Motion made, and Question proposed
That the remaining Lords Amendment to the National Health Service (Family Planning) Amendment Bill may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed; and as soon as a Motion is made, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, Mr. Speaker shall put the Question thereon forthwith.—[Mr. R. Carr.]
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Chigwell)
I shall not keep the House for more than a few moments, but I feel that I must oppose the Motion because, despite the disclaimers from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who was kind enough to write to me, and disclaimers made elsewhere, I still fear that the Government may be in the process of setting a dangerous precedent. The House has the Fifth Report from the Select Committee on Procedure which considered the matter, and the Committee drew the attention of the House to a statement made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House's predecessor which strongly deprecated the giving of extra time by the Government to Private Members' Bills. The Committee said that the question of whether to give Government time for consideration of Lords Amendments 817 to a Private Member's Bill is a matter for Governments to decide, taking into account previous practice in the House.
There is not much previous practice. I am not sure that there is an occasion in the annals of Parliament which is on all fours with what happened on 16th June. I submit that the Leader of the House should have regard not only to previous practice in the House but to the position of minorities, however small. It is, of course, a small minority which is opposing the Bill. In selectively providing time, the present Administration appear to be following the disastrous precedent of their predecessor, who gave time for the Abortion Act.
I will not refer to the merits of the Bill: it has none. As for the Abortion Act, it has caused such dismay that the Secretary of State for the Social Services felt constrained to set up an inquiry into its working. This illustrates the point which has been made by hon. Members on both sides—that this field is more appropriate to Government than to Private Members' legislation.
I should like to assure my right hon. Friend that concern at the Government's decision, as expressed in this Motion, is not confined to those who, like myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), who is indisposed, have opposed the Bill. I wish to register that concern by expressing opposition to this Motion.
§ Mr. Ray Mawby (Totnes)
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on only one point. I do not disagree with the nature of the Bill, but surely the point is that we are seeking to apply a guillotine to a Private Members' Bill. In other words, if this Motion is passed, Mr. Speaker will have no other alternative but immediately to put the question without any opportunity for debate. Therefore, I wonder whether the House is right in applying a guillotine quite happily to a Private Members' Bill.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Robert Carr)
It is true that my predecessor expressed strong views about the Government not giving Government time for Private Members' legislation. Indeed, he went on record 818 about this, not only in the House but when giving evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) said.
But what my hon. Friend did not mention, and what is important, is that my right hon. Friend specifically told the Committee that there are occasions when it is right to give time for Lords Amendments to a Private Member's Bill, and that he did not include those circumstances in the same category. In other words, he put Lords Amendments in a separate category from other stages of Private Members' Bills.
The practice of the House, as my hon. Friend said, is not altogether easy to determine in these matters, but I should like to recall what happened on this occasion. Two Lords Amendments were taken together—this answers the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Mawby) about the guillotine—by agreement of the House. Amendment No. 2 was agreed to by the House on Friday, 16th June. All that happened was that there was not enough time to vote on Amendment No. 3, which was discussed with it and was purely consequential. Amendment No. 2 was the Amendment of substance.
Therefore, this Bill was frustrated then by one thing and one thing only—lack of time to pass an Amendment which was purely consequential to one which the House had already agreed. It was for that reason that we felt it right to provide this occasion. No further debate is necessary, in our view, because the substance was debated on 16th June.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Before my right hon. Friend sits down. I apologise for not quoting his predecessor in full, but when his predecessor said that there were occasions when it was right to give time for Lords Amendments, presumably he had some precedents in mind. I am not clear what they are. Certainly there are no precedents at all in recent parliamentary history. Could my right hon. Friend refer to that?
§ Mr. Carr
I think I said that I thought that the practice was difficult to determine. We have to judge cases on their merits and I felt that the case was overwhelming here for the reasons that I 819 gave. This view of mine was supported by the exceptionally large number of letters that I have had during the Recess from hon. Members on both sides.
§ Question put and agreed to.820
That the remaining Lords Amendment to the National Health Service (Family Planning) Amendment Bill may be proceeded with at this day's Sitting at any hour, though opposed; and as soon as a Motion is made, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment, Mr. Speaker shall put the Question thereon forthwith.