HC Deb 24 February 1977 vol 926 cc1669-72

Considered in Committee [Progress, 16th February].

[Mr. Oscar Murton in the Chair]

4.59 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I do not challenge your selection of amendments, but may I draw your attention to page 2008 of the Amendment Paper and Amendment (zz) to the new schedule—Referendums in Scotland and Wales—in line 86, after 'Scotland', insert in the full knowledge that not a penny of the North Sea oil revenues will be earmarked for the Assembly, and that because the English Regions will insist that a Scotland, with an Edinburgh Assembly, will get no more than its share per head of the United Kingdom cake, relatively less resources will be available to Scotland than at the present time, when successive British Governments have recognised Scotland's special needs for public money. '(2) At a time when the Prime Minister rightly gives top priority to the needs of manufacturing and productive industry, do you want yet another layer of non-productive bureaucracy and government, adding not a penny to the real wealth of the country? '(3) At a time when Great Britain does not have enough money to employ all the teachers we have trained, when we are desperately short of nursery school provision, when Dunfermline College of Education for Women PE Teachers, Callendar Park and Craigie Colleges of Education are threatened with closure, when the Cardinal Archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrew's preaches from his pulpit against the closure of Craiglockhart Colleges for training Catholic teachers, when it is impossible to maintain let alone improve hospital services and provision for the mentally ill, when the ratepayers and taxpayers are angrier than ever before about the difficulties of making ends meet, when housing starts are far too low to provide for young married couples in the future, do you as a priority want yet again an enormously costly shake-up in the form of Government?' Some of us may argue that the kind of question contained in that amendment is at the back of many people's minds in Scotland, and some people in Scotland may regard it as very much more relevant than some of the other questions that we may be discussing. Will you, Mr. Murton, outline in general terms your selection of the criteria on these difficult matters? I can see that there are great difficulties, but perhaps you would care to comment.

The Chairman

I must relate my remarks to Amendment (zz), which the hon. Gentleman kindly read to the Committee. I did not select it, as it is out of order. I say this entirely in a parliamentary sense and in no way meaning to be offensive to the hon. Gentleman, but the amendment is couched, if I may so put it, in a form of mockery and would not be appropriate for inclusion in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not take that as a personal affront. I am merely saying that, in parliamentary terms, the amendment is out of order for that reason.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I recollect that the late hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, Mr. Sydney Silverman, was rebuked by Mr. Speaker Hylton-Foster on the grounds of mockery. I would ask you what definition of "mockery" you put in relation to a question that deals with the priorities that a Prime Minister gives to the needs of manufacturing and productive industry.

The Chairman

I regret that I cannot allow myself to be drawn into a debate over the selection that I have made. I have been as kind as I can be to the hon. Gentleman, and I would prefer that the matter were left in that way.

Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)

On a different point of order, Mr. Murton. May I seek your help on a matter on which many hon. Members would like enlightenment? Obviously you have to select amendments for debate, and you have done so this afternoon, but the Committee may wonder what precise purpose there is in debating separately each of the groups of amendments that you have selected, for reasons which I think are important.

We are in a sense operating in a state of considerable uncertainty in the aftermath of the statement made by the Leader of the House earlier. We do not know to what our remarks should be addressed—whether to a Bill with which the Government intend to persist in the form in which it now stands or to a Bill that may be further amended after consultation, or to other Bills that have not yet been drafted and laid before the House. In a sense, in that respect alone, there is a problem for anybody who wishes to address you this afternoon.

If the Government intend to ensure that amendments discussed now should be disposed of and not returned to, and if the Bill is put off until a later date, is it desirable that the discussions should be foreclosed? Would it not be better to allow a fairly wide-ranging debate on the proposition immediately before the Committee and to bring in some of the subject matter in the amendments to the new clause and the new schedule, and then, at the end of the day, to suspend the debate, so that nothing has been lost? Within the rules of order, the Committee can reserve the right to return to those points and re-table amendments that may not be able to be debated today.

I seriously ask you, Mr. Murton, whether it is not important, for the purposes of debate this afternoon, to have some guidance from you, and also possibly from the Government Front Bench, as to how we are to proceed in the new reigning spirit of flexibility, whether the Bill is to live or to die.

The Chairman

From the point of view of the Chair, the House has laid on the Committee the duty to consider the Bill but has declined to take any step that might speed the consideration of it. In those circumstances, I am sure that the best course is to make what progress we can.

Mr. Onslow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I am not seeking to delay matters, and it has already been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House that there has been no filibustering. I am trying to promote the cause of orderly and constructive debate. If amendments on, for example, extending the franchise in a referendum to expatriate Scots and Welsh and to, let us say, Service voters—which are in your selection list for this afternoon and may be reached today—are disposed of in advance of the conference to which the Leader of the House has asked us all to look forward, that will be an unsatisfactory parliamentary state of affairs.

The Chairman

I regret to inform the hon. Gentleman that the Chair has no power to do what he says he desires the Chair to do. I recommend that we now move on to deal with Amendment (x).

Mr. Onslow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. May I invite some spokesman, if there be such on the Government Front Bench, to contribute to our discussions? It will help us to know how far progress, if it can be called that, is desired by the Government to be carried this afternoon. If the Government intend that we should air many matters that may go into the melting pot of the conference, the Committee will be happy to take on that task, but if we are to go through a farcical rigmarole of debating amendments without knowing whether they will be incorporated in legislation, why should we be expected to bother?

The Chairman

I think we must get on with the first group of amendments.

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