HC Deb 31 October 1974 vol 880 cc384-6
Mr. Speaker

I will now indicate my selection for Monday and Tuesday. I have selected for Monday's debate the amendment standing in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. Friends dealing with nationalisation, and for Tuesday's debate I have selected the amendment which also stands in the names of the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends but is in rather wider terms.

Mr. Thorpe

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course, your ruling is totally unchallenged and totally accepted. Indeed, it will be within your recollection that a few days ago I suggested that we were in a position in which you were bound by precedent and Standing Orders whatever wishes you might or might not have to the contrary.

We are in the position that, even with a six-day debate on the Gracious Speech, the only amendments which ever have the opportunity of being called are those which are tabled by the Front Bench of the official Opposition party. That means that no group of Government back benchers, and, indeed, no other group of Members, who may be back benchers, in their own party or may be minority Members, ever have an opportunity, even in six days of debate, of putting forward different points of view than those of the official Opposition.

In the interests of all back benches, and in the interests of protecting you, Mr. Speaker, and to give you wider discretion, it would be helpful at this stage to ask, through you, whether the Leader of the House has given this matter some thought and whether he can give any indication of what his intentions might be to protect you and others in the future.

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

This is a matter which the Procedure Committee, when we set it up, may well look into in view of the rather changed position of the Opposition.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I accept that your ruling is absolutely in accordance with precedent, Mr. Speaker, but may I respectfully suggest that this is a matter that requires urgent consideration either by the Select Committee on Procedure or by the Leader of the House? My colleagues and I represent 850,000 voters in Scotland. We could have a situation in which we represented the majority of Scottish seats in Parliament and yet still be debarred by the rules of procedure from moving an amendment to the Address. May I suggest, as the Government dragged their feet over this matter during the last Parliament, that the Leader of the House now gives it urgent consideration?

Mr. Hooson

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the position amply illustrated by today's proceedings? I understand that it has been arranged through the usual channels that the debate today will concentrate largely on agriculture. However, the official Opposition have not chosen to suggest an amendment to the Address concerned with agriculture. There is an amendment in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself and hon. Members from the Scottish National Party and the Welsh National Party, but that amendment has not been selected and the debate will therefore continue without an amendment on that subject.

Mr. Heath

In case any wrong conclusions are drawn from these exchanges, Mr. Speaker, let me say that it is customary for only two amendments to be selected and for the other days to be left without amendments, but any right hon. or hon. Gentleman who catches your eye is able to raise any subject. That gives the debate today far more range than would have been possible had an amendment been selected.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We on the Welsh National Party bench naturally accept your ruling, but may I ask the Leader of the House for an assurance that a Procedure Committee will be set up this Session as none was set up during the previous Session?

Mr. Short

The last Session was very short. We hope to set up a Procedure Committee very shortly, and a number of urgent matters have to be considered. If you agree, Mr. Speaker, this matter too could be put to the Committee for it to tender what advice it thought fit.

Mr. Speaker

In view of what has transpired, I think that it would be wise for me not to say anything. I have certain views, however.