HC Deb 18 January 1977 vol 924 cc97-9

Considered in Committee [Progress, 13th January].

[Mr. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I have raised with the Chair, as have many other hon. Members, the issue of the basis on which amendments would be ruled in order or out of order. As you know, this is a very delicate matter, and I believe that you have a statement to make.

The Chairman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice. I have, of course, given the most careful and deep thought to the request which he made last Thursday.

The last thing that the Chair wishes is to be unduly restrictive. I can assure the hon. Member and the Committee as a whole that in deciding whether a particular amendment is or is not within the scope of the Bill, I shall endeavour to use exactly the same criteria as my predecessors have always used in the case of other equally long and complicated Bills.

If I were to attempt at this stage to give a summary of the whole scope of the Bill as I see it, I would be doing something which would, as far as I know, be unprecedented and would not, ultimately, be helpful to the Committee. I can, however, assure the hon. Gentleman that I have borne in mind very much his remarks and the question which he asked, and the ruling which I have given. I shall see to the best of my ability, and that of my colleagues who are in the Chair from time to time, that we deal with this question on the lines I have just mentioned.

Mr. Dalyell

Thank you very much, Mr. Murton.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton—and I shall be brief. Last Thursday I tabled Amendment No. 456 to Clause 1, page 1, line 7, to leave out changes in the government of and to insert constitutional changes affecting". I was surprised to find that it was not on the Order Paper for today, and indeed that all other amendments to Clause 1, page 1, line 7, along with my amendment, had been swept off the Order Paper.

Nobody could argue that my amendment was beyond the scope of the Bill. It is mainly a drafting amendment but attempts to ensure that we get the drafting of the Bill and our attitude to it right.

I cannot challenge your ruling as to selection or non-selection of the amendment, or as to the wholesale sweeping off the Order Paper of a number of amendments to Clause 1, page 1, line 7, surprising though I find it. But in exercising your discretion with regard to a discussion on the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill, I hope that you will bear in mind that I have not had the opportunity to raise the matter at this stage.

The Chairman

I give the right hon. and learned Gentleman the assurance for which he asks—namely, that it will be in order to discuss the matter on the Question, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Fred Evans (Caerphilly)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I wish to seek your guidance on the propriety of certain events that took place last Thursday when it was confidently anticipated in the Press that today's debate would take place. A large number of Welsh Members, if not all, received through the post envelopes containing only a pristinely fresh copy of the South Wales newspaper, the Western Mail. There was no covering notice of any kind. They were House of Commons envelopes and they had been passed through the notice board in that they carried the stamp of Mr. Speaker.

I wish to notify you that I have informed Mr. Speaker's Secretary of this matter and I seek guidance as to the propriety of such matters happening at a time when a debate vital to the future of this nation, particularly of Wales, is taking place. It is one of a number of incidents that I consider to be highly undesirable. This is particularly important because in regard to the published list of the names of people in several walks of life in Wales whose names appear in that newspaper some claim that they gave no permission for their names to be printed and others have denied the giving of permission. I consider that this is a matter on which I must seek your guidance.

The Chairman

This is a matter for Mr. Speaker and not for the incumbent of the Chair in Committee. I understand that the hon. Gentleman has taken the appropriate step, and in my view that is the right one. This is not a matter for the Committee.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I understand and accept the reasonableness of what you said, but since that document was put through the letter board, presumably it went through Mr. Speaker and did not go down in the name of the person who put it there, obviously intending to influence the proceedings in this Committee. I wonder whether it is a matter for Mr. Speaker alone or a matter to be more widely considered by the Committee. Could we have a general indication from you as to how you regard the whole business of the distribution of influential literature through the board, anonymously, in a matter of such great importance?

The Chairman

As Chairman of this Committee, I have no power to take any action in this matter. It is a matter for Mr. Speaker. Since it has been reported to Mr. Speaker, that is how we should leave it.

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