HC Deb 28 October 1976 vol 918 cc714-6
Mr. Speaker

I will now rule on the submissions made to me yesterday arising from the proceedings in the First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The procedure with regard to Statutory Instruments referred to Standing Committees is governed by Standing Order No. 73A. Paragraph (4) of that Order required the Standing Committee to consider an instrument referred to it on a motion, That the Committee has considered the Instrument. That motion has to be decided at a prescribed time—in this case, after one-and-a-half hours—whereupon the Committee is required to report the Instrument to the House, irrespective of the outcome of any Division on the motion in the Committee.

It is not, of course, for me to comment on the proceedings in the Committee. Nor would it be proper for me to express any view on the status in law of the Instruments affected. I am concerned only at the point at which the Instrument is reported back to the House. Further proceedings in the House are prescribed by paragraph (5) of the Standing Order, which provides that, in the event of a motion being made in the House relating to the Instrument—and the forms of such motions are laid down in paragraph (3) of the Order—Mr. Speaker shall put the question thereon forthwith. That is the answer to the question put to me by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball).

I may say, for the House's information, that the present case is not unprecedented. Whether the House considers that the time has yet arrived to review the working of this relatively new procedure is not a matter for me.

Mr. Kimball

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for that ruling. Would it now be in order for me to ask the Leader of the House whether, after what you have said, we shall have an opportunity next week to have a Division on this issue?

I realise from what you said that it cannot be debated, but we can have a Division on the issue. I hope that in view of what you have said the whole House will recognise the difficulty in which this Standing Order places us. I hope that the appropriate people will look sympathetically at this case so that, instead of having a cold-blooded Division, we can at least have a debate before we take such a decision. As this matter affects all sides of the House, I would hope that we shall be able to have a free vote.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Merlyn Rees)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot provide time for a debate, but I am happy to allow a vote so that the House can give its views on the matter. But speaking with another hat on, I cannot go on subsidising these licences.

Mr. Spearing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You referred to the procedure under Standing Order 73A as being of relatively recent date. It is that very paragraph which has caused difficulties in other directions, since under Standing Order 73A, as you described, it is possible for a Committee to debate a matter but to come to virtually no conclusion. In view of the dissatisfaction which has been expressed about this procedure, and despite the lack of opportunities for debate and the difficulty which has arisen in the last two days, may I ask whether the Leader of the House will consider referring the working of this Standing Order to the Committee on Procedure?

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must not get into the habit of using points of order to question the acting Leader of the House. The right hon. Gentleman will have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, as I did.

Mr. Wiggin

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I may say so, it is not a very satisfactory conclusion because clearly the Division yesterday morning upstairs expressed an opinion. Now we are told that, despite that vote, and despite the quite clear statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) that there would be an opportunity for the Government to deal with this matter before the end of this Session without incurring additional public expenditure, we are left with a situation where, having voted and indicated our views, in a democratic way, nothing further is to be done. Surely this matter should be referred to the Committee on Procedure.

Mr. Speaker

I quite understand the hon. Gentleman's feeling, but all that I can do and what I must do is interpret the rules of the House as I understand them.

Mr. Ridley rose

Mr. Speaker

I hope that we shall not continue this for long.

Mr. Ridley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is meaningless to ask hon. Members to spend a morning in Committee when the votes which they cast at the end of the morning have no effect. This is an all-party matter now. It seems generally agreed that this should be referred to the Committee on Procedure.

Mr. Speaker

I have no doubt that this, along with other difficulties which have arisen recently, will be considered by the appropriate Committee. I hope that they will be.