Ten-minute Rule Bills (Budget Day)

– in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 1st February 1990.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:01 pm, 1st February 1990

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. For reasons that are obvious to the House, it has been necessary to take some time on that important statement. The Leader of the House will, if you now give him an opportunity, put before the House five motions. As I understand it, under an order passed by the House on Friday, you have to put the Question on those motions and any amendments to them at 7 o'clock, despite the fact that it is now 5.25. If I am not mistaken—you will be able to confirm this—you have no discretion about whether you put the Question. You are obliged to do so and you must bring the debate to a conclusion with a vote. The motions before us all have profound effects on the rights of Members. They curtail those rights in a series of different ways. The Leader of the House will have a case to make as will the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure and the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman should not be making a speech.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I am putting it to you, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that the Leader of the House is taking note, that, however well you discharge your duties, if you comply with the order passed on Friday, it will not be possible for all Back-Bench Members, who have a legitimate interest in the matter, to take part in the debate, yet it is their rights that are being taken away. I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to tell the Leader of the House that you have no discretion about how long the debate can last, and that the matter should not be brought to a vote after so short a time.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I confirm that I have no discretion in the matter. I have to put the motions at 7 o'clock. This is a joint debate. The five motions will be taken together, and I confirm that at the end I shall put only those motions that are moved.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

No, no. I am on my feet.

I have selected the first amendment, in the name of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith).

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

Is it in order, Mr. Speaker, for five motions to be moved together without the consent of the House? My understanding is that motions of a differing character may be taken together if the House wishes it. Given the point that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made about the pressure of time, if only the first motion is moved we shall at least be able to debate that for an hour and a half, but if all five motions are put together, all five have to be put to the vote.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I understand that there is an agreement —[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—that there should be a general debate on the five motions together.

Hon. Members:

Object.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

There was a business motion last week which set that out. I understand that that arrangement had general agreement.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn , Chesterfield

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I fully understand that you have no discretion in what you have to do at 7 o'clock, but we have discretion about whether to assent to the grouping of motions, all of which are quite separate in character. The House often discusses such motions together if it wishes to do so, but in this case the only way of protecting the time of the House on at least four of the motions is to object to them being taken together. Therefore, if it is in order, I object to the five motions being taken together—as, I gather, do other hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Let me make it perfectly plain. When the Leader of the House rises, he will move the first of the motions, but I understand that there is an agreement that all the motions should be debated together. I am sure that there is a great deal of interest in these matters, but to date no one has indicated their interest in taking part in the debate, although, of course, no one has to do that in writing.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that it will be helpful to you, because you are in a difficult position, which is not of your making. Will you confirm that, if the Leader of the House were not to press some of the motions today, there need be no vote on those? You, Sir, have no discretion, but the Leader of the House does, and he should take account of what hon. Members are saying.

Several Hon. Members:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order.

That is extremely helpful of the hon. Gentleman, because that is exactly what I mentioned. I can put to the vote only those motions which are actually moved. Until we hear the Leader of the House, I do not know which ones he intends to move.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have just told the House that no Member indicated in writing a desire to participate in the debate. I most certainly did.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Yes. I confirm that the hon. Lady did.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that on Friday there was a business motion. It quite clearly allows the votes to be taken at the end. It does not state that the Leader of the House has to move the motions collectively. If he so chooses, and if the House agrees, the Leader of the House can move the first one, we can debate it and deal with it. The business motion does not compel the House as a whole to deal with all five motions collectively and dispose of them. The Leader of the House can help in this matter.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

It appears that the Leader of the House is about to help in this matter.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I have been trying to see how best to deal with this, because these are important matters for the House as a whole and the time for debating them has been curtailed. However, I would not wish to set aside time to no purpose. As I understand it, we could debate all five motions even if I moved only one. If I have that option —it seems to be the convenient one—I should move motion No. 4, which relates to ten-minute Bills on Budget day, which has the widest assent. Of course, hon. Members may oppose it, but it is the one most likely to be generally supported.

The debate could range over all five motions and we could return on a subsequent occasion to votes on the other matters. That would be the most convenient way of proceeding, because we want to use the time usefully, but not in such a fashion as to deprive hon. Members of the opportunity of considering the matter.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey 5:33 pm, 1st February 1990

I beg to move, That no notice may be given under Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in bills and nomination of select committees at commencement of public business) for a day on which Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer has declared his intention of opening his Budget; but

  1. (i) notices proposed to be given for such day, and
  2. (ii) notices so given for a day in respect of which such intention is subsequently declared,
shall be treated as having been given for the first Monday on which the House shall sit after the Budget is opened, and may be proceeded with on that day as though it were a Tuesday or a Wednesday.That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.

I am grateful to the House for giving me time, by raising points of order, to reflect on the matter sufficiently to reach a conclusion which makes reasonable sense.

As the House knows, the five motions arise from the second and third reports of the Select Committee on Procedure in the last Session. Three of them relate to private Members' time and two to ten-minute Bills. I am moving the first of the two relating to ten-minute Bills. They provide a sensible package to consider together.

Motion Nos. 1 to 3 relate to private Members' time. The overall purpose of the three motions is to ensure that, as far as possible, the time available for private Members' business is fully used for that purpose, not interrupted or disrupted by the unintended or unorthodox use of procedures relating to other issues. They are also intended to avoid any unusual use of procedure which would affect the precedence of private Members' Bills as determined in the ballot and Standing Orders, or provide additional time for a particular Bill beyond that allotted to private Members.

When it made these recommendations, the Procedure Committee was not concerned with the progress or fate of individual Bills, and nor am I. Our common purpose is simply to protect private Members' time—no more, no less —and that is what the motions set out to do.

Of the two motions relating to ten-minute Bills, motion No. 4, which I have moved, is intended to ensure that the opening of the Budget is not delayed by a ten-minute Bill. The other motion on that topic—motion No. 5—is tabled to overcome problems which have arisen under the existing queueing system by replacing it with a ballot system.

Of the three motions on private Members' time, motion No. 3 would mean that, on a Friday on which private Members' business had precedence, any petition remaining to be presented at 10 am would stand over until 2.30 pm. In practice, in the ordinary way, the presentation of petitions on such days is normally completed well before 10 am. On the one occasion when that was not the case, the subject of the petition was the same as the motion to be debated on that day.

On this matter, I agree with the Procedure Committee that reform on the lines suggested in motion No. 3 would not involve any real curtailment of Back Benchers' rights, and no one seriously argues to the contrary.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Is the Leader of the House aware that all this tidying up and rationalisation operates against the interests of any Member, from whichever party, who is determined to raise a subject? We can all easily go in for ballots. It takes a little effort, guts and sweat to queue for many hours. It is an interesting question of philosophy: should we operate a general ballot to the advantage of the Executive or give some chance to hon. Members who, rightly or wrongly—for whatever cause, good or bad—are prepared to sweat it out in that room upstairs?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

The hon. Gentleman intervenes at the wrong stage of my speech. When I deal with the relevant motion I shall express some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman. He should allow me to come to that. I am dealing with motions Nos. 1 to 3; he is making a point about motion No. 5 with which I shall deal in a moment.

Under the terms of motion No. 2, if a motion for a by-election writ moved on a Friday—on which private Members' business has precedence—was opposed, it would not be pursued at that time on that Friday. This motion represents a modest improvement on the original recommendation. The Procedure Committee's proposal was that, if proceedings on such a motion had not been disposed of by 10 am, they should stand over to the next sitting day.

There are two good reasons for being a little more positive than the Procedure Committee. First, such a motion, if not taken formally, might not be disposed of in half an hour. It would be sensible to avoid starting something which might not be finished, but which could nevertheless encroach on private Members' business which was to follow.

Secondly, such a motion would take precedence over the presentation of petitions, and would therefore encroach on the time available for their presentation. The overall effect of the variation contained in my motion would be no different from the Procedure Committee's proposal, but it would lessen the scope for encroachment on private Members' time. Its effect would be that the by-election writ motion would stand over for consideration on the next business day—the Monday.

It has become customary for writs to be moved on a Tuesday, and it is most unlikely that a party would seek to move a writ on a Friday. In practice, polling normally takes place on a Thursday. By deferring the moving of a writ from a Friday to a Monday, the same two Thursdays would be available for polling.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

The Leader of the House was a Member of Parliament on the two occasions when I moved a writ on a Friday. I was doing him, as well as many of my hon. Friends, a good turn on those two occasions—especially on the first, when Enoch Powell was involved in trying to keep people here through the weekend. I was trying to stop his queue-jumping Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that, almost certainly, he would have been kept here Friday, Friday night, Saturday and Sunday until the Bill had got through the House. I was doing the Leader of the House a service.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I appreciate the trail-blazing role played on that occasion by the hon. Gentleman. Since he undertook that noble task, the matter has been considered by the Procedure Committee under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery); from that joint distillation of activity and intellectual effort, these proposals have emerged. That simple change —transplanting the day from Friday to Monday—will still leave the same two Thursdays available for polling.

I emphasise that the motion does not preclude the moving of a writ, but it prevents Members from using it as a ploy to delay the start of private Members' business. It takes its place alongside the other proposals in relation to private Members' business.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

Before the Leader of the House leaves that point, will he confirm that what the Procedure Committee recommended would have stopped any proceedings at 10 am on a Friday on which there were private Members' Bills or private Members' motions? As I read it, under his motion, the person who moves the writ could speak for three hours, because it says "and is opposed". It cannot be opposed until the person who moves it stops speaking—that is the first moment at which it can be opposed. Surely that is so?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

My hon. Friend is an astute observer of the parliamentary scene. I hope that he is not right; it is certainly not intended that he should be right.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

The hon. Gentleman is right.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

That is why I treat my hon. Friend with such respect. The motion that I have moved is not the one to which my hon. Friend directs his gaze, which gives me the opportunity to consider it a little more if that is necessary.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

Well, I have to take advantage of the opportunities presented to me.

The effect of motion No. 1 would be to prevent a private Member from moving a motion to amend or suspend Standing Orders, unless the House had previously agreed in the same Session that it was necessary or expedient to do so. In particular, it would prevent a private Member's motion from being used as a device to facilitate the passage of a private Member's Bill by providing additional time for it as exempted business, by giving it precedence over other private Members' Bills or by allocating specific time to it.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

Not in the middle of a sentence, even for my hon. Friend.

The Procedure Committee did not think that it would be acceptable to the House for private Members' motions to introduce significant procedural changes that could affect the progress and priority of individual private Members' Bills. It thought that that would destroy the carefully balanced and well-understood arrangements for private Members' business.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

My right hon. and learned Friend is talking about preventing a private Member from moving a motion. Does he agree that, in this instance, a private Member cannot bulldoze anything through the House? It all depends on the will of the House. Should not my right hon. and learned Friend say that he is preventing the whole sum of Back Benchers and everyone else from deciding whether they wish to allocate time to a particular motion? Is that not what he is really saying?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I am saying that the arrangements that are basically in place for the deployment of time between public and private business and the management of the time available for private Members' business are the result of a great deal of analysis, thought and experience over a long period. As the House knows, in November the Government responded to certain recommendations of the Procedure Committee by extending the time available for private Members in aggregate—I think, by one day. It would not be sensible to allow that set of arrangements to be disturbed by private Members in the way identified in the motion.

The Procedure Committee thought that the change that we are seeking to prevent would destroy the carefully balanced and well-understood arrangements for private Members' business. For example, a Bill introduced under the ten-minute rule procedure—which may not be set down for Second Reading until private Members successful in a ballot have had the opportunity to choose their slot for Second Reading—could be given precedence over a ballot Bill.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

Or over the will of the House.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

No, but we do not think that the change would be sensible. The House has the opportunity to consider the matter today. Similarly, such a change could result in a Bill low in the ballot leap-frogging one that is higher up in the ballot.

The motion provides a balance for two other motions, which clear the decks, so far as is possible, to allow unimpeded consideration of private Members' business within the accepted procedures. This motion, which forms part of the trio, ensures that those procedures are maintained and not altered to favour a particular private Member's Bill. More generally, the motion precludes Standing Orders being amended by a private Member's motion. I agree with the Procedure Committee that, on balance, it is not appropriate that our procedures should be amended in that way.

I emphasise that the changes do not preclude general or specific procedural changes being the subject of a private Member's motion, but would prevent the motion from being couched in terms that could implement immediate change. Private Members would retain the right to express opinion on such matters, but not to make changes without wider support in the House than, perhaps, a low vote on a Friday at the initiative of one Member.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman wants to observe well-understood and established practices, does he not think that the Government should be subject to at least some degree of similar restraint? The Government can, on a low vote in the House on a Friday, similarly move motions that change Standing Orders or —this happens more often—vary their impact or exempt certain business from their impact. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is worried about the balance being changed, why has he sat back and watched the balance shift in favour of the Government on similar matters over a long period?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

That is a separate point. Today, we are concerned with the preservation of the existing balance, which the motions are designed to achieve.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I regret that I cannot continually give way. There is not a great deal of time, and I want to put the case before the House.

I shall deal with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) when he has had the opportunity to speak to it.

Taking the three motions together, and also taking account of the Sessional Order moved on 22 November 1989, they ensure that additional time is provided for private Members' business and that that business, as well as its timing and precedence, is—so far as possible—protected from interruption or disruption by other matters or by the misuse of otherwise legitimate procedural devices. That is the basis on which I believe the three motions provide an outcome that is both fair and balanced.

There are two motions dealing with ten-minute Bills. The effect of motion No. 4 would be that no ten-minute Bill would be introduced on Budget day. The slot would not be lost, but would be moved to the Monday following Budget day. In the unlikely event that the date of the Budget was to be announced so late that notice of a ten-minutes rule application had already been given for that day, the ten-minute Bill would be moved to the following Monday.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

There may be, but I hope not.

As the Procedure Committee suggests, I think that the proposal would be for the convenience of most hon. Members. It would not restrict the rights of Back Benchers, but would preserve them, given the various methods used to avoid a ten-minute Bill on Budget day. I know that some Members may relish the prospect of a Budget day slot, when the House is unusually full, but I think that for most Members it would be an unwarranted disruption and irritation. Speaking as an ex-Chancellor, I can confirm that I always welcomed the opportunity to get into my Budget speech without having to wait until after the presentation of a ten-minute Bill.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

I speak with some experience of this matter, because I think that I was the last Member to have a ten-minute Bill on Budget day—back in 1985, when the Chancellor was the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson). My recollection is that I received a very warm reception from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Indeed, the House gave me leave to introduce my Bill, despite the fact that it was critical of the Chancellor's handling of the economy.

I cannot think of any justification for the right hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal. In previous years, the Chancellor took retaliatory action by using some of his messenger boys—parliamentary private secretaries in the Treasury and elsewhere—to abuse the system by squatting in the Public Bill Office, on a rota basis, sometimes for several days and nights. They never had any intention of moving a motion. When it was too late for another hon. Member to take the slot, the Tory Member withdrew the motion and the House was deprived of the opportunity of a ten-minute rule slot on Budget day.

That was an abuse of the House through dog-in-the-manger tactics. It is wrong that the Leader of the House should want to move the goalposts and further limit the opportunity for Back-Bench Members to obtain a slot on Budget day. Does it have anything to do with the televising of the House?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

The hon. Gentleman disproves his own case. If he is the only hon. Member ever to have presented a ten-minute rule Bill on Budget day, that proves that it is neither a substantial nor a long-felt wish for democratic rights. The hon. Gentleman was an eccentric in that achievement, and the fact that no one had done the same before shows that the overriding wish of the House has always been to get straight on to the Chancellor's Budget.

Several Hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I do not want to widen the debate, because I sense that on the particular issue now under consideration I have the House on my side.

In making strenuous efforts subsequently to ensure that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West did not have an opportunity to repeat his success, and that subsequent Budgets were introduced without interruption, certain hon. Members performed a public service, legitimised by the recommendation of the Procedure Committee—and now by the House, when it votes.

The fifth motion was the subject of an intervention by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). He has now come back in time to study that question. The effect of the motion will be to replace the existing first come, first served, queuing system with a ballot. Consideration of the case for that change arose in the last Session, when right hon. and hon. Members began queuing for increasingly long periods to secure slots for ten-minute Bills.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has many qualifications for intervening, but perhaps he will allow me to give way at a sensible point.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman also allow me to intervene at a sensible point?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

That is for consideration.

The first come, first served, system led to friction because of the way in which right hon. and hon. Members took the place of others in the queue. It also caused difficulties for the House authorities. Because right hon. and hon. Members queued in the Public Bill Office conference room, it could not be used for its proper purpose, and it became necessary for the Clerk of the House to inform Mr. Speaker that the work of the Public Bill Office was being affected—and he does not often make reports of that dramatic impact.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

As there are ballots for Adjournment debates and for oral questions, is there any reason why there should not be a ballot for ten-minute Bills? What is so holy and sacred about queueing all night? My view is not influenced in the least by the fact that the last time I did so I contracted shingles the following week.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Walsall, North, because it illustrates one style. In the hon. Members for Walsall, North and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), one sees one hon. Member who is lusting for the right to queue all night, and another who is happy that I should take away that opportunity.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

No. I must be allowed to develop that point.

My predecessor as Leader of the House was originally disposed to move a similar motion last summer, but the problem eased and he did not do so. It is obvious that this motion evokes strong feelings among some Back Benchers on both sides of the House. The existing arrangements provide an opportunity for right hon. and hon. Members who hold strong views on an issue to do something about it. They see the chance of 10 minutes of prime time as a reward for persistence and initiative—one that they would like to retain—rather than simply good fortune in a ballot.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

I have introduced seven ten-minute Bills by means of queueing in the Public Bill Office conference room—although better facilities, such as heating, could be provided there. However, I have never been successful with a private Member's motion or a Bill under the ballot procedure, which I have used at every opportunity since entering the House.

I am not complaining of my lack of success in the ballot but making the point that I have been successful with ten-minute Bills by making an effort as an ordinary Back Bencher whereas I have never been successful under the ballot procedure. The motion will remove the opportunity for initiative.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I shall seek to explain that I am not doing that which the hon. Gentleman thinks I am doing.

I have identified the fact that a choice must be made between those who want a reward for their persistence and initiative and those who are prepared to rely on a ballot. Although persistence is commendable as a general virtue, we should not preserve a massive endurance test—particularly if it is likely to inconvenience the Clerk of the House. I should not wish to see a return to the situation that existed last summer. However, I am conscious of the feelings of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. I have to strike a balance between the rights that they wish to cherish, the effective working of the House, and the inconvenience that can be caused to Officers and other officials.

I am standing even further back from the fifth motion, which I have not yet moved, than from the others—and I shall be interested to hear the views of right hon. and hon. Members on it. If there is a strong feeling that the existing arrangements should be maintained, I am prepared not to move it.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way now?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

My hon. Friend will no doubt have an opportunity to make a speech herself. I am trying to explain that I am so conscious of the balance of feeling on both sides of the House that I am willing to reach a conclusion in the light of the opinion that is expressed. I hope that my hon. Friend will contain her enthusiasm until an opportunity arises for her to speak.

If there were to be a recurrence of last summer's situation, I would not hesitate to bring the final motion before the House again. However, provided that we can maintain the existing balance, I do not intend to press it.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, because I must conclude.

Subject to my comments on the fifth motion, I believe that all five would, if passed, bring added clarity to our procedures and, taken together, be to the benefit of the House as a whole. Taken together, they do not unduly restrict or erode Back Benchers' rights but instead protect them by providing for private Members' business to be considered on its merits, without the intrusion of other matters. To balance that, it will not be possible for private Members to seek to alter the procedures of the House to benefit any particular private Member's Bill.

The motion relating to Budget day will preserve the slot for ten-minute Bills that would otherwise be lost. As to the fifth motion and the choice between endurance or ballot, I am ready to listen to the views of the House, because I should not want to press ahead if it does not have general support.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 5:57 pm, 1st February 1990

The time available for private Members' Bills is already limited but is nevertheless very important. There is general agreement that that time should be safeguarded whenever possible. When I escaped from the minefield of the rate support grant, I little realised that I was entering another minefield of procedural argument that crosses the Floor of the House.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

And it is far more complex.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

It is far more complex, and certainly far more dangerous.

It is not surprising that discussions about making changes to the time allowed to private Members are themselves contentious. In the past, private Members' time has been used to introduce legislation on abortion, the abolition of hanging, regional policy, wildlife and countryside issues, and the protection of badgers. Those were all highly controversial and important issues. I support the Leader of the House's view that, whatever else we want, we do not want any diminution of the time available to private Members to set the agenda of the House.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn , Islington North

It was good of my hon. Friend to outline some of the Bills of significant social and environmental importance introduced in private Members' time. Does he agree that it should be increased so that Bills can be debated? That would end the nonsense of the objection system and provide an opportunity not just to present a Bill in 10 minutes but to debate it, and allow the introduction of legislation by Back Benchers. Does my hon. Friend agree that the balance has shifted away from right hon. and hon. Members to the Executive who occasionally inform—or, rather, misinform—the House about their actions?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

Although I agree with my hon. Friend that we should have more time, that is not one of the points under discussion today. As I understand from the proposals on the Order Paper, private Members are getting slightly more time in the House. That is to be welcomed. As for more time on ten-minute Bills, the Leader of the House has made it clear that he does not intend to move his proposal for ballots for ten-minute Bills. Although I have no objection to a change in procedure for balloting for ten-minute Bills, I am quite content that we should allow hon. Members more time to discuss the proposal.

Photo of Andrew MacKay Andrew MacKay , Berkshire East

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the valid point he is making about Back Benchers' time—I am sure that all hon. Members agree that Back Benchers should have as much time as possible —does he deprecate the fact that uniquely, on Tuesday, a Front-Bench spokesman presented a ten-minute Bill?

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

No, I do not deprecate that. As I have said at the Dispatch Box in respect of applications under Standing Order No. 20, every hon. Member has the same rights in these matters. I do not accept the argument that a Front Bencher who wishes to raise an important issue —a constituency issue, for example—should be denied the opportunity available to other hon. Members to use the procedures of the House to pursue it or to raise it.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

I have said to my hon. Friend that I do not wish to take up a lot of time because our debate has been severely curtailed.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It is in answer to the hon. Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay).

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Perhaps I take a different view on these motions from that of my hon. Friend, but that is not the point I am making right now. The ten-minute Bill on Tuesday would have been moved by a Labour Front Bencher in any case. The hon. Member for Berkshire, East thinks that the person who got the ten-minute Bill was a Back Bencher, but it was a Front Bencher—my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott)—who passed it on to another Front Bencher.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that it was my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) who got the ten-minute slot in the first place. However, perhaps I can move on.

It is no secret that usually, but not always, there is great controversy, not on party political lines but across the Floor of the House, when private Members' Bills are brought before the House. We know that there are alliances across the Floor of the House for and against many of those controversial matters. It seems today that, although right hon. and hon. Members present have been diametrically opposed on certain issues and on the merits of Bills, they seem to be joined together to defend the status quo on the procedures. In other words, they want to reserve the opportunity to use, or perhaps in some case to abuse, the procedures of the House to defeat controversial issues in private Members' time because they do not agree with the merits of a Bill before the House.

I welcome the three motions referring to the moving of the writ, the presentation of petitions and the use of private Members' motions to change Standing Orders because they are a serious and welcome attempt to safeguard precious private Members' time. The proposals come with the recommendation of the Procedure Committee, which I also applaud. Those three motions are worthy of general support.

I have already referred to ballots for ten-minute Bills. I shall not waste any more time on that, as the Leader of the House has said that he will not pursue that matter today. I turn now to ten-minute Bills on Budget day. In 1981 my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) introduced a ten-minute Bill when the Leader of the House was Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that occasion. I also well remember the amusing and witty speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), which he rightly said was enjoyed by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, with the possible exception of the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) who was the hapless victim of that speech. However, I personally support the view that on a day as important as Budget day we should not have to wait any additional time for the presentation of the Budget by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As there will be no diminution of the time available for ten-minute Bills—it will simply not be possible to introduce them on Budget day—I support that proposal.

It is inevitable that proposals to change the procedures of the House will meet strong opposition and be regarded as controversial. I have never been a fan or a supporter of the more arcane aspects of procedure and the way in which we conduct our business. I believe that the whole matter of procedure and how we deal with business in the House is long overdue a fundamental overhaul, and I hope that we can achieve that before much longer. For the life of me I do not believe that our constituents think that the way in which we proceed on many occasions is sensible in the interests of either good legislative scrutiny of the Executive or producing good legislation. I am sure that if we asked our constituents they would like a breath of fresh air blown through the Chamber and other aspects of procedure in the House of Commons. Although by comparison to what I have been calling for these measures are relatively small and even modest, I welcome the reports of the Procedure Committee and offer general support to the propositions enunciated by the Leader of the House and I hope that the four motions that I support can be determined today. If that is possible, I shall certainly vote for them.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton 6:07 pm, 1st February 1990

I start by thanking my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and congratulating him on setting quite a precedent in bringing forward two debates on procedure within four months or so—twice in this Session of Parliament—when previous Leaders of the House have not been able to find time for reports that have stood for months and years without being debated. I welcome that immensely.

I was delighted to hear the shadow Leader of the House's commitment to reform of procedure. I have tried time and again to drag the procedures of the House screaming into the 20th century. I welcome the fact that we have support from the Opposition Front Bench spokesman. We have not always had that in the past, and it is a most encouraging step forward.

Let me make it absolutely clear that one of the important principles, as any hon. Member who has sat on the Procedure Committee will agree, has been that the objective of the Procedure Committee has been at all times to try to defend the rights and the time available to Back Benchers. That is one of the major factors always in the minds of those on the Procedure Committee, because only they can protect Back Benchers from the power of the Executive. This debate is important, because that is exactly what the motions are intended to do.

It is immensely important that motions 1, 2 and 3 are seen as a package; they must not be taken individually. In the report of the Procedure Committee it is clearly stated that they must be introduced only as a package. What is the reason for that? After the debate on 20 January 1989, Mr. Speaker said: I hope that we shall not go through this kind of thing again." He said later It is for the Leader of the House … to put his proposals to the Procedure Committee. I am sure that it will consider them."—[Official Report, 20 January 1989; Vol. 145, c. 661-62.] We then had a letter from the Leader of the House asking us to consider how we could defend private Members' time.

All this arose because of somebody trying to "cheat" or "find a way round" the normal procedure for private Members' Bills, and those who were against that saying they would find a way of stopping it. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was most effective. When an hon. Member introduced a motion on a private Members' day to try to give special power to her Bill and put it above the Bills of other Members in the ballot, that was seen by many hon. Members as being unfair. The hon. Member for Bolsover said that a way would be found of putting an end to this, and that is exactly what happened, and the House decided that that procedure would not be followed.

Arising from that, therefore, we have brought forward this balance. We have said in the first motion that a private Member will not be able to gain special powers by a private Member's motion that goes beyond the normal allotted time. It would be wrong for that Member to be able to obtain that time in the first instance. If the Member can get the approval of the House twice, that is another matter. But, if we take that power away from Members, we must at the same time try to establish the balance that no other Member should be able to interfere with the private Member's motion time either by introducing petitions or by moving writs in order to take that time away.

We are attempting to ensure that when a Member wins time for a private Member's motion he or she will be able to have all the time from 10 o'clock until 2.30 uninterrupted on the motion; or, if it is a private Member's Bill, that time cannot be eaten into. If either of these is limited, the balance is taken away and preference given to one side.

I have tried to point out to the House that these three motions all hang together and that in our judgement it would be wrong to amend them, or to accept two and leave one out. Indeed, if the House wished to do that I would say that we ought not to have the other two either. We either have the package as a whole or we have nothing at all.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I will ignore, until I have some chance to contribute to the debate, the rather vulgar references to cheating and queue jumping. But is there not a very clear distinction between the three motions, inasmuch as two are deliberately designed to obstruct and one is designed to take away the will of the House? If the House believes that a Member is trying to cheat or queue jump, the House can say no; if it thinks otherwise, it can say yes. Why does the Procedure Committee think that the House should not be able to decide the issue itself?

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

I am amazed. I have spent some time trying to explain the point and it has been entirely ignored. We are not taking powers away; we are stopping anybody getting round the procedure. Any hon. Member who believes otherwise has either not understood or not been in the House long enough to know the normal procedure.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

The hon. Gentleman did not understand the question.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

I understood it very well. The hon. Lady is afraid that she or other hon. Members will not be given special power to put something to the House to extend their right and enable them to further a Bill for longer. We are saying that this is "cheating"—that is in inverted commas and it was in inverted commas when I first said it—getting round the normal understanding of the ballot and the allocation of time to private Members. Private Members must realise that if they want a massive amount of time for their private Bills, they stand very little chance of getting them through, unless they can get general agreement.

The next two motions concern ten-minute Bills. The first concerns a ten-minute Bill on a Budget day. The Procedure Committee believed that it was the wish of most Back Benchers to get on to the Budget, and that they did not want this to be interfered with by the jollity of a ten-minute Bill speech. The Committee wanted to ensure that, if a Bill was not to be moved on Budget day, the slot for a private Member would not be taken away; in other words, private Members' time would not be lost. I am delighted that the Government have been willing to move in that direction and even allow a ten-minute Bill to be introduced on a Monday, which is not the normal time, in order to ensure that Back-Bench time is not taken away.

Perhaps I should remind Members what the ten-minute Bill is really about. It is intended to give Back-Bench Members the opportunity to introduce legislation, but if one analyses the facts, one sees that this is not what is happening at the moment. In the last Parliament, 194 ten-minute Bills were introduced on the Floor of the House. Permission was refused for only 23 at the time of their introduction. Only two of the 194 reached the statute book.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

No, that was a private Bill, not a private Member's Bill, and there is, as the hon. Gentleman knows, a lot of difference.

The slot for the ten-minute Bill has altered from being a means of satisfying the desire of a Member to get legislation through. It has become a slot in which Back-Bench or other Members can make a ten-minute speech in prime time on a political issue.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

The hon. Gentleman asks, "Why not?". That might be a fair question, but I think it right that hon. Members understand this when we are looking at the motion on leave to bring in a Bill.

What happened in the last Session was that hon. Members queued upstairs in the Committee Corridor sometimes for as long as four or five days. [Interruption.] I am told a fortnight. I can confirm four or five days, but it may have been longer. That, I believe, is immensely undignified.

Few hon. Members who play a leading role in the House can afford to spend up to a fortnight queuing. Balloting would enable the hon. Member for Bolsover to be in his place in the Chamber for questions. Hon. Members who play a major role in the House do not have the opportunity of a ten-minute Bill if the queueing system is abused. I am told that there is a working agreement to deal with this; I hope only that that is not a carve-up. If we return to the undignified and insanitary situation of hon. Members queueing for days on end, we shall return to what has been widely accepted in the House as an unfair system.

Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North

If queueing is so marvellous, as hon. Members seem to believe, why should not we queue for early-day motions or to be the first hon. Members on the list to ask the Prime Minister a question? Surely the logic of that would be along the lines suggested by the critics of balloting. If we ballot for other matters, why not for ten-minute Bills?

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

The hon. Gentleman—who is a member of my Committee, and I thank him for the work that he does for it—demonstrates impeccable logic—on this occasion, anyway.

Balloting protects the rights of the majority of hon. Members, not the minority who are willing to queue for a fortnight, and it will assist hon. Members who wish to play a major role in the House. That needs to be said and to be understood.

I urge hon. Members to ensure that the first three motions are passed because they achieve a proper balance that will ensure that when an hon. Member wins the ballot for a private Member's Bill or private Member's motion the time allocated will not be interfered with by hon. Members using procedural methods to further other matters. I hope that the motion relating to introducing Bills on Budget day will be accepted and that the power to deal with ten-minute Bills will be held in reserve in case the procedure gets out of hand again.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 6:22 pm, 1st February 1990

There were times when I thought that the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) was legislating for a House without people, in which the reality of hon. Members wanting to pursue various causes was absent from our proceedings. I say that with some concern because I have worked with the hon. Gentleman for many years on the Procedure Committee, and I value the fairmindedness that he brings to its proceedings.

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for recognising the difficulty in which the House would have been placed if there had been a vote on all the motions without a proper opportunity to debate them. He responded helpfully to hon. Members' requests. We shall reach a decision on only one of the motions and deal with the others at a later date. However, the other motions have been introduced into the debate, so they must be considered.

The background to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) was more extensive than the hon. Member for Honiton suggested. He said that an issue arose in the debate on abortion—it also arose in a later debate on a Bill about embryos—but he must realise that the principle that he enunciated, that the balance of private Members' time must always be preserved, goes back a little further. The House would never have passed legislation on abortion at any time in the past 50 years unless the balance had been deliberately changed. The Abortion Act 1967 was passed in Government time. The Government decided that they would change the arrangements and make time available.

The hon. Gentleman must also take into account how the issue came to light. He must recognise that the purpose of the motion brought before the House at that time was to take more private Members' time. Those who did not like it thought that it was a smash-and-grab raid on private Members' time. However, it added hugely to private Members' time by allowing a Bill to be considered in a way that the Government would insist that a Bill of their own was considered if they could not get it through in the time available. They do that every week of the year, and sometimes every day of the week. It is no good hon. Members shedding crocodile tears and saying that we are here to protect private Members' time by ensuring that hon. Members do not grab more time than the Government are prepared to offer. The House was being invited to accept or reject a motion that would have given hon. Members more time than they are normally given by the Government.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman did not give way to me. I would normally give way to him willingly, but he should learn that lesson.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

May I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not giving way? I was unaware that he was trying to catch my eye. Therefore, I will not interfere in his speech.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

It is kind of the hon. Gentleman to say that.

Hard cases make bad law. This matter has arisen from two occasions when hon. Members were lucky enough in the ballot to raise a subject of their choice. On the majority of occasions, the motion or resolution is debated and talked out. However, that offers the hon. Member an opportunity to ventilate an issue. It is rare that these circumstances arise, and it is likely that that will remain so.

The House must think carefully before changing its procedures in response to one or two incidents, because the House runs a risk when it does that. Not long ago, the Government lost business because the Consolidated Fund Bill ran through the night. There was a great panic and Front-Bench spokesmen said, "We must never let that happen again". They therefore changed the procedure for the Consolidated Fund Bill by introducing a regimented series of timed debates that offer no flexibility. That change was not justified on its merits but was made in response to a particular incident. It is always advisable to step back and think whether a change is desirable in the long term rather than as an appropriate response to an incident.

When I looked at the motion in more detail, I became even more anxious about its long-term desirability. It is a draconian motion—Henry VIII clauses have nothing on this—because it does not merely preclude hon. Members from extending the time available for a private Members' Bill or from jumping the queue; it prevents them from changing any Standing Orders in private Members' time. That is one of the reasons why I tabled two amendments. There is no obvious reason for the motion.

Under the motion, Parliament is trying to bind its successors, which we are not supposed to do. The motion says not only that something will be the case but that no hon. Member can introduce a motion to change it. It is an attempt by Parliament to bind its successors by ensuring that an hon. Member cannot change the effect even of this Standing Order. The reason for including paragraph (e) was to stop hon. Members doing what the Government do so often—dispense with the effects of a Standing Order.

Paragraph (d) embraces the entire book of Standing Orders within the terms of the motion. If hon. Members decided that they were fed up with the arrangement by which they book a seat at Prayers in order to keep a seat for the day, and an hon. Member tabled a motion to change that, it would be ineffective because the Table Office would say, "Sorry. We cannot accept this motion."

If an hon. Member thought that we should change the Standing Orders so that we did not have to wear a top hat or otherwise to be seated and covered when raising a point of order during a Division, that hon. Member could not go to the Table Office and table a motion to make that change on a private Members' day. An hon. Member would be unlikely to want to do that, because there would undoubtedly be more pressing public issues that he would want to raise. So it is pointless even to prevent him from doing it.

I cannot understand why the Procedure Committee or the Leader of the House should table a motion to take away from private Members the right to put before the House changes in the Standing Orders, other than in a motion, which the Government can conveniently ignore, expressing an opinion. There is no point the Leader of the House saying that, if the House passes opinion motions, the effect of them would be carried out. He knows that such an assurance is worth no more than his tenure in office as Leader of the House.

All sorts of undertakings have been given from the Government Front Bench by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's predecessors to do all manner of things. An undertaking was once given by a predecessor of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that there would be time for prayers against negative statutory instruments on the Floor of the House whenever such time was sought. That undertaking has been dishonoured almost every month in the life of Parliament while I have been here. So passing opinion motions is no good. The Government are taking away from private Members their right to invite the House to change our Standing Orders.

I do not know any local authority in Britain that would have a ruling that precluded councillors from bringing before councils motions to change their standing orders. Sometimes there are built-in procedures to make such a step more difficult, such as a larger number of members having to support a motion, or the necessity for a larger majority or the need for a set number of members to be present and voting in a division.

It would have been worth the House considering procedures of that type. But to say that private Members can never in any circumstances bring before the House an effective motion to change or modify the effect of our Standing Orders is an extraordinary, perverse and draconian step to take.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

It is not as draconian as the hon. Gentleman suggests. The motion says, in effect, that unless the House has previously agreed that the motion shall come forward, it shall not come forward a second time. So there must be two bites at the cherry; it cannot be done on one motion—there must be two. In other words, it is not that one can never do it but that one needs two, not one, motions to do it.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

What is the effect of that? It means that one must come up in the ballot twice. The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) said that in his time in the House he had not come up in the ballot once.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has been in the House longer than I have and he has never come up in the ballot for private Members' motions, though I am sure that his name has been put in every time. Now, we must come up not once but twice in the same Session of Parliament if we are to have some effect, or have a chum or croney say, "Never mind that I want to raise the question of the terrible plight of people in Cambodia or the question of the poverty of people in parts of the Berwick-upon-Tweed constituency. I will give my day to you so that you may have a second attempt at a debate."

The Chairman of the Procedure Committee and the Leader of the House are asking us to accept the inconceivable if they imagine that that is a reasonable process. It is not so bad if the Government must apply twice for something, because they have all the time in the world. They can easily appear twice before the House with a motion to achieve a change.

So the motion is shifting the balance of power from private Members to the Government. When I heard the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) supporting the motion, I realised that I was on the right side. When the Government and a spokesman of the Official Opposition get together, private Members are in trouble.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Chair, House of Commons (Services): Computer Sub-Committee, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

If the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) got as worked up about some of the important political issues of the day as he does about the subject under discussion, he might be on the right side for once.

I went through the process of consulting my colleagues in the parliamentary Labour party and in the shadow Cabinet before expressing my view on the Floor of the House. I made it clear that I was expressing a personal view. I hope that my hon. Friends will support me, but they all have a free vote.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

I am delighted to hear that. The hon. Gentleman could not have been here for Prime Minister's Question Time, when I got quite worked up about the issue which has been occupying the House for most of the day. The hon. Gentleman made an unnecessary and gratuitous remark.

The Chairman of the Procedure Committee said that it was all part of a package. He said, in effect, "This is a restriction on private Members, but it is part of a package." One must be careful about suspicious packages, and we have been given plenty of advice to that effect. This package is particularly suspicious because it contains matters about which hon. Members were not originally aware and which go far beyond its original purpose.

It is also a package with an item missing. When the Procedure Committee decided on the package, it had before it an amendment for which five of the Committee had voted, including those who had voted for the other portions of the package. That amendment would have provided that as part of the deal private Members would have a limited version of the opportunity that Governments have to extend the time available for Bills that they put before the House. It was suggested that that should happen, not on a Friday—when there is the fear that it may be difficult for hon. Members, such as me, from distant constituencies, to be present—Monday, so that private Members would have an opportunity to suspend the 10 o'clock rule in the way that the Government suspend it every day, and as they are doing today.

The Government must not complain, for on the Order Paper today is a motion to suspend the 10 o'clock rule so that they may have time to have the Civil Aviation Authority (Borrowing Powers) Bill considered. Five of the 11 members of the Procedure Committee wished to say that private Members should have that opportunity in a limited form on a Monday, but that is not in the package because it was defeated by six votes to five. As a result, it has become a notably unbalanced package.

We shall not vote on this issue tonight. We shall vote on the issue about ten-minute Bills on Budget day, which seems to be a product of televising the proceedings in the House of Commons. I was in favour of televising our proceedings, although that may have given rise to some odd results, and being embarrassed about having a ten-minute Bill moved on Budget day seems to be one of them.

I cannot work up any enthusiasm for the idea that we must deny hon. Members the chance of bringing forward a Bill on that day. I accept that it is not the loss of a slot, that it is fair to private Members overall, and that such opportunity will be available on the following Monday. But I cannot bring myself to rescue the Government from the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) who added to the proceedings usefully when he brought forward budget proposals of his own.

On the motion that the ten-minute Bill procedure should change and that we should move to a ballot, instead of hon. Members having to queue, a finely balanced argument exists. There is something to be said for endeavour and for procedures that reflect an hon. Member's determination to raise an issue. People outside the House do not realise how much we have become dependent on the lottery and the ballot.

Most of our constituents imagine that we raise issues in the House because of our preparedness to get stuck in and because we are determined to speak out and say our piece. Up to a point that is the case, but it is not the case for many things, including private Members' Bills, motions, questions to the Prime Minister and questions to individual Ministers. These are all a lottery, a ballot, but the ten-minute Bill procedure is down to endeavour. The endeavour may, however, become rather disproportionate when it involves hon. Members having to occupy sleeping bags for three or four days. Nevertheless, I consider it to be a finely balanced issue.

When compared with the motions that will come before the House later, the issue on which we will vote tonight does not seem to raise great excitement. A whole shift in the balance of power between the Government and private Members over the opportunity to invite the House to consider our procedures is a fundamental change which is undesirable and should not arise simply because one incident caused some argument and controversy at the time.

7 pm

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

I, too, am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for agreeing not to move all the motions that have been tabled. The time allowed is, in any case, totally insufficient when we are sweeping away private Members' rights, some of which date back to 1927. So I am grateful to him for agreeing to postpone four of the debates. The result is that I am able to support the one motion, but I hope that when the various issues return to the House, adequate time for debate will be provided.

I make that point particularly to you, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian of Back-Benchers' rights. We should not have such sweeping motions, five all bunched together, in such a confined space of time. My right hon. and learned Friend will have taken account of the fact that during business questions and in this debate substantial feeling has been expressed by hon. Members in all parts of the House about the way in which the motions could be ill-advised. We must debate them thoroughly and reach proper conclusions.

It is unfortunate that the motion is in the name of the Leader of the House rather than in the name of the Chairman of the Procedure Committee. Although we are to have a free vote— must be as we are concerned with procedure and Back-Benchers' rights—it stands in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend, there is bound to be moral pressure on many hon. Members to support the motion. Great as is my respect for the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the moral pressure on hon. Members would be somewhat less if the motions stood in his name.

I am happy to agree with the Chairman of the Procedure Committee on motions Nos. 2, 3 and 4, but I dissent strongly on motions Nos. 1 and 5. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House inadvertently misled us when he said that it was a choice between a ballot, which is a parliamentary euphemism for a lottery, and queueing. That is not the question. The problems that arose last year with queueing did not arise as a result of private Members' initiatives. No private Member queues for four or five days. Private Members were queueing quite happily for a reasonable time to get a Bill. I speak from personal experience. As my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Procedure Committee kindly pointed out, I have not been here long, but even in that time I have managed to get two ten-minute Bills by queueing only for a couple of hours.

The procedure got out of hand—and the house should understand this—when the Government and Opposition Front Benches became involved and decided to turn the matter into an inter-party competition. The procedure then became similar to the procedure for Prime Minister's questions when all hon. Members are reminded to go in for it. It became similar to the way we sign the book of motions, when hon. Members stand in the Lobbies exhorting other hon. Members to sign them. Suddenly, the whole procedure was no longer a Back-Bench initiative, but an inter-party competition. If that element is taken out of the procedure and it is returned to the Back Benchers, we shall not be queueing for four or five days any more than we have in the past. Had this matter been left to the good sense of the Back-Bench Members none of this would have arisen in the first place. My right hon. and learned Friend has not given the House the whole picture—inadvently, I am sure. However, I have described the background against which the issue should be examined.

At present, hon. Members queue for ten-minute Bills and obtain them by initiative. It is the only remaining slot not governed by a draw from a hat or by having to rely on being lucky in a raffle. If an hon. Member wants to raise a pressing piece of constituency business, a conscience issue or another matter, all he has to do is to have a bit of endurance and initiative. It is deeply offensive that we should be told that one of the reasons for changing the system is that the Clerks object to us sitting in their room. For whom does this House exist? Is it for the benefit of the Clerks or of hon. Members? It is for the benefit of hon. Members, so that argument should carry no weight with us. If we queue in the Clerks' room for a fortnight—which I have never seen done—that is our right and it should not matter what they say.

I shall inevitably be seen as having a specific interest in motion No. 1 inasmuch as I have used the procedure. That is true, but although that procedure has been used twice on a pro-life issue, the fact remains that it is open to be used on any issue. It cannot be abused in quite the way that other motions are abused because it depends on an extremely rare combination of circumstances. First, an hon. Member must have a Bill sufficiently high in the ballot to avoid accusations of blatant queue-jumping. If his Bill is Nos. 18, 19 or 20, this procedure will not commend itself greatly to the House. Secondly, either he or a sympathiser must draw first place in the ballot for private Members' motions on a Friday. Thirdly, the sympathiser must do that in time to influence the passage of the Bill. It is no good coming first in the ballot two months after the Bill has failed and all other Bills are on Report. The combination of circumstances is so rare that it is not surprising that it has happened only twice in the last decade. Do we need to take a sledgehammer to crack something that occurs only twice in a decade? Statistically it is not worth bothering about.

There is a distinction between that procedure and the procedure for petitions and by-election writs. If an hon. Member decides to move a by-election writ, as the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) did, there is nothing that the House can do to prevent him under the present rules. He can stand up, move his writ and talk about the Yorkshire weather for three hours five minutes, and there is nothing that the House can do to prevent it. If 500 other hon. Members want to debate the alternative business, which is first on the Order Paper, there is still nothing that they can do. If 50 hon. Members decide to move petitions, there is nothing that the House can do to stop them. But if an hon. Member comes to the House and asks for extra time, the House can say "No". The difference is between the House having the final say and private Members being able to use their own initiative to be obstructive.

Photo of Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop Mr Robin Maxwell-Hyslop , Tiverton

There is nothing to prevent a Back-Bench Member from moving the closure on a speech for moving a petition. That is perfectly in order.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

That is wrong, as I found to my own cost and from my own experience. Until it has been proposed and until the proposer has sat down, an hon. Member cannot move the closure. The House has no sanction over that, but it has a sanction over a private Member who wants to obtain extra time. A private Member may want to do that for two reasons. First, he or she may consider that his or her Bill is so vital that the House must grant it extra time. If the House decides against that, the House can say "No" and no harm is done, except that that hon. Member has wasted a whole morning in putting forward a motion with which the House has no sympathy. Secondly, an hon. Member may ask the House for redress. Perhaps the hon. Member has been subject to considerable filibustering, to disruptive tactics or to an ingenious use of parliamentary devices. That hon. Member may come to the House to say, "I know that we have a majority for this Bill. That has already been demonstrated on Second Reading. I have been prevented from proceeding and I ask the House for justice." The House can still say "No". That is the point of motion No. 1. The House already has sanctions, and there is no need to extend them.

The issue of a low vote on Fridays has been raised. My right hon. and learned Friend knows what happens here on Fridays. If there is a very unpopular motion or Bill, a low vote will not enable it to proceed. Some hon. Member who is as well endowed with eloquence as the hon. Member for Bolsover will talk all morning, thereby forcing a closure motion. But if fewer than 100 hon. Members vote, that closure cannot be carried. An unpopular Bill or motion cannot be carried on a low vote on a Friday. The case advanced today has been made on a set of false assumptions that bear no relation to what happens here, to what has gone wrong with queueing for ten-minute Bills, to what goes on when the House can say "No" to a request for extra time or to what happens on Friday when a low vote, as my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay) knows well, can be fatal to a Bill.

This is a serious assault on Back-Bench time. In 1927, one of your predecessors, Mr. Speaker, ruled that it was not in the specific competence of the Government to move motions relating to time and additional time, or to move any motion relating to the business of the House. He said that it was down to any hon. Member, providing he can find the time to do so. At present, the only way that he can find time to do so is through the most uncertain process of a ballot, which is a euphemism for a lottery. Are we going to take even that small, pathetic, last little hope away from Back-Bench Members? Are not the motions really about the balance of power between the Executive and Back-Bench Members? Motions Nos. 1 and 5 do not protect Private Members' time, but reduce our already very small rights still further.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 6:49 pm, 1st February 1990

I agree with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) about the balance of power between the two Front Benches and the Back Benches. During the 20 years that I have been here, there have been several instances when, because of Back-Bench activity, the two Front Benches have got together and managed to find a system to enable them to stop the limited power of the Back Benches.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) talked about the Consolidated Fund Bill. That was a classic. We used to be able to keep the Government up. We once managed to prevent the Secretary of State for the Environment from carrying out the important policy measure of selling off old peoples' bungalows. The Government measure had to be brought back, but it was not until much later. What happened? The Front Benches got together and decided to curtail Back-Bench activity. Now the Consolidated Fund Bill finishes at 9 o'clock, by order, as a result of the changes that took place.

Such changes cannot be good for any Back Bencher. That power was used by the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) when the Labour party was in government. He and his mates used it successfully one morning. We understand that such Back-Bench activity can take place whichever party is in power.

I oppose all five motions. I will not pick and choose. Unlike the hon. Lady, I think that we should oppose all five, because they are part of a package, as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), said.

When the Adjournment motion is debated in the summer and at Christmas, hon. Members can raise matters concerning their constituencies or whatever. The practice used to be that if an hon. Member went on beyond three hours, the Government had to have a majority of 100 to closure the debate. If the Government did not have a majority of 100, we carried on. What was wrong with that?

But what happened? The Government said, "It is terribly bad having to keep 100 people here a day before the hols. Would it not be a good idea to get together and finish the debate after three hours, by an order of the House?" My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) joined me and, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) on one occasion in voting against the Government. It would be interesting to look at Hansard—

Photo of Mr Donald Dixon Mr Donald Dixon , Jarrow

I am not joining my hon. Friend tonight.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

That suggests that my hon. Friend did join us on the other occasion. We voted against the Government because we felt that it was necessary to stop the two Front Benches joining together and taking away Back-Bench opportunities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) has a point. He says that these are only minor things, and that we need much bigger changes. If the Government Front Bench, together with the Opposition Front Bench, said that they intended to reform the House of Commons lock, stock and barrel, by having full-time Members and stopping moonlighting and boozing, by clocking on and clocking off and starting at a proper time, that would be all right.

I would not mind coming to work before the streets are aired. Some of us used to work like that before we came here, so it would not be hard for us to get here at 9 o'clock. We used to be at work at 6 o'clock in the morning. Such reforms would give more power to Back Benchers. Sadly, we are living not in that world but in a world that has been fashioned by the nobs and snobs of yesteryear. This is a quaint little place, based on the Eton debating society. We could choose not to come in; we could say that it is not for us, or we can learn the rules and destabilise. That is what I have been doing for about 20 years. I am not keen on throwing all that experience away.

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen , Nottingham North

I hope that my hon. Friend is not saying that he has a vested interest in preserving the present system.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

No. I have already made the point that I want to see changes, but only a few of us are keen on developing a system of full-time Members of Parliament and proper hours. I get the impression that things will not change before I leave the House, so I have to use the system. That is why I oppose these intrusions on Back-Bench activity. I am pleased that the Leader of the House has caught on to the idea that it would be good if he managed not to upset everybody. That is why he is moving only one motion tonight, the one relating to Budget day.

If the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure wanted to bring in a package, why did he not propose the curtailment of some activities that are not liked by the elite, but at the same time give Back Benchers other rights? We could have had 10 motions instead of five—five to curtail activities and five to give Back Benchers more opportunities. For instance, the Government might have proposed that Front-Bench speeches should not last more than 20 minutes. Part of the total package might have been extra Adjournments for Back-Bench Members.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

We have suggested that.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

It is in our report.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Oh, it is in a report. It is buried in a report; it is as deep as that. The hon. Gentleman used his diving skill to bury it. I am talking about the package that is before the House.

Hon. Members know that the reason for the five new measures is mainly the television cameras. They are all about regulations for the cameras. Everywhere the television cameras have gone, they have managed to fashion the activities that they screen. We now have football matches starting at five past 3 on a Sunday. Why? Because it suits television. On occasions, horse racing is stopped because it is not synchronised with a rugby league match.

The reason the Government want to tidy up the procedure is to make sure that the television authorities know what is happening on a Friday and to ensure that there will not be extra activity. The Government do not want ten-minute Bills before the Budget, because it is not nice for the Chancellor. They do not want such activity. That is wrong. Why should we give in to the television moguls?

Not all the motions relate to Fridays, but the Friday bit is important for the Leader of the House. He has latched on quickly. He has been gallivanting round the world, but this is not the United Nations. As Leader of the House, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has to come here regularly at half past 3 and has to stay late at night. It suddenly dawned on him that he has to be here on a Friday as well. One thing he can do is make sure that he does not need 100 hon. Members here on a Friday too often. What does he do? He says that he will curtail the activities of hon. Members. So part of the package is to make the task of the Government easier.

On the question of queueing for ten-minute Bills, I suggest that the Leader of the House should have a site meeting before he changes the procedure. The right hon. and learned Gentleman can go with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) when he is queueing for a Bill to give pensioners a better lot. He can get his sleeping bag, a little television set and his sandwiches.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

No, no drink. If the Leader of the House does that, he will get a better picture of what takes place.

The hon. Member for Maidstone was upset about moving writs and so on. She will be surprised to learn that I am not against the idea of hon. Members using the opportunity to combine a motion and a Bill. There may be occasions when the procedure is not right, but not on the subject on which the hon. Lady used it, nor on the one on which Enoch Powell used it. I do not think the House wanted the hon. Lady's Bill; otherwise, hon. Members would not have let me get away with what I did. By and large, most hon. Members said, "It is not a bad idea, because we would only be here on Saturday and Sunday; Skinner is saving us the weekend."

If an hon. Member had an important case and got a high place, not No. 7 but No. 2, the Bill would go through. One Bill goes through and the other does not. Two more Bills have gone through quickly on the first occasion. That means that three Bills have gone into Committee, but one that has drawn the No. 2 place will have some difficulty because there are already three Bills in Committee.

Hon. Members may say, "That is unfair: there are three Bills in Committee, and the one that has drawn the No. 2 place has not a cat in hell's chance." Two more Bills may get through, and then it is all over. I think that, on an occasion when a Bill suits the majority of hon. Members, the House might decide that it would not be a bad idea if—by a fluke—the motion to get it through was passed. I might not even move a writ to stop it; I might encourage it. There are such occasions, albeit caused by flukes or accidents.

Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone

That happened to Powell's Bill.

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

It did not, because Powell used a surrogate. Powell's Bill was all about embryo research—

It being Seven o'clock, MR. SPEAKER put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [26 January].

The House divided: Ayes 209, Noes 38.

Division Ho, 62][7 pm
AYES
Alexander, RichardFoster, Derek
Alison, Rt Han MichaelFox, Sir Marcus
Allason, RupertFreeman, Roger
Allen, GrahamGarel-Jones, Tristan
Amess, DavidGill, Christopher
Amos, AlanGlyn, Dr Sir Alan
Arbuthnot, JamesGolding, Mrs Llin
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)Goodlad, Alastair
Ashby, DavidGorman, Mrs Teresa
Bardry, TonyGrant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Bellingham, HenryGreenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bendall, VivianGregory, Conal
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bevan, David GilroyGrist, Ian
Blackburn, Dr John G.Ground, Patrick
Bonsor, Sir NicholasGummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Boswell, TimHague, William
Bottomley, Mrs VirginiaHamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Bowis, JohnHampson, Dr Keith
Brandon-Bravo, MartinHartley, Jeremy
Bright, GrahamHarris, David
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterHawkins, Christopher
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Heathcoat-Amory, David
Browne, John (Winchester)Hind, Kenneth
Buck, Sir AntonyHordern, Sir Peter
Buckley, George J.Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Butterfill, JohnHowarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Campbell-Savours, D, N.Howarth, G, (Cannock & B'wd)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Howe, Ht Hon Sir Geoffrey
Carringlon, MatthewHughes, Robert G, (Harrow W)
Carttiss, MichaelHunt, David (Wirral W)
Channon, Rt Hon PaulHunter, Andrew
Chapman, SydneyHurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)Irvine, Michael
Colvin, MichaelIrving, Sir Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)Jack, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Jackson, Robert
Cope, Rt Hon JohnJanman, Tim
Cormack, PatrickJohnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Couch man, JamesKey, Robert
Cunningham, Dr JohnKilfedder, James
Currie, Mrs EdwinaKing, Roger (B'ham N;thfield)
Davies, Q, (Stamf'd & Spald'g)Kirkhope, Timothy
Davis, David (Boothferry)Knapman, Roger
Day, StephenKnight, Greg (Derby North)
Devlin, TimKnowles, Michael
Dixon, DonLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Dorrell, StephenLang, Ian
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLawrence, Ivan
Dover, DenLeigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Dunn, BobLester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs GwynethLightbown, David
Durant, TonyLilley, Peter
Eggar, TimLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Emery, Sir PeterLuce, Rt Hon Richard
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fallon, MichaelMacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Favell, TonyMaclean, David
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)McLoughlin, Pal rick
Fookes, Dame JanetMcNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)Mans, Keith
Forth, EricMaples, John
Marshall, John (Hendon S)Skeet, Sir Trevor
Mawhinney, Dr BrianSmith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinSnape, Peter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir PatrickSpearing, Nigel
Mellor, DavidSpicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Michael, AllunSquire, Robin
Miller, Sir HalStanbrook, Ivor
Morrison, Sir CharlesSteen, Anthony
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)Stern, Michael
Moss, MalcolmSlevens, Lewis
Mowlam, MarjorieStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Needham, RichardStradling Thomas, Sir John
Neubert, MichaelSumberg, David
Newton, Rt Hon TonySummerson, Hugo
Nicholls, PatrickTapsell, Sir Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton)Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Norris, SteveThompson, D, (Calder Valley)
O'Brien, WilliamThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Onslow, Rt Hon CranleyThorne, Neil
Oppenheim, PhillipThurnham, Peter
Paice, JamesTredinnick, David
Patnick, IrvinaTwinn, Dr Ian
Patten, Rt Hon JohnViggers, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyWaddington, Rt Hon David
Pike, Pater L.Wadeham, Rt Hon John
Porter, David (Waveney)Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Powell, William (Corby)Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Price, Sir DavidWaller, Gary
Raison, Rt Hon TimothyWareing, Robert N.
Redwood, JohnWarren, Kenneth
Rees, Rt Hon MerlynWheeler, Sir John
Renton, Rt Hon TimWiddecombe, Ann
Rhodes James, RobertWilliams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Riddick, GrahamWilshire, David
Ridley, Rt Hon NicholasWinterton, Mrs Ann
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)Winterton, Nicholas
Rumbold, Mrs AngelaWood, Timothy
Ryder, RichardYeo, Tim
Sack villa, Hon TomYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover)Tellers for the Ayes:
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')Mr. John M Taylor and
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)Mr. Nicholas Baker.
Sims, Roger
NOES
Alton, DavidKennedy, Charles
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyLivingstone, Ken
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Maclennan, Robert
Beith, A. J.Madden, Max
Benn, Rt Hon TonyMahon, Mrs Alice
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Meale. Alan
Canavan, DennisMichie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)Nellist, Dave
Corbett, RobinPorter, Barry (Wirral S)
Cryer, BobPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
Dalyell, TamSalmond, Alex
Fearn, RonaldSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
Fisher, MarkTaylor. Teddy (S'end E)
Godman, Dr Norman A.Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis
Gordon, MildredWallace, James
Hinchliffe, DavidWise, Mrs Audrey
Howarth, George (Knowsley N)Wray, Jimmy
Howells, Geraint
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)Tellers for the Noes:
Hoyle, DougMr. Dennis Skinner and
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved,

That no notice may be given under Standing Order No. 19 (Motions for leave to bring in bills and nomination of select committees at commencement of public business) for a day on which Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer has declared his intention of opening his Budget; but

  1. (i) notices proposed to be given for such day, and
  2. (ii) notices so given for a day in respect of which such intention is subsequently declared,
shall be treated as having been given for the first Monday on which the House shall sit after the Budget is opened, and may be proceeded with on that day as though it were a Tuesday or a Wednesday.

That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.