§ [7TH ALLOTTED DAY]
§ Considered in Committee[Progress, 7th December]
§ [Mr. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
On a point of order, Mr. Murton. My Amendment No. 543 to the clause on finance powers provides for an alternative tax-raising system for the Scottish Assembly. I gather that it has not been selected. It was regarded as being out of order because, as well as allowing the Scottish Assembly to decrease taxation, it also allowed it to increase taxation.
This point was appreciated by all of us when we came to respond to the Government's invitation to suggest alternative methods of raising tax. This was an invitation issued to us by the Secretary of State in public, in Scotland, and by the Minister and the Lord President when they said that they were willing to listen to alternative methods of tax raising for the Scottish Assembly if feasible methods could be proposed in this House. To that end, when the Scotland and Wales Bill was introduced, I rose on a point of order and asked whether the Minister would move a motion for the increase of taxes which would then allow us to be in order in debating alternative forms of tax-raising powers of the kind that the Layfield or other Committees suggested. I was given an undertaking by the Lord President—I do not wish to Hansardise him, but he will recall this—that facilities would be made possible to have a sensible discussion and a vote of the House on tax-raising powers for the Scottish Assembly.
The present ruling which makes my amendment out of order makes it impossible for the Committee today to have a discussion of precisely those matters which the Minister invited us to raise. I remind the Minister of State that he said that, if the House could think of acceptable and reasonable methods of tax raising for the Scottish Assembly, the 1447 Government would listen to them and would entertain them.
Similarly, the Secretary of State for Scotland, in Scotland on 9th September 1976, frankly admitted that the Government were deeply unhappy about the block grant system and looked forward to hearing other possibilities. If we are not in a position to put forward these possibilities, we are in grave difficulties and it makes the discussion of financial powers this afternoon highly unsatisfactory.
If the Minister would just be prepared to move an amendment covering our amendment—and then later withdraw it—that would at least allow us to have a proper discussion of this issue.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
Further to that point of order. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) spoke as a Member who had tabled the amendment, it should be noted that many Government supporters agree that a sensible, rational and full debate on taxation powers is vital to the progress of the Bill. If the Government intend to say that they do not want to assist sensible and rational discussion, I am bound to warn them that they place the future of the Bill in doubt when it comes to Third Reading.
§ The Minister of State, Privy Council Office (Mr. John Smith)
I hasten to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) that I intended to respond, by way of a point of order, before he made his intervention. I do understand the difficulty which faces my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh). I do not think that it would be appropriate to move an amendment incorporating taxing powers, because the Government do not believe that it would be right and proper to do so. However, if my hon. Friend is able, within the bounds of order, to discuss the whole question whether there should or should not be taxing powers, I should be willing on behalf of the Government to respond and to give him the full reasons and considerations which have led us to the decisions that we have reached.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
The argument is not about reasons for the decisions in relation to taxa- 1448 tion powers but about the opportunity afforded to this House to discuss the question of tax-raising powers. Is it not the case—I seek guidance on this matter—that the only alternative that would be open in order to press this matter would be to defeat the clause, so that the Government may bring it back again? That would be a course that many of us would not seek to take if there were an opportunity for the Government to respond on the lines indicated by my hon. Friend, promising to bring a motion before the House on which the matter could be discussed.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. It may be known to some of my colleagues that I do not exactly share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) in many matters, but from a different point of view I think that there is an argument for having a serious discussion on this subject. I have a copy of The Scotsman for Tuesday, 7th September 1976, which contains the headlineMillan calls for ideas on Assembly finance.Although the Government have been unable to think of anything in this matter—quite understandably, because there is no real answer—it would be unsatisfactory if the House of Commons did not discuss it. Therefore, I support my hon. Friend.
§ Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. While I, and, I am sure, many of my hon. Friends, welcome the statement of the Minister of State that he would respond to a debate, it does not entirely meet the point to ask to find some procedural dodge without the Government in some way facilitating it. Would it not be in order for the Minister of State to add his name to the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh)?
§ The Chairman (Mr. Oscar Murton)
Even were the Minister of State so minded, I am afraid that the matter is nothing to do with the Chair in this regard. The reason why I have been unable to accept the hon. Member's amendment is that there is no Ways and Means Resolution in the Bill. The reason is as simple and as short as that.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Would it enable a discussion of this matter if, for the sake of meeting your ruling, the small section of the amendment proposing the possibility not merely of reducing taxation but of increasing taxation were omitted? That would at least allow a discussion of an alternative tax base for the Assembly. Would you accept that the amendment would be in order under those circumstances, and would you listen to a debate on it?
§ The Chairman
The problem there would be that the amendment would become a new amendment and, therefore, a starred amendment. Although the Chair has certain discretion in these matters, I think that it would be asking rather much of the Chair to accept the amendment in those circumstances.
§ Mr. Buchan
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I ask you to reconsider your answer. It would not be a precedent for a starred amendment to be taken in this way, even in the middle of a debate, if I recall my short parliamentary history correctly. It would perhaps allow the proper procedure then to develop and a debate properly to take place.
§ Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Did I understand you to rule that the amendment itself was out of order? If that is so, why does it appear on the Order Paper?
§ The Chairman
I must explain that any hon. Member may put down any amendment or new clause on the Order Paper, but it does not necessarily mean that it is in order.
I am prepared to consider the matter of some form of amendment, in view of the Minister's desire, during the course of the debate. If we could proceed now with the first amendment, it will give me time to think the matter out, and perhaps we might come to some conclusion thereafter.
§ Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Would it not help if the Minister of State were to offer to put down the necessary Ways and Means Resolution so that the hon. Gentleman's 1450 amendment could be taken at some later stage in the Bill? It does not have to be taken today. The reason that it is out of order, as you so rightly say, Mr. Murton, is that there is no Ways and Means Resolution. That is not within the hon. Gentleman's power to put right. It is only within the Government's power to put right. Could we take this opportunity to ask the Government to confirm that they would be prepared to put down the necessary Ways and Means Resolution so that the matter could be debated at a later stage? That would save you, Mr. Murton, from the embarrassing situation into which these points of order have brought you and enable the House to proceed to debate those matters that it wishes to debate.
§ The Chairman
Yes, most certainly. I am anxious that we should press on with Amendment No. 386, which is the first to be selected, and during the course of that debate the matter will be considered to see whether some composition could be arranged.