HC Deb 18 January 1978 vol 942 cc571-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Now that the chopper has fallen and we have completed our business on this section of the Bill, I think it is right to draw the attention of the Committee and the Leader of the House in his absence—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—to the fantastic position that we have now reached. We have been debating parts of Schedule 10 and Schedule 11 and we have not even been able to reach Group 3 on education or to deal with the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), which we know the Minister of State wanted to reach.

Quite apart from that, there has been no debate on the proposals for housing, local government, transport, agricultural land or fisheries—and we know what a hot issue that is at the moment. There has been no debate on forestry. We have been unable to debate those subjects, quite apart from Parts II and III of Schedule 10. Nor have we been able to discuss Schedule 11, where the Government made a mistake. I ask hon. Members to note that no fuss or complaint was made about their adjustment of it.

It is a fantastically unsatisfactory situation that when a change as big as that contemplated in the Bill is before us we should have arrangements for dealing with it which prevent us from debating all these particular aspects.

We know that the Government wanted these things. We wanted them, but in the time available it is not possible for these subjects to be debated. It is surely wrong for this Committee to go through with a procedure of this kind because it may well be that some of the aspects that I have mentioned will never be properly debated.

I do not think that is right, and I believe the Leader of the House ought to note the dissatisfaction which is felt over the way in which we are conducting our business.

The Chairman (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Perhaps I can answer the right hon. Gentleman straight away by saying that these protests are not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Hon. Members on all sides of the Committee have received representations from many bodies in Scotland—from professional bodies, universities, groups in industry, agriculture and fishing—regarding this Bill. A great number of views have been expressed. I seek your guidance as to how hon. Members who have received representations and have sought to raise them in amendments and debates can now deal with those points raised by constituents and by innumerable responsible bodies in Scotland. I ask your advice on how we can deal with this.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. There is something which touches more closely upon the House and its future relations with any Scottish Assembly. Not only have we not debated the amendments or discussed whether certain items are suitable for being devolved at all, we have not discussed whether these items, if judged worthy of being devolved, should come into Schedule 10 for legislative devolution, or Schedule 11 for executive devolution. This is an important matter. It is on such issues that areas of conflict will develop in the future.

Nor have we discussed the complications which could arise, because of the proposals in Schedules 10 and 11, for the United Kingdom's international obligations. There could be the possibility of conflict because of the division of authority.

This applies particularly to airports. Section 29 of the Civil Aviation Act has to be amended and we are bringing in new legislation on civil aviation. The Minister has told the Scottish Chambers of Commerce that the Government feel it necessary to be able to over-rule local authorities and civil aviation authorities in cases of major airports. It seems very odd that if the Government take this view of airports, which are sometimes regional as well as central to London, they should at the same time suddenly decide to lessen this control in Scotland on the grounds that the Assembly is the more appropriate body to deal with it, especially by referring to new legislation not yet decided.

This kind of thing is of constitutional and international importance, yet it has not been discussed at all.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Will it be possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) and myself to raise the amendments concerning forestry and inland waterways at any time during the Report stage? Some of us are not too clear about what happens on Report when a Bill has been taken in Committee on the Floor of the House.

The Chairman

I can answer the question of the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) straight away. Matters regarding Report stage are for Mr. Speaker, not for the Chairman. I must point out to hon. Members who have raised points of order that the time taken in raising them is coming out of the time available under the guillotine for the next part of the Bill which, now, is something under one and a half hours.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. This is a matter in which we must look to you for protection. You will notice that the Lord President is not in his place—[Hon. Members: "Where is he?"]—at a time when we have had a crucial Division and when large parts of Schedule 10 and the whole of Schedule 11 have now been guillotined. It seems that the elected Chamber now has no opportunity to debate matters of major constitutional importance. In the absence of the Leader of the House, to whom can Back-Bench Members look for the protection of the reputation of the Committee and of this House?

There is no doubt that the way in which this Bill has been debated is causing consternation and indignation throughout the country. We are invited to approve key parts of the legislation without a debate. This is reminiscent of the Reichstag. We must look to you, Mr. Murton, for guidance, because the Leader of the House is not here. If he were here, we would be addressing these questions to him. If you glance to your right, Mr. Chairman, you will see hon. Members on the Government Benches sitting smugly and apparently proud—[Hon. Members: "There are not many of them."] No. There are more on the Front Bench than there are behind them.

The point is that if this Committee follows this guillotine procedure, we shall have no opportunity to debate key constitutional measures. This is an outrage and that is why, Mr. Murton your position is so important. The Leader of the House is not here. Would you consider sending a message through one of the learned Clerks asking the Leader of the House to come here to help us in our difficulties?

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman addresses his remarks to the wrong quarter. It is not for me to say who shall be present in this Committee. All that the Chair can do is to administer the guillotine which has been passed by the House. That I have done to the best of my ability.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Some of us feel outraged at the way this Government are prepared to sell the unity of the United Kingdom for a mess of "Scot Nat" potage. It appears that it is not possible to protest at this situation, but we should surely be able to do so when we are discussing such vital subjects as these. If that has happened, our proceedings have come to a sorry state.

The Chairman

The hon. Lady can protest but protestations addressed to the Chair will, I am afraid, receive the same answer—namely, that is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns, (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), Mr. Murton. It is not only Scottish bodies which have made representations concerning the provisions of Schedule 10 which are being steam-rollered out of any debate in Committee. My hon. Friend on the Front Bench listed some of the other matters which have been left out of debate. I have received many representations from people employed in the tourist industry who are now concerned about proposals in the Bill which constitute—

The Chairman

I must interrupt the hon. Gentleman. He is going back to matters which have already been decided as a result of the guillotine. I am sorry, but we cannot go back over past ground.

Mr. Gardner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. These are matters affecting thousands of people and thousand of jobs.

The Chairman

Order. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what he can do. What I have said is purely factual. We cannot back-track on what has been decided. The House has decided on the guillotine and passed the appropriate business motion. For that reason the Chair can only administer the guillotine in the form in which it was brought before the House.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). Could you ascertain, Mr. Murton, whether there are precedents for items of vital importance which have not been discussed in Committee being open for discussion on Report? I am concerned with the amendments dealing with forestry, but there are many other vital amendments. If these matters cannot be discussed and there are no precedents for that discussion to take place on Report, it is a constitutional outrage.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) touched on this point earlier, and I remind the Committee of what I said then. I said that matters dealt with on Report are entirely within the prerogative of Mr. Speaker himself and that the Chairman of Ways and Means has no control over them.

Mr. Galbraith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Could you enlighten the Committee whether Mr. Speaker has ever chosen to debate matters which have not been dealt with in Committee? If Mr. Speaker has not called such matters for debate on Report when they have not been debated in Committee, what you are saying, Mr. Murton, is that we shall never have a chance to debate those subjects unless they are raised in the other place—and, thank goodness, there is another place in which to raise them.

9.45 p.m.

The Chairman

Mr. Speaker may well have done so, but that is not a matter for the Chairman.

Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Every time that we have protested in this way about the lack of time left by the guillotine, we have been informed by the Leader of the House—when he is here—that this is a matter for the Business Committee. Has the right hon. Gentleman indicated to you that he intends to move any motion in the Business Committee to extend the time allowed under the guillotine or to bring any such motion before the House?

The only way in which we can ask these questions is by protesting in this way and hoping that the Leader of the House will have the decency to come here to answer the protests and to tell us that he putting down a motion to extend the time under the guillotine.

The Chairman

I can answer the right hon. Gentleman's point of order quite shortly. It is not competent to discuss the Business Committee until its deliberations have been reported.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. The Minister who has been answering debates throughout the Committee stage has indicated that the Government wanted to discuss education as much as did the Opposition. This has not been done because of shortage of time. Is it not possible for the Leader of the House to come here and see the disillusion and concern on both sides of the House that important matters are not being considered properly by the Committee?

I have companies in my constituency that have operations in Scotland and there are operations in the constituency with headquarters in Scotland. They have made representations to me, but many of the issues that they have raised cannot be taken up because the guillotine has fallen.

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman knows, because I have already explained, that it is not within the competence of the Chair to comment on any point except the one on which I have already commented, which is that I am responsible for the operation of the guillotine.

Mr. Pym

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. It would be fair for you to point out to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) that it is not within the power of the Business Committee to extend the time under the guillotine. That is a matter for the House.

The Chairman

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Pym

I hope that the points that have been made about the lack of time will be conveyed to the Leader of the House in his absence. What we are doing is not proper scrutiny and the proper parliamentary process is not taking place on this Bill. Under the sharpness of the knives of the guillotine a number of clauses and schedules have been taken at one fell swoop. The Committee will want to make progress on the next stage of the Bill, but feeling in all parts of the House is fantastically strong that this is not a proper parliamentary legislative process and that it should be adjusted.

Mr. Amery

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. As a former Minister of Aviation, I feel that we have ridden a little too lightly over the international obligations that go with the control of airports, which has not been discussed because it falls under the timetable motion. There is scope for serious discussion here, but I appreciate that this cannot take place in the circumstances that we face.

I wonder whether the overriding of powers which are to be devolved in relation to airports does not conflict with the Long Title of the Bill. There is some doubt about this matter and I should welcome your guidance on it.

The Chairman

I replied yesterday to the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) when he raised a similar point of order. I must point out to the right hon. Gentleman that we are discussing something that has been overtaken by the guillotine. I repeat what I said last evening—namely, that the Bills progress in one parallel and that one does not conflict with the other. I must also point out that Mr. Speaker gave that ruling.

Mr. Amery

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Are we not faced with what might be described as an Alice-in-Wonderland situation, sentence first and verdict afterwards? I do not see how we can proceed when we do not know what it is that we are proceeding about. It is rather difficult. We do not know what the Civil Aviation Bill will contain, because it has not yet passed through Committee, but we are being asked to take blind, without any debate, a clause that refers to a measure that is now being superseded. Is it not ludicrous, Mr. Murton?

The Chairman

It may be difficult, but we must make the best of it. The right hon. Member for Pavilion asks how we should proceed. I suggest that we proceed by putting the Question in respect of Clause 63—namely, that it should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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