HC Deb 08 May 1968 vol 764 cc436-8

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

3.57 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

I have, as is my wont, posted the list of selected Amendments. It has since occurred to me that we might take Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 together, but I do not insist on that. Perhaps both sides will consider the suggestion before we come to them.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

On a point of order. May I ask for your guidance and help, Mr. Speaker? I find myself in a most extraordinary situation. I have to sit at four o'clock this afternoon on the Standing Committee on the Divorce Reform Bill, and I am due to move two Amendments on that Bill during the afternoon. At the same time, I have two Amendments to the Trade Descriptions (No. 2) Bill, which are of some importance and which you have selected.

I cannot be in two places at once, neither do I know, if I were to be free upstairs, how I could know when to come downstairs when my Amendments are reached. I wonder whether you, Mr. Speaker, can help me? Can a message be sent to me upstairs when my Amendments are about to be reached on the Floor of the House? I could then come down and move them.

Mr. Speaker

I am in considerable sympathy with the point which the hon. Gentleman raises. It has always been a point of some difficulty when an hon. Member is torn between his duty on the Floor of the House and his duty to the Committee upstairs, especially if the hon. Gentleman is in the difficult position of being responsible for Amendments up there and Amendments down here.

The difficulty is that we cannot prophesy the length of time that debates will take. Perhaps he could keep in touch with one of his hon. Friend's. The Amendments must come in their proper place on the Notice Paper. I am advised that an hon. Friend can move the Amendment for him, but I do not think that is really what the hon. Gentleman wants.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I have been so busy during the last few days in the House, running from one Committee to another, Mr. Speaker, that I have not been able to advise my hon. and learned Friend on the Front Bench of the substance behind my Amendments. Nevertheless, I wish to speak shortly about the Amendments, and I think that I ought to be able to do so.

This will be an increasing difficulty for hon. Members. The Government must recognise that the business of Committees upstairs cannot clash with business on the Floor of the House when back benchers are involved in seeking to put forward Amendments to Bills in Committee or on Report.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Further to that point of order. When you are considering the matter which my hon. Friend has put to you, Mr. Speaker, would you be so kind as to look at the situation in which some hon. Members are engaged to sit on three Committees at the same time? Would you tell us how an hon. Member can sit on three Committees at the same time? Would you not agree that this is absolutely ridiculous, and contrary to proper Parliamentary procedure?

Mr. Speaker

There was a great Speaker called Speaker Onslow. I do not think that even he could have answered the last question but one which the hon. Lady has put to me. All that I can offer the hon. Lady is sympathy. The arrangement of the business of the House is a matter for the Government and the Opposition through the usual channels.

4.0 p.m.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

Further to the point of order. This has become something of a scandal. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby; (Mr. Michael Shaw) and I are engaged in the Finance Bill Committee upstairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) is engaged in the Divorce Bill Committee. Almost every hon. Member, certainly on the Opposition side, who wishes to be present in the Chamber has had duties imposed on him by the Government, and it is becoming more than flesh and blood can stand.

May I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, as the guardian of our liberties, to make representations to the Government, even if at this late hour nothing can be done, to ensure that this sort of situation is not repeated and made even worse?

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody)

Further to the point of order. Is it not almost inevitable that if hon. Members are to play a large part in Government business they will have a great deal more to do in Committees and on the Floor of the House? Is not this one way in which Members can keep an eye on the Executive?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Lady is addressing an argument which she must take up with her hon. Friends and the Opposition, not with the Chair.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

Further to the point of order. In the old days, when there were not Committees sitting upstairs and debates taking place on the Floor of the House at the same time, an arrangement was made whereby annunciators were installed in the Library, the Smoking Room and the Tea Room so that hon. Members knew what was going on. Under the present Government, we have the extraordinary difficulty of Committees sitting at the same time as debates are taking place in the Chamber. Would you, Mr. Speaker, consider whether an annunciating system could be installed in those Committee rooms where Government business is being taken at the same time as business is being taken in the House?

Mr. Speaker

That is a matter for the Leader of the House, not for Mr. Speaker.

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