POINT OF ORDER – 'UNDERCOVER' ACTIVITIES – 17 March 2014

Bill Wiggin: ... On a completely unrelated matter, sadly, last Thursday, I raised a point of order about Members who shout "Aye" and then vote no, and vice-versa. Mr Deputy Speaker was kind enough to repeat your judgment. Subsequently, at least three witnesses have come to me to say that they have seen hon. Members ignoring that advice. I have not named them and would not do so because I have not warned them, but I wonder what you would like me to do, Mr Speaker. Should the witnesses write to you?

Mr Speaker: I was not present at the time, but I am advised by a very high – even bewigged, dare I say – authority that the matter was dealt with at the time, and that there is no particular merit in going back over the incident, as far as I am aware. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that Members are free to write to me at any time if they feel that there has been an impropriety or a breach of protocol. The matter should be treated on its merits. It is the case – [Interruption.] Order. It is the case that vote should follow voice. That is a very long-established principle. Vote should not go in opposition to voice.

Dr Julian Lewis rose –

Mr Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is gesticulating in an eccentric fashion, but we will come to him in a moment.

Miss Anne McIntosh: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It is helpful to have your ruling on the record, but the matter was most certainly not dealt with, because we were advised to wait for the recorded vote to be made available. Your ruling is clear, but one wonders what the situation is now for those who called a vote in false circumstances.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said. I know that she always seeks to be helpful to the House, and I always listen to her.

Dr Lewis: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for my eccentric gesticulations, but one cannot change the habit of a lifetime. I speak as one who, within living memory, may have been guilty of that practice in getting what we considered to be a rather important vote on Syria on the record. If it is decided that the practice is unsuitable and should never be repeated, when there is an important Back-Bench debate on which there needs to be a vote to make the public well aware of the opinion of the House, and the Government choose for tactical reasons to advise everyone to abstain, are there other mechanisms available that would enable that vote to be called?

Mr Speaker: For a moment I thought that, not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman had foxed me. I am sorry to disappoint him, but his point is not quite as powerful, or his inquiry as penetrating, as he imagined. The short answer to his question is yes. There is a simple mechanism by which a Member who is anxious to ensure that the will of the House is tested can see to it that it is, and that is the mechanism of putting in Tellers. That is a different matter from registering a vote in opposition to what the voice has said.

Mr Dennis Skinner: He should join the Labour Party.

Dr Lewis: I did that once before.

Mr Speaker: The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) says that he did that once before, but I think he was operating undercover at the time.

Mr Skinner: Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. The hon. Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) has got form. He is the last person who should talk about doing things for other reasons. He joined the Labour Party many years ago because he wanted to protect a so-called Labour MP [Reg Prentice] who, when he next came to Parliament, crossed the Floor of the House and joined the Tories. The hon. Gentleman has got form.

Mr Speaker: There are only two responses to the hon. Gentleman. First, lots of us have got form. Secondly, he has made the point conclusively for me that it is time to move on.