AIRCRAFT AND SHIPBUILDING INDUSTRIES BILL (PROCEEDINGS)
The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement.
The House will recall that on 27th May we voted on the procedure motion on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill. The first vote was decided by Mr. Speaker's casting vote and on the second the Government had a majority of one. It was subsequently alleged that the Government's majority had been achieved by questionable means, and since then there has been a sense of grievance, resulting in the breakdown of communications through the usual channels.
It is not in the interests of the House that matters should remain in this state. The business of the House is being disrupted and the Members themselves are being put to considerable inconvenience and even, in some cases, distress.
The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and I met informally last week to consider how best to deal with this. We recognised that there was a sense of grievance about the vote on 27th May. We thought it right, therefore, to ask our Chief Whips privately to carry out together an informal inquiry on their own into what had happened and to let us have a common account for our private consideration. This they have done, and the right hon. Lady and I have considered it together.
The agreed result of their inquiry makes clear that there was undoubtedly misunderstanding about the pairing and voting arrangements on 27th May and that the normal courtesy of consultation about changes in pairing was not observed as it should have been.
In the light of this, I do not believe that matters should be left as they are and I propose, after consultation with the Leader of the House and the Chief [column 1362]Whip, that it would be in the best interests of the House if the Government were to provide the opportunity for the issues on which the votes were taken on 27th May to be considered again and the matter put to the vote in an appropriate way. The Leader of the Opposition has already, with her colleagues, tabled a motion to refer the Shipbuilding and Aircraft Industries Bill to a Select Committee, and if the House were to debate that motion this would provide the opportunity for the House to vote again on the matter. Accordingly, the Leader of the House will be announcing in his Business Statement on Thursday that a debate will be arranged on the right hon. Lady's motion.
I hope that an arrangement of this kind will commend itself to the House, that the two Chief Whips will meet to discuss how to avoid a recurrence of the events of 27th May, and that we can resume the orderly arrangements of our affairs through the usual channels.
I thank James Callaghanthe Prime Minister for making this statement. I am grateful to him for acknowledging that there was a grievance, and that it was well-founded, by providing what I hope will be a full day to debate the motion about setting up a Select Committee to consider petitions.
Secondly, as the right hon. Gentleman has stressed that the normal courtesy of consultation about changes in pairing was not observed as it should have been, may I say that as a certain name has been mentioned I should like to make it quite clear that the inquiry found no personal blame attached to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry)?
Thirdly, as the right hon. Gentleman has recognised that an assurance is needed so that there can be a basis of trust in future, I agree that our two Chief Whips should get together to see how best they can obtain mutual assurance about the conduct of pairing matters in future. When they have obtained that mutual assurance between them and their respective offices, I hope that the way will be open to resume business as usual.
Finally, I stress that on this side we believe that business, whether by Government or Opposition, must be conducted on the basis of the rules of the House, which are clearly understood, and the normal, understood customs and conventions about pairing.[column 1363]
The Prime Minister
I agree that the right hon. Lady's complaint was well-founded. Indeed, I indicated to her on the first occasion we met that I knew that there was a genuine sense of grievance. As regards the timing of the debate, I think that is a matter for discussion between the two Chief Whips. The question whether it is a full day's debate is something that they can discuss. If the Opposition want a full day, I hope that the Chief Whip will not resist—[Hon. Members: “Tomorrow.” ] I believe that there is some business set down for tomorrow.
I thank the right hon. Lady for the generosity of what she said about my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). I welcome what she said. I did not wish to make any personal references. I fully accept that we should now try to put this matter behind us. The Government have made a proposal which I fully understand will in some ways be regarded cynically. Nevertheless, it is my desire that the present situation should not continue to affect relationships between both sides of the House because the House cannot continue unless the present situation changes.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the last thing I want to do is to detract in any way from the sweetness and light that has suddenly broken out this afternoon? However, will he bear in mind when arranging the business of the House that there are eight parties in the House—not two or even three, but eight—and that they are concerned with the running of the House?
Further, I ask him to remember that the main issue in the debate which led to the trouble was not so much the Bill in question as whether the rules of the House should be altered, without consultation, to the detriment of those in the House and outside. It is that matter which many of us feel is extremely important. Will a discussion of that be in order in the forthcoming debate?
The Prime Minister
It is not for me to say what will be in order in the debate. That is a matter for you, Mr. Speaker. The motion put down by the right hon. Lady is very broad, and I imagine that hon. Members will be able to go very wide on it. It calls for reference to a Select Committee.[column 1364]
Mr. Arthur Bottomley
Is my right hon. Friend aware that all believers in parliamentary democracy will welcome his statement and its reception by the Leader of the Opposition, and feel that he and the right hon. Lady are to be commended on their wisdom and statesmanship? May I remind my right hon. Friend that on one occasion when the House was having difficulties a time ago, when we were both in Parliament, a Member of the then Opposition shared with us the view that this should not happen? It reminded us that in 1906 the feeling in the House was such that Government and Opposition Members did not even speak to each other. Let us hope that that never happens here. May parliamentary democracy be sustained.
The Prime Minister
I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said. Like him, I have lived through many stormy days in this House. I think none of us will ever forget the period of Suez, for example. However, I do not think that relations between hon. Members on this occasion have been anything like what they were on some previous occasions that I can recall. Perhaps the wisdom and sanity of Back Benchers has enabled us to produce a result that, I hope, will be acceptable.
Several Hon. Members
Order. I hope the House will take my advice and say that in the best interests of the House we should leave the matter there for the time being.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is one aspect which I think should properly be raised as a point of order as it concerns the Chair. In the disputed vote on the night of Thursday 27th May, Mr. Speaker, who does not have discretion in these matters—he is governed by precedent in the way in which he votes—would have been bound to vote with Opposition Members on that occasion. If the Question is put in such a way in the debate to which the Prime Minister has referred that Mr. Speaker is bound to vote the other way, because the motion is procedurally an amendment to a Government motion, that would not give the House the same opportunity as it had that night.
Therefore, I ask that the Prime Minister should declare that, if there is a tie, it would be the view of the Government [column 1365]that Mr. Speaker ought properly to vote—[Hon. Members: “No.” ]—yes—with the same effect as his vote would have had if it had been cast according to precedent that night, otherwise the objective of the Prime Minister and of my right hon. Friend of restoring the situation that prevailed that night will be frustrated.
The House knows that Mr. Speaker is always guided by precedent and that, in casting his vote, he does not consider which side of the House is affected, although he notices it. Since both the right hon. Lady and the Prime Minister have made their statements, I hope that we may leave the matter there for this afternoon. I understand that the usual channels are to meet. They will no doubt take note of what the hon. Gentleman has brought to the attention of the House in his point of order.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——
Mr. Adley, on a point of order first.
Following the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), would it not also be reasonable to suggest that the numbers of hon. Members eligible to take part in that Division should be the same as the numbers who took part before? In other words, as the constituencies of Rotherham and Thurrock were vacant on that previous occasion, should there be new Members of Parliament for those constituencies on the future date they should not be allowed to participate in the vote.
Order. I hope that hon. Members will not try to pursue the argument through points of order. If I tried to stop anyone elected to this House from voting, I think that I should be the first Speaker in history to do so.
On another point of order, Mr. Speaker. With due deference, I think it is unfortunate that you have cut off the opportunity of the House welcoming the Leader of the Opposition's exculpation of my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. [column 1366]Pendry) and welcoming the Prime Minister's typical forthrightness and decency on this issue.
Order. I felt that I had the approval of the House.