§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Edward Short)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a short business statement.
The business announced for Tuesday 14th January included a debate on EEC documents relating to doctors and dentists. However, the discussion by the Council of Ministers has since been deferred and I have therefore decided to postpone our debate. It will, of course, take place before the decision is taken by the Council.
§ Mr. Heath
I thank the Leader of the House for making that statement. Why does he deem it right to postpone the debate? Is it because he imagines that further documents will be issued before the Council of Ministers reaches a decision, and that the House will then have them available, or is it just to suit the convenience of the Government?
§ Mr. Short
It is partly the latter. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has just returned from Africa, and he has asked for time to study these important documents. As the Council has decided to defer consideration of them until the February meeting, I thought it appropriate to ask the House to defer its consideration of them.
§ Mr. Marten
As this is a business statement, may I take the opportunity 31 to raise the second item on the Orders of the Day, which is "Financial Assistance to Opposition Parties". This seems to have crept in, certainly since we received our Whip. Many of us want to examine the matter very carefully and to have it properly debated. The first day back after the Christmas Recess is not the day on which to debate such a matter.
§ Mr. Arthur Lewis
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was my intention to raise that matter with you as a point of order. Should I do so now, or should I raise it at the end of the present discussion?
§ Mr. Speaker
It may help if I intimate my view on the matter, should it be reached today. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) has given me notice of his intention to move a manuscript amendment, in line 1,Leave out '1975' and insert 'following upon the first General Election held after October 1974.'I would intend to select that amendment.
§ Mr. Lewis
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, for your kindness in saying that. May I now raise with you the general question mentioned by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), that the item did not go on to the Order Paper until Friday? I was very fortunate in that I was able to put down an amendment, but—and this is my point—I am told that because the amendment was put down during the Recess it cannot go on the Order Paper. Therefore, I am precluded from having it tabled and printed, as would normally happen when an hon. Member puts down an amendment.
This is shabby treatment. The House is being treated with contempt. Both sides of the House and, I assume, the Liberals knew what was going on. We have not had an opportunity to consult our constituents or to put what would probably have been a number of amendments. Is there any way in which you can safeguard hon. Members' rights, Mr. Speaker, by saying that the matter should not be proceeded with until hon. Members have had an opportunity to consider it and to table their amendments? 32 The item was not put on the Whip and it was not included in the statement of business before we went into recess.
§ Mr. Short
It is utter nonsense to say that the House is being treated with contempt, when the object of the motion is to help the House. The whole object of the motion is to help the Opposition parties in the House. However, if it is the wish of the House to defer it, I am quite happy about that. There is no problem at all. The motion is for the benefit not of the Government but of the Opposition parties. If they wish to defer consideration of it, I am happy about that.
§ Mr. Heath
There are two points. There is the question of substance, of the intent of the motion being to help the Opposition parties. The other question is whether putting it down for debate today is of help to the House. Many hon. Members will feel that to take it on the first day back, without an opportunity to consider possible amendments, is perhaps taking it rather more quickly than is usually the case. I wish to make it plain that this was not done by arrangement between the Front Benches. The Government are entitled to put down a financial resolution of this kind, and it does not normally appear in the business statement. But it was not done by arrangement between the Front Benches. I believe that the House would gratefully accept the right hon. Gentleman's proposal.
§ Mr. Short
The right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that such a motion does not normally appear in the business statement, and this motion did not appear in the business statement. This is the last opportunity for some time when it will be possible to start on the motion at a reasonable hour. That is why it was put down for today, but, if it is the wish of the House, I am happy to withdraw it.
§ Mr. Speaker
The matter was raised as a point of order for the Chair. It would appear that the Chair no longer needs to take any decision. What I had proposed to do was what I thought it right to do in the circumstances, which was to accept a manuscript amendment, but that will not now arise.