Motion made, and Question proposed,
That at this day's Sitting, Mr. Speaker shall put any Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Third Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill [Lords] not later than Five o'clock or one and a half hours after it has been entered upon, whichever is the later.—[Mr. Prior.]
§ Mr. David Steel
I understand that this matter is debatable. I should like to seek an assurance from the Leader of the House before we agree to this motion about the effect that it will have on the remaining stages of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."] It is all very well for other hon. Members to groan, but some of us were discussing this matter at six o'clock this morning.
§ Mr. Steel
I think that we are entitled to know what are the Government's intentions about the remaining 100 or so Government amendments still to be discussed, together with about 40 other amendments, and the effect of including the Third Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill in the middle of the Report stage of another Bill. This is a very objectionable procedure, especially in view of the assurances given in Committee about the adequate time that would be allowed for Report stage.
I have every sympathy with those non-Scottish Members who object to being kept here at all hours of the night to discuss Scottish business, in which they have no constituency interest. There are other remedies for that situation, of course, but I should be out of order to pursue them now.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if we include this item now, what time he proposes to finish the proceedings on the Scottish Bill tonight?
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
The House will know that the debate on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill is open ended. I believe that the arrangements that we have made are in the general interests of the House as a whole. I am full of admiration for the endurance of Scottish Members last 373 night and of other hon. Members, too, and I am sorry for the inconvenience that this arrangement has caused, but I believe it to be in the interests of the House as a whole. The sooner that we pass on to the next business, the sooner we can get through it, and then, with any luck, we can get on to Scottish business.
§ Mr. Grimond
I do not want to delay the House, and I understand the right hon. Gentleman's desire to pass on to the next business, but we cannot be blackmailed into passing on in a matter of this importance. The Local Government (Scotland) Bill is the most important Scottish Bill to come before the House for many years. Many areas of Scotland were not represented in Committee, and many important issues were raised which needed adequate debate on Report. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that it was his intention to press strongly for adequate time for Report and that he had no reason to suppose that he would not get it.
I am sure that we all agree that "adequate time" should not be taken to mean that important amendments—for instance, as to extending the classes of people who are entitled to stand in local government elections—should be discussed at five o'clock in the morning.
This is another example, first, of the bad organisation of our business and, second, of disrespect to Scotland. We had over a fortnight's holiday a week ago, and in the circumstances the people of Scotland will not understand why we cannot conclude our business before 7 a.m. No ordinary, decently-run business would dream of tackling important matters at breakfast time after a ten-hour session.
I hope that we shall make some progress, that the Leader of the House will take this to heart and that this type of operation will not occur again. We have been put into great difficulty also by the printing dispute. It may be no one's fault, but it has not made it easier to treat these matters with the great seriousness that they deserve. This is a very important Bill which will have effects in every part of Scotland. It will create a new region which raises important issues 374 and which should not be considered just before breakfast after an all-night sitting.
§ Mr. Ross
I hope that the Leader of the House will take this matter seriously. We are being delayed in starting our business in respect of the reorganisation of Scottish local government because the Government on another occasion considered it inappropriate for the House to start discussing the reorganisation of the Health Service in England and Wales after 11.30 p.m.
We in Scotland consider it inappropriate that the most important local government measure that we have considered for probably 40 years should be treated in this offhand way. Will the right hon. Gentleman give us a pledge that he will look again at the possibility of finishing at a reasonable hour tonight and taking the later stages at a later date?
§ Mr. Prior
I recognise that there are difficulties for Scottish Members and for the whole House. I have to consider the weight of business before the House at this time of year. I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides for the difficulty in which we may have placed them. I have tried to reach agreement through the usual channels on this issue and I am grateful for the co-operation that I have had. I apologise to the House for the situation.
I must assure all Scottish Members and Scotland that no disrespect is meant to them in this. We had exactly the same trouble over the English Local Government Bill last Session. I hope that the Scots will accept that business at this time of year is very pressing. I hope that the assurance that we will try in future to arrange our business better will allow us to get on with the business for today.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That at this day's Sitting, Mr. Speaker shall put any Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Third Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill [Lords] not later than Five o'clock or one and a half hours after it has been entered upon, whichever is the later.