HC Deb 07 July 1976 vol 914 cc1374-6
Mr. Peyton

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your help and guidance? You will know that the Finance Bill recently came out of Committee, but you may not yet be aware how extensively that Bill has been amended. Moreover, many more Government amendments have been promised. Printed copies of the Bill were expected to be available in the Vote Office on Monday, but we are informed that they will not now be available until Thursday. This means that Government amendments cannot be available until Friday.

It must be remembered that there are many other people besides Members of Parliament who will be very much affected by the Bill. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance, if parliamentary procedures are to mean anything, that such people should have a chance to consider the Bill before it is discussed in Parliament.

I believe that it is the Government's intention—although I do not know for certain—to bring forward the Bill next week. Surely that would be intolerable, there having been inadequate time for people to see and study the provisions and the voluminous amendments to the Bill which have been and are to be made. This kind of thing has happened before. Although I do so in temperate and restrained terms, I feel that a strong protest is justified.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It follows from what my right hon. Friend said that, even for those who are able to see Government amendments on the Friday, Government amendments cannot be tabled until the Bill itself is reprinted. That means that any Opposition amendments to the Government amendments tabled on Monday—which will be the first occasion on which they could be dealt with—would be starred amendments on the Tuesday. If the Government endeavour to proceed with the Finance Bill on the Tuesday, all Government amendments will necessarily be starred. That would be a most reprehensible situation for the House to find itself in, especially when dealing with a Finance Bill.

Mr. Jasper More

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It may be within your recollection that the House faced a similar situation on the Finance Bill last year—so much so that your predecessor in office had to appeal to the House to make specific arrangements to make it possible to debate the Finance Bill sensibly on Report. I hope that it will be understood that the Finance Bill is the most important Bill of the year. It should be conducted by the Government in a responsible way. We have a very complicated Bill this year, with possibly several new clauses coming at Report stage. Therefore, reasonable time should be given, particularly for the benefit of those Members who have not been on the Standing Committee.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I will, of course, take into account what has been said by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) and other Members of the House. I recognise the importance of what they have said. On the other hand, I am sure they would not expect me today to anticipate the statement I shall make tomorrow about the business for next week. The right hon. Gentleman said that there have been previous occasions when comparable difficulties have arisen, and I think that has been the case.

Mr. Peyton

It always happens.

Mr. Foot

The right hon. Gentleman says that it always happens. If that is so, there are many precedents. I quite agree that we must do what we can to overcome it, but I cannot promise that we shall not proceed with the Finance Bill next week. I will take into account what the right hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Peyton

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I realise that it would be too much to ask the Leader of the House to anticipate his statement of tomorrow, but I thought it would be helpful that he should have in mind, before drafting that statement, the very strong views held on this side of the House.

Sir G. Howe

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House has said, with particular reference to the Bill in question, that this kind of difficulty has arisen in the past. No doubt it has, but he ought to bear in mind also that virtually the whole of that part of the Bill dealing with the proposed taxation of benefits in kind has been taken back to be rewritten in the Treasury. It was rightly described by my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) as "liquid legislation".

The Financial Secretary told the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill last week that it was very desirable, in financial legislation of this kind, for people to have draft clauses before them, so that sensible consideration can be given to the fundamental changes which are at this very moment being rewritten.

There is a very powerful case, therefore, in these circumstances, for putting off the original dates which the Leader of the House may have had in mind.

Mr. Foot

I said to the House that I would certainly take into account what is said by hon. Members on this matter, and I certainly will. But I must also underline that I cannot anticipate my statement of tomorrow. It may well be that we shall ask the House to proceed with the Finance Bill next week, but I will take into account what has been said.

Mr. Speaker

It was not a point of order for me, because the responsibility is not mine, but I deliberately exercised discretion in order that a point of view should be expressed. I thought it was in the interests of the House to clear the air.