HC Deb 04 July 1961 vol 643 cc1387-402

Question again proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Mr. Lawson

I repeat, Mr. Speaker, since it seems to me that you were interpreting my words and my grievance, that I should make it clear that I said nothing about a grievance with the Vote Office. I said that we were badly serviced in this matter. I am concerned with the fact that we are asked to deal with a paper which refers to a particular Bill and nothing but this Bill. The Amendment Paper containing the Lords Amendments was before us. It refers to Bill (29). Bill (29) was before us. So far as we knew, there was no Bill (45) in existence. It was only when Bill (45) was mentioned by the Joint Under-Secretary of State that we had any knowledge of it. Only then did we learn that if we were to understand what we were asked to consider we would have to get Bill (45).

There is no fault here with the Vote Office for not making the Bill available to us. All that was mentioned was before us, but what was before us was insufficient to enable us to understand the business that we were called upon to decide. In this sense I think that we are badly serviced, not by the officials of the House but by the members of the Government who ought to have seen that this job was done—

Mr. Speaker

If that is true it would follow that the hon. Gentleman is rising not to a point of order but to something else. The point is that if there is something of substance which affects hon. Members' ability as legislators I am eager to listen and protect. So far as matters go at present—I will check my recollection when I can look at things tomorrow and see what has happened in my absence—I cannot find any departure from the ordinary processes in this matter. I greatly hope, if that is so, that the House will now feel able to direct its attention once again to the Question before it, which is, aye or no, does the House agree with the Lords in the said Amendment to line 17?

Mr. Ross

We are asked to agree to an Amendment to a Bill which left this House, which had been amended in a Committee and on Report, which had been printed no fewer than three times and which, when considered in another place, appeared as Bill (29). I do not know how the Amendment was made in another place, but if they amended Bill (29) then someone in another place failed to try to relate it to the Bill that was Bill (29) as printed because there was no paragraph (b). The Bill was brought forward from the House of Commons for consideration in another place on 2nd February. The fact is that we have no knowledge of what they did.

Reference has been made to another Bill, but that other Bill contains the Amendments with which we have either to disagree or agree already printed, presupposing our agreement thereto, but it is unjustifiable to expect us to take any cognisance of it. I am surprised that the Joint Under-Secretary at the start of this business did not decide to disagree with the Lords in the said Amendments, because as related to the Bill as it left this House and as printed —which is the only thing which it is in order for us to discuss—it does not make sense.

If so much latitude was given to the printers to omit this and to omit that, I do not see why they did not exercise their latitude in reverse and omit the words "paragraph (b) of", in which case there would have been no trouble at all. But the Joint Under-Secretary of State and the Lord Advocate—I am glad to see that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is still with us in presence, if not in spirit—will know quite well that we do not leave out things and put things in and blame the printers. I do not know whose bright idea it was. I do not believe that any such thing has happened before. I am sure that it has not. It is a reference in an Amendment which, when applied to the only Bill which is really in order, just does not make sense.

What we have to take for granted is that, somehow or other, after we have passed it, some printer will reprint the thing and make sense of it. That depends on which printer does it. [Interruption.] I am glad that the hon. Member was not speaking to me. He would have got a reply if he spoke to me in the way that he speaks to his hon. Friends.

We have a different interpretation of punctuation depending upon whether the printing is to be done by order of the Officers of this House or by order of the Officers of another place. We have no guarantee that, if we incorporate this Amendment as here printed in the Bill as we passed it, which is the only thing which is relevant, in my view, someone will assume the right to change the subsection and break it into paragraphs (a) and (b). This is the first time in my Parliamentary experience that I have learned that to break a subsection into two paragraphs (a) and (b) is regarded simply as a matter of punctuation.

What happened here was that someone forgot to move an Amendment in another place. The hand of Craigton is written all over it. It is the muddle of the Minister of State. He may have gone to another place, but the memory lingers on. Someone forgot in another place to move an Amendment breaking the subsection into paragraphs (a) and (b). The Bill as printed and considered by the Lords did not permit of such an Amendment being made because at that time the printers had not used the latitude of which we have learned tonight. It would have been a matter of anticipating the latitude of the printers even as we are expected tonight to anticipate the latitude of the printers.

It has been suggested—you have yourself suggested it, Mr. Speaker—that there is no real matter of substance here. For my part, I just do not know. I am asked to refer to Bill (29). When I refer to Bill (29) I find a subsection (1) on the appropriate page but no reference to paragraph (b). Have I to assume that the printers have done something, or have I to assume that there is a new paragraph (b) somewhere which may be a paragraph (b) of substance? To suggest that we have no right to raise this kind of point is going a bit far. For anyone to suggest that we have been indulging in Parliamentary trickery or anything else is—

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that my sentiments for the hon. Member would cause me to think that I am wrong in my deduction that at some stage he thought I had said "trickery". I do not know whether I did or not. I did not mean to. I will see in due course. But the result of the hon. Member's words is to make his speech to the Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment", sound at this point as though it were critical of some procedure of the Chair. If that is not so, I shall not interrupt him, but I am compelled to do so if, in fact, it is.

Mr. Ross

Surely, if you did not say that, Mr. Speaker, for me to suggest that anyone could call it Parliamentary trickery could not possibly be a reflection upon you, unless, of course, as the learned Lord Advocate, with his customary profundity, says, "if the cap fits." I think that is a very improper suggestion for him to make, because it is an interpretation of your subjective mind at present.

I repeat that for us to have raised it and to have dealt with this matter as we have dealt with it, in view of the unsatisfactory answers we have had from the other side of the House, does not entitle anyone to say that we have been indulging in parliamentary trickery. We have dealt with what is before us, and what is before us in certainly a legislative puzzle.

Mr. John Diamond (Gloucester)

It is nonsense.

Mr. Ross

If we accept the advice of the Government, it will be legislative nonsense, unless a printer is to break up and has the right to break up that paragraph into sub-paragraphs (a) and (b). I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will give us another explanation and tell us what he thinks is to happen, or say whether it would not be better not to accept the Lords Amendment.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Do not.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Lady is not in the House.

Dame Irene Ward

It does not matter; I am just as good as a Scotsman.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Interruptions are from all points to be deplored, but from outside the House they are wholly disorderly.

Mr. Ross

As far as I understand, we were being invited to divide the House on the Amendment, but it would be far better for the Government to accept the inevitable dangers of it, and for themselves and in their own interests, to deal with the other Amendments and then deal with this matter with another place. It is a simple matter, and it could be simply done, and if I can, in all innocence in regard to the precedents, offer a suggestion, I think that would probably be the best thing to do. Indeed, I thought they would have taken this attitude a long time ago. I think that precedent is something which in this respect we have to be very careful about.

The only way in which we could get out of the difficulty into which the Government have got themselves would be to disagree with the Lords in this Amendment. What follows therefrom is a coming together in respect of this Amendment so that the matter would then be sorted out. It is not a case of losing the Bill, or the rest of the Amendments. It is a case of leaving unresolved this question of paragraph (b) of subsection (1) which is referred to in the new subsection (2).

I would have thought myself that, from the point of view of Parliament, it would have been better for the Government to take that course, but if they take another course I hope that their assurances can be relied upon—that a printer, after all the storm raised tonight, is to take it upon himself to reprint the Bill as passed by this House and to break up that paragraph into two sub-paragraphs, and then the Government tell us that it is purely and simply a matter of punctuation. Unless they do that, and we have no guarantee that it will be done, what we are being asked to agree to makes absolute nonsense.

10.15 p.m.

Mr. Manuel

We are dealing with a matter of great importance. We devoted many hours to tabling Amendments and going into the Bill very thoroughly. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, would agree, because you were in the Chair at the beginning of this argument, that it has been most difficult for hon. Members properly to understand what this Amendment with which we are concerned attempts to do, because it is tied to a "foregoing subsection", but there is no "foregoing subsection" in the Bill.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State mentioned Bill No. (45). That has been amended by another place, but it is not before us. I immediately went to the Vote Office and asked for a copy, but one was not available.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

Here is one.

Mr. Manuel

At that time one was not available. Another hon. Member who was sitting on a seat below the Gangway also went to the Vote Office. The Secretary of State hurriedly secured a few copies which he handed to our Front Bench, thus recognising that copies of the Bill were not available in the Vote Office. Some time later they became available in the Vote Office and we were able to obtain them.

Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)

I obtained copies from the Vote Office.


The hon. Gentleman must have immediately followed me into the Vote Office. If he is trying to bolster up the flimsy argument put forward by his own Front Bench. I cannot commend him for that.

Mr. Charles A. Howell

I think that that intervention was ill-advised. There is no criticism of the Vote Office. The Officers of this House have to place on the Table, both for the Government Front Bench and for the Opposition Front Bench, the papers which are necessary for the day's work laid down in the Order Paper. The Amendments with which we are concerned refer to Bill (29). Therefore, the Officers of the House place on the Table copies of that Bill.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State said, "If you want to know what I am talking about and what this Amendment means you will have to look at Bill (45)", and it was only when I obtained a copy of Bill No. 45 from the Vote Office that the Chair had a copy of the Bill. Mr. Speaker should always be provided with all the documents necessary for the whole of a day's work. He was not provided with a copy of Bill (45). I challenge the Government Front Bench to say whether there was anyone in the House other than themselves who had a copy of Bill (45).

Mr. Manuel

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for fortifying my argument with irrefutable facts. The point that I was making was that it is difficult for hon. Members to grasp what we are trying to do because we are only looking at Bill (29). I still cannot understand how Mem- bers of another place can table Amendments to a non-existent foregoing subsection. No hon. Member here would be allowed to do that. Mr. Speaker said to me that the Members of another place had no greater privileges in this matter than we have here. But that is hard to understand. It is happening before our eyes tonight. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), I am concerned that once we depart with the Bill, having dealt with the Lords Amendments, there will be no further opportunity for us to consider the matter. The Bill will go forward for the Royal Assent and it will become the law of the land. We have no guarantee that the corrections that are made will be those made according to our understanding of the position in connection with Bill No. 29.

The Joint Under-Secretary could quickly resolve the difficulty. It would not delay us more than a day or two. He has told the House that this is the right procedure and that the technical point which is involved can be cleared up. Can he tell me of any occasion when there have been similar circumstances when the House has been asked to accept "in the dark" something that will be cleared up by clerical corrections after we have parted with the Bill? I have never met the set of circumstances which confronts the Scottish Members tonight.

We are concerned about the Bill and its purpose. It is linked to great projects in my constituency and I am naturally concerned that it should operate correctly once it becomes law. I am sorry that the Secretary of State, who is interested in this Measure, is putting it through its final stages in the way which he has indicated to us.

Question put and agreed to. [special Entry.]

  1. Clause 15.—(INTERPRETATION.) 2,276 words