HC Deb 28 June 1974 vol 875 cc1939-42

Order for consideration as amended (in the Standing Committee), read.

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to question whether the Bill is properly for consideration today. As I was a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Bill, perhaps I may be allowed to explain the circumstances concerning it. When it went before the Committee it was in substantially the same form as when introduced on Second Reading on two previous occasions and, in particular, on Second Reading in this Parliament on 3rd May, by which time it had already passed all its stages in the other place.

The Bill went to a Standing Committee which considered it on 12th June. Government amendments were then put down to the Bill. They were complex, and amounted to a complete rewriting of the whole Bill, in that the original clauses were all deleted and fresh clauses were proposed in the Government amendments. Those amendments were put down only 48 hours before the Standing Committee on 10th June.

The Bill had previously received consideration by national organisations and experts in the subject with which it is concerned, and by those whose duty it would be to apply it if it became law, but 48 hours before it was to be considered by the Standing Committee the whole of the terms of the wording of the Bill were, in effect, changed. Incidentally, my amendments to the Bill could not be considered, nor could manuscript amendments be accepted by the Chairman of the Standing Committee because of the procedure adopted by the Government. The Standing Committee completed con sideration of the Bill at its Second Sitting on Wednesday 19th June. It did so without suffiicent consideration because there was insufficient study of the new terms by the experts and outside bodies to which I have referred.

The Bill as amended is now before the House but the Government have yet again tabled a whole series of amendments. The amendment list before us totals 36 amendments. They are amendments of substance and were tabled only yesterday—indeed, two of them became available to hon. Members only this morning.

We appreciate that the industrial dispute concerning the printers has affected publication of these matters, but it all amounts to the fact that back benchers have not had an opportunity of considering the wording of the Bill as it has progressed through this Parliament and we are now being asked to complete consideration without being able properly to consider the terms of the Bill.

If back benchers' rights are a matter for your protection, Mr. Speaker, I respectfully suggest that we should say that we are not a rubber stamp for the Home Office, and that we should ask that the Bill be withdrawn so that it can be properly considered after due study by the experts and outside bodies concerned. We in this House are not experts on any particular subject. We accept that there has to be assistance from outside bodies. We have not had that assistance, because the wording has been drastically revised by the Government in a short time without a proper consideration of the matters to be involved.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, if it is not right that consideration of the Bill today should be withdrawn.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I may be able to assist the House in determining this question. I have great sympathy with the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook). The matter which he raises arises largely because the Government have been given the assistance of draftsmen and officials in redrafting the Bill in a confined period of time. We have all been working under considerable pressure.

I had hoped that we could restrict most of the major amendments to the Committee stage. The hon. Gentleman says that the amendments were put down late for Committee. In fact, they were considered in Committee each in turn and there was a full discussion of them in which the hon. Gentleman himself took part. He has tabled one amendment for Report stage, and that will be discussed today because it has been provisionally selected. Therefore, he has had the opportunity of raising amendments to the draft as it came out of Committee.

Nevertheless, it is true that we have found it necessary, because of some of the matters which were not capable of being dealt with in Committee, to table a number of technical amendments. I gave that warning in Committee and I shall explain the technicalities as we get to them.

In general, they do not seriously affect the principles of the Bill. There are only three matters on which issues of principle arise. Those matters are easily understood and capable of being discussed in the course of the discussion we shall have today. I shall draw attention to them as we reach the amendments. I do not think that the House will find itself in any way inconvenienced by the nature of the amendments I have tabled.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is surely an issue of principle that there should be adequate time for back benchers to consider amendments and to consult outside bodies which may be interested. Nobody is suggesting that the Minister is trying to pull a fast one, but it is important, I again stress, that there should be time for consultation. We all appreciate that there are technical difficulties and difficulties over printing. However, this has become virtually a Government Bill, and it differs completely from the original Bill which went into Standing Committee. If Private Members cannot be given adequate time to consider amendments, I suggest that further consideration of the Bill should be deferred for a few days.

Mr. Speaker

This matter has been raised as a matter of order for the Chair. I have to do my best to protect the rights and interests of back benchers and, indeed, of the whole House. I know that certain difficulties have arisen because of the printing dispute, and I sympathise with hon. Members. I cannot rule that the House should not proceed with the Bill now.

Mr. Stanbrook

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I beg your indulgence—

Mr. Speaker

I have ruled on the hon. Member's point of order.

Mr. Stanbrook

On a new point of order, as a matter of procedure with regard to the Bill. Some of my hon. Friends and I have tabled Amendment No. 24 to Clause 5. Subsequently to our tabling it, Government Amendment No. 25 was tabled, which will have the effect of deleting Clause 5. In the circumstances, will you accept a manuscript amendment so that I can move my amendment to the new Clause 5?

Mr. Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman will produce his manuscript amendment so that it can be considered, a ruling will be given on the matter.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee) considered.

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