point of order—not because I was not called, but because several other hon. Members were not.
I suggest that you, Mr. Speaker, suggest to the Government when they approach you about statements that they should organise them on days other than Thursday. Of course, sometimes we want statements and the Government are rather parsimonious about making them, which makes us suspicious of their reasons for making two on a Thursday. As you know, every Thursday 50 or 60 hon. Members seek to catch you eye to raise matters of interest. I know that you realise that business questions are an important tradition and an opportunity to raise a matter on the Floor of the House, so I hope that you will bear that in mind when the Government apply to make a statement.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In addition to what my hon. Friends have said, I suggest with the greatest respect that it is a dangerous innovation for you to limit business questions. I was grateful to be called, but if the Government believe that you will adopt this line, that will encourage them to table a number of statements which, in effect, will enable them to veto business questions. That would veto the rights of Back Benchers and the time available to them in a dangerous and unacceptable way.
That is helpful.
I say to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) that it is certainly not an innovation to curtail business questions. It is probably true that I have allowed them to go on rather longer during my speakership than did some of my predecessors, for the very reasons that hon. Members will appreciate, but that cannot happen every time. I am sorry that 1 had to curtail them today.