§ As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you will be aware, the Coal Industry Bill completed its proceedings in Committee more than a month ago, but the Official Report of the last two sittings of the Committee's proceedings has still not appeared in print. I have just checked again with Her Majesty's Stationery Office, and the Official Report is not available. Normally, that might not be considered as all that unusual, bearing in mind the number of industrial disputes that we have had over Government publications and parliamentary papers. In this case, however, I submit that it is of considerable importance and I seek the guidance of the Chair.
More than a month has elapsed, and the reports on the two sittings have not yet appeared in the Official Report. They relate to two crucial clauses in the Bill. They are Clause 10 and Clause 11, which are most controversial and contentious. Clause 10 refers to the wide expansion of the power of the National Coal Board in mining operations other than coal. Clause 11 gives the Coal Board wide powers to extend its mining operations abroad.
These clauses were adequately and extensively debated in Committee, but the conclusions reached and the response of the Minister to the various amendments and proposals and the opposition that was put forward by Conservative Members have not been recorded. Moreover, there are a large number of outside representations that hon. Members—certainly hon. Members on this side of the House—have received. No doubt hon. Members on the Government side have also received representations relating to possible redundancies in the industries affected in the private sector involved with mining and from the quarrying companies. These companies have made extensive representations, and they have expressed anxiety that they have not been 257 able to see an official record of the Government's reaction to the representations of hon. Members on this side. I ask the Chair to consider three points and to give guidance.
First, how can the Committee report to the House on its proceedings when the Official Report has not been made available? Surely that is an abuse of the whole principle of our procedures. We are supposed to be at Report stage, reporting on the procedures of the Committee, but the proceedings of the Committee have not been made widely available, except in a sketchy duplicate form of which two copies are available in the Library. They are certainly not available at the Stationery Office outside the Palace of Westminster and they have not been made available to members of the public. Is it correct procedure that the Committee should be asked to report to the House without the evidence being available for all to see?
Second, how can we have protection for the many widely expressed anxieties from outside bodies and for our constituents—I refer to Clauses 10 and 11—when the full response to the representations that we made in Committee have not been seen by those outside bodies and their reactions have therefore not been available so that we may refer to them again or put forward further amendments on Report? This has not been possible simply because the communications have not been allowed to operate in the normal parliamentary democratic way. As this is a matter of great concern, and as many constituencies are involved and jobs are at risk, I suggest that this is not merely an academic point.
Third, I seek the guidance of the Chair about what precedents there have been in the House for a Report stage to proceed on the Floor of the House without the Official Report having been properly published and considered and made available to all those outside these narrow clerical precincts who might wish to see them and when only brief, sketchy copies have been made available in the Library. What precedents are there for the Report stage of a Bill, to proceed when the Official Report has not been published and made available in the normal way?
§ Mr. Hamish Gray (Ross and Cromarty)
Further to that point of order, 258 Mr. Deputy Speaker. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost). The Report stage coming so closely after the recess has also meant that a number of hon. Members who were not members of the Committee have been approached by outside bodies. Therefore, hon. Members have been anxious to read the reports of the Committee stage.
With particular reference to Clause 10, the mineral extraction industry is extremely worried about the effects of the clause and members of the industry's various associations have been in touch with many hon. Members in the hope that they would raise points on their behalf at this stage. It becomes extremely difficult for hon. Members who were not members of the Committee to try to ascertain what took place during the debates on Clause 10, particularly when they have not had an opportunity of reading the replies given by the Minister. It may be that some of those replies would satisfy some of my hon. Friends, but they have no way of knowing this when they have not had an opportunity of reading the replies.
This is a serious matter, because if we are to consider the Report stage properly it is essential that hon. Members who were on the Committee and those who were not should have an opportunity of reading the proceedings.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to support what has been said, particularly about Clause 10. I was not on the Committee but I have received many representations about Clause 10 and the extra powers that are to be given to the National Coal Board. Some things were said in Committee that might have reassured those who are worried about Clause 10, but they have not been able to read them. It is true that copies of the reports of the proceedings are in the Library, but they are not generally available to the public who are concerned about coal. It is, therefore, extremely difficult for hon. Members to deal with representations from outside. This has been a most unfortunate combination of events, and I hope that never again must we consider a Bill on Report when the report of the proceedings in Committee is not available to the House.
§ Sir John Langford-Holt (Shrewsbury)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I find myself in precisely the same position as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). The fact remains—I shall not enlarge on what has been said—that the House is being invited to discuss something about which it has no information. That is wholly unacceptable to me and, I am sure, to many other hon. Members. It would have been quite unacceptable to the Minister had he been sitting on this side of the House. I wonder whether, in these circumstances, the Chair would be prepared to accept a motion that the House should adjourn further discussion on the Bill until these papers become available.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Perhaps I may answer the last question first. The answer is "No". I should tell the House that Mr. Speaker desires me to thank the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost), who raised the original point of order, for giving him notice. The House will be aware of the printing difficulties which adversely affected the production of parliamentary papers before the Whitsuntide Adjournment, and it is those difficulties which have caused the delay in producing the Official Report of Standing Committee proceedings.
In the case of the Coal Industry Bill, which is the matter now under discussion, the Standing Committee held 11 sittings. The printed Official Report of the first nine sittings has been published, and Mr. Speaker has arranged for copies of the typescript of the Official Report for the tenth and eleventh sittings of the Standing Committee to be placed in the Library. Eventually, the remaining two will be published.
On the point about outside representations, the Chair understands the inconvenience which is caused to the general public, but it can take no action other than that which has already been taken. On the point about precedents, I can assure the House that this problem has occurred on previous occasions.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Michael Foot)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to thank you and Mr. Speaker for the rul- 260 ing. I am sure that it is of assistance to all hon. Members.
I apologise to the House for the fact that full reports are not available. I acknowledge that this leads to some difficulties, and I am not trying to dismiss them, but the House knows that we had difficulties with printing. We have sought to overcome them and, as your statement indicates, Mr. Deputy Speaker, efforts have been made to meet the difficulties.
I hope that the House will be willing to proceed with the Bill on that basis. Reports of the proceedings of the first nine sittings are available in the normal way. Copies of the reports of the proceedings at the last two sittings have been made available in the way that you described. You also indicated that this is not an unprecedented situation. We have sought to do all that we can to overcome the printing difficulties of a few weeks ago, and I hope that the House will now proceed.
I understand why hon. Members have raised these questions, but I hope that the House is now willing to proceed. We recognise that we must always strive to overcome such difficulties and to prevent them from happening.
§ Mr. Rost
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for your statement, but it does not add anything new. We are well aware that copies of the Official Report of the last two sittings are not available. It has been admitted that this causes inconvenience to outside bodies, but that goes no way towards solving the problem. It is surely a derogation of the democratic principles of our parliamentary proceedings for the Report stage to continue when copies of the Official Report have not been made available to outside bodies so that they may express their anxiety and be consulted on these matters.
We accept that the printing difficulties may not be the responsibility or fault of the Leader of the House, but his apologies do nothing to solve the problem either. Surely the only solution would have been for this business not to have been put down for today. The backlog of printing is being reduced. We are daily receiving copies of the Official Report that were not printed during the dispute. Surely it can be a matter of only 261 two or three days before the missing copies of the Official Report are printed in the proper form and made available to outside bodies through the normal channels.
If the Government were concerned about operating Parliament in any way other than as a steamroller, it would not have been difficult for this business to be put on next week and for something else to have been taken today.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The implications for outside bodies of the failure to provide copies of the Official Report for the last two sittings of the Committee is illustrated by the fact that two amendments which have been suggested by outside organisations have not been called for discussion. I am referring to Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 which came from the Sand and Gravel Association and the British Quarrying and Slag Federation. These bodies obtained the relevant information only during the latter part of last week. They had a meeting with the Minister on Friday and wrote to me on Monday. Consequently the amendments that would have satisfied their requirements could not be tabled until Monday. They were starred and they have not been selected. The result is that important, albeit small, amendments have not been called for debate and cannot be considered. This is an undesirable result of the lack of available information and has a direct bearing on the points of order.
§ Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I declare an interest in the mining industry. If it is impossible to abandon the debate now, logic points to making a start and adjourning when we reach Clause 10, on which the problems arise but copies of the Official Report are not available.
It is extremely unsatisfactory to debate a subject when the public do not know the first thing about what is going on and when, in reality, we do not know either. It is difficult to have a copy of the typescript of the Official Report in the Chamber.
§ Sir J. Langford-Holt
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In 262 your statement you said that copies of the Official Report for the last two sittings of the Standing Committee were available in the Library. Are there enough copies for hon. Members to bring them into the Chamber? If not, the whole thing seems pointless because the object of having an Official Report is that it should be available for reference when a debate takes place in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not incredible that the Leader of the House should make such fatuous excuses and say that he had done all that he could? Surely it would have been possible——
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We must get this matter into perspective. The second half of the Bill, from Clause 9 to the end, includes some of the more contentious parts. Clause 10 deals with the ability to extract minerals other than coal and affects many industries in this country.
It has always been the custom to allow those affected by legislation to have the opportunity of studying what has been said in Parliament so that they may take action by lobbying hon. Members, or altering their businesses in some way. The individuals who have approached hon. Members on all sides of the House have not been able to read the record of what was said in Committee.
This is not merely a matter of a rather untidy administrative failure. It will be 263 a failure of our democratic principles if we do not allow these people to have the opportunity of making proper representations, and we cannot do that unless we have the proper documents.
It is not a question of our wanting to delay the passage of the legislation—we did not vote against it on Second Reading. It is matter of great importance to the whole nation and to the individual parts of our economy that will be affected by the Bill. They should have the opportunity of knowing what has been said, and that opportunity has so far been denied to them.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Gray
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a serious matter. We had a hard-working and harmonious Committee on this Bill. We achieved a great deal. It would be out of character for the Leader of the House to try and force this issue on the House today. Both those who sat on the Committee and those who did not feel very strongly about it. I press the Leader of the House to make a statement this afternoon and to agree that we cannot proceed in this way. We are prepared to wait until these records are available. It would be unfair to the House to proceed at present.
§ Mr. Foot
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall make a proposal to the House which I hope will assist it. but first I want to say one or two things to hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has met representatives of the Sand and Gravel Association and has had discussions with them. When we resume the discussion on the Bill my hon. Friend will make that clear to the House. That will dispose of some of the suggestions that have been made—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Some suggestions have been made by Opposition Members to which my hon. Friend has a satisfactory reply. When we resume discussions the House will accept that his reply is satisfactory.
We were prepared to accept the ruling made from the Chair as to the way in which we should proceed. It would have been perfectly possible for the House to proceed in that way. However, in view of the representations that have been 264 made by the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) and other hon. Members, we are prepared to withdraw the business and to ensure that it is put down on another occasion.
I was seeking to make clear to the House—and I am fully entitled to do so because of the situation and since I do not want any misunderstanding about this—that we are not proposing this action to deal with the difficulties because of our acceptance of particular allegations from the Opposition. Nor are we proposing this action because we dissent in any way from what has been said by the Chair. In order to meet the representations made by the House generally we are prepared to say that we should not proceed with this business today. We shall move to the next part of the business.
§ Mr. Peter Hardy (Rother Valley)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I urge my right hon. Friend to think again about this matter. There is an urgent need for the Bill. It is anxiously awaited in the coalfields of Britain, as the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) should be aware.
Mention has been made of the Minister's response to the anxieties that have been expressed about Clauses 10 and 11. The Under-Secretary of State has been prepared to lean over backwards to inform all the interests that have approached him either directly or through Opposition Members. He has been willing to give them information.
The Opposition are acting in a mischievous and irresponsible way. They are disregarding the efforts made by my hon. Friend and they are putting at risk the necessary implementation of the Bill, which is awaited by people in the coal areas.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As has been said, the 265 people in the coalfields are concerned about this measure. I shall be speaking in Yorkshire on Saturday and I might have something to say about it.
When will the Bill be put on the statute book? I hope that it can be considered before the end of the week. Can my right hon. Friend arrange for it to come before us tomorrow?
Why is it that when we have a Labour Government in power we are constantly undermined by civil servants and parliamentary draftsmen who allow Departments to go unprepared on these matters? Someone in a managerial position should have said to the printers that they must first produce the Committee stage reports when they returned to work. Time and time again we witness people in the bureaucracy of our Civil Service undermining the Government in their plans to get business through.
§ Mr. Foot
It might look like that, but nothing of the sort is involved.
Of course we want to proceed speedily. When my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) goes to his meeting at the weekend I hope that he will give an assurance that this Bill is just one of the many good measures that the Government are putting on to the statute book—and the sooner the better.
From the facts as I see them—they were drawn to my attention only at 4.40 p.m.—and from the ruling of the Chair it would have been possible for us to proceed with the discussion today. However, representations were made by many hon. Members and I have taken those into account. It is right to do that.
I hope that the House will leave the matter there. I do not believe that we shall assist the situation by having further discussion now. We shall look at the question again to see how speedily we can go forward. I hope that the House is prepared to accept that.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
In view of the Lord President's decision, will an hon. Member move, "That further considera- 266 tion of the Bill, as amended, be now adjourned"?
Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Mr. Frank R. White.]
§ Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.