HC Deb 24 June 1976 vol 913 cc1841-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Third Reading of the Development Land Tax Bill may be taken immediately after consideration of the Bill, notwithstanding the practice of the House as to the interval between the stages of Bills brought in on Ways and Means Resolutions.—[Mr. Graham.]

Mr. Powell

May I take the opportunity of this motion to remind the Leader of the House—I am sorry that I must do so in his momentary absence—that his predecessor in that position indicated that he thought that the desirability or necessity of motions of this kind was a matter which might properly be considered by the Select Committee on Procedure? As the Select Committee on Procedure has now been set up, I wanted to place it on record that that view had been held and to express the hope that a remit will be promptly made.

Mr. Baker

I support what the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) has said.

May I welcome the fact that the Government have not moved the business motion in the terms that we read on our Order Paper this morning. I expect that many hon. Members were surprised to read that motion, which would have had the effect of guillotining discussions on the Development Land Tax Bill at 7 o'clock this evening.

The House may deem it unacceptable if a procedural motion of that kind is put down in the early hours of the morning and hon. Members first read the Order Paper at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., or 10 a.m. and realise that a surreptious guillotine has been introduced. There is a well-established procedure for the introduction of guillotines. Governments of the day may always use the option of a guillotine to get their business through. There is the procedure of the three-hour debate, with hon. Members on all sides being given plenty of time to consider the matter and to reflect whether they should support the guillotine.

It is not acceptable for a motion such as this to appear on the Order Paper. I think that it was unwisely conceived, but wisely abandoned. When we are trying to restore the normal arrangements of the House, a motion such as this cannot help towards that end.

Mr. Fairbairn

In speaking to this motion I wish to raise certain matters which seem to me of major constitutional importance. Even this restricted motion—which asks that the Third Reading of the Development Land Tax Bill may be taken immediately after the consideration of the Bill, notwithstanding the practice of the House—makes into a matter of complete hypocrisy any assurance which the Government gave us through the mouth of the Minister, on matters which we have so far debated on Report.

The Minister said that he would be willing, although giving no undertaking, to reconsider the matter. What does he mean by that? This is a financial Bill. It cannot go to the House of Lords. There are no further stages. There will be no other opportunity for us to put down an amendment. The putting down of this motion is offensive to democracy and the constitutional practice of the House.

The Government are unable to fulfil their word. If we discover in the course of our further discussions that clause after clause is wrong, the Government will have no opportunity to put them right. It seems to me that the Government are not interested in the form that their legislation will finally take.

Let us have the Bill. The fact that it is unfair, illegal or wrong does not matter. But we are being asked to subscribe to a motion which makes it impossible to correct the Bill even if members of the Government or the Opposition take the view that it should be corrected. For that reason I think that this motion is thoroughly unconstitutional and undemocratic. It should never have been put down in the name of anyone—far less that of the Prime Minister, who boasts that he is interested in fairness.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

I rise on what I think is a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

As I understand it, only half of the motion has been moved. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether we may amend in that way a motion that is placed on the Order Paper. Surely if certain words are put down on the Order Paper, the only way they may be amended is by means of a manuscript or some other amendment being moved that certain words be omitted from the motion—otherwise we might alter the sense of the motion completely and not merely reduce its effect. By stopping, for example, before the word "not" it may be possible to reverse the sense. Surely if an hon. Member puts a motion down on the Order Paper it must either be passed in its entirety or rejected in its entirety—or the amended motion may be passed or rejected.

If a motion is put down, surely we may not put to the House only one or two of its words, thereby amending the motion and without giving the House a chance to discuss the amendment.

Dr. Glyn

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). However, I believe that although it is possible to proceed in the manner proposed under the procedure of the House, that is highly undesirable.

If the truncated motion goes through, what happens to the Bill on Report? Does the discussion continue until 10 p.m., or does the motion to suspend, and to allow other business at 10 o'clock, allow the orginal motion—which is a motion on the Development Land Tax—to continue to any hour? I do not understand it. We are departing from the words that are printed on the Order Paper.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I shall take the latter part of his remarks first. This is exempted business, being a finance matter. As for the question of alteration to a notice of motion, "Erskine May" refers to this appositely under the heading of "Complicated Questions". It is said: The ancient rule that when a complicated question is proposed to the House, the House may order such question to be divided, has been variously interpreted at different periods. This motion is competent and it is within the rules of order.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I can well understand that the House should order that a complicated Question be split into two simple Questions. The House can order anything it likes. But the House has made no order whatever. That is my point.

Dr. Glyn

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If this is a truncated motion, as the Government wish, until what time may the Bill be debated? Does the debate stop automatically at 10 o'clock or does it go on?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The debate is open-ended.

Mr. Powell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Would you address yourself to the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) who has pointed out that the citation from "Erskine May" does not appear to be apposite to the moving of part of a motion on the Order Paper? It appears to indicate that it is competent for the House to order that such a motion shall be divided and, therefore, if the Prime Minister had moved that the motion on the Order Paper be divided that, presumably, would have been the proper way to proceed.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am advised that the Member who moves the motion can take this action and it can be divided.

Mr. Tebbit

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You may well be advised correctly that such action can be taken. The point is that that action has not been taken. There is no motion before the House to divide the motion on the Order Paper. If the procedure is as you understand it—and we accept that this is a complicated matter and that you may want to adjourn the House for a short time to consider it further—what we need is a motion to split the motion on the Order Paper, otherwise we could get ourselves into a terrible tangle if the business which appears on the Order Paper is not moved from time to time and other business is moved instead without a motion. Would it not be wise for the House to adjourn for a few moments while consideration is given to how we can get out of this procedural muddle?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Question was proposed to the House and it was passed without dissent. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] May I amend that? The Question was proposed and the House did not at that point signify its displeasure.

Mr. Baker

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When the motion was read by the Government Whip, two Members on the Opposition side of the House, the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and I, rose to raise points. Subsequently a point of order was raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke). It seems from the passage that you have read out from "Erskine May" that the correct procedure has not been followed by the Government.

You have subsequently advised that there is a precedent for this. I wonder whether you could tell us what the precedent is. I think it is the recollection of all of us that the moving of only half a business motion by the Government has not happened recently. May I suggest a way out for the Government? The purpose of this motion lay in the sting in the tail, which the Government, quite wisely, are not moving. It would be sensible for the Government to realise that the first part of the motion will not save very much time. It may be a way out of the problem for the Government to withdraw the first part of the motion.

Mr. Powell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Might I recall to your memory a recent occasion on which there was a motion proposed by the Government on a matter concerning EEC legislation? It was on the Order Paper in a form which the Government had not intended and did not wish to be approved by the House. Nevertheless, it was held at that time that it was necessary for the Government to move the motion as it stood on the Order Paper and then that an amendment thereto should be moved and accepted by the House.

If that is not so, and it is competent for the Minister in charge of a motion to move it in a different form from that in which it stands on the Order Paper, I suggest to you that a most important ruling is being given and that you may wish to consider withholding your judgment upon this matter, if you are unable to give it immediately, in view of the great importance and ambit of any such ruling.

Mr. Fairbairn

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is important to remember that the Order Paper is not something which is just printed to absorb public expense. It has a purpose. What we have on the Order Paper is notice of which motions will be moved. That is why it is headed "Notice of Motion". We do not have on the Order Paper "Notice of the sort of thing that somebody may move if they choose—or a bit of it." It is a notice of something that is to be moved and nothing else. It is there so that the House can decide what attitude it will take. It gives us time to consider the case and the merits of the matter to be moved. It is not giving us time to guess about what somebody may move if he feels like it. The fact that there is the heading "Notice of Motion" indicates that it is a motion—or nothing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I could point out to the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) that the motion is in two parts. It is the second part which has been deleted. Similar circumstances arise with 10 o'clock motions when only parts are approved.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With respect, you used the word "deleted". That implies, as I understand it, that some person—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. May I amend that, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me? I should have said "not moved" rather than "deleted".

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

In that case we are in the presence of notice of half a motion or notice of motion only half of which the Government have seen fit to move. Is that the position as you understand it, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is correct.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

In that case, may I ask you to take seriously the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell)? It would be a serious situation if, by your ruling, or your interpretation of the rather murky advice that seems to have been offered, you were to create a precedent whereby in future Notices of Motions on the Order Paper might mean only that some part of the motion would be pursued. I suggest that this would be a serious matter for all future Parliaments.

Imagine the situation in which whatever the Government or anyone else put on the Order Paper would in no sense mean that that was actually the business. It would depend on which part of the motion—the beginning, the middle or the end—the author chose or did not choose to move. That would make for chaos in the House. May I suggest that the proposal of the right hon. Member for Down, South should be followed, and that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should consider this matter, and make a ruling at some other time?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I suggest that the best way to handle this matter is to take the normal course. This motion is debatable, and I suggest that the House debates it.

Mr. Tebbit

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The essence of this is that before we begin a debate on the matter which is on the Order Paper, we should know exactly what it is we shall be called upon to vote on at the end of the debate. Therefore, we must decide before we begin the debate what is the Question before the House. The section you have drawn upon—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I could help the hon. Gentleman here. A Question was proposed in its divided form.

Mr. Tebbit

This is the point to which I was coming. The section of "Erskine May" on which you leaned refers to the division of a motion. It does not refer to dropping one part of a motion. This can be seen clearly from the fact that it refers to the necessity of each part of the motion which is to be divided being able to stand on its own. If it is for the convenience of the House that a complicated motion is dealt with in two parts, then provision is made to divide it into two parts so that each part can be voted on.

There is, as far as I can discover, no provision for part of a motion to be dropped off the end of what is on the Order Paper. That is what the Government have attempted to do. They have dropped one part of the motion on the Order Paper, and moved what is, in effect, a different motion. If the Government want to split the motion there is a procedure for doing this. There would have to be a procedure before the House that the House should split the motion if each part could stand on its own feet. Each part would then be voted on. As there is considerable doubt about this, it would be wise if the House were adjourned for a short time while the matter is discussed in an easier way than we are discussing it at the moment.

Mr. English

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not wholly within the recollection of most hon. Members that many motions which appear to be single motions on the Order Paper have been moved in separate parts? If a motion can be moved in parts, then part of it can be not moved. Anybody who puts down a motion need not move it. Is the motion amendable? If hon. Gentlemen opposite want to stop at 7 o'clock, can they put down an amendment to do so? This Question can be debated as it has been moved. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which part?"] Thereafter if the Government so feel, the House can then debate the second part of the motion and it can be negatived, if necessary.

Mr. Graham Page

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am quite sure that the Government have the best intentions in deleting this part from the motion. They thought that they had put an obnoxious motion on the Order Paper which would not be acceptable, if the debate were to be guillotined at 7 o'clock. In view of the time lost already in discussing the validity of the motion as it stands, will the Minister withdraw the motion and find another time, in accordance with customs and traditions of the House, for the Third Reading of the Bill so that we can complete the Report stage and leave the Government to get on with the further business?

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Further to that point o forder, Mr. Deputy Spaeker. You ruled earlier that this Report stage is exempted business. How is it in order for a motion to be put down that something consequent upon the completion of exempted business should be completed at a certain time? Therefore, is this motion defective?

Mr. Fairbairn

Further to that point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. If your original ruling were accurate, what would happen in a case such as this: if there were a motion on the Order Paper that all males over 60 should suffer capital punishment if they commit murder, would it be competent for the Government to withdraw the last four words?

Mr. Rossi

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Your orginal ruling has attracted a lot of interest. Would it be possible for the Government, or anybody, to put down a compendium motion containing within it a number of permutations and combinations, and when the matter comes before the House, to select one or two alternatives from within the compendium motion? If that were possible the House would never know what it had to debate.

Mr. Mayhew

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask for further help? It seems to me that the motion on the Order Paper is like putting in an order for fish and chips. We have ordered the fish and chips, but we are being offered only the fish.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have a suggestion which is genuinely meant to be helpful and to enable us to get on with the business. The Government could move a manuscript amendment to delete the last words. If they did that, I am sure that you would accept it, and the motion as amended would, no doubt, be passed and we could get on with business. But if we are allowed, from now on, to split motions and to pick and choose which bits we shall move, I can foresee disorder in this House and its Committees. If the Government amended the motion in the proper way we could get on with the Report stage.

Mr. Atkinson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that you have already ruled that the House can have an open-ended debate, whether it is in the form of a manuscript amendment or even a verbal utterance before the House. Whatever the basis, if you are ruling that we can have an open-ended debate on the form of the motion, I am sure there are sufficient hon. Members opposite who could keep talking around the clock on the amended version. In fairness to the House we should have a clarification of what is involved. If this suggested amendment is subject to debate, I hope that you will not rule that this will be an open-ended arrangement because that would mean that we could forget about the business on the Order Paper.

The Minister of State, Treasury (Mr. Denzil Davies)

The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) asked whether we would consider withdrawing the motion so that we should have the Report stage today and the Third Reading on another occasion.

The motion was put down for procedural reasons. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) made the point that the Select Committee has been considering this matter. Because this is a Ways and Means Bill, if it is desired to take Third Reading immediately after Report stage it is necessary to put a special procedural motion on the Order Paper. The motion was put down in good faith and the time of 7 o'clock was chosen in equally good faith. There was no intention or desire to impose a guillotine. Since hon. Members have raised these objections, and since it was necessary to change the time from 7 o'clock, we believed it only fair to withdraw the motion, to continue with the Report stage today and to have Third Reading next week.

Therefore I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.