HC Deb 13 December 1995 vol 268 cc1018-9 5.14 pm
Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Mossley Hill)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker, of which I have given you notice. You will be aware that, some weeks ago, Baroness Blatch, a Home Office Minister, announced in the other place that social security resolutions would be laid before the House on Monday next. They will come under our negative resolution procedure, so they will be eligible for debate only if a prayer is laid.

Given that the orders will be implemented on the day before the House returns from the Christmas recess on 8 January, it will mean that hon Members will not have the opportunity to debate the orders, which will lead to more than 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers being left destitute and on the streets.

I am sure that, as the defender of the House's liberties and our rights of free speech, you will recognise that, even if that is technically within the rules, it is against the spirit of the rules that we usually operate in this place. Therefore, I hope that you will examine our procedures and consider the question to ensure that, if someone raises a prayer with you on Monday, provision may be made for a debate to occur even on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)


Madam Speaker

I believe that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) wishes to make a similar point of order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be brief, as it is a very important matter.

Mr. Madden

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. While I endorse everything that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has said, I must add that the Standing Committee on the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which is directly concerned with these matters, will not have an opportunity to debate them for several weeks. The Social Security Select Committee is considering the issue at this very moment, and it has still to report.

While we do not criticise you in any way, Madam Speaker—we realise that you have no responsibility for the way in which the Government choose to conduct their business—the procedure amounts to an abuse of Parliament, and demonstrates a contempt for Parliament. It is not an arcane matter: thousands of people will shortly be left with absolutely no income. Therefore, would you at least deprecate the procedure?

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. During the recent debate on the legislation, I intervened on the Home Secretary precisely to point out that many people who are perfectly legitimate refugees will be deprived of all their income on 8 January. They cannot work, and their families will have nothing to live on, yet Parliament is approving that outrageous and thoroughly unjust measure.

It is a disgrace that the matter cannot be debated properly before it comes into effect on 8 January. When I intervened on the Home Secretary, he promised to provide me with an answer. He has not done so, and I think that he should be made to explain his position to the House.

Madam Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) for allowing me time to consider his point of order. He wrote me a long letter late yesterday afternoon. I have taken into consideration not only his point of order but also the other two points of order on the subject—which is a most unusual course for me—as I appreciate the seriousness of the situation, and the fact that hon. Members feel very strongly about it, and it is right that they should place their views on the record.

However, I must inform the House that the Chair has no power to do what the hon. Member for Mossley Hill and other hon. Members have requested. They want me to interfere with the Government's use of order-making powers which have been given to them by Parliament in statute. No Speaker has the right or the authority to intervene in that way, but I hope that the strong views that have been expressed today have been noted by those on the Treasury Bench.

Mr. Alton

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Thank you for your reply. I ask you also to look very sympathetically at an application for a Standing Order No. 20 resolution so that the matter might be debated urgently next week.

Madam Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman seek to ask leave to move a Standing Order No. 20 application now?

Mr. Alton

indicated assent.

Madam Speaker

It is somewhat hypothetical. I think that the hon. Gentleman must submit the proposal to me at the appropriate time and of course I shall examine it, as I always do.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is usually unsatisfactory to try to grasshopper back to a previous statement, but I believe that there is a point of order for you, as you are responsible for the Clerks Department and its operation in the House.

The impression was given—I put it no higher than that—not so much in the statement as in answers from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster that the Clerks Department was participating in matters—I shall not go into their merits, but they are nevertheless highly controversial—in relation to the privatisation of the Stationery Office. If the Clerks Department agreed to participate in the way in which the Minister certainly indicated to the House—Labour Front-Bench Members also received that impression—have they agreed to participate in the operations with contractors or potential contractors for the Stationery Office?

Madam Speaker

I take the hon. Gentleman's point very seriously. We all have to interpret in our own way what Ministers say, particularly in answer to questions, but that was not the impression that I obtained. Although participation by parliamentary officials in Government decisions is, of course, quite improper, consultations between Government representatives and House authorities will be required at many stages of the proposed process of the privatisation of HMSO. However, there is an important difference between the two that must be maintained at all times, and I shall see that it is.