HC Deb 25 June 1968 vol 767 cc259-67

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Mr. Speaker

I have had posted my provisional selection of Amendments up to Clause 8. I think that is as far as we might hope to go today.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise a matter relating our procedure today. I fully understand the situation as regards the selection of Amendments and the posting of the list in the Lobby for the convenience of Members, and I fully realise that an impossible situation would be created if the selection of Amendments were to be a matter of controversy on every occasion at the beginning of the Report stage of a Bill. But I wish to raise what I believe to be a special question of procedure arising on the present Bill.

Many of us, on looking at the selection of Amendments—I do not think that it is putting matters too moderately—were deeply shocked by the selection. Many of us on this side who find that none of our Amendments is selected feel that this is an outrage on the procedure of the House. We wish to seek a remedy. I am not asking you to pass judgment now on particular Amendments, Mr. Speaker, but I wish to suggest a procedure which could overcome the feelings of outrage which many of us on this side feel.

I have in mind, in particular, the failure of the Chair to select Amendments dealing with the penal Clauses in the Bill, the Clauses which many of us regard as the most offensive parts of it. As none of these Amendments, either from this side of the House or from that, dealing with the penal Clauses have been selected, I would suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, that you could reconsider the matter and make a fresh announcement to the House about your selection after we have dealt with the new Clauses.

The practice of placing in the No Lobby a statement of Amendments selected is not a governing factor; it does not create a situation in which the Chair is not able to change its selection. I would ask you respectfully, Mr. Speaker, to take into account the very strong feelings on the matter on this side and one or two other points which I now add.

Many of my hon. Friends put down an Amendment to the Motion for a Second Reading which we hoped would be selected. One of the prominent parts of our Amendment referred to the penal Clauses of the Bill, and, if that Amendment had been selected, we should then have been able to speak and vote on that aspect of it. However, in your discretion, Mr. Speaker, that Amendment was not selected. In the circumstances, many of us hoped that we should have opportunity to debate and vote on the subject when it came up on Report.

It was right and proper that the matter should be debated from certain aspects in Standing Committee, but it is right also, we believe, that Amendments should be put down on Report. In 1966, when the earlier Measure same before the House dealing with prices and incomes, which incorporated penal Clauses for the first time, there was an opportunity provided on Report for Amendments dealing with certain aspects of the penal Clauses to be debated then, and many of us fully expected that that precedent would be followed, or partially followed, in the selection of Amendments on this occasion.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I ask that you undetake to make a fresh announcement to the House about the selection of Amendments after we have dealt with the new Clauses, taking into account especially, I hope, the arguments which I have put about the penal Clauses, Clauses which no hon. Member on either side will dispute are of great importance, extending for a longer period than ever proposed before in British history the application of provisions of this nature.

I would ask that you make such an announcement, Mr. Speaker. If you do not, as far as I can see the only remedy which we should then have—I should like your guidance about it—is the remedy which we would not wish to seek that is, to put down a Motion about the selection of Amendments. I ask you Sir, to consider the points I have put and to undertake to make a fresh announcement about selection after we have dealt with the new Clause.

4.15 p.m.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). It seems to me that, in a great many of the debates which we have recently had, the hard core of opposition to the Government's proposals has been unfortunate in not being selected by the Chair. I accept that the Chair has a fantastically difficulty task, but when there is a sharp division of view in the House, as there is in this case, I feel that the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale makes a powerful request when he asks that the matter be looked at again, if the Chair could agree to do so. Otherwise, the views which a great number of hon. Members hold about the Bill cannot be debated, because the Clauses on which they could be debated are not selected by the Chair.

I do not wish to delay the House. I wish only to show that the views put forward by the hon. Gentleman are not held only on one side of the House.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Mr. Speaker, I do not doubt that you take full account of the serious view which we hold on the penal Clauses. Some of us wish to vote them out. Amendment No. 3, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Park), several others of my hon. Friends and myself, and Amendment No. 6 in the name of right hon. and hon. Members opposite go to the centre of this controversy. In Standing Committee, the penal Clauses were debated for two whole sittings. When they were put to the vote, the Government survived the Division by only one vote.

Some of my hon. Friends and I feel that this is a matter of such consequence that we must ask you, in all sincerity and in no spirit of personal criticism, Mr. Speaker, knowing full well the difficult job which you have and the criticism which the Chair sometimes receives about its selection, to reconsider the matter on this occasion. We realise that, at the end of the day, you have to make the selection, but we would urge upon you, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has done, that, if it be possible, you should consider the question again.

We regard the penal Clauses as the kernel of the Bill in relation to penal sanctions against trade unions. We feel that, in a democracy, the right to express an opinion on the matter and, if necessary, to vote should be allowed. I urge upon you, Sir, the representations which my hon. Friend has made.

Mr. Robert Carr (Mitcham)

Mr. Speaker, we on this side appreciate the difficulty of your task in this matter. I wish only to comment on one point raised by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Orme). I refer to the penal Clauses. The introduction of criminal law into this field is a matter of very great importance. Although it has been debated in previous years and in Standing Committee on the Bill, it is so serious and central that, with great respect, I would ask you to give serious consideration to the need for further debate on that one point.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Poplar)

Mr. Speaker, like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mitcham (Mr. R. Carr), I had the privilege of being a member of the Standing Committee, and I wish to make a respectful submission to you based on experience in the Committee.

I am well aware that the general principle which is applied by the Chair— obviously, it has a great basis of sub-Stance—is that matters which have been adequately ventilated in Standing Committee are not as a rule brought before the House on Report.

Looking through the Amendments which you have selected in your provisional list, I can see that broadly that is the criterion you have applied. I put it to you with great respect that it has not been universally applied. Some Amendments in the names of hon. Members opposite, but none in the names of my hon. Friends, have been selected although they were ventilated in Committee. I make no complaint about that. I am not asking for non-selection of the Amendments of hon. Gentlemen opposite. They are good Amendments and deserve to be considered.

The Bill is an extension in time of the 1966 and 1967 Acts, but it goes beyond them in a number of respects. It would be wrong if only 35 hon. Members were able to consider the major extensions of those Acts. For the first time, the Bill includes penal provision and the introduction of the criminal law into industrial relations. For the first time, it includes workers covered by wages councils and agricultural wages councils, that is, the lowest-paid workers whom the policy is proposed to protect. The Bill operates more quickly and goes on longer, and the standstills are longer in the previous Acts.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale said, some of my hon. Friends put down an Amendment on Second Reading in the hope that we might be able to ventilate and express with our votes our opposition to some of these features. That was prevented, doubtless for good reasons.

I am opposed to the whole Bill, but there are some of my hon. Friends who, while not opposed to the whole of it are opposed to one or two features. It will be a shame if they were put into the position in which the only way they could express their distaste for some features would be to vote against the Third Reading. There were only two hon. Members from this side of the House who were able to speak and vote that way in Committee, because there were only two who felt like that about the penal Clauses and the inclusion of the agricultural and wages council workers. They were my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Ted Fletcher) and I.

There are more than 300 hon. Ladies and Gentlemen on this side of the House, and although I think that I am pretty good I would not pretend to be a spokesman for all of them. It would be wrong if consideration of these vital new matters were limited to only two hon. Members on this side, and, for that matter, only 14 Conservative hon. Members and one Liberal hon. Member.

We are, so to speak, in a situation in which there is a difference of degree so great that it has become a difference in kind. Therefore, I add my voice to those on both sides of the House who have urged you, Mr. Speaker, to be kind enough to have another look at this during the next hour or two, whenever you have the leisure so to do, and give us the benefit of your further consideration.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

I do not dissent from the points put, and hope that you will be able to give further consideration to the matter, Mr. Speaker. But I was pained to listen to the unparliamentary language in which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) put his point to you. I do not believe that it should be allowed to stay on the record just because the words which I believe unparliamentary were submerged in a welter of other words. To suggest that the Chair was being outrageous, as he did; to suggest that the Chair acted improperly, as he did; to suggest that the Chair was unfair, as he did; is, I believe, well on the way to making this an assembly where we cannot talk rationally and sensibly on matters which should be properly discussed. While I in no way dissent from the point hon. Members have been trying to make, I believe that the Chair must protect itself from that sort of language when a point of order is put to it.

Mr. Trevor Park (Derbyshire, South-East)

We are accustomed to the eccentricities of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls), and, therefore, I shall not take up any time in commenting on them. The House will know what worth to place on what he said.

I support the point my hon. Friends have made in asking you, Mr. Speaker, to reconsider the matter. The penal Clauses are central to the Bill's whole purpose. They are extremely controversial and extremely unpopular. In the opinion of many of us, their effects both economically and politically, could well be disastrous. It would be entirely wrong if the House were not afforded an opportunity of debating these Clauses on Report, and I hope that you will look at this point, in particular.

It is also true that my hon. Friends and I have a distinctive point of view on many other issues connected with the Bill. It was in order to give expression to it that we put down our Amendments. Not one of them have been selected. Therefore, we are in a position where that point of view will not be able to be adequately expressed.

You are aware, Sir, as I am, that outside the House, in recent years, there has been a great deal of criticism of its effectiveness. Both its dignity and its reputation have been called into question and increasingly large numbers of people have asked whether the House can any longer be regarded as giving an adequate expression of opinions held outside. It is important that no action of ours should be allowed to give further validity to that point of view. That is why I hope that you will feel able to accept the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), and make an announcement when the new Clauses have been discussed.

Mr. John Biffen (Oswestry)

May I associate myself with the point of order of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot). I assure you, Mr. Speaker, as I am sure was the sentiment of the hon. Gentleman and all who have spoken in his support, that this is in no sense in hostility to the Chair, because we appreciate the immense difficulties of reaching the kind of decisions associated with the choice of Amendments on Report.

I suggest, particularly in view of the immense importance attached on both sides of the House to the penal provisions, and of the present delicacy of relationships between the House and another place, that it might be singularly unfortunate if the only opportunity this House had to debate the penal provisions was in considering Lords Amendments. I hope that that might be among the points that might weigh with you in the reflection suggested by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

Perhaps I might deal with all the points of order now.

I take no exception at all to the raising of these points of order, or anything said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) or any other hon. Member. If the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale were to think that Mr. Speaker was in any way unfair in his selection, and that he was actuated by anything other than proper procedural motives, it would be his duty to put a Motion on the Order Paper criticising Mr. Speaker.

The general issue is exceedingly difficult. The House sends a Bill to Com- mittee, the Committee discusses the Bill, and when the Bill is before the House, in Committee, all kinds of Amendments are in order. The Report stage is quite a different stage from the Committee stage, and, while it would not be in order for the Chair to go seriatim through the Amendments which have not been selected, they have not been selected for the traditional parliamentary reasons which distinguish the consideration of Amendments on Report as compared with Amendments in Committee. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), who seems to have found some Amendments that I have selected which I should not have selected because they are not new. I do not think that that is quite correct. I will of course take note of the representations which have been made to me.

The difficulty is that there are three strands of opinion in the House. I am quite aware of them. I have studied the Committee Report and each of the Amendments on the Notice Paper. I am aware of the disappointment which hon. Members always feel when their own Amendments are not selected, either in Committee upstairs or on Report. As the hon. Member for Poplar pointed out, there is a point when detail almost develops into degree, when quantity almost becomes quality. We had an example of that when we took on the Floor of the House, on consideration of the Criminal Justice Bill, a matter which had been debated at great length upstairs and which was yet selected for debate on Report.

I can give no immediate undertaking, but I take note of all the points raised, and if I add to my selection I will let the House know.

Mr. Michael Foot

I thank you for your statement, Mr. Speaker. I certainly meant no reflection on you. Indeed, I would have no right to make any reflection on your fairness. My reference to a sense of outrage was an accurate statement of the feelings of hon. Members when they saw that, if this procedure were followed, they would be denied the opportunity of speaking and voting on the Report stage on what they regarded as a most essential part of the Bill. If you are to make a further statement, I am most grateful.

May we take it that your statement will be roughly at about the time that we finish consideration of the proposed new Clauses, so that hon. Members may have the opportunity of seeing what procedure is to be followed? We are particularly concerned about Amendments No. 3, No. 4 and No. 6, and the earlier you were able to make your further statement the more convenient it would be to us.

Mr. Speaker

I shall be back in the Chair, as is usual, at 6.15 p.m., and probably by that time I will have had the opportunity to consider the points which have been raised.

I took no offence at the use of the word "outrage". It was political outrage—the outrage of conscience of hon. Members who very much want to discuss at the Report stage what was discussed upstairs in Committee and find themselves unable procedurally to devise a way by which they can do it. They could have perhaps found ways of doing so. But I will look at the whole matter again.

  1. New Clause 1 12,334 words, 3 divisions
  2. cc298-321
  3. New Clause 4 9,751 words, 2 divisions
  4. cc321-43
  5. New Clause 7 8,236 words, 3 divisions
  6. cc343-402
  7. Clause 1 22,555 words, 3 divisions
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