Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 29 March 1990.

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Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton 4:45, 29 March 1990

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask you to defend the interests of hon. Members—I hasten to add that I was not one of them—who are lucky enough on either Tuesdays or Thursdays to draw a question for Question Time between eight and 15 minutes past 3 o'clock? In the past 12 months, it has been increasingly difficult to hear anything that is said at that time. That is a relatively new feature. The only other time that I can remember its happening was during the Falklands war, when there was a good reason for the House to concentrate on one issue. It is not fair to the hon. Members concerned. If the House does not want to have questions beyond 3.8 pm, we should start Prime Minister's questions then.

Several Hon. Members:

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

Order. Let me deal with one thing at a time. I agree with the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham) if he is saying that, in the few minutes before the Prime Minister gets up, there is a growing tendency for private discussions on both sides of the House. I frequently draw attention to that fact.

While I am on the subject of Prime Minister's questions, I should like to say that the quality of the questions asked of the Prime Minister makes a difference to the reaction of the House. We saw an example of that this afternoon when the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) asked a question that was heard in complete silence.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can we do something about the amplification system? It was not possible to hear anything today. It may have something to do with the cameras and the BBC, but we really must be able to hear what is said.

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

Is it on the same matter—the microphones?

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Yes, Mr. Speaker. You have been asked on a number of occasions to try to do something to help hon. Members to hear the proceedings. May I ask why, over the past week, the microphone nearest to me has been installed? It is smaller than all the others. I wonder if a bit has dropped off it, whether it is an experiment or whether it is a direct line to MI5.

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

I do not think that it is the latter. [Interruption.] Order. This is a serious matter. We are in an experimental period for television. The answer to the hon. Members for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) is that we are also experimenting with microphones that were not originally designed for television. They need a certain amount of adjustment, and that is being carried out.

Whether hon. Members can be heard in the Chamber is entirely up to the House. Let me repeat that the quality of questions that are asked determines the reaction that they receive.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Howe Mr Geoffrey Howe , East Surrey

Further to that point of order on microphones, Mr. Speaker. The impact of television on the microphonic equipment has been insignificant. The microphones are the same as those that have served the House for a long time, although modest changes have been made to take account of the positioning of people in relation to the Dispatch Box.

The real problem may be thought to be that they are rather ancient, but, even if they were to be replaced by a modern system, it would be difficult to design a microphone that can at one and the same time pick up the voice of the hon. Member who has the Floor of the House, speaking at a modest level, and exclude hubbub from the rest of the House. That balance is extremely difficult to achieve, but it is under continuous consideration by the Select Committee on Televising the Proceedings of the House.

Several Hon. Members:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

Mr. Skinner, if it is helpful.

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

Yes, it is, Mr. Speaker. We had the same problem a few years ago, before television came in. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that the last leader of the Liberal party, as it was then called, said that he could not be heard. A separate microphone was installed for him alone because he had such a wee small voice. To put the balance right, another microphone was placed on the Tory side of the Chamber for the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen)—for when he crossed the Floor.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

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

Order. I do not think that we can have a debate on microphones this afternoon. We have important—

Several Hon. Members:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

Order. I am on my feet. We have a very important debate on the community charge in the form of two prayers. [Interruption.] Order. I am sure that all the points of order are serious, but hon. Members who are not interested in taking part in the debate on the community charge should bear in mind the fact that many of their colleagues are.

Photo of Mr Tony Marlow Mr Tony Marlow , Northampton North

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham), Mr. Speaker. Will you tell the House what you think of the quality of the questions put by the Leader of the Opposition? Conservative Members feel that he never has an opportunity—

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

Order. Fortunately, the Chair is never required to give an opinion about such matters.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am interested not in arguments about the quality of questions, but in the lights, which are having a bad effect on my eyes and probably on other hon. Members' eyes. When will something be done about the glare? I have to put my hand above my eyes like this to get a view of the House. It is a serious matter, and sooner or later something must be done about controlling those lights.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

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

Order. I suggest that other hon. Members who want to ask questions on this matter should refer them to the Select Committee on Televising the Proceedings of the House, because I cannot answer them. They are properly matters for the Committee and should be drawn to its attention.

Photo of Mr Andrew Faulds Mr Andrew Faulds , Warley East

I have to pursue this matter, Mr. Speaker, because, unfortunately, the comments by the Leader of the House were technically incorrect. The reason we cannot hear in the House of Commons has nothing to do with the quality of the microphones. The reason is that, in order not to spoil the sound track going out with the television transmission, the speakers in the back of the Benches have been turned down. That is why we cannot hear the proceedings when there is a hubbub. Can we have a frank admission of that fact?

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

Again, those matters should be raised with the Select Committee. When the microphones were turned up, there was so much noise from about 50 amplifiers that those speaking could not be heard.

Several Hon. Members:

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

Well, I am beginning to get involved in a debate. I cannot take any more questions about televising.

Photo of Mr James Couchman Mr James Couchman , Gillingham

You, Mr. Speaker, may have noted that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) has moved himself closer to the microphone which he said had some sinister purpose. I believe that he thinks that good things come wrapped up in large parcels, and I have sympathy with him.

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

I know. It might be helpful if this were the last word on the matter.

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

No. I am constantly seeking to help the House on this matter, which is serious. It would help those concerned about noise if, when hon. Members spoke, they stood close to a microphone. They would not then need to speak so loudly.

Several Hon. Members:

rose

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

Ms. Primarolo—on a separate point of order.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo , Bristol South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This is a separate point of order.

In reply to my question during business questions, the Leader of the House commented on the intentions of hon. Members in not opposing the Medical Services for Women Bill which I introduced. The Leader of the House could not have known all the intentions of every hon. Member, and his comment undermined the rights of Back Benchers to move ten-minute Bills and impugns motives which he cannot know exist. Therefore, I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that the Leader of the House could not have known that and that the ten-minute Bill, unopposed, stands in its own right.

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

The House gave the hon. Lady permission to bring in her Bill, which has yet to have a Second Reading.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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

No. I am taking no more points of order. Other hon. Members want to speak in the debate and I cannot answer any more questions about microphones.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

It is not about microphones.

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

If it is not about microphones but a different matter I will hear it.

Photo of Mr Bob Cryer Mr Bob Cryer , Bradford South

Yes, a different matter. When information is sent out about the operations of the House, such as the guide to the Chamber, could the information be included that when we stand up we are not being deferential to the Prime Minister or anybody else? Many people outside believe that we are. However, we are trying to be called. The past few minutes, during which I have been trying to be called, and jumping up and down, illustrate the case very well.

Photo of Mr Roger Knapman Mr Roger Knapman , Stroud

Is it consistent that the Opposition parties should take part in last night's debate about allocation of time and then take time from today's debate with a vast number of questions to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and bogus points of order?

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

That is not very helpful, either.