HC Deb 21 May 1968 vol 765 cc298-300
Mr. Peter Walker

May I raise a point of order, of which I have given you prior notice, Mr. Speaker? Last week, when Standing Committee F, which is dealing with the Transport Bill, completed its duties, the House was informed that a copy of the Bill, as reported by the Committee, would not be available until Saturday.

Hon. Members, inquiring at the Public Bill Office on Friday were informed that there was no copy of the Bill available. They would need it for the purpose of moving Amendments. Yet among the Amendments to the Bill tabled by the Government on Friday—and the Government were doubtless in possession of a copy of the Bill in proof stage—there are a number of Amendments tabled by Government backbenchers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] By the fact that they mentioned the line and the page it meant that some Government backbenchers must have been in possession of copies of the Transport Bill which were not available to the House. I would have thought that this was not a correct procedure, and I would like your guidance.

Mr. Speaker

I must deal with this briefly, because we have important business ahead. I have inquired into the point of order raised by the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for letting me know, with his characteristic courtesy, of his intention to do so because it has enabled me to make inquiries of the authorities of the House, to ascertain whether anything irregular has occurred in the offices under my authority.

I find that the Transport Bill, as amended, was issued by the Public Bill Office on Saturday morning, 18th May, in accordance with the Order of the House of 15th May, that the Bill, as amended in Standing Committee, should be printed. I am further assured that no Member on either side of the House could have had access to a proof copy of the Bill during the time that it was being checked in the Public Bill Office. None of the Officers of the House can throw any light on the situation as described by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Walker

Further to that point of order. This is surely an impossible situation, Mr. Speaker. If this did not occur among the Officers of the House, it means that Ministers must have placed in the hands of their back benchers copies of a Bill that was not available to Members on this side of the House. On this particular matter, because the Business Committee was deciding the timetabling of the Report stage of the Bill, there was a very considerable advantage in being able to table Amendments as soon as possible. Surely this is an appropriate matter for the Government to explain further.

Mr. Speaker

I can rule only on the matter as far as it affects my staff. I have done so. The rest is a matter for the House.

Mr. Grimond

Further to that point of order. May we have this matter expanded? It is impossible to believe that these back benchers were guided by a hidden spirit as to the likely line of the Bill. We must have a statement from the Government as to whether they made the Bill available to their back benchers.

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

In view of what has been said I will certainly give an assurance that I will look into this and, if something has been done—

Hon. Members: Answer now.

Mr. Peart

As far as I know, it has not happened. [An HON. MEMBER: "You should."] I do not know. If there has been something of this kind I will look into it and make a statement to the House.

Mr. Heath

Following upon that, would it not be right that, if the Bill had not been published, Amendments ought not to be accepted and published at all, Mr. Speaker? When you are considering this matter could you also consider that? Meantime, we will await a statement from the Leader of the House.

Mr. Speaker

All I can do is consider this as far as my Department is concerned. I will certainly look into the right hon. Gentleman's point. It is one which gives me, for the moment, a little concern.