HC Deb 23 October 1973 vol 861 cc976-1001

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That at this day's sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 7, Mr. Speaker shall not interrupt the proceedings on the Motion relating to Maplin Development [Money] (No. 2) or on consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Maplin Development Bill at Seven o'clock and if the proceedings on the Maplin Development Bill are concluded after Seven o'clock, proceedings on the Motion standing in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means relating to the Ashdown Forest Bill [Lords] set down by direction of the Chairman for consideration at Seven o'clock shall, instead of being considered at that hour, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Maplin Development Bill; and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business) shall apply to proceedings on the Motion for a period of three hours from the conclusion of proceedings on the Maplin Development Bill or if such proceedings on the said Bill are concluded between Seven o'clock and Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the completion of proceedings on the Bill.—[The Prime Minister.]

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

First I want to apologise to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the House for raising this matter at this stage, because I appreciate that many right hon. and hon. Members want to get on to the main business of the House, which is the Maplin Development Bill.

The motion deals with the business of the House and relates immediately to the question of Private Business. We have had assurances from successive Leaders of the House, particularly the present Leader of the House, that Private Business would be brought forward for seven o'clock on the day allocated to it. The Leader of the House recently gave an assurance that such would apply unless exceptional circumstances prohibited the rule applying.

I should like to draw the attention of the House to the nature of the Private Business that we are putting back from seven o'clock to 10 o'clock.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

It will be later than that.

Mr. Loughlin

My hon. Friend suggests that it might be later than that. It could well be later than that.

Looking at this and the later suspension motion, I am not sure whether it is specifically clear to the House—it certainly is not specifically clear to me—that if consideration of Lords amendments to the Maplin Development Bill goes beyond 10 o'clock Private Business will have to wait until after 10 o'clock. However, the rule of the House has been that unless there are exceptional circumstances Private Business would come on at seven o'clock.

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

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. If the consideration of Lords amendments to the Maplin Development Bill is concluded before seven o'clock, other business will come on until seven o'clock and then the Private Business, to which he has referred, will come on at that time. If consideration of Lords amendments to the Maplin Development Bill is not completed until after seven o'clock, the Private Business, in which he is interested, will come on immediately after the Bill is completed.

Mr. Loughlin

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that clarification. Does he imagine for a moment that a controversial issue such as the Maplin Development Bill will be completed by seven o'clock? I do not believe that it will.

The motion allows the Maplin Development Bill to continue until 10 o'clock. I believe that it is extremely unlikely that consideration of Lords amendments to that Bill will be completed before 10 o'clock, because of the intensity of feeling about that Bill by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Therefore, we have a situation in which Private Business is again to he pushed to one side, even though there is considerable controversy on both sides of the House. If the Leader of the House refers to the debate that took place on 4th July he will see that there was great controversy. Hon. Members on both sides of the House spoke against the Ashdown Forest Bill.

It would be bad enough if a specific item of Private Business were being pushed to one side, but we are doing something more than that. Therefore, it is important, particularly from the point of view of back-bench Members, that we should be very careful about the way in which the Government exercise their privileges.

I appreciate that it would be out of order for me at this point to go into the full extent of the motion standing in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means. However, looking at that motion we see that we are not dealing with the specific issue of a Private Bill; we are seeking to accommodate its sponsors. We are doing nothing other than accommodating the sponsors of the Bill. We gave notice to the Government at the time—it is in the debate—that when this Bill came back to the House we would fight it to ensure that it did not get on to the statute book.

One of the reasons why this motion appeared on the Order Paper is that the Government knew that if the Bill came up for discussion this week—as it has to do—it would fall. What the Government are doing is compounding an offence. They are saying that they will use the procedures of this House to push Private Bills from seven o'clock to 10 o'clock, against the assurances that have been given by the Leader of the House, and they are proposing to do a wangle on behalf of the sponsors so that they will not have to bring it back in the normal way next Session.

Why is it that although there is controversy about the Bill and hon. Members on both sides of the House are opposed to it, the Government seek to overload the Order Paper? if one looks at today's Order Paper, one sees how it is becoming impossible for this House to give consideration to many issues that are coming before it. I should like to give one example of that. I see in the later Notice of Motion that the Government Trading Funds Bill will be dealt with after the Ashdown Forest Bill. But the Government Trading Funds Bill is today in the other place for Report and remaining stages, so that this House will not know about any amendments to that Bill until it comes back to us at some time in the early hours of the morning.

The reason I am raising this matter today and using a procedural motion to deal with it, is that the Order Paper is being overloaded with business which is not given consideration by this House. In many instances, we are in great danger of losing our democratic nature. If a Government, irrespective of their political complexion, can manœuvre the Order Paper and push item after item on to it so that the House never has the opportunity of debating them, what difference will there be between this House and a Parliament in some of the countries which have been described as being behind the Iron Curtain, or the House of Representatives or Congress in the United States of America?

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone) rose—

Mr. Loughlin

No, I will not give way. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make a speech on this matter. I am not making a party point and I am not arguing about a particular Government. I am arguing that back benchers must be careful about how far they allow the Executive to overload the business of the House and deny them an opportunity of discussing issues.

I am very incensed about this matter and object strongly to the method that is being used in relation to that Bill. To make matters worse, this is just a procedural device to save the promoters of the Ashdown Forest Bill. I am not arguing about this Private Bill, which may be a good Bill or it may be a bad Bill. I am arguing against the procedural device and, unless the Leader of the House is prepared to withdraw this motion, I am prepared to ask any hon. Member on either side of the House to join me in protesting against this kind of procedure and dividing the House on it.

3.43 p.m.

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

I start by seeking information and it is not clear to me whether I need guidance from you, Mr. Speaker, or from the Leader of the House. As I read the motion, it states that the Ashdown Forest Bill will come on after the Maplin Development Bill is finished. As I read the Notice of Motion in the name of the Prime Minister, it does not suspend Standing Order No. 1 in respect of the Private Business, the Ashdown Forest Bill, if the Maplin business should run until 10 o'clock. On the other hand, that may be implicit even without this motion. The point on which I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, is this: if the motion in the name of the Prime Minister is passed but the Maplin Development Bill debate is still running at 10 o'clock, will the business on the Ashdown Forest Bill, which is referred to on the front of the Order Paper, then fall in the absence of a resolution suspending Standing Order No. 1. or could we suddenly find ourselves reaching the Ashdown Forest Bill at two o'clock in the morning with all the remaining Government orders on Northern Ireland, the Powers of Criminal Courts Bill, the regulations on Legal Aid and Advice and, eventually, the Landscaping of New Palace Yard at four, five, six, seven or eight o'clock in the morning?

Mr. Speaker

I think it is for the Leader of the House to elucidate his own motion, not for me.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Spearing Acton)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) for raising this matter, because had he not done so, I would have sought to raise it on a point of order.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Government Trading Funds Bill. Some of us in this House have a concern for that Bill, because it seeks to alter the terms of trade of the Ordnance Survey, Her Majesty's Shipyards and Her Majesty's Stationery Office. That Bill has had a somewhat curious history, but the point is that no notice was given last Thursday that this Bill would be discussed in this House this week. It did not appear in the Order Paper of the House, nor does it appear today among the 21 items which we have on the Order Paper, and it is shown in the Business Motion to be taken at 10 o'clock. Therefore, unless hon. Members read what is usually a technical motion they would not know that it is before the House today, nor would the general public, who have an interest in this Bill, have an opportunity of getting in touch with their Members to make representations or to discuss amendments which have been made.

My hon. Friend mentioned amendments. One has already been made during the Committee stage in another place to delete the Ordnance Survey from the Bill, and I understand that other amendments are likely to be made at about this time. Unless we get an opportunity to read the report of that debate and learn what those amendments are, it will be quite impossible to take this item as the eleventh or twelfth item on the Order Paper today. Furthermore, no due notice would have been given. The Government have acted in this way on another occasion. I came into this House at 12 o'clock one Friday morning and found that a motion concerning the car park had appeared on the Order Paper at nine o'clock, and had gone through on the nod at 11 o'clock.

In view of the generally unsatisfactory nature of the notice to the general public and to hon. Members, I hope the Lord President of the Council will assure us that whilst the Sittings Motion gives an opportunity to discuss the Bill tonight, it will not in fact be discussed today but will be discussed either on Wednesday or Thursday. I hope we can have that assurance now. It is a distinct issue from that of the crowding of the Order Paper and the matter of Ashdown Forest. It is a matter of notice to this House and to the general public. It is also a matter of what is democratically right and proper in this House of Commons.

3.51 p.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) on raising this matter. I entirely share the fears expressed by both my hon. Friends.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West said that this was an attempt by the business managers in the Government to manoeuvre the Order Paper and its contents. It is a little more serious than that. In my view, it is a deliberate attempt by the business managers to manoeuvre and, if I may say so with repect, abuse the Standing Orders of this House—Standing Orders which are designed, among many other things, to protect the right of individual Members of this House to raise matters on behalf of their constituents and to ensure on behalf of their constituents that matters coming before the House of Commons are properly considered and debated.

I regret that when we have Business Motions of this nature there is this continued attempt to get them accepted on the nod, without debate. We have this afternoon a repetition of what I describe as this evil practice. The Leader of the House is not just a member of the Government. He is the Leader of this House of Commons, with a responsibility to all hon. Members of this House, irrespective of the side on which they may sit or the views which they may wish to express. The attempt is made to get a very complex Business Motion through on the nod without any explanation.

The Leader of the House of Commons intervened and tried to explain the situation in a few words. That is not good enough. One of his hon. Friends has the same difficulty as I have in understanding what all this means. If I may develop the point which the hon. Gentleman made, what is the position if one takes the Business Motion and the other motion on the Order Paper which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton? As I understand it—I may be wrong, and this is why the Leader of the House should explain it and perhaps save time—it means that we shall first take the Maplin Development [Money] (No. 2) Resolution. I assume that that will go through virtually on the nod. I am not certain. Some of my hon. Friends may wish to debate it. Indeed, I may have a few well chosen words to say. I cannot be certain that it will go through on the nod.

I believe that when that has been dealt with, we shall deal with the Lords amendments to the Maplin Development Bill. I am convinced that there are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who will want to debate at some length and in some detail some of those Lords amendments because the Maplin Development Bill fundamentally affects not just constituencies in the South-East of England but constituencies throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. I take it that those two matters will be debated.

Then, under the terms of the Business Motion, if those proceedings, by some miracle, are concluded before seven o'clock, we shall debate the Second Reading of the Powers of Criminal Courts Bill [Lords] until seven o'clock; and then at seven o'clock, provided that the two Maplin Bills have been completed, which is unlikely, we shall move on to consideration of the motion of the Chairman of Ways and Means.

That motion does precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West said: it is a direct intervention by a Business Motion on the side of promoters of private legislation. That is a most serious issue for this House.

When that is done, as I understand the motion, we shall then come to the House of Commons (Services) Committee Report on the Landscaping of New Palace Yard, over the car park which is being built there.

Then, if one looks at the Business Motion for 10 o'clock, it would seem that with today's business we can also take the Government Trading Funds Bill should any amendments be sent to this House from another place. I assume that all the other matters on the Order Paper will then fall because of expiration of time.

My interpretation of the Order Paper may or may not be correct. It may be that these few minutes which I have occupied in trying to clear my mind of the possible consequences of these motions would have been quite unnecessary if the Leader of the House had moved the motion in a normal manner and had explained its meaning to us. This is a serious situation. This goes far beyond the normal sort of debate on important issues. This is fundamental to the effective democratic working of the House of Commons.

The point that my hon. Friend made about overloading the Order Paper is certainly valid. Not only have we the 10 items already set out on the Order Paper; on top of that we have the motion of the Chairman of Ways and Means, making 11 items which have been set down by the Government business managers. If to that we add the Government Trading Funds Bill, that makes 12 items which have been put down for debate today. I cannot understand why the Order Paper is so overcrowded today and why we have this unfortunate episode.

The Leader of the House has the responsibility to explain the technicalities of the motion. Another duty of the Leader of the House is to explain why he, as the Leader of all the Members of this House, believes it is necessary to put down a motion of this nature, which, whatever the technical wording may mean, certainly means that the Government are giving facilities for a piece of private legislation in preference to Government business. We need an explanation why the exception is being made. It is no part of the Government's responsibility to make these facilities available to outside interests in the way in which they are making them available today.

There will be considerable public amazement at the Government's attempt to force through all this business today. I find great difficulty in understanding why there should be a necessity at the fag end of the Session to get all this business galloping through in the last few days. After all, we have just returned from a long summer Recess, and at the end of this week we shall be going off on a short recess while we wait for the new Session to open. One day of the summer Recess could have gone a long way towards dealing with many of the motions on the Order Paper.

Like most hon. Members, I greatly welcome the opportunity the long summer Recess gives hon. Members to perform their parliamentary duties in their constituencies. I dare say that at least one or two hon. Members use the Recess for a long summer holiday, but I am not one of them. The overwhelming majority of hon. Members on both sides use it to carry out their duty of keeping themselves informed of public opinion, of meeting constituents, of running campaigns of enlightenment in their constituencies. Far from being a holiday, the summer Recess is often the time of the most arduous part of a Member of Parliament's duties. Therefore, I should be loth to tell the Government unnecessarily that that period should be compressed, because the summer Recess is an important part of the total parliamentary democratic process.

But, when one looks at today's Order Paper and tries to cast one's mind ahead to the next two days of the Session, one's mind boggles at the amount of business the Government will try to force through on the nod. Whatever arrangements may or may not have been made between the usual channels, some hon. Members may be so outraged at this blatant attempt to frustrate the rights of individual hon. Members that they take it upon them selves to ensure that democracy works and that things are properly debated even at this late stage.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) shakes his head. I am sure that if he catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will develop his own views.

We should not allow Parliament to be ridden over roughshsod in this manner. The Standing Orders contain provisions for the protection of individual Members and adequate provisions for the progress of private legislation.

On another occasion when the same issue had to be raised as a matter of fundamental principle, irrespective of the inconvenience and the delay it caused to important debates that were to follow on that day, the Leader of the House said: I hope that the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend will accept my assurance that the Government are prepared to honour the undertaking that I gave in answer to a Written Question from my right hon. Friend last November. It is the general rule that we should take private business at 7 o'clock and not put it off until 10 o'clock."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th June 1973; Vol. 858, c. 1326.] That is a pretty solid undertaking. The Leader of the House should have moved the motion and explained the exceptional reasons that led him to allow it to appear on the Order Paper.

Following upon what has happened today and on that occasion back in June, there may well be a case for a complete review of the whole position of private legislation.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

Thai is the whole point.

Mr. Wellbeloved

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Opposition Chief Whip is in such agreement.

In the 1971–72 Session such a proposal in respect of the time for private legislation and the manner in which it should be taken was considered by the Select Committee on Procedure. My right hon. Friend and the Patronage Secretary jointly put a proposal to the Committee, a body of distinguished parliamentarians of great experience, knowledge and understanding of the careful balance that must be struck between the right of the Government to get their legislation and the right of individual hon. Members to exercise their democratic duty to ensure that all legislation is adequately debated and that objectionable legislation is opposed with great enthusiasm and energy. In its wisdom, the Committee came down against the two Chief Whips of the major parties.

At paragraph 8 of its report the Committee said: The loss of opportunities to debate delegated legislation has led to a breakdown in that part of the process of legislation, —we can all say, "Hear, hear" to that— and Your Committee are accordingly concerned to safeguard proceedings on private legislation. They recommend that there should be no change in the time at which the House has at present an opportunity to debate business which, although on occasion of apparently minor importance, is often of national significance. Because of the breakdown of the right of the House to debate such legislation at a reasonable time, not at two o'clock or three o'clock in the morning, the Select Committee decided against the two right hon. Gentlemen who occupy the office of Chief Whip of the major parties.

In view of the Select Committee Report and the undertaking by the Leader of the House in June, it is a bit much when they—I exclude my right hon. Friend, because on this occasion he is not guilty of complicity in the matter; by "they" I mean the Government busines managers—try to slip through on the nod this sort of thing, contrary to all the undertakings and the sound findings of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir Robin Turton) who chaired the Select Committee.

If the House, the two Chief Whips or any other hon. Members wish to change the rules of the House, they should do it openly by a proper motion on the Order Paper at the beginning of the Session asking for the authority to change the Standing Orders, so that we may properly debate it.

I hope that my hon. Friends who are now discussing which of them is to be successful in catching your eye are taking due note of my few remaining words about the Business Motion. If we wish to change the rules, let it be done openly, above board and with proper debate. If private legislation is to be properly debated and is to continue to be a proper and fairly substantial part of Parliament's business, it will have to come on in normal parliamentary time between 3.30 p.m. and 10 o'clock and not be shuffled off until the late evening and even the early hours of the morning.

If that is the value put upon Private Business we had better stop taking it. If to find the time means that we reduce the opportunities for hon. Members to do their duty in their constituencies, so be it; it will have to be part of the price we pay. I hope the Leader of the House will state clearly why he, the protector of the rights of all hon. Members, considers it right that the Government should give special facilities to the promoters of the Ashdown Forest Bill. Perhaps he will explain, too, why he considers it right that this House should be required. perhaps in the early hours of the morning, to discuss Lords amendments to the Government Trading Funds Bill and why this imposition should be put upon the democratic process of Parliament.

I hope, when he has explained, that he will agree to withdraw the Business Motion and will seek the support of the Chairman of the Committee of Ways and Means to do so. Let the Ashdown Forest Bill stand or fall in this Session on its merits. We should not try to shuffle it over into the next Session of Parliament. If these assurances are not given, I can promise my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West that I will stand as a Teller with him and divide the House on the motion. It is a motion that all hon. Members should seek to oppose because it strikes at the very roots of parliamentary democracy.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I find the concern expressed on the Labour benches for parliamentary democracy most interesting. I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will say how often in the last three years a similar motion to carry over a Bill until the next Session has been permitted. So far as I recall, this is not the first time.

On the Government Trading Funds Bill—the point was raised by the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing)—I was a member of the Standing Committee which met on 3rd July. It commenced at 10.30 p.m. and ceased at 10.32 p.m. and of the seven members of the Opposition entitled to be present only three were in fact present; none said a word and the business was concluded. Indeed, had it not been for my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), no word would have been uttered. The only words spoken were his vote of thanks to a member of the Chairman's panel for taking the Chair. I cannot help feeling that the House is being led slightly astray on this issue.

I can understand the points raised by the hon. Members for Gloucestershire. West (Mr. Loughlin) and Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved). But, again, I suggest that they are perhaps taking the House along a slightly different path from that which it ought to follow. We are discussing in their case a precedent which is not a precedent. The Government Trading Funds Bill had, if I recall correctly, a Second Reading Committee and a Committee stage at which members of the Opposition did not appear to wish to participate.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) is correct in what he says about the Committee stage of the Bill. There was no Committee discussion and the Second Reading Committee was not printed. We did not know of its existence. The Bill is highly controversial to members of the public. On Report there was a lengthy debate. Therefore, if there is a failure, it is a failure of scrutiny by all hon. Members. I and some of my hon. Friends caught it in time and we scrutinised this controversial Bill. The hon. Member for Hampstead is perhaps slightly mistaken.

Mr. Finsberg

The hon. Member's explanation puts an interesting complexion on the matter but it does not change the situation. I did not see the hon. Member for Acton as a member of the Committee. His hon. Friends had an opportunity of making their points. The Bill does not change policy. It seeks only to change the accounting methods.

Mr. Spearing


Mr. Finsberg

That appeared to be the situation. In any case, my right hon. Friend has done again in the Business Motion what has been done in the past under both Governments and under previous Leaders of the House. I am sure the hon. Member will be much happier taking 14 minutes of the time of the Services Committee than taking the time of the House.

4.18 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

I shall not take up the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) but I support my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) in his complaint at the way in which the Govern- ment are handling the Trading Funds Bill. It may seem a trivial matter to the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) but it affects several hundred of my constituents who work at the Ordnance Survey at Southampton. It may be unimportant for him but for them it is not, and it is disgraceful that we should be asked to deal with amendments from the other place when the other place is only this afternoon taking the Report and remaining stages of the Bill. We are being asked to accept Lords amendments that we have not seen and without having had an opportunity to read the proceedings of the debate in the other place.

The Government are treating the House with contempt, and there is no reason why they cannot postpone the Bill until tomorrow. If they did that, we could have printed amendments. An amendment was moved by my right hon. and noble Friend, Lord Shackleton, in Committee in the other place, which fundamentally affects the future of the Ordnance Survey and which will have to be considered by this House. He moved the deletion of a part of the Bill and we have no idea whether the Government intend to try to reinstate that part on Report today. I appeal to the Government to let us consider the Bill tomorrow so that we may have something before us to discuss. I urge them not to dismiss it as a triviality. It affects large numbers of our constituents.

4.20 p.m.

Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)

The hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) has done a severe disservice to the House. He should recognise that responsibility for the Government Trading Funds Bill is not that of some Committee but is the responsibility of the whole House. If he had been present on the night it was debated by the House he would know how deep and far-reaching were the fears and doubts of some hon. Members.

I wish to make two points in support of my hon. Friends the Members for Acton (Mr. Spearing) and Southampton, lichen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell). It is a bad principle for democracy and for considered parliamentary debate that we should be asked in the small hours to deal with Lords amendments which have been made in the other place on the same day and about which we know nothing until literally the eleventh hour. I ask the Leader of the House, for this if for no other reason, to reconsider the situation. There is a great deal of contempt among the public, rightly or wrongly, for what goes on in Parliament. This is the way to add fuel to the flames.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen, said that the interests of several hundred of his constituents were at stake. I, together with some other hon. Members, represent several thousand constituents whose interests are at stake through this Bill. To say it is a trivial Bill and of no significance is a misleading statement. It is a Bill with great potential for the future in terms of the power it gives those in control of the employment of people to alter, for example, the activities of the Naval Dockyards by Order in Council and to change the whole working environment and pattern of priorities laid down for the work of those Government institutions.

Where there are thousands of industrial and non-industrial civil servants affected by such legislation—people directly employed by the Government—there is a double responsibility upon this House to look seriously, soberly and responsibly at the implications of proposed legislation. Even at this stage I ask the Leader of the House to assure us that he will find some way to enable us properly to consider what has gone on in another place so that we may have a sensible and informed discussion tomorrow or Thursday.

4.23 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I am a little amused at what has been taking place this afternoon in that I can well understand this Government at any rate doing what they are doing with the Order Paper. It does not surprise me. It was this Government which introduced, without a mandate, all the measures we have been debating in the past three years. My mind goes back to the Industrial Relations Act

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have allowed considerable latitude but we cannot re-debate that.

Mr. Skinner

It does not surprise me that I am the first one to be pulled up.

Mr. Speaker

It may be because the hon. Member is the first person to go too wide.

Mr. Skinner

It may be because of some other reason. I listened closely to what my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) said. He covered a wide area indeed and there was not a bat from your eyelid, Mr. Speaker. What I am saying is analogous to the argument. I find it embarrassing at times to hear hon. Members complaining about the arrangements with the Order Paper when we all know that the rule of thumb for this Government—it might have been applied by others, I do not know—is, "We will do as much as we can get away with."

When the discussion arose in the past few days my guess is that the Leader of the House and the Patronage Secretary got their heads together and said, "We have got a busy time. We have all of these Lords amendments to deal with, there are several other minor matters. How much can we pile on? Hon. Members will want to get away. There is another short break from Thursday onwards, returning on the Tuesday. How much can we get away with?" That is how this place operates.

It never surprises me at all that this Government should, in their steamroller fashion, do what they have done the whole of the time I have been here. I was on the Housing Finance Bill in Committee. I saw that guillotined. We saw the Industrial Relations Bill guillotined. We were dragged into the Common Market without proper debate and now we get all high and mighty about the Ashdown Forest Bill. I am not surprised, but there is a lesson in this for the Labour Party. This is why I have spoken today. If we cannot learn lessons from what this lot have done during the course of the past three years and remember them when we get the opportunity to act on behalf of the working class, we do not deserve to be in government.

4.26 p.m.

Mr. Robert Mellish (Bermondsey)

Two separate points arise. The first, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing), has to do with the other place considering amendments at this moment. That must be, and I am sure will be, looked at by the Leader of the House. The idea that those amendments wil come here tonight to be confirmed by this House gives rise to the anxiety my hon. Friend expressed. I suspect he may know that the amendments concerned are favourable to his point of view but that, of course, is nothing to do with the relevant facts of the argument. I suggest that on that point the House could perhaps consider such amendments tomorrow evening.

The other matter which has been raised, that of the time of the House being interrupted by opposed Private Business, is a hardy annual. I have been Government Chief Whip and I must say there is nothing more frustrating—I am glad that the Chairman of the Procedure Committee is listening—for a Government trying to find time for their own business than to have to move away from it at the sacrosanct hour of seven o'clock until 10 o'clock to allow time for Private Business. This is often in the middle of an Opposition Supply Day. As Opposition Chief Whip I have had to give up half a Supply Day.

In spite of the views of the Procedure Committee, which are not necessarily right, I believe that the time is long overdue, recognising all that has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) about the importance of Private Business, for an arrangement to be reached whereby a day will be set aside, preferably a Friday, for this kind of business to be dealt with once a month. The House must understand clearly that whoever is in Government, under our present procedures, they have, quite rightly, to find 29 days for the Opposition. I think there should be more, but I do not press that. A Government must find time for the sort of interruptions we are talking about here. There is also time to be found for Private Members—quite rightly. Within all of that the Government have to arrange a schedule for their own business.

It would be humbug if I said it was unusual for there to be a conglomeration of business at the end of a Parliament's life. I have had it. It may be that it could have been sorted out differently if Parliament had sat for much longer than might have been wished. I am always interested to hear hon. Members saying how willing they are to come back here. I am glad to see them at any time.

Mr. Skinner

Some of them mean it.

Mr. Mellish

That cap is to be worn only by those whom it fits.

Mr. Skinner

Why not name them?

Mr. Mellish

I am not doing that. I have a good reputation for not naming anyone.

I understand the reasons for this motion. Although there were no usual channels discussions on it, I understood that it was the hope and prayer of the Government—and they can only do a bit of praying on these matters—that because many of the amendments affecting the Maplin Bill were favourable to those opposed to the scheme the discussion on the amendments would be disposed of by seven o'clock and the way would be clear for the debate on opposed Private Business. That was my impression, but in the light of these discussions I do not know when the amendments affecting the Maplin Bill will be concluded. If there is a Division, I shall not vote against the Government. I say quite frankly, as the Opposition Chief Whip, that I understand how this came about and I wish the Procedure Committee would look at it again. We cannot go on with this question of Private Business constantly coming up in this way. There should be a separate day for it.

4.29 p.m.

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

I thank the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) for what he said. May I respond to the hon. Members for Acton (Mr. Spearing), Portsmouth, West (Mr. Judd) and Southampton, lichen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) who raised the subject of the Government Trading Funds Bill. It is true that these are amendments conceding points made following representations to us in another place. For all that, in view of what has been said, we will put off consideration of these amendments until tomorrow.

I am determined that we should not get into a muddle over a debate late at night on the future of New Palace Yard. If this is to go late at night, which I think might happen in view of the debate we have had, I will withdraw the motion and put it down for next Session. The only point about getting it through was that there was some question about the ordering of materials. Those placing the orders will have to wait until the House has considered this at the proper time of day.

This is an important matter. I wish to respond to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who I believe gets more like Brian Clough every day. He can take that as a compliment, or in whatever way he wishes. I turn to the other two related points, first the motion which would enable the Maplin business to be disposed of before we move on to the Private Bill. This was done entirely for the convenience of the House because it would have been a nonsense to have interrupted the Maplin business, for perhaps a quarter of an hour, or half an hour, in the course of the debate purely because we had to take a Private Bill.

As the Opposition Chief Whip said, we thought that the Lords amendments to the Maplin Bill would not take very long and we put this motion down as a precautionary measure. I still advise the House to allow the motion to stand. We will take the Ashdown Forest Bill motion immediately after we have finished the Maplin debate, at whatever time that is. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it was designed to help hon. Members in all parts of the House and to make for a reasonable debate.

I note what the Opposition Chief Whip said about time set down for Private Business, but I gave the House the undertaking that we would continue with Private Business at 7 p.m. except under very exceptional circumstances, and this could have been one of those circumstances today.

Regarding the motion to carry the Bill over from this Session, I remind the House that we have already moved three such motions this Session and so the precedents for which my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) asked are there for all to see. They are the Zetland County Council Bill, the Harwich Harbour Bill and the North Wales Hydro Electric Power Bill.

The present position regarding the Ashdown Forest Bill is that it has completed its Committee stage and awaits consideration on Report, and then Third Reading. These Bills cost a lot of time and money and I do not think the House does itself much good by making the promoters go to the expense of reintroducing such a Bill in the next Session. It is possible that the House would do itself far more harm than good and that the procedure which we are now adopting, of allowing these Bills to go over, is the right and responsible one to take. This procedure will in no way prevent the House from reaching a decision on this Bill next Session. It merely saves money and the inconvenience of having to start all over again.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Has my right hon. Friend not grasped the point that the Committee which examined the Bill wanted to amend it in an important respect but that because of the way in which the Bill was drafted it cannot be so amended? Therefore, if the corrective action is to be taken, it can be taken only in one of two ways—either by the Bill being withdrawn or by it failing to pass into legislation. It has to he reintroduced de novo to encompass the corrections which the Committee wanted to put into the Bill. This Government motion attempts completely to frustrate what the Committee which examined the Bill was trying to achieve.

Mr. Prior

In that case the Bill will go forward to the next Session and will be defeated, presumably, because it does not do what it should do. Then it will be up to the promoters to reintroduce it. If the promoters have made a fundamental mistake in the way in which they wish the Bill to be enacted, that is a matter for them. It is not a matter of principle whether the Government, acting in a position of neutrality, should allow the Bill to be carried over to the next Session. I admit that I did not have the information which my hon. Friend mentioned, but it does not alter the principle of the matter. My hon. Friend has made his point but it does not alter the principle of allowing the Bill to go forward to the next Session.

Mr. Wellbeloved

The Leader of the House has made a generous concession to the promoters of private legislation in that he has made it clear that it is Government policy to facilitate the carrying over of private legislation because it is expensive to promoters. Will he extend the same generous facility to individual hon. Members who promote Private Members' legislation, which is also expensive and time-consuming, and so put all on the same par as outside vested interests by moving suspension motions on Private Members' legislation?

Mr. Prior

The hon. Gentleman is becoming more ingenious every moment. He will not expect me to give him an answer on that today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Vested interest."] There is no question of vested interest in this. The House will accept that I have gone a long way to try to meet the points raised. I hope that we can now conclude this debate and get on with the business which was set down. We have had a reasonable debate on this question, although I recognise that not every hon. Member will be satisfied by what I have said. I cannot answer my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) completely, except to say that I have before me a full report of the discussions on the Ashdown Forest Bill and I do not see in that report the major objection which he raised.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Almost an hour ago I asked Mr. Speaker whether if the Government motion which we are now debating were passed, and should the Maplin Development Bill run to 10 o'clock—and that would be less than 25 minutes per amendment, which seems quite possible—since Standing Order No. 1 and Standing Order No. 3 are quite categoric and do not exempt Private Bills, and since the Government motion does not suspend Standing Order No. 1 in favour of the Ashdown Forest Bill, it means that the Notice of Motion in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means fails if it is not reached by 10

o'clock. Your predecessor in the Chair, who was Mr. Speaker, suggested that I should put this question to the Leader of the House instead of to him. The Leader of the House is now about to sit down, and if he does not answer this point we shall not know the position.

Mr. Prior

I apologise. I have checked on this matter. If the Maplin Development Bill over-runs to 7 p.m. or even 10 p.m., the Ashdown Forest Bill will be protected by the Prime Minister's motion to enable a three-hour debate to take place on it. Thus, whatever time it comes up for discussion it will be protected for three hours by the motion in the Prime Minister's name.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

On a point of order. Can you advise the House, Mr. Speaker, how that can be so, because the Prime Minister's motion reads: … that at this day's Sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 7, Mr. Speaker shall not interrupt the proceedings on the Motion relating to Maplin Development [Money] (No. 2) or on consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Maplin Development Bill at Seven o'clock … However, nowhere does the motion say that the motion in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means is encompassed within the three-hour extension. Is it not the case that the Leader of the House has, no doubt inadvertently, advised the House contrary to what the Standing Order together with this motion actually says?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)

I do not think that that is the case.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 201, Noes 35.

Division No. 220.] AYES [4.40 p.m.
Adley, Robert Boscawen, Hn. Robert Cooke, Robert
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Bossom, Sir Clive Coombs, Derek
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Bowden, Andrew Cooper, A. E.
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Bray, Ronald Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick
Astor, John Brewis, John Cormack, Patrick
Atkins, Humphrey Brinton, Sir Tatton Costain, A. P.
Austick, David Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Critchley, Julian
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Bruce-Gardyne, J. Crouch, David
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Buchanan-Smith- Alick (Angus,N&M) Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Balniel, Rt. tin. Lord Buck, Antony Dean, Paul
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Digby, Simon Wingfield
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Campbell. Pt- Hn- G. (Moray & Nairn) Dixon, Piers
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Carlisle, Mark Dykes, Hugh
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Chapman, Sydney Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Benyon, W. Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Chichester-Clark, R. Eyre, Reginald
Biggs-Davison, John Clark. William (Surrey, E.) Farr, John
Blaker, Peter Clegg, Walter Fenner, Mrs. Peggy
Fidler, Michael Kirk, Peter Rossl, Hugh (Hornsey)
Finsberg, Geoffrey (Hampstead) Kitson, Timothy Royle, Anthony
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Knight, Mrs. Jill Russell, Sir Ronald
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Knox, David St. John-Stevas, Norman
Fookes, Miss Janet Lamont, Norman Sandys Rt. Hn. D.
Fox, Marcus Lane, David Scott, Nicholas
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Le Merchant, Spencer Scott-Hopkins, James
Fry, Peter Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Gibson-Watt, David Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Shersby, Michael
Gilmour, Ian (Nortolk, C.) Loveridge, John Sinclair, Sir George
Glyn Dr. Alan McAdden, Sir Stephen Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) MacArthur, Ian Soref, Harold
Gray, Hamish McCrindle, R. A. Spence, John
Green, Alan McLaren, Martin Sproat, Iain
Grieve, Percy McNair-Wilson, Michael Stainton, Keith
Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Madel, David Stanbrook, Ivor
Grylls, Michael Marten, Neil Steel, David
Gummer, J. Selwyn Maude, Angus Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Gurden, Harold Mawby, Ray Stodart, Anthony (Edinburgh, W.)
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Meyer, Sir Anthony Stokes, John
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mills, Peter (Torrington) Sutcliffe, John
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mitchell, Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire, W) Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Hannam, John (Exeter) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Tebbit, Norman
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Moate, Roger Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Haselhurst, Alan Money, Ernle Thomas, Rt. Hon. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Hastings, Stephen Monro, Hector Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Havers, Sir Michael Montgomery, Fergus Tope, Graham
Hawkins, Paul More, Jasper Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Hayhoe, Barney Murton, Oscar Tugendhat, Christopher
Heseltine, Michael Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Hicks, Robert Nott, John Vickers, Dame Joan
Higgins, Terence L. Osborn, John Waddington, David
Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Hordern, Peter Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Page, John (Harrow, W.) Ward, Dame Irene
Howell, David (Guildford) Pardoe, John Warren, Kenneth
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Parkinson, Cecil Weatherill, Bernard
Hunt, John Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch White, Roger (Gravesend)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Price, David (Eastleigh) Wiggin, Jerry
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Wilkinson, John
James, David Proudfoot, Wilfred Winterton, Nicholas
Jenkin, Rt. Hn. Patrick (Woodford) Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Jessel, Toby Raison, Timothy Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Woodnutt, Mark
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Redmond, Robert Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Younger, Hn. George
Kaberry, Sir Donald Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Kershaw, Anthony Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.) Mr. Michael Jopling and
Kinsey, J. R. Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Mr. Kenneth Clarke
Atkinson, Norman Kaufman, Gerald Prescott, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Kerr, Russell Rhodes, Geoffrey
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Latham, Arthur Skinner, Dennis
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Lomas, Kenneth Spriggs, Leslie
Doig, Peter Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Driberg, Tom Machin, George Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Edelman, Maurice McNamara, J. Kevin Swain, Thomas
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Tinn, James
Galpern, Sir Myer Mendelson, John Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W) Mikardo, Ian
Hardy, Peter Milne, Edward TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Paisley, Rev. Ian Mr. Charles Loughlin and
Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Parker, John (Dagenham) Mr. James Wellbeloved.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered, That at this day's sitting, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 7, Mr. Speaker shall not interrupt the proceedings on the Motion relating to Maplin Development [Money] (No. 2) or on consideration of the Lords Amendments to the Maplin Development Bill at Seven o'clock, and if the proceedings on the Maplin Development Bill are concluded after Seven o'clock, proceedings on the Motion standing in the name of the Chairman of Ways and Means relating to the Ashdown Forest Bill [Lords] set down by direction of the Chairman for consideration at Seven o'clock shall, instead of being considered at that hour, be considered at the conclusion of the proceedings on the Maplin Development Bill; and paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 3 (Exempted Business) shall apply to proceedings on the Motion for a period of three hours from the conclusion of proceedings on the Maplin Development Bill or if such proceedings on the said Bill are concluded between Seven o'clock and Ten o'clock, for a period equal to the time elapsing between Seven o'clock and the completion of proceedings on the Bill.

Mr. Loughlin

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In the Division I was a Teller in the Lobby. I saw one of the Opposition Whips standing in the centre of the "No" Lobby entrance. He was obviously stopping Members from going into that Lobby. May I have your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

Further to that point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am the Member whom my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) is talking about. When my hon. Friend talks to some of the Members who went through the Lobby to which he has referred, he will find that what he has been saying is opposite to what took place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair cannot help further.