§ Mr. Speaker
I have a very serious statement to make to the House. I received a report from the Deputy Serjeant at Arms of the incidents in the Aye Lobby last night. I am told that an hon. Member was holding up a paper with the words "Stay here" written on it. This is a gross interference with our democratic procedures in this House. Anyone who seeks to interfere with our voting procedures is worthy of censure. If I had had this report last night I would, like my predecessors in the Chair, have had no hesitation whatever in naming the hon. Member.
I must advise the House that anyone who causes undue delay in the taking of a vote in the Division Lobbies will incur serious displeasure if it happens in the future.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the Lobby last night, there was, indeed, a notice on display which said "Stay here," held by one of my colleagues. It had been on display throughout the whole of the proceedings, beginning with the very first vote of the night at around 10 p.m.
The reason for that "Stay here" notice was quite clear. We were saying—at least I was not, but the person concerned and those of us who believed in the need for the Oppositon to fight the Bill were saying—that we wanted every potential voting Member of the Opposition to remain behind not for that Division only but for the succeeding Division, the further Division, and the Division that was unfortunately called off because of the rumbustious attitude of the Tories on one occasion, which, in the main, was responsible for the failure of the Bill, taking into account all the minutes that were lost.
I remember seeing that notice, but I remember seeing it at 10 p.m., 10.15 p.m., 10.30 p.m. and, finally, at the time of the very last Division. That notice would have remained on show, Mr. Speaker, so long as we needed to remind our troops to stay in the Lobby to vote. I would also say to you, Mr. Speaker—and also to the Serjeant at Arms, who saw that notice—that it has been a regular practice 780 during the whole nine years that I have been a Member of the House.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I wish to reply to the hon. Member. The fact is that a Division last night was prevented by the undue time that it took. It took longer than usual. Only just over 100 Members went through the Lobby, and it clearly could have been completed much earlier. I must tell the House that if anyone seeks to delay voting procedures in this House he is seeking to interfere with the democratic process, which is a very serious offence.
§ Mr. Cryer
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Specifically because of the various comments, and the chatter that was going on at the time, I checked with the Clerks on the time that the Division was called, the subsequent eight minutes, and the clearing of the Lobby. On examination, Mr. Speaker, I think that you will find that the last Division was by no means extraordinarily lengthy and, indeed, was on a par with the other Divisions that had taken place. From the time of the calling of the last Division there was no possibility that another Division could be called in view of the reasonable amount of time that was being taken by the Division.
§ Mr. Rooker
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Though no one has named me, I was the hon. Member holding up the piece of paper. But I have to report to you, Sir, that the words on the paper were:Please stay at least two more Divisions.That was subsequently altered to:Please stay at least one more Division.Those were the words on the piece of paper, Sir, which is still in my file, which is in my car in the underground car park. If you wish, Sir, I shall now show it to you. I was holding the piece of paper, standing between the two Clerks in the Lobby. At no time after I had voted did I move back into the Lobby. I did not know who was still to come through the Lobby. It was information asking my colleagues to stay because there could have been up to 10 Divisions last night. I was generous in saying that there would be at least two more. You have not had all the information, Sir, about the words on that piece of paper.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I do not wish to argue with hon. Members. The business was timed to conclude at 10.45 p.m. and it was quite impossible for there to be 10 Divisions, because of the time factor. The Division to which I have referred took as long as it would have taken had we had a three-line Whip with heavy voting in the Lobbies, though only just over 100 Members went through.