HC Deb 31 January 1978 vol 943 cc273-9


Considered in Committee. [Progress, 25th January.]

[MR. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]

4.40 p.m.

Mr. J. W. Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I rise to speak briefly and not to challenge your selection of amendments, although you will appreciate that I and some of my hon. Friends are disappointed that the Committee will not be able to debate New Clause 2.

I rise to say something about New Clause 1. I might be wrong, but I have looked at Hansard for the previous debates in Committee—certainly for the first two or three days—and I remember seeing New Clause 1 in your provisional selection list among the clauses to be debated.

During the intervening weeks I have presumed that that clause had been disposed of and that, when the Committee came to consider the new clauses, New Clause 1 would be available only for a Division if required. For that reason, I thought that my New Clause 2 stood a better chance of selection. Can you confirm, Mr. Murton, that New Clause 2 appeared on your provisional selection list which I saw in the "No" Lobby several weeks ago? If so, may we debate the new clause today?

The Chairman

The amendment to which the new clause was attached was overtaken by the guillotine.

Mr. Douglas Henderson (Aberdeenshire, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. We all have great sympathy for you in your difficult task of selection from the myriad of amendments and new clauses. To what extent are your hands tied by the provisional selection of amendments? Is it possible, even at this stage, for you to reconsider your selection? You will understand my disappointment that New Clause 14, which is signed by members of four parties and which is an alternative to New Clause 1, cannot be debated during dis- cussion on New Clause 1 or voted upon as an alternative to it. Perhaps you can reconsider this matter and advise the Committee later that you have seen your way to selecting New Clause 14.

Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Many hon. Members are disappointed that New Clause 14 has not been selected, but my angle is different from that of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr Henderson). If New Clause 1 were to be passed, the appropriate number of Members participating in the Speaker's Conference would depend on the duties and powers of those Members. If you are not prepared to accede to the request, would you be prepared to widen the debate on New Clause 1 so that the substance of New Clause 14 can be considered?

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) that there is a case for debating New Clause 14, because it raises a crunch issue.

The Chairman

I am grateful to the hon. Members for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson), Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) for raising this matter with me. The Committee knows that I give great care and consideration to all the selections that I make. But this new clause affects the working methods of the United Kingdom Parliament. That is the reason why I decided that it was outside the scope of the Bill. It would not be strictly appropriate to link it with New Clause 1.

Mr. Henderson

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. I am most grateful for that explanation. To what extent does your selection differ in respect of New Clause 1, which also affects the workings of the United Kingdom Parliament?

The Chairman

New Clause 1 deals with the number of Scottish Members of Parliament. It is clearly a matter affecting the Government of Scotland and it is, therefore, within the scope of the Bill.

Mr. Dalyell

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. Are there not many other things in the Bill which affect the workings of the United Kingdom Parliament? It seems somewhat strange that you should use this criterion in this context and not in any other context.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Last week we discussed the functions of the Scottish Assembly. We discussed the type of legislation with which it would deal. That affects the working methods of the House of Commons. I cannot see why we cannot discuss this new clause.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

With great respect, further to the observations which you have just made, Mr. Murton. You said that New Clause I was concerned with the government of Scotland, which it manifestly is. But I presume that you meant that it was concerned exclusively with the government of Scotland. Since New Clause 14 also is concerned with the government of Scotland, in so far as Scotland is legislated for and governed by the House of Commons, if it is acceptable that the composition of the House of Commons in respect of Scotland is in order, the conduct of the House of Commons in respect of Scotland should also be in order.

The Chairman

New Clause 14 is not on all fours with New Clause 1 because it affects the methods by which the House of Commons deals with United Kingdom matters. That is the object of my ruling and why the new clause was not selected.

Mr. David Rice (Eastleigh)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. New Clause 14 appertains to the duties of Scottish Members who are elected to the House of Commons after the Bill becomes an Act. It therefore has a direct bearing on the matters in New Clause 1 which deal with the number of Members and whether they are to vote on everything or have a limited remit. This has a direct bearing on whether we wish to pass New Clause 1.

The Chairman

The last line of New Clause 14 reads: on matters certified by Mr. Speaker as applying exclusively to England and Wales. In my submission, it is therefore outside the scope of the Bill.

Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. You have made it clear that you did not select New Clause 14 because it refers to the internal workings of Par- liament. With respect, the Committee has already passed clauses of the Bill which do just that. I refer you to Clause 74: Confirmation by House of Commons of resolutions passed by it but not passed by House of Lords. That is but one example. There are half a dozen other clauses which affect the way in which the House of Commons will have to operate if we ever have devolution. I join with the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) and other hon. Members in asking you to reconsider your provisional selection.

Mr. George Cunningham (Islington, South and Finsbury)

I, too, find it impossible to distinguish between New Clause 14 and New Clause 1 for the purpose of being within the scope of the Bill. It seems to me, with regard to English matters, that what New Clause 1 is saying is that the number of Members from Scottish constituencies may be reduced, or that steps may be taken with a view to reducing them. What New Clause 14 says in regard to English Members is that the reduction can come down to zero.

I could understand if neither clause were considered to be within the scope of the Bill, even given the Committee's decision to delete Clause 1. In the light of representations made to you, Mr. Murton, and bearing in mind that it will be impossible and illogical to exclude discussion on the nature of New Clause 14 during our discussion on New Clause 1, would you be prepared to consider whether you will add it to the list so that it might be possible later for you to permit a vote on it? In that connection may I remind you that this section of the guillotined debate runs until 9 o'clock tomorrow night and that therefore one extra vote will hardly take a massive bite out of our allocation of time?

The Chairman

In answer to the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), let me say that the Bill gives Parliament certain powers in relation to the Assembly. To the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) I must point out that there is a line to be drawn and that I have to make a decision. That is where I have to stand. On the other hand, during the discussion on New Clause 1 I am prepared to listen to arguments which have some relation, however tenuous it may be, to New Clause 14. I cannot, however, promise the hon. Gentleman any question of a vote.

Mr. George Cunningham

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Murton. In the light of that most helpful response, will you simply allow the debate to take place and, if it transpires that the debate is addressing itself as much to New Clause 14 as to New Clause 1, in the end permit a vote on New Clause 14?

The Chairman

I cannot give any undertaking. The other day someone mentioned to me a passage out of Lucretius which said something about the fleeting melody of the swan being rather more persuasive than the long-drawn-out clangour of cranes high up among the northward racing clouds. I am referring, I hasten to add, entirely to myself in this connection and I am no scholar. I do my best, and I hope that the Committee will agree with me to stand by the point that I have made.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Murton. The selection that you have made is only a provisional selection, which can be varied in the light of submissions made to you. Like many other hon. Members in the Committee, I find it difficult to draw a distinction of principle between New Clause 1 and New Clause 14. May we ask you most respectfully to consider the submissions that have been made and to give a ruling fairly early in our debate, because although we can continue until 9 o'clock tomorrow it would be helpful if you could now consider the submissions made to you?

Mr. Paul Channon (Southend, West)

I support the request by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) and others on this point. It strikes me that the House is in a real difficulty. We understand your ruling, Mr. Murton. However, we are now about to undertake a debate in which we shall discuss whether it is appropriate to call a Speaker's Conference to consider the requisite number of Scottish Members for the future should this Bill become law. Surely, in consideration of the appro- priate number of Scottish Members it must be relevant to refer to what they are going to do. Whether or not that has any effect on the internal workings of Parliament, I do not know. It is nevertheless appropriate to consider what Scottish Members are to do in this place in the future. If they are to have lesser or different duties, that will surely affect the number of Members who it will be appropriate to have here. If one cannot discuss the new clause in the name of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) one is in a real difficulty. We are not expecting you to rule now, Mr. Murton, but without commitment will you consider the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne and perhaps make a statement during the debate?

Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)

May I add my weight to the plea that you reconsider this matter, Mr. Murton? I happen to disapprove of both the new clauses, but I cannot see the distinction of principle between them. New Clause 1 is concerned with the reference of Scottish representation to a Speaker's Conference, which might well result either in a reduction or an increase—let us not beg the question—in that representation, which must affect the Government of England and Wales. That is why I can see no distinction in principle between that and the wording of New Clause 14.

Mr. Henderson

The whole Committee is grateful to you, Mr. Murton, for the way in which you have approached this matter and considered the representations that have been made. We are grateful that you have indicated that we may dwell on arguments that are relevant to New Clause 14, even though only New Clause 1 has been selected. Might not the course of these arguments lead hon. Members to feel that New Clause 14 offered the correct solution? If that had not been selected along with New Clause 1 it could not be voted on, and hon. Members would not have the opportunity of putting into effect the arguments to which they listened in Committee.

The Chairman

I gave this matter very careful consideration. In my view, nothing that any right hon. or hon. Member has said brings New Clause 14 into order. I have conceded that it would be in order to argue the point during the deliberations on New Clause 1, but that is as far as I am prepared to go.

Forward to