§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Mr. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I hope that at the outset of the debate we may have your guidance on a vital issue.
It appears from the notice in the "No" Lobby that you have not selected, for reasons I do not know, a number of important amendments. As this is by common consent a crucially important constitutional Bill, I think that you will agree that it is essential that major constitutional issues should be fully debated in the House before we take a decision. None of us would wish to have anything like a repetition of what happened on the European Communities Bill when very few amendments were called, no amendments were agreed, and the guillotine was imposed at an early date. That has left a sour taste in the mouths of right hon. and hon. Members and of the country.
I have in mind a number of amendments on pages 422 and 423 of the Amendment Paper in the names of a number of my hon. Friends and myself. All of them raise important constitutional legal questions affecting the election of Members of the EEC Assembly if the Bill is passed.
I call your attention to Amendment No. 6, in Clause 1, page 1, line 8, after first "the" to insert "advisory and supervisory". You will be aware, Mr. Murton, that Article 137 of the Treaty of Rome describes the Assembly as "advisory and supervisory", no doubt in order to make clear that the Assembly has no legislative power. As that is one of the major issues concerning this Bill, surely the words "advisory and supervisory" should be considered by this Committee.
753 Amendment No. 8 deals with the question whether Members elected in accordance with this Bill when it becomes an Act should be named in a resolution of the House of Commons before they take part in the procedures of the Assembly. Amendment No. 9 provides that a writ of this House must authorise the election of a Member to the Assembly.
The other amendments I have in mind are Nos. 10, 11 and 12, which raise various issues, including the question of the expenses that will be incurred by Members of the Assembly, the emoluments they will receive and whether such emoluments should be much higher than those received by Members of this Parliament. Whatever we think of the amendments, the issue with which they deal will arouse great interest in the country. It would be unfortunate, and we might hear further allegations of elitism and goodnes knows what, if this issue were not even discussed here.
I am not aware whether you, in your wisdom and discretion, Mr. Murton, have refrained from calling the amendments on the ground that they are out of order, or whether it is simply the case that they have not been selected. It would help the Committee to know—because, after all, we may have to table a good few other amendments—which of the amendments were out of order and which have simply not been selected at your discretion and the reasons for the decision in each case. It is essential for us to know that. Whatever the reasons be, I hope that it is in order for me to urge you very strongly to reconsider your decision not to call the amendments.
§ Mr. Marten
Were you about to reply to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), Mr. Murton?
§ Mr. Marten
I should like to support what the right hon. Gentleman has said, particularly on Amendments Nos. 12 and 13. I take as my text the reply of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 24th Novem- 754 ber. When asked whether the Government plannedto make any representations in the Council of Ministers about the proposed pay for European Members of Parliament",the hon. Gentleman said:We have made clear our view that this is a matter which should be decided before the first elections are held and which needs full and careful consideration by the member States." —[Official Report, 24th November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 883.]The Leader of the House gave a similar reply, but I cannot recall the Hansard reference.
If it is the Government's view that amendments dealing with the question of pay and allowances of the Members of the European Assembly, if any, should be fully discussed by member States—which means member Parliaments—I do not see how we can possibly do that if the amendments are not called. It is rumoured that the pay is to be £25,000 a year plus enormous allowances, and that is quite shocking to any hon. Member, but the amendments present us with an opportunity to discuss the question. I do not think that the House of Commons should give a Third Reading to the Bill until the pay and allowances and conditions of Members of the Assembly are laid down and we know what we are voting about.
There is also the question of the taxation of the pay of Members of the Assembly. I have tabled innumerable questions to Treasury Ministers to discover whether the pay and allowances of MEAs, if any, will be subject to United Kingdom taxation. Selection of the amendments would enable us to discuss these matters. Therefore, I ask you kindly to reconsider your decision, Mr. Murton, not to call them.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
I rise further to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and before you, Mr. Murton, have replied to him, because I gathered that you thought that it might be more convenient to hear further submissions on essentially the same point, to which I am sure you will have given attention.
There is no question—and I am sure that it was not involved in the point of order raised by the right hon. Member 755 for Battersea, North—of challenging or inquiring into the reasons for the exercise by the Chair of its function of selection. Normally there is no essential ground on which the guidance of the Chair needs to be sought in open Committee on the question of order. However, on this Bill it is of material importance to the Committee to have guidance from you, Mr. Murton, on the rules of order in accordance with which certain amendments may have been found by you to be out of order.
You will recall, Sir, the events surrounding the commencement of the Committee stage of the European Communities Bill in 1972. May I remind you of the ruling of your predecessor in the Chair at the time? When it was drawn to his attention that a series of major amendments had not been selected, he indicated that they had not been selected because they were out of order. In other words, it was not in the exercise of his discretion to select, but, because he was bound by the rules of order, those amendments, which were major amendments going to the principles and varying the modalities of the Bill, had not been selected by him. He said:The reason for this is the nature of the Bill itself. The Bill, as the Explanatory Memorandum says, is one which makes the legislative changes which will enable the United Kingdom to comply with the obligations entailed by membership of the European Coal and Steel Community, the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community, and to exercise the rights of membership."—[Official Report, 29th February 1972 Vol. 832, c. 269.]Your predecessor made it clear that, since the scope of the Bill and the purpose of the Bill were to make legislative changes to enable this country to comply with the obligations entailed in membership of the Community, it would be out of order for those amendments to be debated which were not in accordance with these obligations or with the exercise of these rights. Certainly many of the amendments which hon. Members at that time would have wished to move and, indeed, wished to carry went to the nature of the obligations and of the rights implicit in membership of the European Community.
It is true, Mr. Murton, that your predecessor on that occasion referred to the Explanatory Memorandum, but the subsequent debates, both on that day and on the following day, made it clear that 756 it was not the Explanatory Memorandum, which in itself can be of no authority, but the Long Title and the scope of the Bill, as the Chair saw it, which were, in the view of the Chair, the binding consideration.
I have refreshed my memory of the Long Title as an indication of the scope of the 1972 Act. It ran:An Act to make provision in connection with the enlargement of the European Communities to include the United Kingdom.In other words, in the view of the Chair the House was simply considering—and the phrase "nuts and bolts" may still be in the memory of some hon. Members —how to implement obligations which were indefeasibly implicit in membership and to secure rights which were equally indefeasibly implicit.
If it should be that some or all of the amendments put down to Clause 1 have not been selected on the ground that they are out of order by analogy or on the same grounds as amendments to the 1972 Bill to which I am referring, it would be of great moment to the Committee to understand that at this stage. Since you have indicated that you would find it convenient to have a fairly full submission at this stage, Mr. Murton, I shall proceed upon the assumption that, in some cases at any rate, the issue of scope was involved in the selection of amendments to Clause 1.
I should like to make this submission to you, Mr. Murton. It is not merely important—although it is important enough—in relation to the amendments that we may be able to debate to this Bill, but it is germane to the view which this Committee takes of the obligations which lie upon the Committee in consequence of agreements entered into by Her Majesty's Government.
The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill begins with the words:The Bill gives effect to the Decision of the Council of the European Communities and to the Act annexed to that Decision.This, of course, is the decision of 20th September last year. If that sentence of the Explanatory Memorandum was an accurate description of the scope of the Bill, we might find ourselves in the same position as the Committee found itself in in March 1972. However, if one turns 757 to the Long Title of the Bill one finds that it is described merely as a Bill toMake provision for and in connection with the election of representatives to the Assembly of the European Communities".In drafting the Long Title, the draftsman, presumably under instructions, has deliberately avoided any reference whatsoever to any obligations which might have been incurred by Her Majesty's Government, or even to the rôles of the Assembly of the European Communities. On the contrary, it would have been possible for the Government to have brought forward this Bill, certainly a Bill with that Long Title, even if there had been no decision of 20th September. Since this House sends representatives—and it is our right, if not our obligation, to do so under the Treaty—we would be perfectly entitled to lay down our own procedure for electing these representatives.
My submission, therefore, is that the scope of the Bill and the indication of that scope given in the Long Title are such as to make it clear that we are not here legislating in order to comply with obligations and that we are in an entirely different situation from that in which we discovered ourselves when discussing the European Communities Act 1972.
Consequently, Mr. Murton, subject to your right of selection—which is not challenged—we should be free to consider any possible alternatives to the method or conditions of election and we are not bound to have regard either to the fact of the decision of 20th September 1976 or to anything which is contained in that decision.
You will apprehend, Mr. Murton, the great importance which many hon. Members attach to the ground on which it may appear that your decision has been taken upon the amendments which were tabled to Clause 1.
I make only one further observation, which I hope you will permit. As I suggested earlier, the whole context in which the Committee stage of this Bill will take place will be profoundly affected by the view which is taken of the relationship of this Bill to the obligations involved in membership of the Community or the obligations which may have been undertaken—although I think that they have not been technically converted by pro- 758 cedures under Clause 1 of the 1972 Act into a treaty—but which might have been undertaken by the Government in their international capacity.
§ Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)
I venture to put to you, Mr. Murton, a narrow, specific point which concerns the amendments that have an effect on the pay and expenses paid to the elected members of the European Assembly. These expenses will come out of the budget of the European Community. Her Majesty's Government are the largest contributors to that budget.
As you will know better than any of us, Mr. Murton—because it is part of the important functions of your high office—it is one of the major duties of this House to control Supply and to exercise supervision over the expenditures of moneys by the Government. In their contribution to the budget of the Communities the Government will pay a substantial part of the salaries and expenses that are paid not merely to representatives of this country in the European Assembly but to all members of the European Assembly.
I appreciate that the totality of that pay and expenses is not a major part of the Communities' budget, but it is not an insignificant part, either. This Assembly will be quite a costly business, and we shall be paying a large fraction of that cost out of revenues provided by Her Majesty's Government. If we were not permitted to take a view about the level of pay and expenses we should be prevented from fulfilling the duty that lies upon the House to control Supply in respect of a not insubstantial piece of expenditure by Her Majesty's Government. Surely that could not possibly be right.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)
May I suggest, Mr. Murton, that it would be helpful to hon. Members if you could indicate the grounds upon which you have not selected some of the amendments? I urge that upon you, out of a number of considerations. One of them is that it appears possible that you may have different considerations in mind in considering different categories.
It would be helpful to hon. Members to know whether there were some amendments that you had not selected because 759 you thought them less appropriate to Clause 1 than to certain other clauses. As an example, there are Amendments Nos. 10 and 11. It might be that you did not regard them as out of order but thought that they might be more appropriately considered in another context. It would be helpful to hon. Members if they could be told whether that was the case. That would allow them the opportunity of recasting the changes they want into a form which is appropriate to the later clauses when we come to them.
On another category, I associate myself with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said. There are obviously doubts in our minds whether proposed amendments are being thought outside the scope of the Bill or outside the Long Title. You will know that there is a significant distinction between those two things. If some of these amendments, either as applied to Clause 1 or, perhaps, as reapplied to later clauses, were considered out of order because they were not accompanied by a proposed amendment to the Long Title, that is something that hon. Members should know in advance. It would be quite wrong if, as we moved through the Bill, an amendment on a clause that would otherwise be in order because it was within the scope of the Bill were simply not selected, without warning, because it was not accompanied by a proposal to amend the Long Title.
On the question whether particular amendments are within the scope of the Bill, I emphasise that the Bill is, by its Long Title, one to make provision not only for, but "in connection with" the election of Members to the European Assembly. There is no question of any decision of the European Communities in any case limiting the Bill, but there is no decision anywhere saying that we are all to have the same arrangements the first time around.
I know that the Treasury contains a provision requesting member States to formulate common arrangements, but nobody suggests that that part of the Treaty is being brought into operation for the moment. It is therefore for each State to formulate its own arrangements.
There are certain proposals on the Amendment Paper about pay and expenses which to me have no particular attraction on their merits. That is not 760 the point. The question is whether the Committee will go through this Bill and never be allowed to turn its attention to these considerations. It has been obvious in our proceedings over the last few weeks that these matters have a great attraction for certain hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, even if they do not have that attraction for me. It is right that these matters should therefore be canvassed.
It is obvious that when a new legislature is erected in the European Community, with elected Members and all the appurtenances that accompany it, there will be a substantial increase in the charge upon public funds in the United Kingdom, partly for the pay and expenses and partly arising from consequential matters. It is right, therefore, that the House of Commons in Committee of the whole House, which is by tradition the Committee of Supply of the House, should give its consideration to one matter, namely, the burden that will fall on British funds as a result of this change, if it be made.
If you can give your opinion on the general considerations which governed your selection of amendments, Mr. Murton—and that is obviously a matter within the prerogative of the Chair, and it would be wrong to dispute your decision in a particular case—it will enable the Committee to discharge its function in the fullest possible manner and without any sense of grievance that we have been taken unawares and have lost opportunities of proposing amendments that the Committee would like to discuss.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
I join those right hon. and hon. Members who have made submissions thus far, and I am glad, Mr. Murton, that you are listening to our submissions before replying.
The heading of the selection describes it as "provisional", and therefore the intention is that it takes account of the convenience and the wish of the House. Therefore, I want to put some points to you. The last time this Bill came before the House there were, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, points of order which lasted for 15 hours. I do not anticipate that happening today, but it illustrates the point that the rejection by the Chair of amendments that most hon. Members consider 761 relevant causes difficulties. On the previous occasion there was subsequently a half-day debate on that matter.
The Treaty that has been referred to is not in reality a treaty. The so-called decision was a decision requiring ratification, and, as I understand it, that ratification has not yet been made by the House. We are only now beginning that process. Therefore, we are bound neither by any treaty nor by the Long Title of the Bill, and therefore we may be concerned with the rights of the House in respect of these elections.
The Bill says that its provisions arein connection with the election of representatives".Can we entirely disregard the subsequent duties and obligations of those representatives? If we cannot debate those duties and obligations to the people of this country under this Bill, how and when can we discuss them? I submit therefore, that some of these amendments fall within the scope of the Bill, for discussion under the Bill.
Amendment No. 6 has been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay). It relates to the duties of the Assembly, which Article 137 of the Treaty of Rome described as "advisory" and "supervisory". There has been some controversy in the House about this. Therefore, the inability to debate that amendment would have a bearing upon the scope and activity of any persons to elected.
But it is to Amendment No. 8 in particular that I draw your attention, Mr. Murton. As yet, we do not know whether this is a matter of non-selection or whether it is outside the scope of the Bill. I cannot see how it could possibly be outside the scope of the Bill, because it seeks to insert words to the effect that subsequent to elections this House shall name persons in a resolution. It goes on to say that any such resolution shall have effect for a particular time.
The amendment is proposed for two reasons. It is the long-standing tradition and right of this House to act as an electoral court. Indeed, pages 33 and 34 and part of page 35 of "Erskine May" deal with that very subject. The paragraph headings areProceedings of the House in matters of election".762 followed byProceedings of House upon determination of election trialsand "Extensive corrupt practices". As hon. Members will know, the House no longer exercises—although it did at one time—its judicial functions in respect of elections. It has, through the Representation of the People Act 1949, set up judicial machinery for that very purpose. But, as I understand it, the Representation of the People Act 1949 would not operate in regard to this Bill, and unless the House maintained its fundamental right of acting as an electoral court, any dispute which arose from time to time in respect of elections would not be within the competence of this House. I submit, therefore, that in regard to the resolution of any difficulty this is a very valid point, and that the amendment is worthy of selection. Mr. Murton, if you regard it as in order.
The second part of Amendment No. 8 refers to such a resolutionhaving effect until the end of the fourth week of the Parliament following that in which the resolution was passed".That means that if the mandate of this House in respect of the EEC were in any way changed as a result of a General Election, that resolution might or might not be renewed. I think that is a proper protection for this House to have in that respect.
Amendment No. 9 relates to the same subject but has more to do with by-elections. As we all know, it is the custom of a Member of the House to move a writ for a by-election to fill a casual vacancy. That. I hope, would remain in respect of this Bill, but if we are not allowed to discuss it or to put it in, I submit that that would no longer be the case. There are a number of matters for probing as well, because I understand that writs are issued by the Clerk of Crown in Chancery and that results are made known to him, and there may be some difficulties about the body to which such returns of returning officers were made, and as to the authority for the holding of elections by returning officers.
I submit to you, therefore, Mr. Murton, that provided the three amendments, Nos. 6, 8 and 9, which I have described, are in order—you will no doubt in due 763 course say whether they are or not—there is a very proper reason for their being debated. If they cannot be debated, I think there would be questions not only here but in the country as to the reasons for it.
It may be, as the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) said, that some people would think that these matters should be discussed elsewhere in the Bill and that the amendments should be placed in another part of it, but I submit that that would be an argument for their withdrawal or rejection upon such deliberation, and not necessarily a matter relating to selection, for if the Government or any other person were agreed that it should be taken up again at another time, that would be a matter for the House.
I hope that you will bear these matters in mind, Mr. Murton, in considering whether you will stay with this word "provisional", for some hon. Members feel that there is indeed some scope for reconsideration of this matter.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Sowerby)
I do not think that anyone challenges the constitutional or, indeed, the public expenditure importance of the measure, and I think that the House owes it to the public at large to ensure that all mints of view are represented in discussing this measure in Committee.
I am sure that I shall not be challenged if I say that this measure does not enjoy universal support either inside or outside the House. Indeed, I am sure you will know, Mr. Murton, that less than half the Parliamentary Labour Party saw fit to support the measure in the Lobbies. There is great anxiety, suspicion and reservation about the Bill, both inside and outside the House, and it is most important that amendments should allow these matters to be discussed as fully as possible.
I understand that the provisional selection that has been made enables only two of the 14 amendments tabled on this clause to be selected. They were significant and substantive amendments, submitted by a number of right hon. and hon. Members of this House. I draw attention particularly to Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 13, which deal with 764 the pay and conditions of elected Members of the Assembly. This is an aspect on which there is widespread general public concern and anxiety, and the House should be given an opportunity of discussing these matters in Committee.
In making this argument I call in aid the paragraph in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum dealing with the financial effects of the Bill and the effects on public service manpower, where it says thatThe cost of elections held under the Bill is likely to be at least £10 million every five years. This is mainly attributable to payments for election staff and to postal charges for the free delivery of candidates' election addresses. It will be necessary for local returning officers to recruit temporary staff for duties at polling stations and for the count, but the effect of the Bill on permanent public service manpower will be minimal.I am sure that there will be many reservations, both inside and outside the House, concerning the basis of that statement, but it indicates that the act of election is central to the measure and is therefore extremely important in considering it.
I ask for your reconsideration, Mr. Murton, of the non-selection of the amendments that I have indicated, as I believe that many hon. Members are very concerned about the basis on which Members are to be elected to the European Assembly. They are very anxious to discuss the substantive matters that are described in these amendments.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Holland with Boston)
May I be very brief, Mr. Murton, and refer you to two amendments which have not been selected, and also say why this causes some concern in all parts of the House? The amendments are Nos. 22 and 23. Although they are in the name of only one hon. Gentleman —the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)—I think that they command a very great deal of support.
I submit to you, Mr. Murton, that it must be a question for this House, and this House as a whole, who should be the representatives to be elected and how they are to be selected. This House should not have its hands fettered in any way in wishing to extend representation to others for whom we are constitutionally responsible in the European Assembly.
765 I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman, in drafting the amendments, has included the Falkland Islands. I recognise that that may well be out of order, because the Falkland Islands are outside Europe, and the Treaty of Rome specifies very clearly that no one who is a non-European is eligible to be associated with the European Economic Community—
§ Mr. Body
Any country from outside Europe is excluded from membership of the Community. Gibraltar will be very much affected by the forthcoming developments of the European Economic Community. This is obvious if the Community is to be enlarged so that there are 12 members instead of nine, as at present.
Therefore, for so long as we have any responsibility for those who live in Gibraltar we should, on this occasion at least, have the opportunity of debating and deciding whether any representative from Gibraltar should be allowed to attend the Assembly. I am not arguing that it should be so, but I submit that the House of Commons ought not have its powers fettered in deciding whether Gibraltar should be represented here.
It may be that you, Mr. Murton, see some procedural defect in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Perry Barr. The hon. Gentleman may be at fault in including the Falkland Islands. However, in replying to these points of order perhaps you will indicate whether the amendment would be valid if the Falkland Islands were excluded and whether, if that were done, you would allow an amendment similar to Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 in order that the Committee could have the opportunity of deciding whether Gibraltar should be represented at the European Assembly.
§ Mr. Roger Moate (Faversham)
I should like to add my request for assistance and guidance on the selection of amendments. In doing so, I express my thanks to you, Mr. Murton, for your courtesy and patience in listening to the points that have been made, but I am sure that you will understand the importance of these matters.
I wish to refer particularly to Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, which have not been selected. They relate to the pro- 766 posed levels of remuneration, fees and expenses of representatives in the European Assembly. I understand that on a number of occasions in the past the Government have given assurances that it would be opportune, during the proceedings on the Bill, to discuss this subject.
The non-selection of Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 has come as something of a surprise. Otherwise, one could have gathered the material to indicate the assurances that had been given. However, I distinctly remember asking the Prime Minister about the level of pay of Members of the Assembly, and he said that it would be a matter suitable for discussion during the progress of the legislation. Indeed, I think that the Leader of the House gave similar assurances.
It may be that the non-selection of these amendments indicates not that this subject is out of order but that it may be more appropriate for a later stage. Your guidance on that point, Mr. Murton, would be helpful.
The importance of this matter can be in no doubt. I think that the Committee and the general public would be surprised if we were prevented from discussing this subject. I am not criticising your selection, Mr. Murton. However, I think that there would be serious criticism if this vital and sensitive matter were not to be discussed. After all, it concerns the relationship between the House of Commons and the future European Assembly. I think that this is a matter of the utmost importance both to the House of Commons and to the European Assembly.
In considering why Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 had not been selected it occurred to me that it might be argued that the Bill relates only to the election of representatives, not to the terms and conditions under which they will serve. If that were the argument one could turn to the later clauses of the Bill and point to the provision for disqualification of members of the European Assembly. If certain conditions can cause a member to be disqualified, surely it is proper to lay down other terms and conditions for his service.
I also wondered whether it would be argued that these financial matters had been covered by the Money Resolution and were therefore no longer germane 767 to the argument on the Bill. The Money Resolution provides only for expenses connected with the election procedure. It in no way touches on the costs thereafter incurred by these elected representatives. It seemed to me that this matter of great importance both to the Committee and the country should be discussed in depth here.
I do not feel that I have made a partisan point in what I have said. I suspect that those who are enthusiastic and those who are not so enthusiastic supporters of the legislation would like to feel that the subject was aired fully in this Chamber during the debates on the Bill.
For that reason, Mr. Murton, and knowing your concern for protecting the rights of Back Benchers and the public outside, I hope that you will give us some guidance on the reasons for the non-selection of these amendments, indicate how these matters might be raised at some other stage or, bearing in mind that this is a provisional selection, reconsider the selection that you have already made.
§ The Chairman
This might be an appropriate moment for me to reply to the submissions that have been made by right hon. and hon. Members on the selection of amendments.
Before saying anything further, I should like to comment on what was said by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I was deeply interested in his very full exposition of the point that he made. My judgment in this matter is simpler than his regarding the scope of the Bill. "Scope" is really the operative word on which I have to make a judgment.
I gave the greatest possible consideration to these matters before the Committee met this afternoon, because I appreciate the views that have been expressed to me by right hon. and hon. Members.
I have been unable to select the amendments to Clause 1 that have been mentioned this afternoon because they are not in order. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I give my reasons. I can do that by taking, first, Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 and consequential amendments to Clause 2 which were tabled by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are, in my view, quite outside the scope of the Bill, 768 the sole purpose of which is to deal with the election of United Kingdom representatives. In view of the arguments that have been advanced, I stress the words "United Kingdom".
§ The Chairman
I am dealing with a point of order. However, if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to interpolate another point of order before I go any further, I am quite willing to accept it.
§ Mr. Jay
The point simply is that the Long Title says not "Make provision for and in connection with the election of representatives of the United Kingdom to the Assembly of the European Communities", but,Make provision for and in connection with the election of representatives to the Assembly of the European Communities.
§ The Chairman
With respect to the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), I am resting my argument not on the Long Title but on the question of scope.
I shall continue with the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment No. 8. In my view, that is out of order because, as drafted, it puts a specific and mandatory obligation upon the House of Commons to follow a certain course. The House is the master of its own procedure. Therefore, such a provision is not appropriate to legislation.
Amendment No. 9, tabled by the right hon. Gentleman, deals with the machinery by which the electoral process is started, and that is not within the scope of Clause 1. I suggest, however, that amendments of this purport could quite properly be tabled to Clause 7 and Schedule 1, paragraph 3. I hope that on this occasion the Chair has been helpful.
Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 13 —again in the name of the right hon. Member for Battersea, North—are all, in my view, as drafted, outside the scope of the Bill, which deals with the manner in which representatives are elected but does not cover their behaviour once they have been elected. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11, however, seek to impose a disqualification, and something along their lines might be offered as amendments to Clause 769 9 and Schedule 1(5). Again, I hope that that will please the Committee.
Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 are additionally out of order—this is a very important point—in that they contain taxing provisions, which cannot be made without a Ways and Means Resolution, as has been pointed out in the course of argument.
Although it was not mentioned, for Amendment No. 14, in the name of the right hon. Member for Down, South, to be fully effective, it would need further consequential amendments in those sections of the Bill which deal with by-elections.
That leaves the Chair with Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 6, mentioned by the right hon. Member for Battersea, North, and certain starred amendments. In these cases I have exercised my power under Standing Order No. 33 not to select. As the Committee knows, this power is entirely discretionary and I exercise it as best I can.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
I have tried to follow your remarks closely, Mr. Murton, but I am not clear on one thing. You said that Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 were outside the scope of the Bill, but later you said that they could possibly be amendments to Clause 9. I am not clear about that. If they are outside the scope of the Bill, surely they cannot be raised in any way. Perhaps you meant that they were outside the scope of this clause. If that is what you meant, I am happy to accept your word, but I am not clear just exactly what you meant.
§ The Chairman
Since the amendments contain something of a disqualification element it would be possible for something along the lines that I suggested to be included.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I am grateful to you, Mr. Murton, for your ruling. As I understand it, Amendments Nos. 10 and 11, which I mentioned particularly, might in an appropriate form be appended to later stages of the Bill. May I raise with you again the question of Amendment No. 8, which you have ruled must be out of order because it appears to require the House to pass a resolution 770 and the House is master of its own procedure? I should like to make two points. First, the House is not required to pass a resolution which enables it to do this thing by resolution. Secondly, there are many precedents for Acts of Parliament doing just this. At the moment I can remember only one. That is the one that sets up the parliamentary Boundary Commission. You will remember, Mr. Murton, what a time we had with regard to that provision in that Act when the present Prime Minister was Home Secretary and the Commission reported that the Government would not move the appropriate resolution in this House.
I have not had time to check my recollection, but I believe that there were even proceedings in the courts to try to force the Home Secretary to present the resolution in the House. But certainly the parliamentary Boundary Commission legislation and possibly the Local Government Boundary Commission statute adopted this procedure of putting the matter to a resolution of the House.
There has been argument whether the House must pass such a resolution. I know that there are other precedents and I know that they have been raised on this issue and that Mr. Speaker has either ruled or been invited to rule that in certain cases the House must pass certain resolutions.
Therefore, there can be nothing out of order in an Act of Parliament providing for something to be done and provisions to be made by a resolution even when the statute appears to be mandatory. But in this case my submission is that the amendment is not mandatory; it is merely permissive. Of course, the House need not nominate any Members to the European Assembly. For some time it did not do so in relation to the Government party, because they did not want to be so nominated. Although others were, it would have been perfectly competent for this House not to nominate anyone. That being so, and while there obviously remains in you the proper discretion of the Chair simply not to select an amendment, I submit that on ample precedents and on a proper interpretation of the wording of the amendment, the amendment cannot be out of order.
§ The Chairman
May I deal with this point, because it is rather complicated? If one were to follow the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) along that line, and if that amendment were to be agreed to, it would basically have the effect of making the Bill say that "the representatives…shall be named in a resolution of the House". That would be imposing a duty on the House. That is why I stand by the argument that the House must be the master of its own procedure.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Southampton, Test)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I am sure that the Committee is grateful to you for your ruling and guidance on these matters. May I suggest one or two points for your consideration concerning the basic principles that have guided you in making your ruling—the principles concerning the scope of the Bill?
The Long Title uses the phrase: "The election of representatives" but I take it —I am sure most hon. Members would—that that phrase describes a possible procedure by which representatives eventually end up in the European Assembly. Obviously it must be a procedure which includes the casting votes and the choice of representatives by voters.
The Bill must necessarily, and indeed does, go far wider than simply dealing with the process of election. It begins, in Clause 7, as a means by which an election is to be initiated and includes the drawing up of constituencies, the appointment of returning officers and so on.
As the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) pointed out, it goes so far as to deal with the position of representatives who once elected and actually in office, decide to vacate their seats because they wish to qualify under the terms of the Bill. The scope of the Bill covers the whole procedure and process which is inadequately covered by the term "election".
If one looks at the amendments at issue at present one notes that Amendment No. 9 would clearly not be out of order; it would be within the terms of the Bill, just as Clause 7 is within the terms of the Bill. The amendment deals with the process by which an election is to be initiated.
772 If one looks at Amendment No. 8 one sees that it is a provision for further steps in the process by which a representative finds himself elected to the Assembly. It is a step—not in itself an election, but part of the general procedures covered by the Bill.
On the points concerning the inappropriateness of this type of provision and equally, part of the precedent cited by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell) it certainly would be within the competence of the House to instruct itself or to accept a duty for itself, even if in a subsequent Session a new Parliament might wish to take a different approach and pass new legislation vitiating that course. I find it difficult to understand why a provision of this sort might be out of order. There may be little point in it, except as a declaration by this Parliament that this is the method by which it envisages Members being elected to the European Assembly, but I find it difficult to understand why it should be out of order and I would be grateful for guidance on that point.
I understand the point about Amendments Nos. 12 and 13, but on Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 I would be grateful for guidance concerning ways in which this might be made in order. I take it that you, Mr. Murton, accept the point that I make concerning the scope of the Bill, extending to the circumstances that exist once the election is completed, and governing the situation, in the context of qualification and disqualification, in conditions under which elected representatives continue to hold office.
Provided that these amendments are framed within the terms of disqualification, surely they are in order and are within the scope of Clause 9 and, therefore, within the scope of the Bill.
§ Mr. Jay
I understood that your view, Mr. Murton, was that this was a Bill concerned with the election of representatives and not their subsequent holding of office. Therefore, we can discuss the conditions under which they are elected but not the conditions under which they subsequently hold office. Surely your view 773 is not borne out by Clause 9 of the Bill, which is headed, in the margin.
Disqualification for office of representative to Assembly.The opening words of that clause say:—(I) Subject to subsection (3) below, and without prejudice to Article 6(1) (incompatibility of office of representative with certain offices in or connected with Community institutions)".It then goes on to lay down, in effect, that if a Member of the Assembly becomes, for instance, a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, he is disqualified from continuing in office. Surely that is not a condition of his election. He may become a Lord of Appeal three years after the election. Therefore, it is a condition of his continuing to hold office. Surely it cannot be argued that the amendment is out of order because it provides that Members should hold office only subject to certain conditions.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The argument here surely is based on the question of disqualification. The words I used, advisedly, were related to the question of behaviour. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman finds the way in which I put it is not wide enough. In fact I would have thought that disqualification was an essential part of the whole procedure in question on the clause being discussed.
§ Mr. Jay
As I understood it, Mr. Murton, the amendment was ruled out of order partly on the ground that it says "and shall hold office" and that the debate should be on the condition of election rather than the condition of holding office. But Clause 9 lays down conditions for the continued holding of office.
§ The Chairman
I think that my argument stands on the ground that it was in the wrong place in the Bill. If the right hon. Member studies what I have said I think he will find that his mind will be more at rest.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
I refer to Amendment No. 8, Mr. Murton, on which you have given a ruling about the resolution being out of order because the House is the master of its own procedure. I apologise for the fact that I cannot remember 774 it, but there is undoubtedly a statute which imposes on the House of Commons the duty of passing a resolution in certain circumstances.
You are ruling Amendment No. 8 out of order not because it is outside the scope of the Bill but because it infringes the power of the House of Commons to regulate its own procedure. Therefore, I invite you to consider it on the same principle as you would consider the contents of a Government Bill imposing on the House the duty to pass a resolution in certain circumstances. Would such a Bill be disallowed on the ground that it infringed the power of the House of Commons to control its own procedure? The amendment leaves us entirely masters of our own procedure, and merely says that we must do something. I submit that you would not rule out of order a Bill that was brought forward by the Government imposing by statute the duty of passing a resolution. If that is so, the amendment is within the scope of the Bill and surely, therefore, must be in order.
§ The Chairman
I have the greatest admiration for the advocacy of the hon. and learned Member; in fact, I am lost in admiration. However, I am not lost so far that I cannot point out politely that he is dealing with a hypothetical situation.
§ Mr. Powell
May I, with great respect, thank you, Mr. Murton, for your careful and lengthy ruling, which is evidently of great importance and should be sufficient, in itself, to disabuse anyone of the notion that in raising points of order we are in any way wasting the time of the House or deferring proceedings, since our right or otherwise to move and debate amendments to a Bill of this sort is of the highest importance.
So important does this matter of scope appear to be that I wonder whether I may confirm that I have understood your ruling, Mr. Murton, that amendments to the Bill are not constrained or limited by the contents of the decision of 20th September 1976 and that the scope of the Bill is derivable from the Bill itself as presented. We are not in a position where we find ourselves confronted with the Bill of 1972 and other instruments limiting our power to decide under what conditions the elections shall be held. I hope that I have apprehended the point 775 correctly, because it is of great importance.
§ Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. You addressed yourself to a series of amendments, Nos. 2, 3 and 6. Amendment No. 6 deals with the phrase "advisory and supervisory". That matter is of the greatest importance in regard to the powers in the Bill affecting future actions by the Assembly. In respect of those amendments, you based your decision on Standing Order No. 33 and more or less left the matter there.
I have examined the matter and see that the Standing Order states that Mr. Speakermay, if he think fit, call upon any Member who has given notice of an amendment, new clause or new schedule to give such explanation of the object thereof as may enable him to form a judgment upon it".The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) may like to take advantage of the opportunity to press his point a little further in establishing that the Bill relates to a body which, in the words of the amendment, is "advisory and supervisory". It is of the utmost importance that we should not let these matters get out of hand.
Standing Order No. 33(5) states:The powers conferred on Mr. Speaker by this order shall not be exercised by the Deputy Speaker save during the consideration of the business of supply.I do not think that this is the business of Supply, although I stand to be corrected.
§ The Chairman
I must correct the hon. Gentleman, and I shall do so in the nicest possible way. Standing Order 33(3) says:Mr. Speaker, or in a committee of the whole House, the Chairman of Ways and Means or either Deputy Chairman, may, if he think fit, call upon any Member to give such explanation".Therefore, I have that power. I have formed my judgment on this amendment under the terms of Standing Order No. 33 as a non-selection. I think the hon. Gentleman understands that I have the right to do this. But I can throw out one crumb of comfort—namely, that the matter could be discussed on the Ques- 776 tion, "That the clause stand part of the Bill".
§ Mr. John Ellis
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I was not trying to be impertinent when I referred to this matter. I was seeking clarification. I did not wish to lead you into trouble with Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. John Ellis
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. Without wishing to trespass further on your kindness, may I say that on certain amendments you appear to be willing to spread your wings for the better understanding of hon. Members, and particularly on Amendment No. 6. One flies to Standing Order No. 33, but it appears to limit the extent to which we may try to understand the situation. Will you give further consideration to this matter?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman asks me to spread my wings. I am no angel, but I must stand by what I said earlier. I have formed my judgment on Standing Order No. 33, but no doubt there will be an opportunity afforded to the hon. Gentleman in the discussion on the Question, "That the clause stand part of the Bill".
§ Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Standing Order No. 33 gives you discretion, which you have exercised. You have now gone a little further and said that the matters may be discussed when we debate the clause. However, what you are doing is taking away from hon. Members the opportunity to vote on that narrow point, and you are then advising them that, if they do not wish to pass the amendments, they should vote against the clause. That appears to be using a great hammer to crack a small nut. Since you have so far exercised your discretion against calling those amendments, will you give the matter more thought so that you may change your mind and exercise your discretion in favour of the amendments?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is very persuasive, but the inherent power of selection is laid down by Standing Order No. 33. That is the reason why 777 it exists. I stand by what I have already said.
§ Mr. Moate
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I appreciate the help and guidance you are giving the Committee, and I apologise for returning to Amendment No. 13, on which you have commented. In reply to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), you used the phrase "broadly so". I believe you were answering the point by saying that Amendment No. 13, possibly in another form, could be reintroduced when we come to Clause 9.
§ The Chairman
No. I think that the hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. I held out that hope in regard to Amendments Nos. 10 and 11.
§ Mr. Moate
I shall be grateful, Mr. Murton, for your further clarification on this important point. It is not a minor matter but is of the utmost importance because it affects the level of remuneration of Members of the European Assembly. I am concerned with the good word and reputation of the Government. I find it hard to believe that they would have drawn the scope of the Bill so narrowly that their promises for this to be allowed to be considered could not be carried out. I hope that there will be some opportunity to raise this matter in a different form on another clause.
I should like to ask about your ruling on Amendments Nos. 12 and 13 and to inquire whether Amendment No. 13 involves a form of taxation. That amendment says:and shall hold office subject to the condition that any payments, fees, emoluments, salaries, allowances, or expenses paid to them in respect of their office shall be paid by them into the Consolidated Fund".It then goes on to deal with a resolution determining those payments in respect of their office as representatives. A form of taxation presumably involves the person concerned making a net payment over. That would apply only if the salaries paid to Members of the European Assembly were higher than those paid to Members of this House. That has not yet been stated categorically by the Government.
§ The Chairman
That is a possibility which has to be taken into account. It 778 is not for the Chair to say. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that these are taxing provisions. It means taking money out of the pockets of the taxpayer, and that could not be done without a Ways and Means Resolution. As regards any comment about the Government's view, that is not a matter for me.
§ Mr. Moate
Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I seek further clarification. Why is it that, expressed in a different form, it is not possible for the House to add to the reasons provided for in Clause 9? Surely it is possible to add to Clause 9. This is a matter of such fundamental importance to the course of debate that I hope you will give some helpful guidance on this matter.
§ The Chairman
If the hon. Gentleman could think of other reasons for disqualification, it would be in order for him to table the appropriate amendments. We shall see how we get on.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. This is an important matter about the scope of the Bill. I followed your ruling with great care, and I thought I was clear on them, but I am now bemused by the rulings that you gave to the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) and to the hon. Member for Brigg and Scunthorpe (Mr. Ellis). Is it not the case that the scope of the Bill—in terms of amendments and the extent and range of debate—derives from the Long Title of the Bill in the usual way.
The Long Title of the Bill to which the House has given a Second Reading by a substantial majority saysTo make provision for and in connection with the election of representatives to the Assembly of the European Communities.That can mean only that the Bill is concerned with the method and conduct of elections and that the amendments and possible alterations to the Bill must be within those confines. The House has given a Second Reading to the Bill on those principles, and the amendments must be concerned with the method and conduct of elections only.
In that context, Mr. Murton, will you assist in clarifying whether Amendment No. 8—which seems to contemplate an election or other procedure authorized 779 by the legislation—will be outside the scope of the Bill if it seeks to extend the Bill to include a procedure other than an election, because that would be inconsistent with the Long Title? Would not any attempt to move amendments designed to alter or limit the powers of the Assembly be outside the powers of the Bill? It seems that the scope of the Bill is limited to the election of representatives. The Bill could not take within its scope a power to seek to limit the powers and activities of the Assembly to which Members had been elected as representatives, neither could it limit what the representatives did when they got there.
Turning to Amendment No. 1, Mr. Murton, which you have selected, can you clarify—
§ The Chairman
Order. Quite apart from my ruling on Amendment No. 8—which, in addition to the flaw which I indicated, is not entirely clear in its intention—I might be able to assist, although I do not want to break into the flow of the hon. Member's thoughts, if I draw attention to the problem about the Long Title.
The Long Title gives an indication of what is in the Bill. The scope of the Bill is to be discovered by looking at its contents—its clauses and schedules. It is against the scope of the Bill that I have to judge whether amendments are in order. I must underline this point about scope, because "scope" is the operative word and it is the thread that we have been following for some considerable time.
§ Mr. Clarke
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Surely, as no clause or schedule of the Bill deals with the powers of the Assembly, it cannot be within the scope of the Bill to restrict the powers of the Assembly now or in the future. I take guidance from the fact that the Chair has selected Amendment No. 1, which in no way seems to seek to affect the powers of the Assembly but to affect only the duration of the legislation if it is passed. It is extremely narrow and it was selected on that basis. There is no attempt in it to widen the scope of the Bill. The powers of the Assembly cannot be adjusted by the use of amendments to this piece of legislation.
§ Mr. Madden
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. May I echo what has been expressed by other hon. Members in thanking you for your patience and guidance, particularly your helpful guidance on Amendments Nos. 10 to 13? I understood your initial ruling that those amendments were outside the scope of the Bill because the Bill deals with the manner in which representatives are to be elected rather than with their subsequent behaviour. However, following the discussions that we have had on that aspect, I wonder whether you could advise me whether you would accept a manuscript amendment to Clause 1, making it a requirement of nomination for candidates to declare any financial interest that they hold. Would that be a proper manuscript amendment to Clause 1 or would it be more appropriate as an amendment to Clause 9, having regard to the comments that you made earlier?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) is extremely persuasive, but I could not accept such an amendment to Clause 1. As for the hon. Gentleman's further suggestion, I shall be prepared to look at it when the time is right.
§ Mr. Body
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. With every respect, may I be allowed to revert to the amendments put down by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)? I appreciate all that you have said about the scope of the Bill, and, of course, in the way that Clause 1 is phrased, it appears to limit representation to people of the United Kingdom. However, in giving your ruling in respect of Amendment No. 8, Mr. Murton, you reminded the House that we are the masters of our own procedure and that we are, above all, governed by the Long Title of the Bill. I suggest that there is nothing in the Long Title to limit representation to the United Kingdom.
I know that you have refreshed your memory several times about the Long Title, but it says that it merely makes "provision for and in connection with the election of representatives to the Assembly of the European Communities."
I suggest that the only grounds upon which amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Perry Barr could be ruled out would be by your exercising 781 your discretion under Standing Order No. 33. If you did that, Mr. Murton, nobody here would have the temerity to question your ruling, except, perhaps, to express a regret that you did not allow the hon. Member for Perry Barr to advance his reasons for urging that Gibraltar should have its representative in the Assembly of the European Communities.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Body) reverted to the matter of the Long Title. As I said, the Long Title is an indication of what is in the Bill, but it is the scope of the Bill that matters. In fact, the Bill specifically refers to the United Kingdom, full stop. There is no provision that I can possibly see or any way in which the Bill could be extended beyond the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Mikardo
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. As you know I am not an expert on the procedure of the House by a long chalk and I am a rather simple fellow. But it seems that if one took literally to its sensible and logical conclusion what you have just said, it would never be possible to add anything to a Bill. If we are saying that what is in the Bill constitutes the scope of the Bill and anything that is not within the scope of the Bill is out of order, surely ipso facto any addition to the Bill must be out of order. Where am I wrong in that?
§ The Chairman
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo), who is in no way simple in the ways of the procedure of the House of Commons, knows full well that what I said, although perhaps rather clumsily, was that all amendments that are within the scope of the Bill are considered. However, I chose, under the terms of Standing Order No. 33, not to select these particular amendments, and I stand on the decision that I have made.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. May I seek your guidance in connection with the point that you have just made for the benefit of the Committee? The impression of all hon. Members will be that a long time has been spent on the questions put in legitimate points of order in connection with various amendments that 782 were not selected by you, using your discretion under Standing Order No. 33.
The Committee is also grateful for your detailed and substantial explanations, which appear entirely reasonable and logical. I hope that I am not embarrassing you by saying these things. On the basis of the selection that you have made and your reiteration of the scope of the Bill—the crucial part of the explanation—you appear to have been reasonable, and many hon. Members regard your decisions as perfectly acceptable.
Without wishing to provoke any hon. Members, my question is whether, after nearly two hours on various points, many of which have been related, even though dealing with different amendments, it is unreasonable for me to suggest that the time that has already elapsed for these matters and your considered response and careful judgment is sufficient. I suggest with some hesitation that the time spent on your responses to queries has been substantial and to the satisfaction of hon. Members. I am satisfied that your explanation of the scope of the Bill results in your selection of amendments flowing logically from that explanation. I may be wrong in drawing that conclusion. Other hon. Members may wish to pursue the matter, but the difficulty facing the Committee is that if they do so they are questioning the essential selection process.
§ The Chairman
I am fully sensible of the fact that the hands of the clock are moving round, but this is a matter for the Committee to decide. I am the servant of the Committee and will endeavour to do my best, within the rules of order, to be as helpful as I can and—I say this with some trepidation—for as long as the Committee desires.
Before calling the next hon. Member, I think I should remind the Committee that we have spent a fairly considerable time on the question of my selections. I am, of course, prepared to continue on this subject, but hon. Members should bear in mind the time left at our disposal.
§ Mr. Stoddart
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I thank you for your patience. We all appreciate that the hands of the clock are going round, and we want to get on to the first interesting amendment. However, I should like to clarify your ruling in relation to Amendment No. 13.
783 I understood you to say that the amendment was not in order because it was a taxing measure and required a Ways and Means Resolution.
Am I to understand that, if the Government brought forward such an amendment on a Ways and Means Resolution, that would be in order? If so, could one of the Ministers, who, I know, want to be helpful in this matter, intervene now, bearing in mind the importance of the amendment and the importance that the country will attach to it, to indicate whether the Government will bring forward such an amendment at some stage?
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Chairman
That is a hypothetical question. It is not for me to say what the Government might or might not do. One has always to bear in mind that it is conceivable that any such amendment could be outside the scope of the Bill, but that is not for the Chair to say when the matter remains entirely hypothetical.
§ Mr. Spearing
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I am sure that the House is grateful for the way you have handled this complicated matter. I am sure that people will read Hansard carefully tomorrow. May I ask you to bear in mind what has happened should we tonight reach the stage of discussing whether Clause 1 should stand part of the Bill?
May I put to you some matters that you may not be able to answer at once but which remain outstanding? The first is the question of scope. Today is the first time that I have realised that the scope of a Bill is not inherent in the Long Title. You have surprised many of us by saying that the scope is what is in the Bill. Some hon. Members have, on occasions, had amendments ruled out of order as not being within the scope of the Long Title. That has not happened today, but you have ruled amendments out of order for not being within the scope of the Bill.
Hon. Members have been put in a novel and unusual position which I do not understand. If a Bill is drawn tightly in its wording, amendments are extremely limited whatever the length of the Long Title; and if the Long Title is extremely narrow and the Bill extremely wide, hon. Members are similarly inconvenienced.
784 Perhaps you may wish to reflect on this matter and give a further ruling later.
You have also ruled that Amendment No. 8 is not selected or is out of order. In my original point of order, I pointed out that the non-selection of this amendment would mean that the House of Commons could not discuss its continued function as a court in respect of disputed election results, and nothing that I have heard from you has contravened that claim. You have said that you will not select Amendment No. 8, and that it is out of order for the Committee to discuss the continued function of the House as an electoral court. I do not believe that this is so. As to Amendment No. 13—
§ The Chairman
Order. Before we go any further, I must point out that I did not say what the hon. Gentleman claims I said. It is a question of discussing the whole electoral procedure.
§ Mr. Spearing
My final point concerns Amendment No. 13, Mr. Murton. Can you rule on whether the taxation ruling that you gave is related to the Consolidated Fund? Would it apply if payments had to be made to the Fees Office?
§ The Chairman
Taxes are paid into the Consolidated Fund. Does that meet the hon. Gentleman's point?
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I do not want to waste time. I am one of those who want the Bill on the statute book as quickly as possible, but I put a point to you earlier and I believe that you were contemplating it when another hon. Member caught your eye with another point. Is it the case that any question of seeking to adjust the powers of the Assembly or to constrain any changes in powers in future is outside the scope of the Bill?
You enlightened me, Mr. Murton, on the fact that the scope of the Bill was not entirely determined by the Long Title but was reflected in the content of the clauses as well. It seems that, as the Bill stands, there is not a single clause which in any way affects the powers of the Assembly. That is an important point and one which is likely to recur during the debate. I hope that you will rule on any question of our seeking to control how those powers might be changed in the future and what those powers are now. Is it not the case that 785 that may be an appropriate matter for the Committee to consider but that it is wholly outside the Bill? The Bill is concerned with the regulation of the elections which the House has agreed will take place.
§ The Chairman
As far as I can see, the answer is "Yes". I suggest that we move on to the first amendment.