HC Deb 29 July 1975 vol 896 cc1512-4
Mr. Prior

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Report stage of the Employment Protection Bill is due to be taken in this House tomorrow. Many amendments were tabled last evening, and up until five minutes ago they had not appeared in the Vote Office. It is not only intolerable but quite impossible to conduct proceedings in this House when we do not have the papers in front of us other than a few hours before we are due to have the debate.

I ask—through you, Mr. Speaker—the Leader of the House whether he can give any indication when these papers will be available. We have had so much trouble with the production of papers this Session that it is becoming intolerable for Front Bench Members of Parliament and backbench Members in all parts of the House to conduct business properly and in a way that is right for our constituents and for Parliament. What will the Government do on future occasions to ensure that we are not put in this difficulty again?

The Minister of State, Civil Service Department (Mr. Charles R. Morris)

As the Minister with responsibilities for Her Majesty's Stationery Office, I share the concern expressed by the right hon. Gentleman about these amendments. I apologise to the House and regret that copies of the amendments to the Employment Protection Bill are not available to hon. Members in the usual form. This is due to production difficulties. Amendments tabled on and up to Friday 25th July 1975 are available in the Vote Office. Copies of the amendments referred to by the right hon. Gentleman are now being produced in an alternative form, and they will be available to hon. Members shortly.

I assure you, Mr. Speaker, and the House, that I have asked the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office to initiate a full inquiry into the production difficulties to which my statement refers.

Mr. Peyton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are all grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his courteous explanation of the difficulties of production, as he politely calls them. This is a point for the Leader of the House. Again and again the business of Parliament has been obstructed by lack of papers which everyone, both Government as well as Opposition, know to be necessary. I do not ask the Leader of the House for an immediate answer, but I ask him to consider an alteration to Standing Orders which would require papers to be available a certain minimum period before they are needed for business. Otherwise the Government will have to face the suspension of the programme.

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

I do not believe that an amendment to Standing Orders is required. Different printing arrangements may well be required. The time has come when we must inquire into it. It happened under the previous Conservative Government and it is happening under this Government. We are constantly being let down in this way.

I know that the printers deal with enormous loads of work occasionally, but for no reason at all this kind of thing is sprung on us at the last minute. I knew nothing about it until about an hour ago. The time has come to look into the arrangements for printing our papers. I apologise to the House, and I share the view of the House about this matter.

Mr. Peyton

The House is glad to accept the apology of the right hon. Gentleman. Once again he has been forced into the humiliating position of saying to the House that he knew about it only an hour before the event. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he clears up the channels of communication between him and those responsible so that he knows well in advance of the disgraceful position in which the House is being put.

Mr. Adley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will be grateful that the Leader of the House is now prepared perhaps to enlist the services of private enterprise in getting the papers of the House printed. What use, if any, is being made of the expensive machinery being installed in the basement of the House in overcoming these problems?

Mr. Grimond

As I have raised this matter several times, particularly in connection with the papers for Standing Committee D on the Petroleum and submarine Pipe-lines Bill, may I also draw the attention of the Leader of the House to the fact that the ordinary daily Hansard was available early this morning only in small numbers and no more copies were available until late on in the morning? Yesterday the selection of amendments for the Report stage of the Petroleum and Submarine Pipe-lines Bill was not available, even to the Government, until an hour or two before the sitting was due to start. Is not the answer to relieve the House of Commons of some of the business? We are hopelessly overloaded. Either the right hon. Gentleman must prolong the Session still further or he must get rid of some business. Otherwise the whole system is in danger of breaking down.