On a point of order, Madam Speaker. We are about to have what the Prime Minister has styled a confidence debate. If you in your wisdom select an amendment for that debate, presumably we.shall have a confidence vote later this evening. If we go on to vote on Second Reading, there will be another confidence vote. In the later stages of the Bill—since the Prime Minister has said that he requires it in all its essentials—we might have yet more confidence votes.
I am anxious not to miss any of those confidence votes, and this is uncharted territory. Would it be in order to introduce a procedure whereby a member of the Government can come before the House to say formally each and every time that the suicide pact is in operation?
Our procedures have stood us in good stead so far, and we shall continue today's debate as we have always done on such matters. I shall put the Question on the amendment at the appropriate time, and then the main Question. After that, as someone very famous once said, "Tomorrow is another day".
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on motion No. 4 on the Order Paper, which refers to the Scottish Grand Committee, which will be meeting in Edinburgh on Monday 5 December at 10.30 am. I understand that the Committee will be debating the Children (Scotland) Bill, and that that will in fact be the Second Reading of the Bill, although there is no indication on the Order Paper that that is the case.
If that is the case, the Committee will get four and a half hours to debate the Second Reading of a Bill for which we in Scotland have waited for five years. That seems inappropriate, because we would have six and a half hours for debate if Second Reading was debated on the Floor of the House. Four and a half hours is a totally inadequate time, and I would ask for a ruling that we should have more time to debate the Second Reading of such an important Bill.
The solution to the hon. Gentleman's question is that when the motion is put this evening, he and any of his colleagues will be allowed an opportunity to vote against it. They will therefore be able to seek the changes which the hon. Gentleman wishes to see.
I seek your reassurance, Madam Speaker. I see that a coach belonging to you is in Westminster Hall. I should like you to reassure us that the rumour we have heard that those of us who should in any way contravene one of your rulings would be expected to drag you through the streets in that coach is totally unfounded.
Mr. David Witmick:
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understood that, once elected to the House, hon. Members can vote according to their judgment, but obviously with guidance from their Whips. If, at the end of a debate, they decide to vote independently, however, they are free to do so. What worries me, hence my point of order to you, Madam Speaker, are the stories in the newspapers of intense pressure and even intimidation being placed on Conservative Members to vote in a certain way tonight. Their constituency associations have also been telephoned. Such practice seems to undermine hon. Members' independence to apply their conscience to how they vote. Do you agree, Madam Speaker, that should those Conservative Members vote under pressure and intimidation, that undermines the whole concept of parliamentary democracy?
The hon. Gentleman is probably verging on the question of privilege. If he is serious about that matter, as he appears to be, he should put his concern in writing to me and I shall certainly consider it.
I have not yet had the opportunity to see the hon. Gentleman's letter, but I know that it has been received by my office. I shall deal with it at the earliest possible moment.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I spent part of this morning at the Royal Courts of Justice listening to what the Press Association has described as "a landmark legal victory", which severely criticises the Home Office. One of the cases affected concerns Mr. Paul Malone, about whom I have spoken on many occasions and asked numerous questions. Have you, Madam Speaker, received any requests from Ministers to make a statement on that judgment? Can you further assist me by telling me how I can deal with that matter properly, given that the Home Secretary, with the support of the Prime Minister, refuses to meet me to discuss the case?
I have not heard that any Minister is seeking to make a statement today on that matter. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows how to use our procedures well by this stage, but he can table questions, seek Adjournment debates and use other procedural means to raise that issue.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hope that I shall not appear discourteous to you, because that is not intended, but I want to know what will happen to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. According to press reports at the weekend, he has succeeded to a peerage. I understand that he issued a press statement this afternoon that he has disclaimed the peerage, if he has inherited it. Apparently it is not clear whether he has inherited that title because it is a matter for the Lord Lion court of Scotland. In a modern Parliament, we should have absolute clarity about who are and who are not Members of Parliament. I am told that there is no documentation available in this Palace to check whether the hon. Gentleman has renounced the title or succeeded to it. We need clarification on that. Can you confirm, Madam Speaker, that that matter will be reported in the Journal tomorrow?
The House should be aware that on the death of the Earl of Selkirk, which took place on Thursday, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) accepted advice to the effect that if he thought that he was the heir to the earldom, he should cease to sit and vote in the House until he had reached a decision on whether to disclaim the title. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) should not always follow newspaper reports.
The House has been officially notified today that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West has disclaimed the title under the provisions of the Peerage Act 1963. The hon. Gentleman is now therefore once more able to sit and vote in the House.