HC Deb 16 November 1971 vol 826 cc349-78

Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee

Line 3, leave out 'Members of the Chairmen's Panel' and insert 'Chairman of Ways and Means who shall be chairman of the committee'.

Line 4, leave out 'five' and insert 'eight'.

Line 6, leave out from first 'order' to 'applies' in line 7.

Line 8, leave out 'seven' and insert 'four'. Line 20, leave out lines 20 to 26.

Insert new Standing Order (Allocation of time to bills):

If a motion be made by a Minister of the Crown providing for the allocation of time to any proceedings on a bill Mr. Speaker shall, not more than three hours after the commencement of the proceedings on such a motion, proceed to put any question necessary to dispose of those proceedings.

I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if the various procedural Motions on the Order Paper were all taken together on the basis that they could be voted on separately as desired.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It appears to me that the different Motions relate to entirely different matters. Some are interconnected but I would have thought, with respect to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, that a different point of view might have been taken upon different matters and that it would be convenient if these Motions were dealt with separately.

Mr. Whitelaw

Further to that point of order. Perhaps I can help my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). I think I know what he has in mind. I might help him in the way I wish to proceed. I would not wish to proceed or seek to reach a conclusion tonight on any particular Motion which would be regarded as controversial. In that regard I would mention the Motion on Third Readings, which I think is the one to which he is referring and which I have no desire to reach agreement on tonight. I accept at once, as I understand there are to be criticisms, that I would not proceed with it. I wonder whether on that basis he would agree.

Mr. Powell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I think that what he has just indicated is helpful to the House. But I still wonder whether it can be convenient in a single debate to discuss such matters as privilege, Third Readings, counts, and so on. I wonder whether we shall not have an unsatisfactory debate if we try to deal with all these matters in one debate. They are essentially separate matters, to which separate considerations apply. I have no wish, by making this demurrer, to protract the proceedings. On the contrary, I think that the proceedings will be more efficient if we take each separate subject by itself. I am sorry to disagree with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. From the point of view of the Opposition, I accept what the Leader of the House has said. I know that there are arguments about individual items, but this is, after all, a short debate. There will be a further debate on the most contentious matters. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman has said—that where there is a matter of controversy he will take note and will not press it, so that we can come back to it at a later stage. The questions concerning Third Readings, the Chairmen's Panel, and so on, are important. But I think that what the right hon. Gentleman has suggested is reasonable, and I hope that my hon. and right hon. Friends will accept that we shall have a general debate in which individual hon. Members can make their points.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

I think that what the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) have suggested would on the whole meet the convenience of the House. In saying that, I make it clear to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) that if he wishes to insist on what he has said, he is within his rights to do so, but I urge him, if he feels so inclined, to take what the Leader of the House says and allow us to proceed along these lines.

Mr. Powell

I am willing to comply with your suggestion, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A difficulty for many of us is that we do not quite know whether we agree or not. We would like to hear what the Leader of the House has to say. For example, he knows that hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies, certainly on this side of the House, are concerned about the proposals regarding the Scottish Standing Committee.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If I may put the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest, we are not concerned with that tonight.

Mr. Lawson

I must be permitted to explain my own position. What we learn about the Scottish Standing Committee may powerfully influence our view about the proposals now before us. Although it might seem to be a separate item, the proposal about the Scottish Standing Committee is closely related to each of these. At this stage, my hon. Friends and I are unable to decide whether these matters should be discussed together, with possibly separate Divisions at the end of the debate, because we are not yet clear how the problem of the Scottish Standing Committee is to be dealt with.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are not this evening discussing the Scottish Standing Committee. However, I assure him that if he thinks at any time during the debate that what happens to the Scottish Standing Committee is in any way connected with what is being discussed, I shall not rule him out of order if he refers to the Scottish Standing Committee.

Mr. Whitelaw

I may be able to help the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson). Before doing so, I should like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. I appreciate his point of view, but I hope that he will think that this is the best way in which to proceed. I propose to say only a few words at the beginning of the debate and then to reply to comments. If it appears that there are feelings against any particular proposal, I shall not proceed with it tonight.

I hope to be able to help the hon. Member for Motherwell and the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) about the Scottish Standing Committee. I have categorically undertaken not to put down a Motion about the Scottish Standing Committee tonight, but to give full time to it earlier in the day next week. I undertake, as I already have, to consider before then all the representations made to me about the Scottish Standing Committee. I cannot guarantee to find a solution satisfactory to Scottish Members, but I certainly undertake to seek to do so between now and next week, to see whether it is possible to meet the varying points of view of Scottish Members about these matters.

I must say that without commitment, because I may not be able to succeed and it would be quite wrong to promise something tonight and then not produce it next week. But I will do my best to find a means to meet the wishes of Scottish Members. I will then give them full time for a debate. If I have failed to meet them, that debate will be their moment to criticise me to the full and to point out why I have failed. But I shall do my best in good faith to see whether I can meet their point of view before that time next week. On that basis, hon. Members might feel it reasonable now to proceed with the other matters.

The Motions give effect to the unanimous recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, with the exception of that relating to the amendment of Standing Order No. 18. It gives final effect to the recommendation of the Select Committee on Procedure in Session 1968–69. It is a great help to the House, because it finally removes from our Standing Orders an anomaly which I for one have never understood for a moment, and I think that very few hon. Members understand it. As I do not, it might help if I briefly read what it does. It does away with something which none of us has understood, and so it may well be acceptable to the House.

The position is that a Vote on Account is now regularly presented for the Defence Services. It is therefore unnecessary to authorise the transfer, or, as it has been described, the virement, of sums from one Vote of a Defence Service to make good deficits incurred on another. Resolutions to this effect, known as the Monck Resolutions, are now unnecessary. The last were approved in July of this year, and the opportunity is now being taken to remove all reference to them in the Standing Order. I believe that that is something likely to commend itself to the whole House.

Apart from that provision, all the others concern the unanimous recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure with the exception of those which have been particularly controversial, such as the Scottish recommendation which I have reserved for another time

10.10 p.m.

Mr. Fred Peart (Workington)

The Leader of the House has made a clear and succinct speech. I thought when he talked about the Monck Resolution that it was right to regard it as an esoteric subject. I am sure that the House would agree with that. We accept that this is a report from a Committee chaired by the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir R. Turton), which has worked very hard and produced a virtually unanimous report, to which we have previously paid tribute. We broadly accept its main recommendations. There are arguments, certainly, about many matters contained in the Report, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has accepted the view that we should leave the contentious matters for another debate, to be announced by him. [Interruption.] We must be fair. We have had assurances from the right hon. Gentleman. He has done his best on this. I ask my hon. Friends to accept the right hon. Gentleman's view point in good faith because there will be an opportunity to discuss many matters, when no doubt I shall disagree with what has been recomended by him.

There is a matter about which I want to express my opposition, and that has to do with the Third Reading procedure. There will no doubt be hon. Members who will agree with me here. I still believe that the Third Reading procedure is something we must protect. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) when he was Leader of the House sought to reform procedure, to move forward and accept many of the recommendations of a previous Select Committee. He brought about a new procedure. Standing Order 56 was amended in 1967 to provide that no debate should be permitted on Third Reading of a Bill unless a Motion in a contrary sense had been tabled and had the support of six hon. Members. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen must have read the report carefully, and they will see that in para. 37 there is a section dealing with Third Reading procedure. In the end the report says that changes should probably be made and that the Third Reading particularly of a Lords Bill is largely a waste of time of the House.

I have never accepted this, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip, who has had experience in Government and Opposition, had two reservations on this which are spelled out. The Committee believes that the balance often lies in the direction of abolition, and, therefore, recommends that the Question should be put forthwith on the Motion for Third Reading of all Bills. I take a contrary view. I think that the Third Reading debate is important for the Opposition. It is also important for back benchers on both sides, and I speak from my own experience as a departmental Minister apart from being a former Leader of the House, when inevitably one has to think in terms of the House, hut, above all, seeking to get Government business through. I am certain from my own departmental experience in agriculture that the suggestions made on Third Reading by hon. Members on both sides on a matter which is often not a party matter have been to the advantage of legislation in the best sense. In view of what has been said I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will have second thoughts on this matter, as he has had on the Scottish Standing Committee point.

I cannot object to most of the Motions before us. In fact, the only one to which I can object is that concerned with the Third Reading stage. The Leader of the House has said that we shall have another debate. It could be a major debate because there are many other matters in the report, such as the question of delegated legislation, about which no doubt right hon. and hon. Members have views. Perhaps we should have an exploratory discussion tonight and allow this proposal to go through. I am sure that if right hon. and hon. Members so desire the Lord President will withdraw the Motion and will have another look at the matter, and then we shall have a major debate on many issues which are fundamental and extremely contentious.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.

Sir Harmar Nicholls (Peterborough)

Before the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) sits down, may I ask him a question?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman had sat down, and I have called Mr. Boyd-Carpenter.

10.16 p.m.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I hope that it is not presumptuous of me to say that I very much appreciate the attitude of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in indicating that he does not intend to push through any of the individual Motions about which a number of hon. Members have reservations.

I wish to speak only to the Motion relating to the Third Reading. Before doing so, however, I should like to say how glad I was to hear what my right hon. Friend proposes to do about Standing Order No. 18. I am one of the few Members who understood it at one time. When I was Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which was very much involved in the Monck Resolutions, there were brief moments when, with the aid of the skilful briefings which I had, I thought that I understood what they were all about. I am delighted to know that, if the House agrees to get rid of them, I shall not even have to pretend in future that I do.

The Motion raises a much more serious point—and here I agree with the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart). It would be a quite drastic step to abolish all Third Readings on all Bills. With due deference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir R. Turton), it does not appear that the Committee spent very much time on this matter. It dealt with it in one paragraph. There is a limited amount of evidence, including that of the Opposition Chief Whip, against the proposal. With all respect, it does not seem that the Committee gave quite the thought to such a major matter that it should have done.

I agree with the Committee's suggestion that the present rule does not work very well. A good many Third Reading stages on minor Bills are a waste of time. It is only too easy to get six hon. Members to sign a Motion which will allow a Third Reading to take place on a Bill of secondary importance, but I do not think that that leads us inevitably to the conclusion that we should do away with Third Readings on major Bills.

To take perhaps a not wholly uncontroversial example, we shall have a Bill, or Bills, on Europe in this Session. No doubt the Committee and Report stages will deal in great detail with a number of precise but limited points. But surely the House would feel that before it passes such legislation or any other major Bill there should be a stage at which the House returns to the major principles so that the supporters of the Bill may put forward those major general principles. The alternative is that the discussion ends on the last Amendment on Report, which may be on a very important but limited point, and then the Bill passes to another place. I do not think that that would be the right way to proceed, not only on such a Bill as that but on the Finance Bill, the Local Government Bill or the Criminal Justice Bill. There is also another practical point. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite and their hon. Friends and hon. Members on this side may even on Third Reading have points which they wish to press on the Government and to be dealt with in another place. It would be the greatest pity to do away with that stage.

Therefore, I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will not press forward with this proposal tonight. I do not want to seem unreasonable about this, and I do not think the present position wholly satisfactory. It might well be that some other method of limiting Third Reading debates, either to debates on major Bills or to Bills about which a substantial number of hon. Members have strong feelings, could be evolved. Maybe the present number of six to requisition a Third Reading debate could be drastically raised.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Surely as things stand at the minute on Third Reading one cannot suggest what should be done in another place. One would be out of order in doing that. One can discuss only what is actually in a Bill. So, whilst not disagreeing with my right hon. Friend on that particular point, I do not think it holds water.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I should not like to give my hon. Friend of all hon. Members any advice on parliamentary tactics, but I would assure him that there is a certain technique by which, perhaps with one eye on the Chair and one eye on the Minister, it is possible, if one moves quickly, to make such a suggestion. I would not ask my hon. Friend, unless he suffers from insomnia, to read any of my speeches, but, nevertheless, if he likes to read some of my Third Reading speeches he will find that it is possible to do that. As my hon. Friend says, it may be out of order, but, fortunately, I do not have to take my hon. Friend's ruling, but I have to take yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, on the whole, I have found you much kinder. It remains possible within the rules of order as they are interpreted then to make suggestions for consideration at a further stage.

I think we should preserve Third Reading on major Bills and, probably, on controversial Bills, and I do not think that it is beyond the ingenuity of my right hon. Friend and of those who advise him to find some other method, short of absolute abolition, to enable us to avoid the waste of time which, one must concede, does occur on certain Third Readings on certain minor Bills.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

To follow the point of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I do not wish to address myself to the main issue of the question of Third Reading because hon. Members will see that I have on the Order Paper an Amendment to the Motion relating to Third Reading, and were that Motion to be moved I would be prepared to move my Amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think I should let the hon. Member and the House know that Mr. Speaker has authorised me to say that he has selected the hon. Member's Amendment.

Mr. English

Thank you very much Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Were that Motion to be moved, I should move my Amendment, but the reason why I wish to mention it now is merely that it applies to the present situation with regard to Third Reading as it would to any change in the situation. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) sitting here. He will recollect that I raised this matter with him when the original procedural change took place whereby six hon. Members can cause a Third Reading debate to occur. My right hon. Friend was kind enough in his speech on that occasion to say that he would be prepared to accept this minor Amendment which I have down. For various reasons it could not be agreed in all parts of the House at the time, but I think it is really one which is entirely non-controversial and I believe it is a point which should be dealt with even under the present procedure.

The reason for that is this, that, by what I personally believe to be almost pure accident, this House could find itself in the situation of passing legislation which has never been to the Floor of the House at all. This was not the position until we had Report stage Committees and Second Reading Committees. I am entirely in favour of Second Reading Committees, and we have a Report stage Committee only if we have a Second Reading Committee, but the result is that, if we send a Bill to a Second Reading Committee, that Bill has not been on the Floor of the House for Second Reading debate; then it goes to Standing Committee for its normal Committee stage, but, obviously with that sort of Bill, it will not then be on the Floor of the House. If it then goes to a Report stage Committee upstairs, not the Floor of the House, it would be possible, if six hon Members did not at Third Reading object to the Bill, for that Bill to go through without ever having actually been taken on the Floor of the House. That is quite contrary to all the principles of the House.

I suggest that this very minor Amendment is designed merely to ensure that every Bill comes at least once before the House, at least nominally, so that hon. Members can speak to it if they so wish. That is probably acceptable, though, strangely enough, it is not at present possible. The same sort of procedure applies to Private Bills, which, in regard to Third Reading, are very similar to Public Bills.

I therefore suggest that the Lord President might consider the principle lying behind my Amendent, even as a separate issue, and even though he does not proceed tonight with the main Motion, because I think that it will be generally accepted that this ought not to happen.

The next Motion relates to closure of debate and selection of Amendments and my Amendment suggests that the principles upon which Amendments are selected might be published. I see no reason why this should not be done, since the principles relating to the selection of Amendments on Report were published by Mr. Speaker in an appendix to the Sixth Report of the Committee on Procedure in 1966–67. We read, for example, that all Government Amendments are selected. A whole series of principles is there set out. That being so, and since new Members in particular may not realise that principles are involved, I do not see why the principle of selection of Amendments on other occasions should not somewhere be published.

I hope that even if we do not have an opportunity to move the Amendment or to discuss it again we can discuss selection. It is a discretionary power and should remain so, but the discretion is exercised, as you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will well know, in accordance with certain principles. Perhaps this is a hint to the Chair that Mr. Speaker might consider publishing the remaining principles of selection for the benefit of us all.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Wolverhampton, South-West)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council for indicating his readiness to withdraw from decision tonight, for debate and decision later after reconsideration, such of these Motions as it appears that hon. Members might have doubts or difficulties about. I intend to ask my right hon. Friend to include in that category not only the Motion relating to Third Reading, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has referred, but at least two other Motions.

I want first to make a general observation inspired by a consideration of these and other Motions resulting from the last report of the Committee on Procedure. I do so with no derogation at all from the tribute paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir R. Turton) and those who have worked with him.

That observation is that the effect of having a Committee on Procedure sitting Session by Session as a matter of course is to have the maximum and not the minimum number of proposals put forward for the amendment of our Standing Orders. After all, the presumption in the existence of a Committee is that it is to make recommendations and not not to make recommendations. There is always, therefore, an inbuilt tendency to find changes to recommend. Once those recommendations have been made, there is a natural and amiable tendency on the part of the Leader of the House and the House as a whole rather to accept than too narrowly to criticise, and perhaps reject the proposals which are put forward by their own Committee.

I find an instance of this, if I may risk a rather harsh word, prurience of amendment in the Motion relating to privilege, and this is one of the Motions on which I suggest it would be worth the while of the House to have second thoughts. I turn to the justification for this proposal put forward by the Select Committee. Incidentally, some of the explanatory matter relating to quite far-reaching amendments is often extremely brief and sketchy, and not always in the same direction. In paragraph 21 of the Select Committee's Report we find this sentence: They … That is the Committee— … are satisfied that the House would suffer no disadvantage by waiving its financial privilege … I imagine that if those who have sat before in this place over so many centuries were to come back and catch sight of that sentence they would be deeply astonished by the apparent repudiation of one of the basic principles upon which the powers and privileges of this House have been built.

It is natural, therefore, that we should look with some curiosity and closeness at the reasons which justify so large an assertion and the elimination from our procedure of the present ways in which we mark and entrench our financial privileges against another place. As we read, we are told that the initiation of legislation as between this House and another is rendered more inconvenient and is prejudiced by this House insisting on its privileges, unless it waives those privileges one by one, or unless they fall under Standing Order No. 58. But if hon. Members have the curiosity to look at the evidence taken on this subject—Questions 1080 onwards; and if they have a little time to spare they will find the reading quite amusing—they will discover very little justification for this assertion put forward by noble Lords from another place who testified before the Select Committee. Noble Lords did not even seem to be at all clear whether one Bill or another was a matter of privilege, and on several occasions they had to come back afterwards and correct the evidence which they had given.

What did not emerge from that eviddence—indeed, rather the opposite emerged—was that the reason why Bills did not originate in another place was the insistence by this House upon its privileges. On the contrary, quite apart from the limited general waiver in Standing Order No. 58, which dates back to 1849 and is based on a Resolution of 1831, there are procedures, described by the Committee as "archaic procedures", whereby any difficulty arising from the privileges of this House in initiating in another place legislation which ought to be initiated there can be circumvented. They can be circumvented when Bills originate in another place, and they can be dealt with when Bills are amended and returned to this House from another place.

There is no substantial inconvenience whatever, and there is no evidence in this report of substantial inconvenience, occasioned by the fact that this House insists on its privileges, apart from Standing Order No. 58 and apart from its readiness to agree to a waiver, case by case, pro hoc vice. Therefore, I conclude that this amendment is in the nature of a supposed tidying up of our Standing Orders.

However, it is sometimes dangerous to tidy up without being fully aware of the importance of that which we may be sweeping away. Many hon. Members may think that at this time of day—in the last third of the twentieth century—it is not likely that another place would endeavour, as it has in the past, to invade and to break down the financial privileges of this House. Perhaps not. But that is not the only encroachment this House has to fear. Unless the encroachments upon our privileges are brought to the attention of this House case by case as they occur, then we may very well find that the privileges become a dead letter altogether, and that matters which amount to taxation or a variation in the taxation of the subject—matters small and matters not so small—are, in fact, legislated for in another place and passed through this House without this House being specifically reminded that it is laying a new burden upon the subject, or modifying an existing burden.

Therefore, I argue that this is not an archaic technicality with which we ought to dispense; and that the slight loss of time involved—a matter of a few seconds—or the slight inconvenience in form of presentation of Bills originating in another place, is amply rewarded by keeping alive through our procedure the principle that the people of this country are taxed only in this House and that any variation in that taxation, upward or downward, of any kind whatever, which is made or proposed anywhere else, is an invasion of our privilege which we need to waive for that purpose, knowing what we are doing, case by case.

I therefore ask my right hon. Friend the Lord President to allow time for second thoughts on this matter and, if we are to do this, to bring forward much stronger and more practical grounds than one is able to discover in the evidence that was taken.

I move to the Motion about Third Readings, on which two right hon. Gentlemen before me have already spoken. Perhaps, as this is to come before the House again, I should draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that one further Amendment is required: namely, to Standing Order No. 39, line 6, leave out the words "as the case may be". I thought he might find it convenient to be aware that the Amendments as they stand are not absolutely complete and would not make sense without the further Amendment to which I have drawn attention. There is an extremely important principle involved here, and I say straight away that I share the objections voiced by the right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. I add only one or two considerations to those put forward by them.

As the House knows, frequently a Bill can be amended very substantially in Committee and on Report indeed, all hon. Members will recollect Bills which, between Second Reading and Third Reading, were wholly altered in Committee and on Report, through the entire contents being taken out and something else substituted. It would be absurd if the House were prevented by its own Standing Orders from debating the virtually new Bill which emerged. If it be thought that that is an extreme case, I am content to take the more normal case in which Amendments which are made, possibly in the last moment of the Report stage, alter the bearings upon one another of other parts of the Bill.

Under our Orders, strictly speaking, we are inhibited from discussing on Third Reading what is not in the Bill. But what is in the Bill is often so substantially different from what was in the Bill on Second Reading that it would be intolerable if we could not consider the Bill as it is to leave this House, either for Royal Assent or for consideration in another place.

There is a further and very valuable function which a Third Reading debate can perform. There have been notable recent examples of it. On Second Reading, on the whole the House is considering the principle of the Bill rather than the administration. The Minister in charge of the Bill often will give indications of the way in which he thinks that the Bill will be administered, but Third Reading frequently is the ideal opportunity for seeking from the Government more detailed indications of the principles on which they intend to administer the Bill and for examining the problems which will arise—problems not to be dealt with by statute, but problems nonetheless—when the Bill has become an Act.

So, in addition to the value of indicating further improvements which the Bill would tolerate, I believe that it will be recognised generally that, subject to the avoidance of futile or frivolous Third Readings of Bills, this is a part of our procedure which we should regret jettisoning.

I come now to Motion No. 8, on counting. I trust that my right hon. Friend will agree to reserve it for this evening—

Mr. English

This is where we part company!

Mr. Powell

That may be. There is no reason why all hon. Members should take the same view about an amendment of their procedure. But perhaps I might reply to the hon. Gentleman's interjection by pointing out that, on the whole, our tendency in altering our procedure should be to make the minimum changes and to proceed as much as possible by general agreement. I am not saying that one black ball should disqualify. I am saying that, other things being equal, more weight attaches to an objection to a Standing Order being altered than to a proposal that it should be altered.

I am well aware that the count is one of the ways in which the opinions of a section of the House are given effect in preventing some forms of legislation to which they object from going through. So I come to that aspect of the count first. It is true that the necessity of maintaining a House of 40 frequently renders it impracticable for a Private Member's Bill to reach the Statute Book if there are not sufficient hon. Members who are keen enough about it to turn up and give it a majority on a Friday morning.

I am also aware that the ability to interfere with one hon. Member's private intentions regarding legislation can be used to facilitate or impede other private proposals for legislation. It seems to me entirely healthy and right that this should be so. It seems entirely right that there should be a very real difference between the likelihood and the difficulty of carrying through this House legislation promoted by a private Member and legislation recommended by Her Majesty's Ministers.

Mr. English

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's general principle, that we should be rather conservative in changing our procedure and getting the assent of all. May I ask him to consider the point that we are not abolishing the quorum: we are only abolishing the count? The objection to the count is its secrecy. If one wants to oppose a Bill and have a Division and 40 hon. Members do not turn up, it still will not pass. But one hon. Member, whose colleagues agree with him but do not desire to vote publicly against the proposal, can block a Bill by simply calling a count. That is the objection.

Mr. Powell

I quite understand that, even if this Amendment were made, it would be necessary, on a Division, for 40 hon. Members to be voting. Nevertheless, the fact remains—the hon. Gentleman does not disagree with this—that the count greatly facilitates the chance of preventing legislation going through which does not claim sufficient support amongst hon. Members for a relatively small proportion of the House to turn up and give it a fair wind.

I think there is a much greater danger in legislation about which nobody cares very much reaching the Statute Book than about it being a little too difficult for hon. Members to get their chosen Bills through. After all, the force, in law, of the most trivial of Private Members' Bills is the same as that of any other public Bill. They are all public Bills. The power of legislation is very great and ought not to be wielded except under substantial sanctions. My proposition is that where legislation is proposed by private Members the count is a sanction which it is more valuable to retain than to dispense with.

There is a further ground on which I should be sorry to see the count abolished. The abolition of the count is a public declaration made by this House that, provided there is to be no Division, we do not care how few hon. Members are in attendance within the precincts when business is being transacted. I cannot believe that it is to the credit of this House that we should make such a declaration by this alteration of our Standing Orders.

We all know that on occasions it is so generally known that the business is such as will go through that there may not be as many as 40 hon. Members here; but even in that case, there is always the risk that the absence of a quorum will be brought to light. It is not enough that it can be brought to light by dividing against the business. It ought, in my opinion, to be possible as it has been hitherto, to ascertain whether the business of the House, contentious or not, has the attendance of at least a quorum of 40 hon. Members. I think that we would be doing ourselves a discredit if we were to remove the count from our procedure.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Is it not also the case that if the lack of quorum is revealed on a Division the Bill is lost for all time? If the House is merely counted out, the Bill is not necessarily lost, and, therefore, the House can divide upon it on a subsequent occasion.

Mr. Powell

I am not sure that my hon. Friend is right. I think that under the proposed Standing Order, and I believe under the present one, the effect is that consideration of the Bill is deferred. I do not think the Bill is lost.

I hope—and I am sorry to have detained the House for so long—that my right hon. Friend will be willing to put back these three Motions for further reflection by himself and by other hon. Members.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

The right hon. Gentleman is right when he says that when a Committee sits continuously to consider procedure the tendency is for the Committee to suggest the maximum rather than the minimum amount of change.

I am inclined to think that changes are made too easily at times. Not always do hon. Members look closely into proposed changes. For example, there is one proposed change to which I believe many hon. Members on both sides of the House are strenuously opposed. I refer to the proposed change relating to the allocation of time for Bills. It is proposed that Standing Order No. 44 be repealed and in its place we have the proposal that If a motion be made by a Minister of the Crown providing for the allocation of time to any proceedings on a bill Mr. Speaker shall, not more than three hours after the commencement of the proceedings on such a motion, proceed to put any question necessary to dispose of those proceedings. Perhaps "whim" is not the proper word to use, but on the basis of the decision of a Minister or of the Government, in the case of any Bill—although I am not suggesting it would happen with every Bill—it would be sufficient for the Minister, if he thought fit, to find three hours on the Floor of the House and the matter could then be disposed of by the imposition of the guillotine.

One can recall many strenuous occasions in this Chamber when we fought against the guillotine—the detestable guillotine as it was often called. We have sat all night debating the question of the guillotine. The timetable Motion, as it is more politely called, was brought in only after very great hesitation. The Minister, in moving that timetable Motion, went to great lengths to argue that it was necessary because the Opposition were holding up business. He also said that the present Opposition introduced such a Motion when they were in power. This is something which every Opposition has done when it has been in power; it has imposed the guillotine.

Here we have the proposition that this timetable Motion should be imposed on any Bill, at the will of the Government. It is simply a question of the Minister deciding "This is what I want", and after a short debate he has his way. I am well aware that things have been made easier for Ministers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) did quite a bit in making it easier for the Government to get their way. But written into Standing Order No. 44—and it is that Standing Order which is sought to be abolished—are two major conditions. First, before a Minister brings forward any such proposed timetable, he or the Whips must have done certain things. They must have tried hard to get agreement on a voluntary timetable or, without an agreement, the Minister must be of the opinion that the Opposition are holding up business.

Those conditions, and Standing Order No. 44, are to be scrapped. The new Standing Order would allow a Minister to bring forward a Motion, to be decided after three hours. Last Session we discussed a Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee which, although of only three Clauses, ranged over the whole field of education. We found many arguments against it, all of which needed to be carefully discussed. There was no waste of time. An hon. Member opposite denied that there was filibustering. Under the proposed Standing Order we might have had only a morning or two. In fact, because of the importance of the Bill, we took 25 mornings, one whole night and another day.

Mr. Whitelaw

That Bill was not guillotined: there was no question of a timetable Motion on it.

Mr. Lawson

I am saying that if we had operated under the new procedure, I am sure that the Secretary of State for Scotland would have brought forward a Motion ensuring that we finished in double-quick time.

Mr. Whitelaw

The Secretary of State is not the person who would do it. It would be the Leader of the House, and no Leader of the House, as the right hon. Members for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and Workington (Mr. Peart) would both agree, is ever prepared to bring forward a timetable Motion without the deepest heart-searching and worry. That is the real safeguard which operates, for all Governments.

Mr. Lawson

That was so in the past, because it was always such a serious thing to bring forward a timetable Motion. A large part of a backbencher's powers lies in the fact that he can take up time. Deprived of this, he is deprived of most of his influence. We have asked tonight what will happen to the Scottish Grand Committee. I have great trust in the right hon. Gentleman and I am sure he will do his best, but many of these questions could have been discussed for hour after hour if that were seen to be the right course.

Throughout the whole history of the House, hon. Members on both sides have adopted that practice. The unfortunate thing is that change after change made in the procedures of the House—changes designed to make things function more smoothly—have all curbed or curtailed the power of the back-bencher. We could go over the changes in procedure with Oral Questions. It is not long since hon. Members could put down three Questions, usually about two or three days ahead, and be fairly sure of having them called. Now we are lucky to get a Question called for Oral Answer. Changes have been made repeatedly and have almost always resulted in the curtailing of the powers—I use the plural—of the back benches.

This is an example of taking away a power which hon. Members might have had in the past when they objected strenuously to a Bill, often rightly and on both sides, and then examined it minutely, line by line and Clause by Clause. I accept from the Leader of the House that the new procedure is being introduced only after the utmost heart-searching, but if it is established as being an easy practice and is regularly used, it will become the case that every Bill which is likely to be controversial will start out on the basis of a timetable Motion.

I know that some of my hon. Friends have said it would be quite a good thing to start every Bill on the basis of a timetable Motion, but that has always been very much a minority point of view. We are now asked to enshrine in Standing Orders a procedure which could—I put it no higher—make this a regular, established practice. I should like to know from my right hon. Friends, the Chief Whip and others, if we are to oppose some of the forthcoming legislation about the Common Market word by word, line by line and Clause by Clause, morning, noon and night, how we are to do it if we start each Measure on the basis of the new Standing Order having established that practice.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

Under the present procedure, if the Government want to introduce a guillotine, they can do so, and with only two hours' discussion. That is the rule at present. The proposed change will give three hours' discussion, one hour extra.

Mr. Lawson

That is so, but Standing Order No. 44 specifies conditions with which a Minister must comply before bringing forward a timetable Motion. He must follow certain procedures.

It is said in paragraph 14 of the Report that there should be no halfway house and that if the Whips cannot agree about a timetable, the House should impose one. There is no dubiety about what is intended. [Interruption.] Of course I voted for the original provision. I am simply saying that while I have every respect for the present Leader of the House, who I am sure is anxious to protect the rights of back benchers, we do not know who will succeed him, whichever party is in office.

I am speaking on behalf of the interests of back benchers. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes will remove from us, and from the Opposition generally, certain rights. If we want to conduct a battle against any Measure, we will be that much less able to do so if the existing Standing Order is withdrawn. There are a number of other items that I could happily discuss, but as the Leader of the House has agreed to look into the matter I now resume my seat, having ventilated one important aspect of the issue.

11.7 p.m.

Sir Robin Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

Any Select Committee is bound to come under attack and criticism from hon. Members. I wish to make that clear at the outset.

The object of the Select Committee on Procedure has been to get more opportunity for back benchers to take part in the debates of the House. In recent years, under both Labour and Conservative Governments, more legislation has been introduced, and in our view there were a great many time-wasting procedures through which Parliament had to go and which denied back benchers the opportunity to participate in debates. This has been the general consideration behind all our recommendations.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) levelled the complaint that because a Select Committee with a roving commission had been established, it was obliged to make a lot of recommendations. The House should bear in mind that it is 25 years since there was a general overhaul of the process of legislation. We undertook this task, and the results lie behind the numerous recommendations that we made.

The hon. Member for Motherwell objects to the abolition of Standing Order No. 44, which gives two hours' debating time to back benchers, and attempts to establish what is called a voluntary timetable with teeth in it. He must be aware that if the usual channels want to work a voluntary timetable, the Standing Order is not required: and such a voluntary arrangement can, of course, he broken by any independent back bencher.

This was a matter with which the Committee did not want to interfere. We did not make a recommendation but stated the fact that Parliament is carried on only by an oiling of the machine by the usual channels. [Interruption.] This is a fact of Parliamentary life.

We concluded that if a short debate was required on a timetable Motion, back benchers should be able to express their views if the Government of the day introduced a guillotine. I do not believe that the House always wants a long, wearisome debate on the guillotine. For far too long we have had time-wasting speeches on guillotine Motions. That time would have been much better employed on the first day of the debate on the subject that is under the guillotine. That deals with the point of view of the hon. Member for Motherwell, who neglects the fact that what we were doing was giving the back benchers 50 per cent. more time.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhainpton, South-West has criticized the paragraph of our report on the distribution of Bills between the two Houses. I admit at once that if we had had him on our Committee, I feel sure that we would have drafted our report a great deal better, but the fact is that in a Session far too many Bills are introduced first in this House, which makes an overload of work in the other place in July, so that we have to come back in October to deal with a great deal of work on Lords Amendments. That is something we should try to avoid. We have tried to say that minor Bills, even if they have a financial aspect, could be introduced into the House of Lords in November and December in order to case the work throughout the Session.

Mr. Powell

Of course I agree with the object, but I do not believe that my right hon. Friend's Committee made out the case that the maldistribution is in any way due to the insistence of this House upon the present procedure for waiving its privilege.

Sir R. Turton

I do not want to take up too much time and I merely recommend my right hon. Friend to read again the evidence given by Members of the House of Lords to the Committee. All we are saying is that a system of having provisional privileges underlined, sidelined and bracketed is not in line with the general view of today.

I hope that the House will look at our recommendation about Third Readings. We think that the balance of advantage is that Third Readings should in general be abolished. I think that the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Cross-man) will agree that his proposal to limit Third Readings by the rule that six hon. Members have to put their names to an appropriate Motion has not worked. I think that probably we could find a compromise—that we could have the same sort of procedure as on Second Reading Committees, so that if 20 hon. Members rise in their places there is shown to be a general desire for a Third Reading debate, which would be granted. I have heard many Third Reading debates which have been merely a back-slapping operation for the two sides of the House and which are a waste of the time of the House when we should be doing more important work. I admit at once that we should have looked at the rare occasions when a Bill has a Second Reading in Committee and a Report stage in Committee, but I remind the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) that during the last four years only one Bill has received that treatment. I agree that we should have realised that the precedent of the Water Resources Bill might have been followed on other Bills. The hon. Member has made a point there.

In general, however, I hope that the House will find these recommendations to be in the interests of back benchers as a whole. I believe that our recommendations, which were unanimously agreed by right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House have that effect.

11.14 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

I reinforce the plea to retain Third Readings. Bills are often substantially different by the time they have passed through Committee and Report stages. I remember the case of the Development of Tourism Act. I divided the House against the Second Reading of the Bill but I voted for its Third Reading, because by then it included provision for an English Tourist Board, which it did not contain on Second Reading.

Hon. Members cannot decide for themselves whether they are to be on a Standing Committee. The powers-that-be, on both sides, decide who shall serve on Standing Committees and, therefore, the vast majority of hon. Members can be and are excluded from them, even if they wish to serve. If they are denied the right to speak on Third Reading, they are effectively silenced on matters about which they may have specialist information or on which they may have a minority or, possibly, unpopular view to express, and it would be an unfortunate day for our Parliament if we ever abolished the opportunity to speak on Third Reading.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Whitelaw

Perhaps I may start with the most contentious of the proposals and work backwards. The right hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Peart), my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) were all against the proposal to make Third Readings formal. I am now bound to confess something of my own past. In my previous existence, as Opposition Chief Whip, I would never have agreed to this proposal, I admit quite freely that when it was presented to me as the unanimous recommendation of the Select Committee, in my new rôle I thought it perfectly reasonable to put it before the House.

Equally, I should like to make it clear that I was one of those who somewhat frustrated the very proper change in the procedure for Third Readings made by the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), in that as Opposition Chief Whip I found it advisable on many occasions for there to be a Motion demanding a Third Reading. I cannot pretend that in all cases the Bill was genuinely one which should have had a Third Reading, but the procedure which I started has been scrupulously followed by my successors, and I fully understand their position.

We ought, therefore, to look at this procedure. I am not sure that it will be possible to change it at all. By saying that, I may greatly please my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and others. It may be better to leave the procedure for Third Readings exactly where it is. I am, however, perfectly prepared to look at the procedure suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir R. Turton) to see whether the requirements could not be made more stringent in order thereby to circumvent people like me who have not done justice, perhaps, to the Standing Order.

The proposal of the hon. Member for Nottingham, West, is perfectly proper and I recognise what he has said. I will withdraw the proposal about Third Readings tonight, if that is the wish of the House, and undertake to consider it further, with absolutely no commitment, because it may be that having heard the debate, the House as a whole would prefer the position to remain as it is. However, I am perfectly prepared to see whether the requirements should be more stringent.

Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)

I suggested to the Select Committee that it might be wise to consider having a "Clause stand part" debate on Report if a Clause had been amended. Would not that obviate the need for a Third Reading debate?—

Hon. Members


Mr. Whitelaw

In view of the remarks around me, I think that that might not be wise. However, I will consider that. Plainly, it would be unwise to go beyond that now.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West referred to privilege and the House of Lords. My personal experience has led me to believe that this could be a helpful proposal, without in any way detracting from the privileges of the House. I am absolutely firm in my view that there are many Bills, the vast majority, which by their very nature, political or, of course, financial, must start in this House. There can be no question of that. They must start in this House and they do. No Government would ever suggest that they should not.

Equally I have found in my experience during the last year that a number of Bills which, it would be agreed on all sides, might for the greater benefit of the proceedings of both Houses start in another place have not been able to do so because of a matter of procedure. That is the present position.

I would have thought that this was on the whole a reasonable provision to make for the working of Government business to the satisfaction of all concerned. I am sorry if my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West does not feel this way. I have no desire to do other than avoid using the devices which are used to get round a position which could be regularised and enable the Bills which we think should start in the Lords to do so on a proper basis. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would consider whether that is not a reasonable proposition. I would not want to press it too strongly against him but I feel it would be doing something which is in the general interest of the proper management of business in both Houses.

Mr. Powell

My right hon. Friend is very generous in the way he puts the point. The issue is really a practical one, almost a factual one. It is whether it is true that it is the existence of these procedures which is the real obstacle to the ideal division of business between the two Houses. I read most carefully the evidence given to the Select Committee and it certainly was not made out by that evidence. If it can be shown that without the proposed alteration a redistribution of business is impracticable, the position would be different. What I say, and my right hon. Friend has not altered this opinion, is that that has not yet been made out.

Mr. Whitelaw

It would be wrong for me to pretend that this provision, in itself, effectively prevented the proper distribution of business. I simply believe that the provision would make it easier to carry things out without devices. I could not go so far as to assure my right hon. Friend about what he says. It is a comparatively small point but such points sometimes raise wider issues. I would not wish to press this point as I do not regard it as a very large matter but I would like to reserve my position, and perhaps after further consultation I can prove to my right hon. Friend the real need for doing this. I cannot do it at the moment and it is only fair to say so.

I turn to the point raised by my right hon. Friend about counts. I have never been a greater lover of counts, since the days when I become a very junior Whip and always had to persuade a number of my hon. Friends to be here for the purpose supposedly of countering a count at all hours of the day or night. I recognise the point my right hon. Friend makes but I feel that the principle has been largely eroded once it was decided that there could not be a count after 10 o'clock at night. Once we have gone as far as that, we have eroded the general principle and it is probably right to go the whole way.

The only other reason I would put forward is that there are circumstances which make me unhappy about the count. I have never been happy about the count being allowed to interrupt an hon. Member's Adjournment debate, although this has not happened since the 10 o'clock ruling. I am not sure I like the idea of counts as a means of countering Private Members' Bills. I realise the arguments on the other side but there are other methods available to hon. Members. I hope that as I have conceded the point on privileges, my right hon. Friend will in turn feel able to concede the point about counts and that we might feel equal if I proceed on that one.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton has answered the point about the Chairmen's Panel advanced by the hon. Member for Mother-well (Mr. Lawson). I am most anxious to proceed with the new Standing Order because I believe the position of the Chairmen's Panel to be so desperately unsatisfactory, as many right hon. and hon. Members have known, that it would be right to change the procedure.

I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that the whole business of timetable Motions is something which no Leader of the House embarks upon either happily or quickly, because it is for him personally a particularly nasty and difficult situation, as the House should rightly make it. That situation is one of the great safeguards the House has, and a very important one, and I accept it. It is always something that a Government do when they can show that they have not succeeded in carrying their business in the normal way. I think that the giving of an extra hour, as compared with what the right hon. Member for Coventry, East did, is reasonable and I think that it is generally acceptable to the House. I should like to proceed with that Motion.

I should like the House to accept the Motion dealing with Standing Order No. 44. I shall not press the Motion dealing with Standing Orders Nos. 58 and 91, reserving my position for further discussion, as I promised my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. I should like to proceed with the Motion relating to Standing Order No. 10. I shall not press the Motion dealing with Third Reading. I should like to proceed with the Motion dealing with further powers—Standing Orders Nos. 30 and 33—noting what the hon. Member for Nottingham, West said. The Motion relating to the appointment of a Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means is, I think, acceptable. Having studied the other points made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, I should be grateful if he would allow me to proceed with the Motion relating to Standing Order No. 29.

My last remark is one of gratitude to the House and to right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, and perhaps particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and the members of the Select Committee who undertook what they were asked by the House to undertake. It is important to remember that the House asked them to undertake the task.

While one must be very sensitive, as the hon. Member for Motherwell rightly pointed out, to the interests of back benchers in particular and to the fact that no Government must have it made easier for them to get their business through the House. I do not think that any of these Motions has that effect. I commend those I now put forward and reserve my position on the Motion relating to the Scottish Standing Committee, which will come forward next week.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Amendments to Standing Order No. 43 (Business Committee), and the new Standing Order, hereinafter stated in the Schedule, be made; and that Standing Order No. 44 (Allocation of time to bills) be repealed.

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