Last night, Mr. Speaker, I removed the Mace from its position. I deeply regret my action. I was hoping to be able to apologise to you and the House when you returned to the Chair last night. That was not possible, and I now take this first opportunity of apologising unreservedly.
AIRCRAFT AND SHIPBUILDING INDUSTRIES BILL (DIVISION)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It arises out of the voting last night. I understand from reports that the result of that vote arose as a consequence, it is suggested, of a breach of a “pair” . I do not know whether that is the case, and I appreciate that pairing arrangements are not a matter for the House. But it is a substantial convention of the constitution that there should be such pairing arrangements, and in any other context a result achieved as a result of a breach of such an arrangement would not be a valid result. In those circumstances, I feel that it would be appropriate if the Patronage Secretary were to make a statement to the House, either now or after the recess, about the circumstances in which the voting took place. I felt it more appropriate that this matter should be raised from the Government Benches because it is we who carry the responsibility.
I take the voices of the Tellers. I know officially of nothing else. As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) rightly said, pairing arrangements are nothing to do with the Chair.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was hoping that you might make some comment this morning about the disgraceful scenes which took place in the House of Commons last night—and I [column 770]mean disgraceful scenes from right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. It does no good to parliamentary democracy or to the future of parliamentary institutions in this country if scenes such as those which occurred last night are repeated in the future. I trust that a firm decision will be taken to ensure that in future we do not have scenes of that kind as a result of the behaviour of right hon. and hon. Members on either side of the House.
May I tell the House that I gave careful consideration to whether I should make a statement this morning. I have been in this House 31 years. I have witnessed many occasions when tempers have become frayed and right hon. and hon. Members have said and done things which they regretted afterwards. I hope that the House will remember that any action which undermines the dignity of this House undermines its authority both here and outside.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the point of order of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann), may I ask, through you, whether theM. CocksPatronage Secretary will make a statement or, alternatively, whether the James CallaghanPrime Minister will say whether he intends to allow the vote taken last night to stand. That will help us all, because the basis of trust and fair dealing on which the “usual channels” work has been temporarily destroyed.
I have had no request from anyone other than from the Leader of the House to make his Business Statement.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), it is not the normal custom, as I understand it, for questions of pairing to be referred to in the House of Commons. But in view of the fact that the right hon. Lady has raised the matter, may I say that we repudiate entirely any suggestion that there was any breach of a pairing arrangement by a Government supporter? We repudiate entirely any such suggestion. It is quite wrong that such suggestions should be made.[column 771]
Mr. William Hamilton
On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that we all appreciate that a lot of tempers were lost last night, even if temporarily and that a lot of things were said and done which hon. Members probably regret. However, I wish to raise with you a matter concerning a senior Officer of the House, namely, the Serjeant at Arms. He used the most foul language that I have heard outside a barrack room, and I warned him at the time that I should be raising the matter with you this morning. I ask you to seek from him an explanation for his behaviour and, if possible, to get an unreserved apology from him.
Sir Derek Walker-Smith
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House as a whole will join in deploring the episodes of last night, and in respectfully welcoming the words with which you have reprobated such proceedings. Like you, Mr. Speaker, in 31 years in this House I have seen episodes which the House has regretted afterwards. However, I regret to say that I have not seen any episode to rival that of last night or the disorderly nature of the conduct that we saw.
On the point made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), we all appreciate that, apart from all the other ill consequences of such behaviour, it imposes an unwarranted and unnecessary strain on loyal and devoted servants of the House. They should expect not to be exposed to that sort of conduct. I think we all join with your characteristically wise observation that individual actions taken in the heat of the moment are regretted in the cool light of reflection. We should not dwell on these aspects, save that collectively we should learn from this unhappy experience and in the future do all we can to see that this House keeps the reputation it is essential it should have in the interests of good government.
I appreciate the efforts of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) in raising the point about pairing. Pairing is a notoriously difficult matter in the life of the House of Commons because it has a practical effect of great significance which has no actual theoretical or constitutional recognition or regulation in the rules of the House. Traditionally, pairing is a personal [column 772]contract and it should be observed as such.
We know, however, that often there are changes in circumstances, such as the strengthening of the Whips, and sometimes these matters are varied. There should be a recognisable code of conduct and procedure to regulate these matters. I hope that after the Patronage Secretary has made a statement clearing up the question of last night, consideration will be given to these wider and more general questions.
Mr. Hugh Fraser
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the House will applaud what you so wisely said from the Chair. This House depends on normal and proper relations between hon. Members of the House of Commons, and one of the key factors in this relationship is that of pairing. It is appropriate, however, that at this stage, although it is outside the general purview of the Chamber, there should be a statement by the Patronage Secretary, otherwise there is a grave danger that the normal conduct of parliamentary affairs will be disrupted. There will be a breach of faith which will undermine the whole conduct of the House. I hope that the Patronage Secretary will take account of that and make a statement now.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As to the conduct of the Serjeant at Arms, I was fairly near him last night and there were some general swipes in his vicinity. There was a lot of naughty language, and, equally, a lot of unbecoming behaviour. However, I think it is most unfortunate if the Serjeant at Arms is the only one who is called to account.
I hope that we are going to move on quickly from this matter. I have allowed a lot of latitude, and I repeat that pairing is not a subject for which I am responsible.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On the question of last night, I think it would be unwise for the House to continue with this kind of inquest, and what has happened already is an indication that I am right in that view. It is particularly inappropriate that this sort of inquest should occur on points of order when it is impossible for Members to state their arguments or positions properly. I [column 773]agree with those who say that it is highly regrettable to use points of order to make accusations against any individual, particularly a servant of the House. This is an illustration of just how unwise it is to deal with the matter in this way. If hon. Members wish to deal with the matter, they can do so in another way. They can put down a motion at some stage.
On the subject of pairing——
That is not the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility.
I am raising it on a point of order in response to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. I do not believe that it is desirable or advisable for the House to depart from the general tradition that statements about pairing and such matters are not made in the House of Commons. I hope very much that those who have said that the usual channels will not continue to operate will have second thoughts. I believe that the maintenance of the usual channels is essential to the proper functioning of this House and that the usual channels are the proper place to raise such matters.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is an even more important matter than that. The crucial question is whether the James CallaghanPrime Minister, who is ultimately responsible, wishes last night's vote on a constitutional matter to stand, even though it was obtained on a majority of one and that majority itself is in issue. Is the Michael FootLeader of the House satisfied with the position, because we are not?
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If the Opposition are dissatisfied with the situation, the first place in which we might have discussion on how to proceed is through the usual channels. If that is not satisfactory to hon. Members, they can deal with it by another method—by putting down a motion. It is unsatisfactory to try to deal with this matter—particularly involving the kind of issues which the right hon. Lady suggests—by points of order prior to a Business Statement.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, and in response to what the Leader of the House has said, I would point out that the basis of trust has damaged. We shall try to restore it today [column 774]through the usual channels, and perhaps we could also try to restore the basis of trust between the Prime Minister and myself.
Several hon. Members
Order. I think we shall be wise to leave the matter there. I am not taking any more points of order on what happened last night.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——
Is it related to the events of last night?
It does not relate to the events which occurred after Ten o'clock at all.
Several hon. Members
Order. I do not believe that there is anything to be gained by pursuing this mater further now in view of what has been said. Business Statement, Mr. Foot.
I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that my point of order has nothing to do with last night.
Order. I am not taking any further points of order at this stage.
Several hon. Members
Order. I am not taking any points of order now. I call the Lord President for the Business Statement.