HC Deb 14 April 1965 vol 710 cc1623-5

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill now standing committed to a Standing Committee be committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Grey.]

2.28 a.m.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

I do not think even at this hour of the morning we should allow this Motion to go through on the nod. This shows a piece of gross incompetence by the Government in the organisation of the business of this House.

The Dangerous Drugs Bill is a consolidation Bill. A consolidation Bill goes through certain procedure with a Joint Committee of both Houses. As a result, it does not need to be committed to a Standing Committee of this House; traditionally it is dealt with by a Committee of the whole House.

For some reason unknown to us on this side of the House, the Government chose to allow this Bill to go to a Standing Committee, and this might have disorganised the whole of the Standing Committee procedure. The Government now have to come back to the House and ask for this mistake to be corrected, and I do not think this ought to be allowed to go through on the nod without recording that this is a piece of gross incompetence by the Government in the organisation of their business.

2.29 a.m.

The Lord President of the Council (Mr. Herbert Bowden)

The hon. Gentleman is quite right in saying that this is a slip on the part of the Government in allowing this to go upstairs to a Committee, and I must apologise for that. He is equally right in saying that it is normal for a Consolidation Bill to be taken on the floor of the House. But there are two very good precedents for this under the former Administration—the dates are the 8th December 1953, the Statute Law Revision Bill, and the 3rd December, 1951, the Ministers of the Crown (Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) Bill. I think we both made the same mistake, the present Opposition twice to our once, and so I think honours are even.

Mr. Ian Fraser (Plymouth, Sutton)

I should like to press the Government a little bit further on this, although the Leader of the House has made a clean breast of it. He did mention precedents, but surely this is not a very good argument for the present Government to use.

Although they have followed a number of precedents which took place in the last 13 years, they have always denied that they did any such thing. Surely to claim that this is any justification for this at all is a very weak line for this Government to take. The Government have never shown any propensity for allowing Bills to come to a Committee of the whole House. It will be within the recollection of every hon. Member that the Opposition have had recently to divide against precisely this practice. There was an even more remarkable occasion not long ago when a large body of hon. Members, voting freely, frustrated the Government Whips' intention to send a Bill upstairs to Standing Committee. This is, therefore, a very unusual thing for the Government to have done, and it seems very weak to rely on precedents which have taken place.

I wonder whether there is not a little bit more to it than this. I wonder whether this might not be a case where the Patronage Secretary and the Leader of the House have been involved, so to speak, on one side of the curtain and the Paymaster General might have been involved on the other side. I wonder very much whether the Paymaster General might come down to the House, if he is not already here, before this debate finishes and add his explanation to that which the Leader of the House has already given of what has occurred on this occasion.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee this day.