HC Deb 19 July 1976 vol 915 cc1291-4
Mr. Speaker

On Thursday last I undertook to give a ruling on whether the provisions of Standing Order No. 44 remain applicable if more than one Bill is included in an Allocation of Time Order. Following the points of order in the House, I also received representations to which I have given the most serious and anxious attention.

The ruling which I am now going to give to the House is therefore a considered ruling after long deliberation.

The question is whether in this Order the words provision for the allocation of time to any proceedings on a bill admit a motion which provides for the allocation of time to proceedings on more than one Bill.

It has been represented to me that it was clearly not the intention expressed either in the Report of the 1970–71 Procedure Committee, which recommended the revised form of Standing Order No. 44, or of the debate of 16th November 1971 which preceded the passing of this Order, that a guillotine motion should encompass more than one Bill.

I have studied the debate on 16th November 1971 with great care. There is nothing there that appears to me to suggest that the House had in mind either one interpretation or the other: in so far as the Standing Order was debated, it was referred to in general terms.

On the other hand, the recommendation of the Procedure Committee was most specific. I quote the relevant passage in full omitting references to Business Committees which are not relevant: Your Committee further recommend that Standing Order No. 43"— as the Standing Order was then numbered— should be amended to provide as follows:— (4) Debate on any allocation of Time Motion should be restricted to three hours. The House will note, however, that the reference in so far as it concerns a time limit is simply to an Allocation of Time Motion: no mention is made of the contents of the motion, nor to the number of Bills it might contain.

Finally, I wish to refer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) on Thursday. If I may use his own summary of his argument, he claimed that never before had the Chair been asked to put to the House a motion embodying allocation of time on more than one Bill, except when one or more of the following circumstances had been present. The first was when the Bills put together in the timetable motion had been rejected or blocked by the House of Lords. The second was when the Bills were related to each other by their content.

The hon. Member suggested that it would be an abuse of the due process of the House if I were to put to the House a motion which had no basis in precedent at all and did violence to all the precedents.

I have examined the precedents carefully and do not think that the hon. Member's contention is entirely correct. In the Session 1961–62, the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill and the Army Reserve Bill were included in one Allocation of Time Order, and previous to that, in 1946–47, the Transport Bill and the Town and Country Planning Bill were included in one motion.

For all of the reasons which I have given above, I must rule that each of the allocation Orders appearing on the Order Paper will, when they are debated tomorrow, be subject to the provisions of Standing Order No. 44 and in consequence I must proceed to put any question necessary to dispose of proceedings on each motion not more than three hours after the commencement of those proceedings.

It is not for me as Speaker to pass any comments on the propriety of the motions which are down for consideration tomorrow; that must be a matter for argument in debate.

Mr. Peyton

While we are naturally deeply disappointed by your ruling, Mr. Speaker, we accept it without reservation.

However, it leaves quite a number of points unanswered. We accept that you have construed the meaning of Standing Orders, but I am obliged to put to you the question of the extent to which the singular must be taken to mean the plural throughout Standing Orders. This is a serious point. We are concerned to know to how many Bills a motion of the kind contemplated could be made to apply at any one time.

I ask the Leader of the House for an assurance that the position now reached as a result of your ruling of the meaning of Standing Order No. 44 should be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure as a matter of high priority in order that this confusing position should be cleared up.

My second point concerns the opportunity the House will have tomorrow to vote on a number of possible variants. I shall not seek to detain the House at great length, but I must put these points. There is not only the main Question on the first motion but also the proposed number of days which the Bill should have allotted to it and the length of each day. The second motion is even more complicated because there is the possibility of leaving out one or other of the Bills included in that motion. The same applies to the third motion, with the additional fact that it has only just appeared on the Order Paper and we have not yet had a chance to put down amendments which we think appropriate.

Does your construction of Standing Order No. 44 allow you to put amendments other than those under discussion when the guillotine falls? If not, the House will not only be deprived of the opportunity to discuss these amendments but deprived of the opportunity to express an opinion—which would be intolerable.

Mr. Speaker

I am deeply grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the way in which he accepted, as is traditional in this House, the ruling of Mr. Speaker on a difficult issue.

I should welcome any reference to the Procedure Committee if the House feels that there is any difficulty on this matter, but it is for the House to decide.

If an amendment is under discussion when the guillotine falls tomorrow, I shall obviously put the question on that amendment, but I shall not be able to call or put to the House any other amendments once the three hours has passed. I could put only the amendment under discussion and the motion before the House. It may be that there will be earlier Divisions.


Mr. Pardoe

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not aware that you were changing from the subject that we had in mind. I hope, therefore, that you will allow us to go back to the point.

Mr. Speaker

Order. There can be no discussion on a ruling that I have given. I had no expectation that anyone would wish to raise any further questions. I called the Shadow Leader of the House out of courtesy. If this is a different point of order, not to do with my ruling, I will listen to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Pardoe

I am merely seeking information, Mr. Speaker. I understood the Shadow Leader of the House to ask you a question. Does your ruling mean that Standing Order No. 44 now means that at the start of a Session the Government could introduce a guillotine motion to cover all the Bills that they considered introducing in the course of the Session? If so, we might as well dispense with the whole charade of parliamentary democracy and go home without any pay at the end of the first week.

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to speculate on what future actions will be taken in the House. It is for the House itself to decide whether it wishes matters to be referred to the Select Committee on Procedure. Obviously the hon. Gentleman considers that such a course of action is necessary. But it is a matter for the House if it wishes the Select Committee on Procedure to tighten up the Standing Order to which reference has been made.