HC Deb 25 June 1974 vol 875 cc1211-6

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

3.38 p.m.

Mr. Speaker

Before calling the Under-Secretary to introduce the first new clause, I have one or two matters to put to the House.

We are all in some difficulties as a result of obvious problems which have arisen. The Notice Paper has been produced in difficult circumstances. A great deal of hard work has been done to produce as much as we have. The Notice Paper is not in a very convenient form. It has not been possible to marshall the amendments in the order in which they relate to the Bill. However, the document which I advise hon. Members to follow is the list of selected amendments. Hon. Members will notice that against certain numbers a page number appears. For example, new Clause 10 has beside it "(p 19)". That refers to page 19 in the document headed "Housing Bill, as amended".

There are three specific matters to which I wish to draw attention. The first of them concerns new Clause 15. It has been represented to me that this was, in fact, the first new clause to be handed in and that it is only because of the general difficulties that inadvertently it has not, been placed immediately after the Government new clauses. I therefore propose to call it in that position—that is, immediately after Government new Clause 11.

Secondly, the new schedule printed as Amendment No. 85 on page 3 was intended to be a new clause. I have selected it to be moved as a new clause after all the other new clauses that have been selected.

Finally, what is shown on page 9 as new Clause 5 is in fact an amendment, and it may be discussed with new Clause 11.

Mr. Peter Emery (Honiton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for that statement and for the movement of new Clause 15. I have the printed clause which was on the Notice Paper on Thursday 13th June.

May I, through you or your office, ask the Leader of the House whether some action can be taken on this matter? It is immensely unsatisfactory that back benchers should have to deal with unmarshalled roneoed amendments. They can be marshalled with a considerable amount of work. I am half way through doing it myself. If we are to have typewritten lists, may I ask that somebody from the Public Bill Office be available to advise on the pure mechanics of the marshalling? That is a matter that the person who produced the amendments today obviously had not considered. If there had been co-ordination between the Public Bill Office and whoever had to reproduce these amendments, the task of back benchers would have been made easier. May I ask that that point be considered in future should we find ourselves in the same unfortunate situation?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not the only Bill before the House or its Committees. The trouble has been that many other sets of documents have had to be prepared. There would not have been time for what the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Consumer Credit Bill Committee has also been affected. One-third of the amendments which I tabled on behalf of some of my hon. Friends as long ago as Friday of last week did not appear on the Notice Paper. Indeed, it was necessary to suspend our proceedings earlier than usual because of these difficulties. Would it be possible during these difficult times at least for those of us who table amendments to be given a copy of what has been tabled so that we may know where we are?

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I should like to make two points, Mr. Speaker.

First, I expect you are aware that your selection of amendments, which is a very long list, was not available to hon. Members until shortly after 2 o'clock today. It is extremely difficult for hon. Members to prepare for a long series of discussions on complex amendments with that degree of notice—less than two hours—of the amendments which have been selected.

Secondly, I find it incredible that it should not be possible to have a marshalled list of amendments. I understand that it is not possible to have a printed list. However, typewriters and typists are available. If the House of Commons cannot do better than this, we are in no position to lecture the rest of the country about administrative competence.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, and the Leader of the House to look at this as a general problem. We must do better than this if we are to pretend to be a proper legislature doing our job.

Mr. Emery

Further to my point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully understand the difficulties, but marshalling is a matter of getting things in numerical order. The exact sequence does not affect the fact that the amendments are and have to be typed. There is no extra work in that. All we need is someone, with even the slightest knowledge of the procedure of the House, to ensure that they are typed in a certain order. If that cannot be done, perhaps hon. Members should offer to help. It is nonsense to proceed in this manner.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I support my hon. Friends the Members for Honiton (Mr. Emery) and Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) and the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) regarding these difficulties. They are not confined only to this Bill and the Consumer Credit Bill. We had this difficulty on the Control of Pollution Bill this morning. Amendments did not arrive until the Committee was due to start. The amendments were completely unmarshalled, as with these other Bills. When we looked at the list of selected amendments we found that the numbering and pages differed from the amendments that we were given. We had to go through the exercise of adding the figure 30 to each amendment number on the selected schedule to make them tie up with the schedule of amendments that we were given. We found ourselves in such confusion that the Chairman was obliged to adjourn the sittting at 11 o'clock for fifteen minutes to enable hon. Members, including the Chairman, to sort themselves out.

This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. I urge the Leader of the House to look into this matter and to treat it with extreme urgency so that we may proceed with our business in as efficient a manner as possible.

Mr. James Prior (Lowestoft)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In addition to amendments not being in proper order or even printed, we now have the difficulty that HANSARD reports of both this House and Committee stages of Bills are falling behind. For the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill we now have the Committee HANSARD for last Tuesday morning but not for Tuesday afternoon or either of the Thursday sittings. We shall shortly be reporting the Bill to the House and the Committee HANSARD may not be available to the House in advance of the Report stage. That would be a totally unsatisfactory position for the House to get into. I do not know whether the emergency arrangements which are made to keep the House supplied with these important papers are working satisfactorily. I hope that the Lord President will look into the matter, because it is beginning to cause a great deal of concern.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)

I am extremely sorry that this difficulty should have arisen. It is due to industrial action which has been going on since 20th June by the composing operation staff in the parliamentary printing works. It is the kind of industrial action from which we have suffered time and again in the last few years. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Not like this."] Indeed, exactly like this. Parliamentary and other papers are not available in their usual forms, but copies of the Order Paper and other documents essential for today's business have been made available in limited quantities in one form or another.

I understand that the proceedings in Committee on the Consumer Credit Bill had to stop this morning because the papers were not available. I very much regret that.

The amendments for today's business on Report of the Housing Bill are in the wrong order, and I regret that. However, I thank hon. Members for the sympathetic and good-natured way in which they have accepted the situation. I will look into it immediately and see what can be done to help. In the meantime, I assure the House that every effort is being made to resolve the dispute in order that the normal supply of printed matter may be resumed.

Sir John Hall (Wycombe)

I am sure that the House as a whole recognises the problems facing the Leader of the House in view of the printing dispute. The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we have had this kind of dispute before. However, I cannot recall such confusion arising out of printing disputes on previous occasions.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for the Finance Bill Committee, where there are a large number of highly complicated amendments, to deal with its work because of the problem of tracing the amendments through in the form in which they are now presented. I support what was said by my hon. Friends. It should be possible to marshal the typed amendments in an order in which they can be easily identified and traced. We did that on previous occasions when we had similar problems. Why cannot we do it now?

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

May I ask the Leader of the House to ensure that, regardless of industrial difficulties, any amendments that have been tabled appear on the Notice Paper? The difficulty in the Consumer Credit Bill Committee this morning was that amendments that had been put down in good time by the Opposition did not appear on the Notice Paper. That was why the Committee had to adjourn. I cannot recall such a chaotic situation happening before.

Mr. Speaker

What has been said will no doubt be noted.

The Stationery Office is responsible for producing these lists of amendments. The departments within the House do the best they can to carry out a task which is not theirs to do. That is the reason why it has to be done in this way.

A complaint was made because the list of my selections was not ready by 2 o'clock. I had difficulty in making the selection and in obtaining the necessary documents to enable me to do so. We had a long meeting. We drafted the list in the most convenient form. We are all in a difficulty caused by this industrial dispute.

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