Points of Order

– in the House of Commons at 4:03 pm on 27th February 1996.

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Photo of Peter Kilfoyle Peter Kilfoyle , Liverpool, Walton 4:03 pm, 27th February 1996

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that, last Thursday, I dropped you a note and a copy of a statutory instrument, the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1996. I dropped you that note because that issue—the proposals to change the statutory instrument—was first flagged up three years ago. Certainly the current incumbents of office—the Ministers—at the Department for Education and Employment told me in January that it would be ready in February, and it was. It was rushed through—some people might say hastily—to meet the commitments given in the Standing Committee on the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill.

The instrument not only lacks coherence: it lacks legibility. When I was a teacher, had a group of students brought it in to me, I would have sent them back—DFEE and all—and told them to repeat the exercise until it was in a form that was legible, coherent and acceptable to the House. I seek your advice on whether the instrument is in an acceptable form to be presented to hon. Members.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. I understand, as he says, that the instrument laid before the House last week contains a number of manuscript alterations to the printed proof. I have taken the trouble to look at the instrument to see it for myself.

The form of the instrument is a matter for the Department concerned, and I suggest that the hon. Gentleman must pursue his inquiry in that direction. I have myself made further inquiries, and I understand that the Minister was attempting to be helpful to the Committee in laying the draft instrument at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps the reason why there were so many manuscript amendments was his attempt to help the Committee at that stage.

Photo of Mr John Butcher Mr John Butcher , Coventry South West

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware that, over the centuries, the House has gained its powers and privileges through its ability to deny or grant the supply of moneys to the Executive, and the decisions that the Executive makes. A decision will soon be made to spend a large amount of money—raised through public subscription—at a particular location to celebrate the millennium appropriately. The Millennium Commission is unelected, and it is a large amount of money.

If the Secretary of State for National Heritage were to come to you and request a short debate and a free vote, in which the representatives of all parts of the country could express a view, I am sure that it would be excellent therapy for those who can become hyper-ventilated over the issue, and would be seen as an endorsement of the decision, or a recommendation, after which there could be no argument over who rightly secured the investment of that money.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

That is hardly a point of order, but I understand that the hon. Gentleman needed to ventilate the matter. He may, of course, care to put it to the Leader of the House during business questions, because it is a matter for him, not for the Speaker.

Photo of Mr Tony Banks Mr Tony Banks , Newham North West

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This morning, for the first time that I can remember, I noticed that openly armed police officers were around the outskirts of the Houses of Parliament. I understand that you are not responsible for police activity outside of the House, but only for the inside.

I am as interested in security as any other hon. Member in this place, but were you consulted before that rather dramatic decision was taken? If you were not consulted, do you know whether leading Members of the House were consulted? I feel that it is not a welcome development, although we all know the reasons for it. However, it looks as though we are somewhat under siege in this place, and I feel that, by giving that impression, we are in many ways giving way to the terrorists. I wonder whether you would like to reflect on the matter, and tell us exactly how the decision was taken.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I refuse to discuss matters of security across the Floor of the House. If the hon. Gentleman would care to see me or the Serjeant at Arms privately, he will be most welcome.

Photo of Mr Jacques Arnold Mr Jacques Arnold , Gravesham

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You are the defender of Back Benchers' rights in this House. During our questions to the Secretary of State for the Environment, there was only one question—Question 5—on local authority revenue. You will have noted that, after the question from the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) was answered, there was an immediate use of an ancient practice to gag further questions on that subject.

The Labour party is clearly embarrassed by the Government's generosity this year in the settlement for local government finance, and it was an unfair abuse by the Labour Opposition to gag Back Benchers on a very important subject.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

It is the prerogative of hon. Members to use our procedures. I think that the hon. Gentleman who acted in that way is seeking a full Adjournment debate on the matter, so that more time can be made available for questioning on the Floor of the House.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle), Madam Speaker. I thank you for your ruling and guidance on that matter, but may I draw to your attention a possible related procedural complication?

The printing of the substantive document and its distribution may be delayed. It has been made available to the Committee, but it is of importance to every school organisation, every school governor and every education authority across the country.

It so happens that the statutory instrument is germane to the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill, whose Committee stage is drawing to a close. It is also germane to that Bill's Report stage. However, by the time the Bill reaches its Report stage, either the statutory instrument will have been debated in Committee or it will not. In either case, the question arises whether there will have been sufficient time for its substantive printed version to have been made available to interested parties. Should it be debated in Committee or on Report?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I said that it was a matter for the Department concerned, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Some of the Ministers on the Government Front Bench will no doubt have noted the hon. Gentleman's comments.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman , Huddersfield

As a Back Bencher, I seek your advice, Madam Speaker, and, in a sense, your protection. You will know that the list of hon. Members wishing to speak in yesterday's debate on the Scott report was heavily oversubscribed by, I understand, hon. Members of all parties.

I was admonished by Mr. Deputy Speaker because I sought, with no disrespect to the occupant of the Chair, to mention the fact that, of the 12 Conservative Members called to speak, most were ex-Ministers, six were old Etonians, five had been to Oxford university and all were associated with one of the main protagonists in the events under debate. I meant no disrespect to the Chair, but was simply asking whether Government Whips had applied any undue pressure on the Chair to ensure such representation.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

This is one Parliament where there is no pressure—undue or otherwise—on the Speaker of the House. When selecting the names of Conservative Members to be called yesterday, I did not look in "Who's Who" to see whether they had been to Dewsbury grammar school or to Oxford or Cambridge. It was entirely my selection and, having reflected on yesterday's debate, I thought that a good cross-section of hon. Members was called.

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

In the excitement of last night, when the Government managed to get their majority of one, perhaps it went unnoticed that, according to the weekend press, two Tory Members who went through the Division Lobbies to sustain the Government were bankrupt. Do you not think it is time that we examined the matter, because there is speculation that as many as 30 of them are bankrupt as a result of their investment at Lloyd's?

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

That is barely a point of order for me.