HC Deb 01 February 1977 vol 925 cc229-30
Mr. Marten

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed from today's Order Paper that the second item of business concerns an Import Duties Order which increases the import duties on certain foods. A number of hon. Members will want to vote against it, obviously, because we do not want the cost of food to be increased. I also notice that, at the commencement of Public Business, the House is to deal with another Statutory Instrument under Standing Order No. 73A, whereas the Import Duties Order is not to be taken until after debate on the Scotland and Wales Bill which, as rumour has it, may be in the early or not so early hours of the morning.

Could you advise me whether it would be possible for the Leader of the House to withdraw the Import Duties Order which is due for consideration at that time and to put it down again tomorrow in order to take it at the commencement of Public Business? It seems to be an extreme example of masochism to take it at the time of night proposed at present.

Mr. Spearing

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. However ingenious it may be, the procedure suggested by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) would be inconvenient since I understand that the Prayer in respect of that Order would be out of time tomorrow.

May I also draw to your attention the fact that, when discussions took place on a similar matter on 22nd March 1973, as reported in column 689 of Hansard, the then Leader of the House said that when instruments or documents went upstairs under Standing Order No. 73A they would be voted on forthwith at the commencement of Public Business at half-past three? As far as I am aware, that practice has never been followed, to the detriment of Back Benchers of this House. I ask that, if it is possible, this matter be looked at by you with a possible reference to the Select Committee on Procedure.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. At the risk of appearing to enter any dispute between the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing)—I should not wish to do that—I do not believe that the previous statement by the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), when he was Leader of the House, was really a precedent in the matter. What we have done is to put down this motion to try to meet the wishes of my hon. Friends. I agree that we have to try to deal with these matters in a better way in the future. But we have sought to give the House the opportunity to vote for which we were asked.

Mr. Jay

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Quite apart from the precedents, is not it very inconvenient for everyone if a Division on an important matter of taxation has to take place at three or four o'clock in the morning?

Mr. Speaker

The House has heard the Lord President. All that I can say is that the placing of business on the Order Paper is not a matter for me. I am quite sure that everyone will be here at the appropriate time.