HC Deb 05 July 1978 vol 953 cc461-4
Mr. Speaker

Last night I undertook to give the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) a considered ruling on the allocation of time Order. That I can now do in somewhat greater detail than was possible during the short time available for a point of order raised during a Division when, as usual, there were other distractions.

The hon. Member raised in effect two points. The first was the effect of the business motion on the time allowed for the order. The second was the effect of Standing Order No. 44 upon the order.

First, as to the effect of the business motion upon the order, the position here is amply precedented. On 16th November last, the House agreed to an order concerning the the allocation of time to the Scotland Bill. Paragraph 10 of that order provides that the proceedings on any motion to vary or supplement the provisions of the order shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion one hour after they have been commenced", and paragraph 9 of the order provides that at the conclusion of the proceedings Mr. Speaker shall proceed to put the Question on the motion. That is when the House gave me instructions.

The business of the House motion on the Order Paper yesterday enabled debate on the motion for a supplemental allocation of time Order to be proceeded with at any time after 10 o'clock to the extent that it had not already been disposed of by that hour. However, under the terms of the allocation of time Order of last November, I had a quite separate duty to put the Question on the motion at the end of one hour after the proceedings commenced. The business motion did not remove that duty from me.

Similar circumstances arose on 20th July 1976, in relation to three allocation of time motions debated on that day, and on 16th November 1977, in relation to the allocation of time motion relating to the Wales Bill. I refer the hon. Member to the ruling which I gave to the House on the latter occasion in reply to a point of order raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow).

The hon. Member's second point concerned the application of Standing Order No. 44 to this order which is, as I have already explained, supplemental to the original order of 16th November 1977. Standing Order No. 44 applied to the original order, and there was accordingly a three-hour debate on that order. The original order itself, however, provided in paragraph 10 that there should be only one hour's debate on supplemental orders. If the hon. Member believed that paragraph 10 of the original order was irregular with regard to Standing Order No. 44, he should have raised his point when the original order was debated on 16th November last.

All that I can say now is that provisions granting one hour for supplemental orders have been contained in most allocation of time Orders debated under Standing Order No. 44 ever since the Standing Order was first passed in 1967. Supplemental orders have, in fact, been dealt with in this way in 15 allocation of time Orders passed since 1968. In two of these, two hours instead of one hour was allowed for debate on a supplemental order. Only three of the allocation of time Orders passed since 1968 have made no provision for a supplemental order.

Therefore, I do not see anything irregular in the provision for an hour's debate for supplemental orders, despite Standing Order No. 44, and nor evidently could my two immediate predecessors, since these provisions were a regular feature of allocation of time Orders during their Speakership, and they were never queried. But in any event, I think they must now be accepted as having been incorporated into the practice of the House.

I have taken rather long to explain this today, because I felt that I was not able to give full courtesy to the hon. Gentleman last night. I hope that he accepts that ruling today.

Mr. Rhodes James

I am obliged to you, Mr. Speaker, as, I am sure, is the House. The point that I was making is a deeply serious one, because the provision of Standing Order No. 44—originally in 1967, and then the amendment in 1971—was to ensure that it was written into the Standing Orders of this House that there would be adequate time for debate on allocation of time Orders. I am sorry to say that the fact that supplemental orders have been made by motion appears to be a regrettable development in the procedure of this House. In effect, what it means is that the Government of the day can terminate that time even more and completely destroy the purpose of the original Standing Order.

As you have said, Mr. Speaker, I know that this has become the practice of the House. I feel, and I felt last night, that at least one Back Bencher should make a protest about it. It is all very well for Front-Bench spokesmen, Governments and Governments-to-be, but these particular developments further deprive Back Benchers of whatever rights and privileges they have, and they are few enough. In my view this is an evil precedent and one which I hope the House will think carefully about before it proceeds further. However, I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I was a little cautious, bearing in mind his previous existence, but the practice of the House has become established.

Mr. Emery

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you would indicate to the Leader of the House who, after all, is not very far away from us, that there are a number of hon. Members concerned at the apparent way in which the original Standing Order, finally amended in the 1970s, is now able to be got rid of by a practice which has grown up? Perhaps it would be relevant for the Procedure Committee to study this practice at some time to see whether it should be continued or whether we ought to revert to the previous practice

Mr. Speaker

I advise the House to study carefully the long statement which I made, and I congratulate any hon. Member who took it all in at once, without warning. I had warning of it. But I must say that the Lord President will have heard what the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) said.