HC Deb 11 January 1978 vol 941 cc1681-821


Considered in Committee

[Progress, 10th January]

[Mr. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]

4.15 p.m.

Mr. Tam Da'yell (West Lothian)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. When yesterday some of us made representations to you that my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) should be allowed his starred amendment—which I gather was without precedent and, to be brought into order, had to be amended by a manuscript amendment—we frankly did not have the foresight to realise that this would end up by excluding from discussion many other matters. I do not particularly quibble that the three amendments which I was due to move fell, but I think that the House of Commons is not carrying out its function if a host of important other financial matters—the very guts of the Bill—in Clauses 43–59 go undiscussed. Incidentally, I completely acquit the Minister of State of shirking discussion of any of the clauses; that is not the complaint.

The Leader of the House, who has done us the courtesy of being present, can take two views. He can either say to us "Tough luck"—as I suppose he is entitled to do—or he can be generous and make some arrangements for proper parliamentary discussion of these vital clauses. It comes to a pretty pass when my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) becomes so desperate that he feels driven to express the hope that their Lordships may do part of the job which ought to be done by the House of Commons. When that position is reached, it is time for the Lord President to take notice.

My other request is very simple and modest, yet may not receive much good will from the Government Front Bench. All hon. Members know that most of the amendments have ministerial and Civil Service comment on them. I suggest that, in the cause of sensible discussion outside this House, such comments on amendments not debated might be available in the Library so that we could study what Ministers would have said, had they had the opportunity to say it.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Yesterday we should have discussed Clauses 42–60 and Schedule 9, and also 47 selected amendments. In the event, we discussed just two amendments. I appreciate that we cannot go back over those amendments—we have now gone by them in the Committee stage. However, the Chair has selected New Clause 15, which deals largely with financial provisions. If we have the opportunity, at a later stage, to debate New Clause 15, it might be some sort of remedy for our having failed to debate the whole of the financial provisions of the Bill.

Although we cannot go back on amendments, the new clauses have been allotted, in the guillotine programme, the 13th and 14th days. I ask for an assurance that New Clause 15, which has already been selected as a proper and appropriate clause for debate, should be debated when we reach new clauses. If not, the Chair—and I say this with great respect—alters the guillotine programme by selecting a new clause and putting it alongside amendments earlier in the Bill.

The programme assures us that we can discuss new clauses on the 13th and 14th days. I seek an assurance that we shall be permitted to debate New Clause 15—already properly selected as a proper clause for debate—when we reach the proper stage in the guillotine programme, the 13th and 14th days.

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. It seems to me that it would be most unfortunate if the whole question of financing of the Assembly were not debated in the House. My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has hit upon a way which might make that possible without bending the rules.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Is there a quorum for journalists in this House? There are only 13 up there, in the Press Gallery, yet they are always complaining that there is no one on the Floor of the House. Who pays them?

The Chairman

Order. The Chair—and indeed the Committee itself—has no official recognition of anyone in the Committee except the right hon. and hon. Members present.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton, I hope that the Leader of the House will respond to his hon. Friend's intervention. As he will recall, I mentioned the point yesterday afternoon, when you decided to select an amended amendment. We realised that that would take an unexpected amount of extra time, but we never visualised that it would take five hours, or whatever it was. The result was in effect that 18 clauses and one schedule went undebated, and, contrary to what the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) thinks, in four cases there are parts of clauses which another place will be precluded from debating or amending. It will not, there fore, be possible in those cases for what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) hoped for to take place.

But that is not the point. In view of what happened yesterday, and the magnitude of the undebated clauses, their importance and the fact that we expected that we would get into difficulties, it is for the Leader of the House to say whether he can help the Committee by finding at least another day when we may consider further the financial provisions of this important and fundamental Bill.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. New Clause 15 having been selected, I understand that under the rules of the House it remains selected, despite the fact that the amendments with which it was grouped fell under the guillotine—as the grouping is purely for the convenience of the Committee—and that it will come up for consideration during the period allocated under the timetable motion for new clauses. If that is correct, I ask the Leader of the House, in view of what happened yesterday, to consider through the usual channels putting a new motion before the Committee, perhaps extending the period for new clauses by the one day which we virtually lost yesterday for discussion of the main financial provisions.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) perhaps went too far in asking the right hon. Gentleman to publish the Government's private comments on the new clauses, but we might obtain a similar effect in enlightening public opinion outside the Committee by having a general debate on the financial questions arising out of the Bill on a separate occasion in Government time. We cannot expect the country to take the Bill seriously if the Committee treats it with the frivolity with which it has treated Part IV.

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

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I shall comment in a moment on what the right hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Macmillan) asked. But I would repudiate anything that the right hon. Gentleman said about the Committee's treating this matter frivolously. I do not believe that anyone who listened to the debate yesterday would say that it was a frivolous debate. It was an important debate, properly conducted, as I think the Committee would agree.

The right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that my response will be the same as other Leaders of the House have, I dare say, given in similar circumstances when requests have been made for the extension of guillotine timetable motions already agreed by the House. I do not think that that would be a reasonable way to proceed.

What happened yesterday was that a request was perfectly reasonably made to the Chair by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who was moving the amendment. The Chair ruled on the way in which the debate should proceed. My hon. Friend the Minister of State, Privy Council Office, who was in charge of the proceedings from the Government's point of view, responded, and assisted the Committee to have the debate in the manner requested. I do not think that there are good grounds for saying that on that account the timetable motion should be altered.

There will be later times when these matters can be discussed. There is a Business Committee of the House that deals with such questions, but I cannot make any promise, or hold out any likelihood, of an increase in the considerable time that has already been allocated.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. The right hon. Gentleman said that I referred to the debate yesterday as frivolous. I did not. I think that the debate was serious and important. But what I think the country will regard as frivolous is the fact that we have not debated the key financial provisions of a constitutional Bill when the most likely possibility of the Bill damaging the unity of the United Kingdom lies in the financial arrangements as between the devolved Assembly and the House of Commons. It is that constitutional importance that makes our failure to debate these provisions so dangerous and damaging. I think that the right hon. Gentleman knows in his heart that, in dismissing this matter with his usual charm and reasonableness, he is aiding and abetting in this frivolous neglect of the dangers that lie ahead for this country.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I ask the Leader of the House to consider this matter again. It is true that when the timetable proposals were put before the House they appeared not to be ungenerous, bearing in mind that we had already discussed some of the provisions of the Bill last year. Also, I wholly agree that, as always happens in Committee stages, there is a great deal of repetition and Second Reading points are constantly reiterated.

Nevertheless, yesterday a very important new amendment was selected. No one can possibly argue that it was not a very important amendment which deserved several hours of debate—which it received. This must have thrown out the allocation of time programme. To my mind, the issue is nothing to do with whether the Chair accepts the amendment but whether the country would like the House to give more time to serious consideration of the financial clauses of the Bill. I suspect that it will consider the matter again and allocate some extra time.

I cannot believe that a Parliament which came back a month late and which, notoriously, does not have a great deal of controversial legislation except this Bill, the Wales Bill and the European Assembly Elections Bill before it, could not afford a little extra time to consider these matters.

I also wish to mention this matter of the new clauses. As I understand it, it is clear that the new clauses remain upon the Amendment Paper and will in due course be debated in accordance with the timetable motion. I am interested in, among others, New Clause 8. It was down for debate together with an earlier amendment which was not reached, but it remains upon the Paper and, subject to how much discussion there is on earlier new clauses, will be debated. It is a new clause of some interest to the public in my constituency and I want to reassure them on this point.

Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrewshire, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I do not wish to question the quality of yesterday's debate. That is not the point. The point is surely that when the Business Committee met—after all, the Business Committee is composed of experienced politicians—it was no doubt assumed, as indeed it must have been assumed, that the amendment which was subsequently altered and created a precedent by being taken yesterday, appeared to be out of order. This is because it was simply not in order, it did not fulfil requirement. Therefore, on the question of the allocation of time, surely the fact is that it cannot have been envisaged that the amendment would absorb one day. Since it has absorbed one day in this way, it is surely reasonable to suppose that hon. Members can be put in a position of being able to explain to the country that at least—and even under the wholly regrettable guillotine procedure—we shall have one day's discussion on the essential financial provisions for this major constitutional measure. If we fail to get even one day, there is no way in which members of the Government, their supporters or members of the Opposition can explain to the country how it comes about that, under the guillotine procedure, we pass a major measure with no consideration whatever of its financial provisions.

4.30 p.m.

Mr. Heffer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. My right hon. Friend the Lord President on so many occasions has quite rightly complained in the House about the way the European Communities Bill was pushed through and has said that there was insufficient time devoted to a major constitutional question. It seems absurd that clauses of great importance on financial provisions and on other matters can go through the Committee without any discussion at all. What on earth are we doing? I appeal to my right hon. Friend to reconsider his attitude. We must have greater and lengthier discussion than we are having at the moment. What is happening on this question is an absolute scandal.

Mr. George Gardiner (Reigate)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. May I make a related point and ask the Lord President whether, at any time when he gives more serious thought to the complaint that has just been made, he will direct his mind to the danger that the parliamentary scandal of yesterday will be repeated during the group of amendments we are about to discuss?

We are aware that it is a group which, under the timetable resolution, covers the best part of three days. You have already made a provisional selection of amendments, with which I do not quarrel in any way, Mr. Murton. It is hoped that, as we make progress, you will add to that provisional list to cover the time remaining for this group. The group includes Schedule 10, which is a vital part of the Bill, setting out all matters to be devolved—and some which are not to be devolved—to the proposed Scottish Assembly.

The initial selection you have made covers the Scottish National Party amendment which seeks to add matters to the list of devolved questions. But lower down the Amendment Paper are amendments to Schedule 10, covering such matters as airports, fishing, forestry, tourism and the inland waterways, the reorganisation of which, in normal times, would merit for each a separate Bill. It would be a parliamentary scandal of the first order if matters of this kind were to be excluded from the discussion that we are about to embark upon.

Mr. John Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I appreciate the difficulty facing the Chair in this matter, but I wonder whether it would meet some of the points being raised and facilitate debate if a stricter ruling could be applied on matters that are basically Second Reading points. A great many of the speeches involve Second Reading points, and we ought to concentrate on the detailed contents of the clauses. I know that it is difficult to distinguish between the two because they run into each other, and I appreciate the great difficulty in which this places the Chair, but I wonder whether a tighter ruling would enable more amendments to be debated.

Mr. Dalyell

In fairness to the Chair, some of us should repudiate the description of yesterday's proceedings by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner), who called them a parliamentary scandal. It is certainly not part of the case that I put forward that it was a parliamentary scandal. After all, a number of us, including myself, asked you to do what you did, Mr. Murton. The trouble was that never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that the amendment would take up the whole day. Perhaps we should have had greater foresight. It was not a parliamentary scandal in that you were asked unanimously to do what you did by members of the Committee. If people say that it was a parliamentary scandal, we should have had the wit to object, which I regret not doing. But that is by the by.

May I ask three things of the Lord President, Mr. Murton? First, in the course of his intervention he said that there would be later opportunities for discussion of these financial matters. May I ask which, and when we would have later opportunities?

Secondly, may I return to the question that I put to him—whether, in the interests of open government, we could have a peep or a look at some of the answers we would have received had our amendments been moved? After all, it is not a matter of national security; it is an argument about constitutional debate. One presumes that the work has been done by the Civil Service. The documents are available and should have been placed in the Library. There is a respectable case for so doing.

Thirdly, if I may give an example of the difficulty we are up against, it may be within your recollection that on Monday—and here I claim some foresight—seeing that there would be time problems, I used the Public Accounts Committee debate to raise the whole question of a Scottish Comptroller and Auditor General under the heading of the cost of collection as faced by the Inland Revenue and raised by the Public Accounts Committee in its Report. Very understandably, Mr. Murton, you took me up on this and said that discussion of the Scottish Comptroller and Auditor General should wait until the following day, and that I should not anticipate the following day's business.

As an example of what we have not discussed, the Committee should realise that we have learnt nothing about this new creation—a Scottish Comptroller and Auditor General. In fact, this means setting up a whole new Department, because we cannot just hive off part of the Comptroller and Auditor General's existing Department, transplant it in Edinburgh and expect it to work. That is the kind of thing that the Commons should be discussing, and we have not had the opportunity to do so.

Mr. George Gardiner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. May I correct a misunderstanding on the part of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)? When I referred to yesterday's proceedings as a parliamentary scandal, I was certainly not commenting on your decision to select the amendment in question. I was referring to the fact that in a very important financial part of the Bill whole clauses went through without debate, some of them incapable of amendment in another place. My submission is that that amounts to government by diktat and not by proper parliamentary process. That is a parliamentary scandal.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will look at the way in which the debate has developed. Those of us who supported the guillotine felt that there was some case that the House should at least reach a decision. But yesterday's deliberations have proved that important clauses are not to be considered. The whole of yesterday's debate, which was allocated to those clauses, took place on two amendments, but one of those was moved almost at the last stage, because it was ruled to be out of order and was then put in order.

An important case about the possible alternative means of raising finance was developed. It would be a mistake if clauses relating to financial provision were not debated. If that issue is to be put to the country, those who have to reach a decision about the outcome of the Bill will say "The House of Commons has not given it proper consideration."

I can understand the feeling that we must reach a conclusion about the Bill, but if there is to be a timetable motion stating that certain clauses must be dealt with by certain days we might as well think of time-limiting speeches. I sat through the whole of yesterday's proceedings. We did not reach the clause on which I wished to intervene. I am in a special position, because after the Scotland Bill we shall have the Wales Bill, which has only seven days allotted to its compared with 14 days for the Scotland Bill. We have already been told that some issues will not be raised on the Wales Bill because they will already have been raised on the Scotland Bill.

Therefore, a difficult situation is developing. Important clauses are not being adequately discussed. I hope that in view of what has happened so far my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, together with the Committee dealing with the timetable motion, will reconsider whether the Bill can be deal with in a better manner, so that although the first part has not been dealt with adequately the remaining clauses are properly considered by the Committee and the House.

Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)

When the timetable motion was accepted it was understood that hon. Members would have to curtail their remarks on a number of matters, and should not make excessive interventions and excessively long speeches. Looking at the Official Report of the debate to date, I see the same names over and over again. The hon. Members for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) and Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) have been making identical speeches. One could take columns of their speeches and reproduce them on every amendment. Is it not a fact that some hon. Members, by raising issues in this manner, are inciting the other place to destroy the Bill or to hold it up unnecessarily?

The Chairman

Order. I appeal to the Committee. We have now spent 20 minutes dealing with points of order, and this is eating into the time allocated.

Perhaps I may deal first with those points which do not concern me. I am bound by a resolution of the House, and that is a matter which is not for the Chair. The right hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) mentioned, on a point of order, the question of the Business Committee. At the stage when the Business Committee was deliberating the matter of time, I think I am right in saying that the amendment which has offended was not on the Order Paper.

On the question of Second Reading points, may I say to the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) that where it is of no direct concern to the Chair, he can only pray, not exhort? If I may say so, he put a commendable view that discussion might be confined more strictly to the subject matter of the amendments.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Gardiner) raised the matter of making further selection. The second group—if I might put it in the vernacular—of "undevolving" has already been chosen. That matter has been dealt with.

In answer to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), I remind him that new clauses are often dependent on amendments. But, of course, when I select the new clauses, I shall consider on their merits all those which are still in order. I hope that that will meet with the right hon. Gentleman's concurrence. The point about publication raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is not a matter for the Chair.

I sincerely hope that I have dealt with all the points that have been raised. I suggest that we might now consider the amendments.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton may we ask the Leader of the House to comment, first, on publication, and, secondly, explain what he meant by "later opportunities"?

Mr. Foot

I say this in no censorious manner, but points of orders are not raised necessarily to ask Leaders of the House or hon. Members in charge of Bills to reply to such questions. It would involve a big extension of the use of the provision of notes if they were always put in the Library. It would raise other questions, too. So I cannot help my hon. Friend in that direction. I suggest, as you yourself, Mr. Murton, suggested, that we proceed to the debates on the amendments which have been tabled.

Mr. Pym

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I want to put on record that the Leader of the House should be aware from the comments made from all parts of the House that a situation has been reached in respect of the consideration of this Bill that the Committee regards as unsatisfactory. We know perfectly well the problems of the guillotine, but the fact remains that, for one reason or another, 18 clauses and one schedule went undebated yesterday. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to the European Communities Bill, to which the Minister of State often likes to refer, but on that occasion there was consideration of every clause.

I know that there are difficulties and problems with guillotines. I accept that. But what is happening here is a procedure which is, quite literally, unacceptable and is unjustifiable by Members outside this House. I expressed the view yesterday that, in their whole handling of this important and difficult matter, the Government have caused this Parliament to let the United Kingdom down. That is the view that I take. One expression of the Government's handling is what happened yesterday, when so many vital matters, now unamendable and undiscussable in either House, went through on the nod. That cannot conceivably be right. The right hon. Gentleman responsible as he is for Government legislation, is also the Leader of the House of Commons and has to take into account the interests of every party and every individual Member in the House. After that exchange, blandly to say that we should get back to the consideration of the Bill—which, of course, we shall do in a few minutes—is quite inadequate. A very serious matter indeed has arisen from this Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman should take that fact firmly on board.

Mr. Foot

I shall naturally respond to what the right hon. Gentleman said. Of course, I understand that, when debates take place under timetables, hon. Members in various parts of the House often protest and often have a good case for doing so. I am not complaining because anybody has protested. All I am saying is that I repudiate any suggestion that what happened yesterday was an unsatisfactory development in the debate in the Committee. What happened yesterday was that the Chair went out of its way to accommodate the requests of the Committee, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State in charge of the Bill—[Interruption.]—nobody is complaining about that, we are told, but that was not exactly the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman was protesting.

4.45 p.m.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman voted against the original motion. The House voted for the motion. We are carrying out the procedure accepted by the House and I suggest that we should proceed upon those lines. Discussions can also take place in the Business Committee, as also happens normally under guillotine measures. It is only fair to say that the fact that the programme was altered yesterday, because of the desire of the Chair and of the Government to accede to the requests of hon. Members, is not a reason for extending the amount of time allocated to the Bill as a whole.

Mr. Pym

That may not be a reason for extending the amount of time allocated to the Bill. But a good reason for doing so is the fact that 18 clauses and one schedule remain undiscussed and are now undebatable and unamendable. That is unsatisfactory.

Of course we are all bound by the decision we came to on the timetable motion, but does that not now need reconsiderating? Have not circumstances now shown that what we originally feared at the time has proved, unfortunately, to be correct? We are asking that the Leader of the House—he cannot give a response now—should at least take on board what has happened, reconsider the matter and see whether he cannot find some way of fulfilling his responsibilities as Leader of the House to the whole House.

Mr. Arthur Lewis (Newham, North-West)

I should like to support the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) in his remarks and refresh the minds of both the right hon. Gentleman and the Leader of the House. Does not the Leader of the House recollect that a similar circumstance arose during the passage of the Industrial Relations Bill? The then Tory Government, including the right hon. Gentleman, were warned by the Labour Opposition of the dangers and the problems that would be created if they did not listen to the voice of the House.

It is true, as the Leader of the House said, that some weeks ago we agreed to a timetable motion. The same was true of the Industrial Relations Bill. We warned the then Government that there would be ructions in the country about the Industrial Relations Bill. They did not want to listen to us. They were too pigheaded and dogmatic and they listened instead to their civil servants. Now this Government are doing exactly the same. What I am trying to say to the Leader of the House is that when he sat on the Front Bench below the Gangway—incidentally I preferred him to be sitting there rather than where he now sits—he was one of those who warned that the House of Commons must listen and that Governments must listen. He must listen. He has heard a member of the national executive of his own party speak. He has heard his own Back Benchers speak—those who supported the guillotine motion and those who did not. He has heard leaders of the Tory Party. They have different aproaches to this subject. Obviously they now have different positions. Had the Tories listened to us I am sure that the three-day week and all the problems that arose from the Industrial Relations Act would not have occurred. Be that as it may, we would have had a better Bill.

The Leader of the House said that we can, perhaps, continue discussions. Why not then, be more forthcoming? Why not say now that he will agree to call the Business Committee and have a discussion, without commitment, of course? He can put the point to the Opposition and to the Liberals. The Lib-Lab pact is in on this and my right hon. Friend has the other half of the Government—[Interruption.] All right—the better half of the Government. Why cannot he be a little more forthcoming and say, without commitment—that he will offer to call the Business Committee to see whether it can come to some arrangement? That Committee will report back to us and then, perhaps, we can make progress. He will then have shown that he has been fair and reasonable.

Several Hon. Members


The Chairman

Order. Are right hon. and hon. Gentlemen desirous of continuing with this point of order?

Mr. Graham Page

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Murton, for your ruling with regard to new clauses for which I asked much earlier this afternoon. As I understand it the ruling is that if a new clause has been selected and grouped with some amendments, and if that group has not been debated, the new clause may be debated, subject to your selection at the right period according to the guillotine timetable. That means that such new clauses as the important one which has already been mentioned on the Shetlands and the important one on financial provisions may well come up for debate at a later stage. That makes it all the more important that the programme should be reconsidered and that time should be given for those new clauses which we have passed undebated and which may need to be debated later.

The Chairman

I think that it is important to put one caveat to what I said. That is that we must be certain that the new clauses can stand on their own. I think that the right hon. Gentleman understands what I mean by that.

Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Of course we are all anxious to get on to the next business today but we cannot leave it in its present unsatisfactory position. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman—with him wearing his hat as Leader of the House and not as the Minister in charge of the Bill—to recognise that his duty is to take the feeling of the Committee. Only one hon. Member who has spoken has been in favour of the present situation. That was a Scottish National Party Member who criticised Members for speaking in more than one debate. He is the only right hon. Member or hon. Member from either side of the House who thinks that the Leader of the House is acting properly.

I earnestly beseech the Leader of the House to reconsider the matter. In the past he has been fond of saying that when the House of Commons gets itself into a difficulty it can get itself out of it. He knows that these financial provisions are at the very core of the Bill. We cannot debate them here. The other place cannot debate them. We shall go to a referendum with these provisions undebated in any Committee stage manner. That is totally unsatisfactory.

It would be perfectly easy for the right hon. Gentleman to be forthcoming now and say that he accepts the Committee's view in this matter. We have the evidence of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), who said that he thought when the guillotine was passed that it gave a fair distribution of time. Now he says that it does not give a fair distribution of time. We see that. That is the sense of the Committee. It is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman, as Leader of the House, to take that sense and come back to us with new proposals.

Mr. Foot

In my earlier intervention I said that these matters could be discussed in the Business Committee. I also said—I do not want anyone to be misled—that I did not believe it to be possible for the Government to propose in such a Business Committee that the time for the Bill should be extended. In the Business Committee there can of course be a discussion about the allocation of the time, and it may well be that the Opposition and others on the Committee will wish to make proposals to ensure that discussion takes place on matters that they think should have had more discussion in the time allocated so far. That is all open for discussion in the Business Committee.

However, I cannot propose—and I think that it would be misleading the Committee to do so—that extra time can be allocated. I repeat that what happened yesterday was not the Government's riding rough-shod over the House or attempting to do so in any sense whatsoever. What happened yesterday was that a debate took place in the very form which right hon. and hon. Members had asked for. The response from the Government assisted the debate to take place in that manner.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I am surprised that this series of points of order is taking place, because I understood that the arrangement of business had been broadly satisfactory and that the sub-division of the time allotted under the timetable order was adequate. But perhaps we might be able to take a day from the Third Reading debate and apply it to the Committee stage, if that were the wish of the House.

The Chairman

That is a matter for the Business Committee, not for the Chair.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Further to the point of order. It is quite indefensible for the Lord President of the Council to tell the Committee that he cannot take any initiative in rearranging the time allotted to this Bill. The Lord President himself recognises that for the House of Commons to go through the farce of approving, without debate, whole clauses and schedules is most unsatisfactory in terms of law, and thoroughly damaging to the reputation of this House.

If there is one reason for which the Lord President above all others ought to reconsider what he said to the Committee this afternoon it is that the longer he continues to assert that there is no time available and that there are no means by which the Government can reallocate time, the greater he brings this House and all our procedures into disrepute.

This ought not to happen on a constitutional measure of this importance. We beg him to reconsider what he said and to adopt a much more understanding attitude, not only to us, but to those outside who are watching with increasing cyniscism what is going on with regard to this Bill.

The Chairman

Order. I must remind the House that these points of order are essentially business questions. I urge the Committee to continue with the amendments before it.

  1. Clause 61
    1. cc1697-764
    2. DEVOLVED MATTERS 25,547 words, 1 division
  2. Schedule 10
    1. cc1764-821
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