HC Deb 21 May 1973 vol 857 cc34-6
33. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Lord President of the Council if he will move to amend the existing procedures of the House of Commons so that any Member seeking to object to a Private Member's Bill will be required to rise in his place, when objecting, and that his name be recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)

Such matters are already within the terms of reference of the Procedure Committee.

Mr. Cox

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the urgency of this matter? The whole concept of the Private Member's Bill is being abused. Week after week Bills are being deliberately objected to in this House even when they have wide support on both sides of the Chamber. I refer to legislation such as the Export of Animals (Control) Bill and the Improvement Grants (Restrictions on Eligibility) Bill.

We must seriously start to question the motives behind some of these objections. Is it not time for those hon. Members concerned to have the courage to stand up, to be seen, and, when they object, to have their names recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT?

Mr. Prior

There are other points to be considered as well as that one. If the hon. Gentleman will read the Report of the Procedure Committee, which examined this matter last in 1963–64, he will see some of the problems which the course he recommends would create for the House. There is also the point that many hon. Members object not just because they do not like the Bill but because they do not think that a Bill should automatically receive a Second Reading without debate.

Mr. Sydney Chapman

Does my right hon. Friend realise that there is bitterness on both sides of the House about this matter? Should not those who are responsible for organising our timetable face the honest possibility of having fewer Private Members' Bills discussed but of ensuring that those which are discussed are given a chance to get on the statute book?

Mr. Prior

This is a particularly difficult matter. I remind the House that last year I got into trouble about what I did over the progress of one Bill through the House, because certain hon. Members did not like it.

Mr. Stallard

Does the Leader of the House agree that his reply adds nothing to the situation? It seems to suggest that those who object do so to prevent a Bill's receiving a Second Reading, but that is not the point. The point is that certain hon. Members object mainly because there is a vested interest in preventing discussion of some Bills. The right hon. Gentleman's reply does not mean anything. There is nothing, to stop an hon. Member's being named, if he so wishes it, or has the courage to stand up and be named.

Mr. Prior

I recognise that this is not an easy problem. If the hon. Gentleman reads the report of the Select Committee on the Procedure in the Session 1963–64 he will realise that there are considerable difficulties in the course which he recommends. But there is nothing to stop the Select Committee on Procedure reconsidering this matter if the House thinks that it is desirable to do so.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is widespread opinion in this House which is entirely adverse to his point of view, and that many of us take the gravest exception to the intervention of the Whips in what is essentially a Private Member's gesture in promoting a Bill? If we could be assured that the procedure could be reformed so that people objecting would have to show their hands and be seen to be the servants of the Whips, we could take very much more kindly to the objections that are being voiced. Will my right hon. Friend study the matter from that point of view? I remind him that the last time the matter was examined was 10 years ago.

Mr. Prior

It is not for me to study the matter; it is a matter for the Select Committee. If the Select Committee would like to reconsider this matter we could obviously make arrangements for it to do so. But in fairness to Government Whips I must point out that, certainly in this Session, to my knowledge, there have been many occasions on which they have not objected but other hon. Members have.