HC Deb 26 April 1978 vol 948 cc1393-514

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not wish to challenge your selection of amendments, which, in any case, I am forbidden to do, but in relation to New Clause No. 8, which stands in my name, I wish to raise the issue of the way in which hon. Members are treated in respect of the selection of amendments.

The new clause was an attempt to revise Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 which is the only programme available to the Government for giving money to local authorities to help with the problems of New Commonwealth immigrants living in their areas.

At a time when everyone in the count-try is concerned about the state of race relations and all the major parties agree that there should be a positive response to the difficulties of race relations, it seemed an appropriate moment to try to widen the sphere of Section 11 in order to obtain better assistance for minority groups in this country. It was with that in mind that I chose the opportunity of this Bill to table the new clause.

In order to bring it within the terms of the Bill, I specifically limited it, by the first paragraph, to an amendment relating to the special areas of need under Clause 4(4) of the Bill. I thought that it was in order and would be called.

However, one of the learned Clerks has advised you that it is out of order because—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to confine his point of order to me. It is not customary in the House to refer to my advisers.

Mr. Lyon

I shall do that, Mr. Speaker. The new clause has been ruled out of order on the basis that it is outside the Money Resolution. I take exception to that view. I do not believe that it is outside the Money Resolution.

The difficulty is that I have no means within the procedure of the House to bring that to your attention unless I go to see the Clerk, before he makes his decision, in order to find out whether the new clause is in order. The result is that the Clerk has to be approached, has to consider the matter and has to get in touch with the hon. Member.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have just told the hon. Member that he should refer to me. The Clerk does not decide which amendments are called. I decide that. The hon. Gentleman must direct his point of order to me or resume his seat.

Mr. Lyon

I shall direct the rest of my remarks to you, Mr. Speaker. Recognising that you are the final judge, I did my best to get in touch with you. The only way I can get in touch with you is to raise the matter on the Floor of the House or to see you before the Bill comes before the House.

The only opportunity I have of doing that is immediately before the debate, because the selection does not take place until 12 o'clock on the day of the debate. I came to see you at the earliest convenient opportunity and was told that you were not available for discussion.

I do not wish to suggest that that was a lack of courtesy to me. I am simply seeking to say that when hon. Members have a matter of first importance—as this is—affecting 2 million people in this country on the major issue of race relations and want to have it discussed at the most convenient opportunity on a Bill of this nature, the only way in which they can make representations to you is by raising the matter on the Floor of the House—even though we know it to be incapable of a positive response because the rules of order of the House make it impossible to challenge your selection at this stage.

I am seeking to find a way by which we can make a positive application to you about a legitimate disagreement of interpretation on the advice on which you act in regard to what is and is not in order in relation to a particular amendment.

If the new clause has been ruled out of order because it is thought to be outside the Money Resolution—on an interpretation of the resolution which the House might not accept—surely it is right that hon. Members should be allowed to put their case to you when there is an opportunity of changing the selection.

The result of the procedure of the House is that I have not been consulted about what my intention was within the new clause or about any suggestion to you that it might be outside the Money Resolution. I have not been given an opportunity to amend the new clause so that it was brought within the terms of the Money Resolution if, indeed, it was outside those terms.

4.15 p.m.

All this means that we cannot discuss this issue of first importance although there is a new clause on the Order Paper, signed by more than a dozen hon. Members, including two Privy Councillors and the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party, on an issue that is supported by hon. Members in all parts of the House. The result is that freedom of debate on this central issue is denied to us. That is a matter of real importance to the House, and I hope that it might be considered.

I hope that, even at this late stage, you may find it possible to allow us to debate New Clause No. 8, but I recognise that, under the Standing Orders, I am not able to make that request to you directly. However, I hope that you might still reconsider your attitude.

Mr. Speaker

I understand that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) called at my office at 2.5 p.m. today and asked to see me. That was just before I got ready to come into the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman also sent a message of which he is aware.

I should remind the House that it has never been the practice of my predecessors or myself to see hon. Members about the selection of amendments. I do not see those who put down the amendments or those who would have preferred them not to be put down. If I did, we would enter into endless arguments. The life of the Speaker would be intolerable if every time I had to consider the selection of amendments, I had a disappointed hon. Member wanting to argue the case or a Minister who did not wish the argument to be heard coming to see me to say that I should not have selected an amendment.

The hon. Gentleman said that he was not consulted. Hon. Members never have been consulted when they table amendments.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirling-shire)

Why not?

Mr. Speaker

Am I expected to ask hon. Members what they intend by their amendments? Of course not. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) has been here for three years, or is it four years—

Mr. Canavan

Four years.

Mr. Speaker

If he stays here as long as I have been here, he will find that it is not the custom for the occupant of the Chair to send for hon. Members to ask what their amendment means. The Clerk's Department is available for advice, but it is not for the Clerk's Department to take the initiative. It is for hon. Members who feel that they have some doubt about an amendment to go to the Clerk's Department. I am sure that I can say unhesitatingly that, as hon. Members will have experienced, they will get the help they look for.

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Speaker

In regard to New Clause No. 8, the hon. Member for York said that two Privy Councillors and the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party had signed it. But even if every hon. Member had signed it, I could still not select it—and not merely because of the Money Resolution. I note that subsection (3) seeks to repeal Section 1 of the Local Government Act 1966. That section gives the Secretary of State power to make grants to certain local authorities over the whole country.

The Bill is confined to inner urban areas, and the new clause is also out of order because it seeks to repeal a power that affects areas that are not within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Stephen Ross (Isle of Wight)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I take it that your remarks in relation to New Clause No. 8 apply also to New Clause No. 7, which is in the names of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends? Without challenging your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but because there is frustration that we are not to be able to debate this matter this afternoon, would the Minister indicate what his attitude would have been had these new clauses been called?

Mr. Speaker

Of course not. We are not going to debate amendments which are not called. If the Minister is allowed to give one argument, others will wish to be allowed to give others. There is no argument about the selection of amendments. That is the responsibility which the House has given to me. If I had to argue every time an hon. Member's amendment was not selected, we should never get through the Report stage of a Bill.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said in your ruling that it would be impossible for the Clerks or yourself to approach hon. Members about what they mean by their proposed amendments. However, the Standing Orders of the House say that the Speaker or Chairman of the Committee can ask the hon. Member in the course of the debate what is intended by the amendment in order to make a ruling about whether it is in order. If that can be done on the Floor of the House, surely it is possible for the Clerks to approach Members about amendments which they regard as being out of order, so that there can be a proper discussion about it before they give any advice to you.

Mr. Speaker

I disagree with the hon. Member. I do not believe that we should put on to the Clerks of the House the responsibility to chase hon. Members if they believe that their amendment is out of order. When the Order Paper appears and the Clerks or my advisers see what hon. Members wish to present to the House, their responsibility is to give me their advice. But it is my decision at the end of the day. It is my decision on each of the amendments. I suggest that we should now continue with our business.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not dispute your ruling, but I ask you to seek to ensure that the procedures are improved in the future. It is the function of the House to scrutinise legislation and to ensure that the real issues are discussed. In relation to this and many other Bills, the consequence of the procedures of the House, of which we appear to be prisoners, is that we frequently find that we are discussing not the real issues but those which are much less important. I urge you, Mr. Speaker, to discuss with the appropriate Committee of the House ways in which we could have rulings about the selection of amendments early enough to enable discussions to take place.

You, Mr. Speaker, suggested that Ministers might come to you and say that they do not want a certain amendment discussed. I suggest that you should give them very short shrift if they do that. If there is an issue to be discussed, it is for the House to discuss it. Matters which are relevant should not be ruled out of order when they are the real issues. This has occurred on other Bills. I hope that you will do what you can to ensure that the House has the opportunity to fulfill its real functions.

Mr. Speaker

I am the servant of the House. I want to do my best. The hon. Member's amendment is clearly out of order for the reason that I have explained—the repeal of Section 1 of the Local Government Act 1976.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

On a different point of order, Mr. Speaker. I notice that the first group of amendments is a disparate group covering a wide sphere. I hope that a separate vote on Government Amendment No. 3, will be permissible.

Mr. Speaker

Yes, it is bound to be.

  1. New Clause No. 1
    1. cc1398-454
  2. New Clause No. 2
    1. c1454
  3. New Clause No. 3
    1. cc1454-8
  4. New Clause No. 4
    1. cc1458-68
  5. New Clause No. 6
    1. cc1469-80
  6. New Clause No. 9
    1. cc1480-514