HC Deb 12 December 1978 vol 960 cc339-42

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, notwithstanding the practice of the House relating to the interval between the various stages of Bills of aids and supplies, more than one stage of the Consolidated Fund Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting. —[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

8.33 p.m.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

I am not sure which Minister is in charge of this motion. There seems to be no Treasury Minister present and the Leader of the House has gone.

Mr. Walter Harrison (Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household)

I am here.

Mr. English

I apologise. The Deputy Chief Whip is apparently acknowledging his presence as a Treasury Minister. I want one who can speak. I want someone who can withdraw this motion.

This motion is a bit much after last Thursday's proceedings. We are now told— this is not an invariable procedure —that after we have dealt with the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill—we were not allowed to have a discussion on the Supply resolutions upon which the Bill is founded—we must immediately proceed to Committee stage and Third Reading.

I should like an assurance from the Front Bench that the necessary notice of a Third Reading debate that must these days be given by six Members can be given, if this resolution is opposed, during the night. I should also like an explanation whether the Front Bench is proposing that the Committee stage should be meaningful instead of, as is normally the case, meaningless. Normally, we are prohibited—as in the case of the £23,000 million which was well aired last Thursday—from moving any amendments in Committee, such as one to delete "may" and insert "shall ".

I am glad to see that the Leader of the House has returned to discuss this matter. The point at issue is that this is a bit much in the light of all the present circumstances. I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of this. I am grateful for his assurance in his last speech that we shall now, at long last, be able to discuss, on the reports dealing with the Civil Service and procedure, the defectiveness of this procedure. But it is even more defective now.

There are 19 debates scheduled on the Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill. Because of a defect of my right hon. Friend's Parliamentary Secretary in times past, those debates will not be heard by any member of the public. Certain members of the Press Association will not be present to report the proceedings. However, my right hon. Friend may not be aware that after about 11.30 or midnight tonight the BBC will not be present to record or broadcast our proceedings either.

This situation is caused solely by the inadequacies of my right hon. Friend's subordinates who objected to the desirability of a House of Commons broadcasting unit and wanted the BBC to be solely responsible for all broadcasting on the premises. As a result, ITV, which is not having an overtime ban, is not now allowed to broadcast our proceedings, simply because the Lord President's Parliamentary Secretary would not allow a feed to be produced by the House of Commons.

A very good example to us all is the way in which the Official Reporters are working up there. If there had been a House of Commons broadcasting unit, all the hon. Members who will speak on the Consolidated Fund Bill tonight would have been broadcast by ITV, even if not by the BBC.

Now, that will not happen. Tomorrow morning, when the overtime ban presumably is lifted and normal life resumes, when the BBC starts working again and of its grace permits ITV to work, those of my hon. Friends who have the nineteenth debate will have far more valuable time than those speaking in earlier debates.

That is quite improper and wrong. I suggest that my right hon. Friend curtails the Second Reading in the light of these circumstances, withdraws the motion and allows hon. Members to debate what they would have debated tonight on a subsequent day—in Committee or on Third Reading. That will not increase the time taken by the House, but it will enable my hon. Friends—I am not one of those who have taken part in this ballot: I am only trying to protect their interests—to speak at a time when they will be heard by their constituents. I plead with my right hon. Friend to withdraw the motion and let us proceed in that way.

8.38 p.m.

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

I am sorry that I was absent for a minute or two when my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English) began his speech, but I have been here since 3.30 this afternoon and I do not know whether that applies to him.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

It applies to me.

Mr. Foot

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had flitted away for one precious moment—at any rate, we missed him.

I will certainly take into account what my hon. Friend says about how we should proceed on the Consolidated Fund Bill and its further stages, but I understand that the procedure recommended here is the procedure followed on a number of recent occasions and for a number of years past. Indeed, I recall that when there were more extensive discussions. than we had previously assumed to be likely, on the Consolidated Fund a year or two ago, that was under this same procedure.

I hope that my hon. Friend will let the motion go through now, because to withdraw it would raise difficult questions of how we should then be able to proceed. I give him the undertaking that before we come forward with another such motion on a future occasion I shall consider the problems and see whether we can approach the matter in a different way. I would not like to give any other undertaking without having looked at the matter. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will allow the proposition to pass. What we are proposing is in accordance with the method customarily adopted for quite a number of years past.

Question put and agreed to.