HC Deb 22 October 1973 vol 861 cc712-836

Order read for consideration of Lords amendments.

4.10 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

I beg to move—

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

On a point of order. In fact, I wish to raise two points of order. The first relates to how we are to conduct the proceedings. All but one of the Government's amendments in response to the Lords amendments are starred amendments. It is within your discretion, Mr. Speaker, whether starred amendments are called. I take it that they are being called. That being so, what is the position when the Government have difficulty in meeting the time limits?

The Leader of the House tried very hard to acquaint me with the Government's response to the Lords amendments, but it is very difficult, in a Scotland-bound train at midnight, to understand what is meant by Lords Amendment No. 45, with which the Government will ask the House to disagree, if one does not have the list of amendments. It is nonsense. Until they arrived here this morning most hon. Members did not have a clue about what was involved.

Although I hope that the need will not arise, will you be willing, Mr. Speaker, to consider the possibility of manuscript amendments if some of my hon. Friends think them necessary?

Mr. Speaker

I will certainly consider that possibility.

Mr. Ross

My second point is much more serious. In the Government's list of amendments to the Lords amendments there are controversial amendments, undiscussed in another place or in this House, introducing for the first time far-reaching proposals. They merit, if they are to be discussed at all, virtual Committee procedure. If they had been produced on Report we should probably have had to go back into Committee to discuss them. I refer, for instance, to Government Amendments Nos. (h) and (j).

Is not it an abuse of the principles and procedures of the House for the Government at this stage so to use the Lords amendment procedure in order to introduce considerable new elements? Has consideration been given to this point?

Mr. Speaker

I examined this point with my advisers. I am advised that there is nothing out of order, no matter what comment may be made about the way in which the matter has come before the House today.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am greatly disturbed about the matter. In a short intervention on Friday I pointed out my concern about the irregularity of the proceedings on Thursday evening. The Lord President of the Council admitted, as reported at column 558 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 19th October, that he had then done something rather irregular in issuing amendments to the Lords amendments to the Opposition Front Bench and certain other members of the Opposition, and failing to issue them to all Scottish Members. Surely there was no difficulty in getting sufficient photostat copies within half an hour, or less, so that they could be circulated to all hon. Members.

What was done seems to be a total disregard of the proper procedure of the House. It has given us no opportunity to study the amendments to the Lords amendments, or to get legal advice from the Table whether we could compose competent amendments to the Govern-amendments to the Lords amendments or, in view of the alteration in the general set-up of the Strathclyde area, and the necessity to look at that question vis-à-vis the central area of Scotland, whether amendments could have been put forward for at least your consideration, Mr. Speaker. No time has been made available for hon. Members to do that and to have the necessary consultations to put such points before the House.

In view of this very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and the unsatisfactory attitude of the Lord President of the Council, who has violated every code of good conduct, I wish to have your ruling, Mr. Speaker, whether this debate can be suspended so as to give us more opportunity to consider the Government's proposals. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said, their implications are far-reaching.

Many local authorities throughout Scotland have observations on the Government amendments to the Lords amendments. I have a telegram in my pocket from Stirlingshire County Council and I have had letters and approaches from other local authorities. I do not know how they obtained their information about the Government amendments. It is not the proper way to conduct the business of the House to push through an issue of major importance to the wellbeing of local authorities in Scotland without the consideration which it deserves.

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

Further to the point of order. On Friday I apologised to the House if, inadvertently, I had given a wrong impression in answer to Business Questions on Thursday afternoon. You have said this afternoon, Mr. Speaker, that you would accept manuscript amendments—

Mr. Speaker

I said I would consider them.

Mr. Prior

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. You said that you would consider them. The Lords amendments, and the amendments of my right hon. Friend to the Lords amendments, were available from Friday morning.

Mr. Baxter

No, they were not.

Mr. Prior

They were available at 11.15 on Friday morning. [Interruption.] I am sorry, they were available at 11.45. [Interruption.] I am now told that they were available at 11.25 on Friday morning, but I do not wish to argue over a few minutes. When I heard on Thursday afternoon that there was a delay in obtaining the amendments to the Lords amendments I thought that it would be a courtesy to as many hon. Members as possible to provide them at that time with a copy of the amendments. It was for that reason that on Friday morning I made the statement which I made.

What I did was not meant to be a discourtesy to the remainder of hon. Members who had not received the amendments. It was intended as advance notice to certain hon. Members, and was done out of courtesy to them. This action at no time altered the position of other hon. Members, or their rights or opportunities to put down amendments, as they could have done on Friday. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not accuse me of irregular procedure. What I used was procedure which was designed merely to help certain hon. Members where I could do so.

Mr. Baxter

Further to that point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must try to conduct our affairs according to the rules of order. The only matter in which the Chair is involved here is whether I will consider manuscript amendments. I have said that I will. Nothing that the Government have done is out of order. It may be undesirable; it may be that it can be criticised. One can say what one likes. It may in fact be desirable. But those are not matters for the Chair. I must insist that the Chair is asked to pronounce only on matters within the Standing Orders. Nothing out of order has occurred. We had better get on.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

May I raise the point which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) put succinctly, and which you said was in order, Mr. Speaker? As far as we can divine from the proceedings on the English Bill, there is no precedent for the admission of amendments (g) and (h). If you allow them, surely that is setting a new precedent.

Mr. Speaker

That was exactly what I was invited to do when I was elected Speaker. All I say at present is that there is nothing out of order.

Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)

The Bill is before the whole House of Commons of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it should be open to every hon. Member to submit a manuscript amendment. Those who sit for Scottish constituencies have a great deal of trouble understanding the Bill as now amended and as the Government intend further to amend it, but it would be almost impossible for a Member who did not sit for a Scottish constituency to understand it.

There was very little time for Members to read the Bill and the amendments, but I am sure the Government will use in the Lobbies Members who are in total ignorance of the situation. Is not that a sound reason for suggesting to the Leader of the House that today's business should be withdrawn and be dealt with later in the week?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair. If I were to judge the capacity of hon. Members to deal with the business before the House, I should be starting to tread on very dangerous ground. Mr. Gordon Campbell—

Mr. Gordon Campbell

With regard to the first point that has been raised, the present situation has occurred because Parliament has been given just two weeks to take the remaining stages. Because of the enormous time taken by Labour Members in the Committee to deal with the amendments, the Bill did not reach the other place until June. The other place understandably felt that it was not given enough time, but we warned hon. Members—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have said that this is not a matter for the Chair. It is not a matter of order. I was calling the right hon. Gentleman to move his motion.

Lords amendments considered.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

I beg to move, That the Lords Amendments to Schedule 1 to the Local Government (Scotland) Bill be considered before all other Lords Amendments to that Bill. I think that it is for the convenience of the House that the amendments which raise the main structural issues in the reform of local government be considered first, because other matters on which Lords amendments touched could be affected by decisions taken on the main structural amendments proposed by the other place. I believe that it would be for the convenience of the whole House to consider those amendments first and then take the other amendments in the order in which they come in the Bill.

Mr. Ross

When the Secretary of State rose unthinkingly to make a barbed comment about the Opposition when you had called him for another purpose, Mr. Speaker, he gave vent to a defence of the Government's incompetence that sounded very strange.

The right hon. Gentleman is asking us for co-operation to take the amendments in a particular order. The same thing happened in Committee. There was no objection. He knows quite well that all through the Committee stage there was co-operation on timing and everything else. We sat as often and for as long as he wanted. I do not remember one occasion on which he had to move a closure to curtail a debate. To be told at this stage that all his bungling and incompetence are to be overlooked, and that people are to think that we took up too much time, is more than a bit much.

The right hon. Gentleman has not done his reputation great credit so far by his handling of the Bill, and he started pretty badly today. But despite what the right hon. Gentleman says, we shall give him co-operation on the order in which he wishes the amendments to be taken.

Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)

I have the greatest difficulty in agreeing to the motion. My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Siliars) said that our proceedings would be difficult for anyone who did not serve on the Committee and who knew nothing about the Bill. I served on the Committee throughout, and yet I have the greatest difficulty. The only Lords amendment that seems to affect my area is No. 45, which refers to Clause 147. I looked at the Bill as it was when we discussed it in Committee and found that Clause 147 in that Bill had nothing to do with the amendment. Therefore, I went to the Vote Office only 15 minutes ago for a copy of the Bill as it now is, and I could not obtain one.

How on earth can we make head or tail of matters that vitally affect our areas when amendments refer to clauses that do not exist in our copies of the Bill, or do not deal with the subject of those amendments? It is beyond me how we can intelligently look after the interests of our constituents in such circumstances.

I should like the Secretary of State to explain fully what each amendment is all about so that we can follow the proceedings intelligently. It is no use just moving an amendment which says, for example, "in page 88, line 23, at the end insert" certain words, because those words have no connection with what is in the clause we discussed in Committee.

In view of our difficulties—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

Order. We are discussing only the motion moved by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Doig

If I cannot make sense of an amendment that relates to my area, I do not see how anybody else can. We should not be discussing legislation on the basis of guesswork. We should be able to look up the Bill—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I do not think the hon. Gentleman quite understood my point. We are simply on the question that the Lords amendments to Schedule 1 be considered before all the others.

Mr. Doig

That is the very point I am dealing with, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Why should I discuss a part of the Bill that I know nothing about unless the Secretary of State is prepared to explain in detail the previous position, the present position and the change that he is advocating? We cannot follow what is being done on the basis of the information that we have. If we cannot follow it, we cannot agree to the proposed procedure, unless the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to accept that he must explain it in detail.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Sillars

It is very important that the Secretary of State answers some of the points already put to him. I have several of my own which are relevant to my decision whether to agree or disagree with the motion.

Schedule 1 is crucially important to the people of Scotland, because that is where we draw the boundaries for the regions and districts. It is important for us to know whether the Government are to have a free vote on Schedule 1, because the Opposition are to have a free vote. If the Government are not to have a free vote, I should be opposed to taking Schedule 1 first. If that were the position, it would be better to take Schedule 1 last.

That would mean that the hon. Members who would stay here and argue the matter through the night would be those hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies. The Government would then be in a position to honour their election manifesto, which recognised that Scotland has become increasingly impatient with decisions made in London which would be better taken in Scotland. I know that we cannot all get on the train to Edinburgh, but by taking Schedule 1 last we could transfer the House into a forum of Scottish opinion and Scottish hon. Members would be able to consider local government boundaries.

If the Secretary of State says that there is to be a free vote for Government hon. Members, and as the Opposition are not to whip, let there be freedom of expression on boundaries. As most of the Government supporters come from England and Wales, and some from Northern Ireland, they would be unlikely to take part in a Division. We require the Secretary of State to say whether the Government are to whip. If the Government are to do so, Schedule 1 should be taken at the back end of today's proceedings.

Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

I make a strong plea to the House to support my right hon. Friend's proposal. If the House does not do so, the only alternative will be to consider Lords Amendment No. 1. That amendment suggests that we should put certain words after the word "Glasgow". I suggest that unless we consider Schedule 1 first, many of my colleagues, and myself, will not have the slightest idea where and what Glasgow actually is.

Mr. John Smith (Lanarkshire, North)

I have a simple but important matter to put to the Secretary of State, which I hope that he will deal with when he replies. In the Government's proposals which are contained in Amendment (h) it appears—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not on a specific amendment now.

Mr. Smith

Although the matter which I am raising may not have become clear, I think that it will become clear if I continue. I believe that I am in order in saying that I should agree to this motion only if we receive an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that we shall have separate votes on district matters. It seems that the Government have put the whole thing into one package. The Government have decided rather late in the day—in fact, in another place—to bring forward different proposals. They are contained in Amendment (h). It may be that some hon. Members favour one part, other parts or no parts. However, the whole thing appears to have been put into one package. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will make it clear that these matters will be considered separately.

Mr. Baxter

I wish to draw attention to the difficulty in which I find myself. I had discussions with some legal people on Friday to see whether it would be in order to put down an amendment to exclude Kilsyth and Cumbernauld from the Strathclyde region. I am pointing out the difficulties which I experienced when considering whether Kilsyth and Cumbernauld should be taken out of the Strathclyde region and put into the Central region. I am advised by the Clerk with whom I discussed the matter that it would not be in order to do so.

Nevertheless, I believe that because of the fundamental changes which are being brought about in the Strathclyde region by virtue of the Lords amendments, if we should carry them today or even support the Government amendments, there is a complete alteration in the set-up. In view of the Lords amendments and Government amendments it would probably be in the interests of the best local government administration—and that is by what we should be motivated—that the desires of Kilsyth and the desires of Cumbernauld should be considered and that those areas should be transferred into the Central region. I should have liked an opportunity to express that point of view.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman might have an opportunity to do so later.

Mr. Baxter

But I have not put an amendment down to that effect.

Mr. William Small (Glasgow, Scotstoun)

My difficulty is in reading prosaic language. We constructed a jetliner in the Lower House. There was then a bit of hi-jacking in another place. I want to know the degree of hi-jacking with which I am now dealing. Are we dealing with the Greater Glasgow area? What is it that I am dealing with in the schedule in terms of the Lords amendments?

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

I suggest that the House proceed with the business before it. According to the amendments before the House it will be possible to have more than 40 debates. I support my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and I suggest that we proceed according to the suggestion of the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) suggested that there should be a free vote for the Opposition as that would mean that only Scottish hon. Members would be left in the middle of the night to deal with the matter. However, if that were so there would not be a quorum and the Bill would not proceed. If the Secretary of State prefers to proceed now and to use his English hordes to impose his will upon the people of Scotland, that is a matter for the people of Scotland to judge at the oppropriate time. In the meanwhile, I suggest that we proceed with the debate.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for proposing that Schedule 1 should be taken first. If he had not proposed doing so Opposition hon. Members would now be complaining bitterly that Schedule 1 was not to be taken at the beginning of the proceedings. It must make sense to take Schedule 1 first because the schedule deals with the regional and district groupings of authorities in Scotland. It is those matters which will probably concern us most today.

Mr. Sillars

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. MacArthur

No. Let us get on with these matters now and come to a decision one way or the other. The House will find that most of the other amendments will fall into place once Schedule 1 has been dealt with. It is a sensible course to take Schedule 1 first. I am sorry that some Opposition hon. Members have taken the stand of perpetual and professional opposition. That is a posture which they adopted throughout the earlier stages of the Bill.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I agree that on balance it is probably sensible to take Schedule 1 first. However, has the Secretary of State considered the alternative of inviting the House to accept a motion which would recommit the Bill to the next Session of Parliament?

Mr. Gordon Campbell

The answer to the hon. Gentleman's point is "No". The Government made it clear that they felt that the reorganisation should be carried out. It should be possible, even for a Bill of this size, to be taken in one Session of Parliament. We warned Opposition hon. Members as the months went past that we were leaving a lot to be dealt with at the end of this Session. We gave them that warning in Committee. Further, to postpone the matter until the next Session would mean that we would fall behind with this important reorganisation. England and Wales are already a year ahead of Scotland.

I can help the hon. Member for Glasgow, Scotstoun (Mr. Small). The proposals for the Strathclyde region and the peripheral areas of Glasgow are structural issues which we are due to consider today. The other matters which have been raised are mainly procedural matters which do not affect the order in which we should take the amendments. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) when he advised the House that we should proceed now.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

Before the right hon. Gentleman sits down—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has sat down.

Mr. Lawson

My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. John Smith) asked whether there would be one vote. He asked whether that one vote would include the other amendments or whether there would be separate votes for the separate questions coming within the schedule.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

I will reply with the leave of the House. That must be a matter for the Chair. The matter to which the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. John Smith) referred was one amendment concerning one of the peripheral areas of Glasgow. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was "(h)". Hon. Members can read this as they wish, but as I understand it, the amendments have to be voted on individually. Where there is to be a Division, there can be individual Divisions on amendments. But the question of amendments to amendments is clearly a question for the Chair.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Lords Amendments to Schedule 1 to the Local Government (Scotland) Bill be considered before all other Lords Amendments to that Bill.

  1. Schedule 1
    1. cc723-836
    2. NEW LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS 42,202 words, 1 division
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