HC Deb 12 February 1969 vol 777 cc1324-37

Considered in Committee.

[Mr. SYDNEY IRVING in the Chair]

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

On a point of order, Mr. Irving. I wish to raise a matter concerning the selection of Amendments. It questions, first, the exclusion of certain Amendments and, second, the joining together of others, some of which have no relation to each other.

Probably better than anyone else in the Committee, Mr. Irving, you know that the rights of hon. Members depend very much on the kinds of Amendments selected for debate. Although that is true of any Committee stage, it is much more true when we are dealing with an extremely important constitutional Measure such as the one before us today. Any point that does not receive due consideration in Commitee does not receive it when the legislation is framed and appears on the Statute Book, to be obeyed for many years to come. It is of crucial importance for all Amendments to be selected so that they may be tested in debate and by the Committee's vote.

I submit that, on previous occasions, we have taken a much less restrictive view of Amendments, even when dealing with matters less important than the ones before us today. To quote a recent example, when we considered the Finance Bill last year, about 60 Amendments were tabled to one Schedule, of which no fewer than 29 tabled by right hon. and hon. Members opposite were selected. The point at issue then was a very minor matter of life assurance and the qualifications for it. If we can be so generous on a relatively unimportant matter, surely it is essential that we should be allowed to discuss a greater number of the Amendments which have been tabled to this very important Bill.

The Chairman (Mr. Sydney Irving)

I cannot help the hon. Gentleman. The Standing Orders give complete discretion to the Chair in the selection of Amendments. If the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member has private submissions to make to me, I will be glad to listen to them, but I cannot allow a debate on the selection.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

On a further point of order, Mr. Irving. I have looked through the list, and I see that Amendment No. 163—in Clause 2, page 2, line 38, at end add: (5) Nothing in this Act shall affect the right of any Prince of the Blood Royal, being a Peer, to receive as heretofore a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords— has been selected and grouped together with a number of others. However, that Amendment is in complete contradiction to the others in the group. It seems to me that it ought to be taken separately, or that there should be a separate vote on it. Some of the other Amendments in that group ask for the elimination of the hereditary peer from the House of Lords—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising much the same point about which I have ruled—

Mr. Heffer

Oh, no—

The Chairman

Order. I have said that if any hon. Member wishes to make submissions to me about separate Divisions, or about any other matter concerning the selection of Amendments, I will be glad to hear them, but I cannot accept them in Committee.

Mr. Heffer

Further to that point of order. How can we make representations to you, unless we do it at this stage? We are beginning this debate immediately, and Amendment No. 163 is included in the first group for consideration. At what other point in time can I or anyone else raise this question?

Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Irving. Is it not in order for the Committee to be suspended, so that submissions can be made to you?

The Chairman

No. I cannot accept that.

Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Irving. Would you at least consider this? Apart from Amendment No. 2, perhaps, most of these Amendments are not con- sequential, and there will be no opportunity to consider them at a later stage. Would you agree to taking separate votes on each of the Amendments?

The Chairman

I cannot give a blanket undertaking to accept a submission of that kind.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Irving. I submit that the discretion of the Chair, upon which you have just said that you rely, should not be exercised without reason. This Amendment shows that the Clause contradicts itself—

The Chairman

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is questioning the selection. I cannot allow him to do that.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen)

On a further point of order, Mr. Irving. Would you rule whether the list of selected Amendments which some of us have is exhaustive of the whole Committee stage, or does it merely take us to the end of Clause 3?

The Chairman

The selection, which I should remind hon. Members is provisional, is up to the end of Clause 3.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

On a further point of order, Mr. Irving. Would you advise the Committee about the way in which the Preamble will be treated in considering the Bill? As the Bill is drafted, the Preamble is of more than usual importance. I understand that the correct procedure is that, normally, the Preamble to a Bill is amended only if an Amendment to the Bill made subsequently makes it automatically necessary to alter the Preamble. On the Notice Paper there appear quite a large number of proposed Amendments to the Preamble which I am sure it would be the wish of the Committee to consider. What will be the method of doing that?

The Chairman

I accept the hon. Gentleman's submission about the complexity of the Bill. The procedure is that the Preamble will be considered at the end.

Mr. Younger

Further to that point of order. With respect, that is not quite my point. Will it be in order, therefore, when we come to the Preamble—assuming that the Committee agrees—to amend the Preamble in respect of the Amendments specifically tabled and not merely in respect of Amendments to the re mainder of the Bill which may have been agreed in the meantime?

The Chairman

That is a difficult point on which to ask the Chair for guidance. If the substance of the Bill, as amended, requires some amendment of the Preamle, technically it is possible to amend it.

Mr. Younger

I do not wish to waste the time of the Committee, but could you not consider this point now? Where a large part of the intention of the Bill, for understandable reasons, is in the Preamble, it is not satisfactory that the ability to amend the Preamble should be restricted to Amendments made in other parts of the Bill. Will it be in order to move a substantive Amendment to the Preamble, when the time comes, and have it considered like any other Amendment to any other part of the Bill?

The Chairman

The scope of the Bill is determined not by the Preamble, but by the Clauses. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to amend the Preamble, he must put down a substantive Motion to that effect now.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Further to that point of order. It will be in the recollection of the Committee that the Prime Minister, introducing Second Reading, laid rather more special emphasis on the Preamble than is usual in the case either of a Long Title or of a Preamble. It was to have a mystic middle effect irrespective of the body of the Bill. That being so, surely the rules of order are somewhat different in this case from what they are normally.

For that reason, I support my hon. Friend's submission that we should not be restricted in our amendment to the Preamble, when we get to it in a few weeks' time, by what has in the meantime been included or not included in the Bill, but that we should be allowed to amend the Preamble as we wish because it has this independent life indicated by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

On that same point of order. I support what has been said by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). It appears that this is a unique situation facing the Committee and it is a unique form of Preamble in the sense that some of the main matters discussed on Second Reading will appear only in discussion on the Preamble. It is possible that many matters that were fully debated on Second Reading would be excluded altogether unless we could have a separate approach to the Preamble.

Therefore, may I suggest, Mr. Irvine, that at a later point in the proceedings, either today or when we renew discussion on the Bill, you make to the Committee a special and considered statement on the Preamble? I believe that it would greatly assist us. Indeed, it might speed up some of the preliminary discussions, because the view of many hon. Members is that one of the major debates which will have to take place will be on the Preamble in some form or other, and we would like to be clear about the form that it will take.

The Chairman

I am grateful to the hon. Member for being so helpful. I will consider making such a statement as soon as possible.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

Is this strictly accurate? Surely the rule is not that Amendments cannot be made to the Preamble. Is not the rule that Amendments must not be made to the Preamble which are inconsistent with the body of the Bill? This is something different from all the points which have been made so far.

The Chairman

This is perfectly correct. As I indicated, in general an Amendment to the Preamble must be determined by Amendments put down to the Bill, because the scope of the Bill is determined by the Clauses which eventually determine the Preamble. I will seek to cover this matter in my statement.

Mr. Nigel Birch (Flint, West)

Would it not solve the problem if we altered the order of the proceedings and debated Amendments to the Preamble first? It is open to the Committee—it is often done on the Finance Bill—to take certain Clauses out of order. Would it be in order, if I moved an Amendment to the Preamble, for the Committee to consider that Amendment to the Preamble before considering the others?

The Chairman

That is contrary to the practice of the Committee. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to deal with it in the way suggested. I will endeavour to help the Committee as much as I can.

Mr. Heffer

Further to that point of order. To return to Amendment No. 163, may I ask whether you will consider having a separate vote on that Amendment?

The Chairman

I cannot deal with it in Committee. If the hon. Member cares to make a private submission to me, I will listen with great attention.

Mr. Heffer

Why do I need to make a private submission when I am making a public one? There is no point in it. I am asking now whether we might have a separate vote on Amendment No. 163. Possibly the Chair does not wish to reply at this stage, but may we, at least before the end of the debate, know whether we can have a separate vote on Amendment No. 163 and on other Amendments which are not consequential to each other?

The Chairman

I have already answered that point of order. Incidentally, I have not had a submission from either of the hon. Members whose names appear above the Amendment on the Notice Paper. I cannot discuss the question of selection or matters of that kind in Committee.

Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)

As one of the sponsors of Amendment No. 163, I am sure that we will be delighted to have a vote when we come to it. But may I refer back to what you, Mr. Irving, said about the Preamble? The Preamble raises certain important matters of principle that affect the whole Bill. Therefore, I should think it more logical to discuss the Preamble before coming to some of the individual Clauses. When you make your statement, will you bear in mind that the Preamble really goes to the whole root of the Bill before we discuss the Clauses?

The Chairman

I will endeavour to consider the convenience of the Committee within the Standing Orders. I shall certainly bear that in mind.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Mr. Irving, you said that it is the practice not to have the Preamble first. But surely that is a bad practice. The logic of the English language is that the Preamble comes first. Can we not make it logical on this occasion, whatever the practice has been in the past?

The Chairman

The Chair, whether in Committee or in the House, is guided by the practice, conventions and usages laid down in Erskine May. One does not abandon the usual practices very easily. But I bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)

I think that we are in some difficulty when you, Mr. Irving, say that you will take private representations on points of order which have been raised. It is absolutely essential that the Committee should know in what way it is to proceed as soon as possible. It would be a great mistake to start our proceedings in any great detail unless we know what your final views will be after these private representations have been made.

I wonder, therefore, whether you will reconsider the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) that the Committee should be adjourned until you have made up your mind finally on these matters and the private representations have been made or vacate the Chair and allow another Chairman to take over until you have received these private representations.

The Chairman

I will seek my own convenience in that respect, if necessary. In pursuance of the provisional selection which is upon the Notice Paper, we are about to start on what is likely to be a lengthy discussion on Amendment No. 1 and the other Amendments selected with it. I will certainly seek to hear any representations that are made to me about separate Divisions or other matters as quickly as possible, and certainly before the end of this debate, so it should not deprive any Member of having proper consideration given to what he wishes in this respect.

Mr. Reginald Maudling (Barnet)

Further to the point on the first group of Amendments. Is it not the familiar practice of the Committee that where Amendments which have a slightly different purpose are grouped a separate vote is accorded? Surely, without in any way questioning in public the selection, it is possible for the Chair to announce now that there will be a separate vote, if Members wish, on particular Amendments.

The Chairman

The Chair is in great difficulty. I have ruled that the Chair does not discuss its selection in Committee. If I pursue that point I am, in fact, doing exactly what I ruled I ought not to do. I should, nevertheless, like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the rule that he is seeking to submit to the Committee has been pursued, because Amendment No. 1 is for debate and Division and Amendment No. 2, which seeks to cover another major group of Amendments, is also down for Division. This covers the point that the right hon. Gentleman is making. I will, of course, hear any other submissions, but I hope that the Committee will now be able to proceed with the debate.

Sir Arthur Vere Harvey (Macclesfield)

I think that you have been extremely patient, Mr. Irving. The whole Committee, I am sure, feels very sorry that you have been placed in this position. But I understood you to say just now that you would receive representations, and I gathered that you might vacate the Chair and take representations while the debate was taking place. That will place some of us in a difficult position, because we wish to be here to take part in the debate. If the Committee were to adjourn for 30 minutes while representations were made, we would know where we were going.

4.0 p.m.

The Chairman

I understand the anxiety of the hon. Member, but we have a large number of Amendments before us, and I cannot believe that we shall proceed very quickly with these during the next hour. I shall seek to hear representations, and I feel that the convenience of the Committee will be served if we proceed in that way.

Mr. Barnett rose

The Chairman

I hope that the hon. Member will not ask me to rule on a point of order on which I have already ruled.

Mr. Barnett

No, Mr. Irving. I thought you said that because Amendment No. 2 was being taken with Amendment No. 1 that tended to deal with the matter. Amendment No. 2 is consequential to Amendment No. 1. That is the only Amendment in this group which is consequential. All the others are quite different.

The Chairman

It is often the practice of the Chair to select even Amendments of substance for discussion, but not for a Division. This practice stretches back a long time, and, therefore, the Chair is not doing anything but following the usual practice by selecting in this way

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

I wonder, Mr. Irving, whether you will help us a little further by reminding us in what sense this selection is provisional, and to what provisos it is subject.

On the question of the Preamble, I wonder whether you can say whether at some stage you will entertain a Motion that the Preamble stand part of the Bill? Shall we be able to have a Division on that?

The Chairman

The selection is provisional. It is a selection made under the powers given to the Chairman by the Standing Orders, and can be altered at any time. It is marked "provisional" at the top of the list of selections.

It will be possible to have a Division on the Preamble if the hon. Gentleman seeks to have that.

Mr. Birch

In my experience this is unique. We are told that the Bill is based on a White Paper. Certain parts of the White Paper are in the Bill. The only reference to other parts of the White Paper is in the Preamble. I have never known a situation like this, where a Preamble dealt with matters which were not in the Bill. This seems to be unique, and it ought to be dealt with in a unique way. If you can give us any precedent for the similar conduct of a Bill, I shall be grateful to hear it. I do not believe that there is any such precedent.

The Chairman

I cannot pursue this matter now. I have undertaken to consider the matter urgently, and to give what guidance I can to the Committee. I hope that the Committee will now be able to proceed to the Amendments.

Mr. Sheldon

Mr. Irving, you said earlier that you would be prepared to receive submissions. What I wish to say relates to Amendment No. 104, in page 2, line 23, leave out 'received such a writ' and insert 'attended the House of Lords', and to Amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 24, leave out 'the date of the commencement of this Act' and insert '31st October 1967 '. These Amendments have not been selected. They cover points of substance on which no debate will be possible.

You said that you would be prepared to receive submissions. It so happens that after the discussion on the first group of Amendments we shall be past that part of the Bill on which these Amendments arise. I find it difficult to understand when you can receive submissions during the Committee stage of the Bill. I further ask for a general ruling on the kind of Amendments which you will not be selecting on this Bill, where we are considering vital constitutional changes.

The Chairman

The hon. Member is asking me to deal with a point of order with which I have already dealt. I do not think that any Chairman is required, nor do the Standing Orders require him, to explain his selection, or the principles on which it is based. I think that the hon. Member will have an opportunity to make such representations as he wishes, and I hope that he will now allow the debate to go forward.

Mr. Sheldon rose

The Chairman

Does the hon. Member wish to pursue a point of order with which I have already dealt?

Mr. Sheldon

Mr. Irving, you said earlier that you would be prepared to receive submissions. Will those submissions have to be made before it is taken, or after?

The Chairman

I hope that the hon. Member will make his submission before it is taken, inasmuch as it is practicable to do so in relation to the first Amendment. I have sought to give what help and protection I can to the hon. Member, by saying that I shall determine my view on any submissions which are made before we come to the end of the discussion on the first group of Amendments, and therefore before the Committee is required to vote.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Mr. Irving, you have been extremely patient, but I wish to follow up a request made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barnet (Mr. Maudling). Amendment No. 163, which is grouped so strangely, cannot be regarded as a provisional selection, because, as you have insisted that we get on with it, it ceases to be provisional the moment it is opened. It therefore becomes definitive, and it is necessary to make one's objections now, unfortunately in public. We cannot make our submissions in private because there is no time so to do.

Amendment No. 163 deals with Princes of the Blood Royal, and is different from Amendment No. 1, on which the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) is so keen, but which I regard as very bad. I think that we ought to be allowed to have a separate Division on the Princes of the Blood Royal, because this is quite a different matter. Although it may be too late to prevent it being discussed with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, what is the objection to you telling us now that on this totally separate Amendment we can have a separate Division?

The Chairman

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern about that Amendment, and its importance, but it is open to any hon. Member to make submissions to me. It may be that there are other hon. Members who wish to make submissions about other Amendments included in this group. I should, therefore, rather not make a decision now. I have indicated that I shall seek to protect the hon. and learned Member's interests about a Division by indicating this before that time arrives.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

As the Amendment to which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) has referred stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), I wonder whether I might say that I am content for my Amendment to be discussed in the earlier debate, because it affects Princes of the Blood Royal as hereditary peers and members of the other place.

I am content with that, but if, as a result of the submissions made to you, you decide in your wisdom that there should be a separate debate, and a separate Division on this Amendment, will it be in order for the matter to be discussed again in a further debate? If not, it seems that what my hon. and learned Friend has said is right, that the matter has been pre-judged.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Further to that point of order. To be quite frank, and with due respect, I say that we seem to be getting into rather a muddle. I should like to propose that the proceedings be adjourned for half an hour, to give you time to consider this very important matter of the separation of Amendment No. 163 from Amendment No. 1 and the whole Preamble.

I beg to move, That the Chairman do report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

The Chairman

The hon. Member is moving a dilatory Motion, which I cannot accept and which I am not required to accept, under the Standing Orders.

In reply to the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison), may I say that Amendment No. 163 has been selected, and that the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) is right. Once the debate has started it is no longer a provisional selection, it is a definitive selection, and cannot be changed.

What I undertook to consider if representations are made to me is whether, having debated it, there can be a Division on it. I certainly could not give any undertakings on this, because it would be open to any hon. Member who has an Amendment in this group to make a similar submission. Therefore, I must reserve my position on the question of consideration. But I should certainly consider this, if the hon. and learned Gentleman made a submission. This is the common practice of the House. Mr. English.

Mr. Onslow

Would it not be better to find some Amendments on which there is no dispute—

The Chairman

Order. I called Mr. English.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Could you advise us, Mr. Irving, whether Amendment No. 163 is in order at all? Amendment No. 163 includes a term "Prince of the Blood Royal", which is quite unknown to English law. There are such things as royal dukes, which includes the Duke of Edinburgh, but the term "Prince of the Blood Royal" would exclude that estimable individual from having this right at all. Therefore, is the Amendment in order at all?

The Chairman

If the Amendment were out of order, it would not be selected for debate.

Mr. Onslow

Might it not meet the point on these first Amendments which we are not yet debating if we shelved them for the time being and found a later Amendment, on which there is no dispute, and debated that for a while while this wrangle is being sorted out behind the Chair?

The Chairman

I cannot accept that ingenious suggestion.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury) rose

The Chairman

Order. I have ruled and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not pursue this matter.

Mr. Ridley

On a point of order. If the Committee were to decide to reject Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, this would inevitably mean that there could be no vote on Amendment No. 163, concerning Princes of the Royal Blood. These are totally separate points. Whether there is a right to vote for peers who inherit peerages by succession is a different matter from whether princes of the royal blood should be allowed to vote or not and it would preclude the Committee from considering the latter point if we disposed of the Amendments in the first group. Could they not be separated?

The Chairman

Whether they are separated is a matter for the Chair and any submissions made to me about this matter. As for the point that, if Amendment No. 1 were decided and fell, this would automatically knock out Amendment No. 163, that is not so.

Mr. Jopling

On a point of order. It would be a great convenience to many hon. Members if you, Mr. Irving, could say where and when it would be possible to make private submissions. Would you prefer hon. Members to approach you in the Chair during this immediate debate? There is some confusion about when these private submissions might be made.

The Chairman

I would make arrangements at the earliest possible moment to hear submissions which have to be made to me.

In view of the time which has elapsed, I will indicate my selection. With Amendment No. 1, which we are about to discuss, we will consider also Amendments No. 2, in Clause 1, page 2, line 15, leave out "by succession"; No. 3, in Clause 1, page 2, line 20, leave out subsection (2); No. 4, in Clause 1, page 2, line 22, leave out "by succession"; No. 157, in Clause 1, page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (3); No. 158, in Clause 1, page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (4); No. 103, Clause 1, in page 2, line 34, leave out "within one year after the commencement of this Act".

No. 163, in Clause 2, page 2, line 38, at end add: (5) Nothing in this Act shall affect the right of any Prince of the Blood Royal, being a Peer, to receive as heretofore a writ of summons to attend the House of Lords. No. 13, in Clause 2, page 2, line 43, leave out "peers of first creation" and insert "life peers"; No. 19, in Clause 3, page 3, line 14, leave out "peer of first creation" and insert "life peer";

New Clause 2— The power of the Crown to create hereditary peerages conveying rights of membership of the House of Lords is hereby abolished. and new Clause 6— One month after the coming into force of this Act, no holder by succession of a hereditary peerage, whether in the peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain or the United Kingdom shall have the right to sit in the reformed House of Lords by virtue of his hereditary title.

An Hon. Member

Too fast.

The Chairman

The hon. Member will find the list of selection in the No Lobby.

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