HC Deb 25 January 1978 vol 942 cc1413-7

The following motion stood upon the Order Paper: That the Report [24th January] of the Business Committee be now considered.

Following is the report of the Business Committee:

Allotted day Proceedings in Committee Time for conclusion
Twelfth day Clauses 81 to 83 7 p.m.
Schedule 17 to end of paragraph 11 10 p.m.
Thirteenth and fourteenth days Remainder of Schedule 17 7.30 p.m. on thirteenth day.
New clauses, new Schedules 9 p.m. on fourteenth day.
Schedule 16 11 p.m. on fourteenth day.

4.40 p.m.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The purpose of my point of order is to submit that the Government's proposal to change the allocation of time is out of order and should not be proceeded with or voted upon.

When I received my Order Paper this morning I was not surprised, after the events of yesterday, to observe the first Order of the Day. However, when I came to look for the report of the Business Committee I had some difficulty in finding it. I did not expect to find it under the Orders of the Day, but I expected to find it on the list of Amendments. I refer to the Paper providing the list of amendments to the Scotland Bill. However, the report is not among that list of amendments. I looked for it further, and found it eventually among the items in the Votes and Proceedings, where the Business Committee's procedures are duly reported.

Never before, as far as I was able to find out this morning, has a procedure of this sort been adopted. The report that the House is now being asked to consider and vote upon does not appear on the Order Paper, but such a report appears, as a general rule, on the sheet of amendments so that the House may know what is expected of it. I know of no precedent for suddenly lifting one item out of the Votes and Proceedings and regarding it as part of the Order Paper when in fact it is not.

It will be within your recollection, Mr. Speaker, that yesterday the Leader of the House said: Nobody knows better than the right hon. Gentleman does —the right hon. Gentleman was referring to me— what the Order Paper is for. As reported in the following column, Mr. Speaker, you said: I point out to the House that if there is a motion to be put on the Order Paper, clearly, the House will have a chance tomorrow when it comes up."—[Official Report, 24th January 1978; Vol 942, c. 1184–5.] Motion No. 1 of itself may be regarded as in order, but I submit that in fact it is not in order because the attendant report of the Business Committee is not on the Order Paper and not on the sheets of amendments. Therefore, I submit that the Government should not proceed with it, and that it should be withdrawn.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish strongly to support the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym). It is now nearly quarter to five, and the Government have already dealt with two statements on a day on which the guillotine is to fall at 7 o'clock. The new rule of business has been brought in suddenly at the last moment. It will have the effect of precluding debate on an amendment that is vital to my constituency and of great interest to the House. If we are to conduct our affairs in this way, we shall make an absolute farce of democracy. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule the new motion, the new division of business, out of order and to say that it should be withdrawn.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall call one more hon. Member. I am required by the House and by Standing Orders to put the Question forthwith. The House gives me instructions, and the Standing Order requires me to put the Question forthwith. However, I have exercised my discretion to allow the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) to make his point of order and for the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) to do likewise. I propose to allow the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), who raised the matter yesterday, to make his point of order, after which I must obey the instructions of the House.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I for one accept that, despite the strong and substantial ground for the case being made for the withdrawal of the motion, Mr. Speaker, you have no discretion on the matter. I draw your attention to what the Lord President told the House yesterday. He said: what we are doing is following exactly the procedures which have always been followed by the House by which the decisions of the Business Committee are reported to the House."—[Official Report, 24th January 1978; Vol. 942, c. 1184.] On the basis of that he declined to give any advance indication yesterday of what was going on today.

I accept that you are bound now, Mr. Speaker, to put the Question, but the House is not bound to pass the Question and the House should take into account what can only be called skulduggery or stupidity—and my right hon. Friends are not stupid. The House is bound to take that into account in deciding whether to pass this monstrous motion.

Mr. Pym

I fully appreciate the obligation upon you, Mr. Speaker, to put the Question, but if on the basis of the case that I have made the motion is not in order, the Standing Order would not apply. I do not see how you can apply the Standing Order to a motion, Mr. Speaker, if that motion is not in order for one reason or another.

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

Further to the points of order, Mr. Speaker. I said yesterday that we were following the procedures that have always been followed in these matters. That was correct, and I think that anyone who considers the facts will understand that I was referring to the way in which the proceedings of the Business Committee are presented to the House. We have followed precisely the way in which that has been done on previous occasions. It was to that that I was referring, and I believe that I was correct in saying so.

Further—[Interruption.] What I am about to say may assist the House in dealing with the matter. As for the proposals that we took to the Business Committee, which were to be reported to the House under these procedures, we had come forward with those proposals to the Committee in response to proposals and suggestions—[HON. MEMBERS: "You are on a point of order."] If hon. Members will permit me, I am on the point of order. I hope that I shall be able to assist the House. We were responding to requests and representations—

Hon. Members

You are on a point of order.

Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham and Heston)

Give him a chance.

Mr. Foot

I am on a point of order. We were responding to requests that had been made—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We shall not discuss the motion that is before the House. If the Leader of the House wishes to add to the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym), he is in order to do so.

Mr. Foot

I was indicating to the House, Mr. Speaker, because there have been misleading statements about the matter, that we were responding to representations that had been made.

I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) that I repudiate any charges that he makes about skulduggery. If it assists the House for me not to move the motion but to proceed on the basis of the previous arrangement of the timetable, I am ready to do so. I am quite ready to do so, although I hope that the House will understand that the provisions that we have made under our proposals for considerably longer discussions on some of the matters that have previously been raised will thereby be lost. However, if the House desires that we should not move the motion, I am prepared to take that course.

I hope that the whole House will join in repudiating any charges of skulduggery against what we did. Anyone who has followed the proceedings at all will know the truth of what I have said.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the right hon. Gentleman not moving the motion?

Mr. Foot

No, I am not.

Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a result of the proceedings both yesterday and today a great deal of time has been taken out of the time that would otherwise be available for debate on the Scotland Bill on points of order resulting from the Lord President's action. The right hon. Gentleman now proposes not to do what he originally intended, but the time has still been wasted. Would you, Mr. Speaker, be prepared to accept a manuscript amendment which would make allowance for the time that has been taken up by the Lord President's manoeuvring?

Mr. Speaker

I have no authority to do that.

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