HC Deb 02 March 1978 vol 945 cc675-81


Considered in Committee. [Progress, 1st March.]

[MR. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair]

3.56 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it possible for you to communicate with Mr. Speaker later about his pronouncement concerning sending in names for speeches and questions?

The Chairman

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. That matter has nothing to do with the Committee.

Mr. Kershaw

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. If you do not communicate with Mr. Speaker, will you consider the matter yourself?

The Chairman

I regret to disappoint the hon. Gentleman for the second time. It is not a matter that I can consider. We are in Committee.

Mr. loan Evans (Aberdare)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I raised with you yesterday the fact that we had not yet received a list of selected amendments to Clause 13. You gave us reassurance, but I still have some anxiety. Quite a number of clauses are to be debated today and they overlap with clauses to be dealt with before 7 o'clock next Tuesday. Is it possible for us to have an indication from the Business Committee or from you that Clause 13 will definitely be debated?

There is still a great deal of interest in the clause, which relates to a review of the local government structure in Wales, a matter that has not been debated so far. May we have a guarantee that it will be debated next Tuesday?

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman puts a great burden upon my shoulders if he asks for an assurance that it will be debated. That depends entirely upon the timetable motion and on how, within the terms of that motion, we get on with the business today and next Tuesday.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I must press you on the matter, because Clause 13, which is entirely innovatory, has never been debated in any form in the consideration of any previous Bill. It deals with the whole local government of Wales, and it has aroused opposition from every county council in Wales.

Amendments have been tabled by hon. Members throughout the House, by those who are in favour of devolution, those who are against it in any form and those who want it modified. There is a desire on all sides that the clause should be debated. It is clear that under the present timetable it cannot be reached under any circumstances, even if we have the most succinct speeches, which could in no way be described as adequate, on the earlier clauses.

I realise the difficulty, but I urge that the timetable be rearranged. Otherwise, the Principality and all hon. Members involved in local authorities throughout Wales will not understand how such a revolutionary clause—entirely new, arousing such opposition and affecting so many sections of the community—can go through the House without ever having been debated.

I hope that consideration will be given to the fact that on the third day we could move to begin discussion on Clause 13 and to end the previous debate a little earlier. I hope that this matter will be considered and that emphasis will be given to the fact that this view is taken by Labour Members.

The Chairman

I must inform the hon. Gentleman that it is not within my disposition so to arrange matters. The House has passed the Business Committee's Resolution and we must abide by it and get along as best we can. I must add that the longer we spend on points of order the less time will the Committee have to discuss the Bill.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I accept your view that whatever we say now bites into the debate proper. Nevertheless, do not Back Benchers have a right to address you on the subject of the growing absurdity in which the Committee finds itself following discussion on the first day? You heard the Lord President yesterday accuse the Committee of filibustering. Nobody who heard the debate yesterday could believe that the debate on Clause 1 was a filibuster and—

The Chairman

Order. The hon Gentleman is straying somewhat. This is not a point of order. So long as hon. Members stay within the rules of order, they can conduct their speeches in whatever way they like So long as that procedure is followed, it is not a matter for me.

Mr. Gow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it not in order to address the Chair in a Committee of the House when the guillotine is operating in a way that affects us as was never intended and as was never within the Government's foresight? Is not the Committee being denied the right to debate provisions that are fundamentally important to the constitutional future of Wales and of the United Kingdom? Surely we are allowed to address the Chair on such matters. We all know that yesterday Clauses 3 to 9 and Schedule 1 were not debated at all. Therefore, we shall no doubt find ourselves in a situation in which the Committee will be invited to make progress on a Bill in which there is no opportunity to debate certain key clauses. Surely we have a right to address you on a matter which has caused consternation and which has been condemned in the country.

The Chairman

The hon. Gentleman is right to address the Chair, but I can only reply that the Committee is bound by resolution of the House and that is the end of the matter.

Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Bearing in mind the close identity of interest between the Welsh Assembly and local authorities and the fact that Clause 13 deals specifically with that topic, will you give further consideration to examining the amendments on that clause and the importance of these provisions?

The Chairman

This is a matter of selection which is within my province. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman said.

Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Could you assist the Committee by informing us what your practice would be if there were a closure motion? Yester day a number of us considered whether to bring the debate to a close by moving such a motion. Therefore, it would be of great assistance if you were to inform the Committee, if there were not much time left to debate these provisions and those that follow, what your practice would be if you were to have such a motion before you.

The Chairman

That comes within the area of hypothesis. I cannot answer hypothetical questions.

On the subject of closures generally, if a closure motion is moved, the Chairman uses his discretion whether to accept it.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. You have already informed my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Davies) that there were powers of selection and discretion which you could exercise. Since there is a dire necessity for Clause 13 to be debated, in view of the time limitation imposed by the guillotine, and bearing in mind the fact that these are novel provisions introduced by the Government in a revised form for a specific purpose, I must emphasise that this is an issue that has caused a great deal of interest in Wales. If this matter is not discussed, the Committee will not have carried out its job of scrutiny and it will not have an opportunity to discuss what many believe is the most important issue in the Bill.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes (Anglesey)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Does not the remedy whether we debate Clause 13 lie with the Committee? If there is a desire to debate the clause, which is a very popular clause in the Principality, as hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies will agree, the remedy lies in our own hands. Will you give us guidance on this matter?

The Chairman

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. However, I must point out that the Committee is bound by the Resolution of the House. How far we get in discussing these provisions depends entirely on the length of speeches and the time taken in discussing the other amendments and new clauses which have been selected. That is as far as I can go.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards (Pembroke)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. It should be clear that yesterday's events have nothing to do with this topic, because we are now within a separate block in regard to the guillotine. The problem cannot be resolved by truncating earlier debates because Clause 10 and Schedule 2 relate to central functions and are therefore a key part of the debate. There are a large number of important amendments which, even if the Committee were to be brief, cannot be got through quickly. There are other important provisions in regard to Clauses 11 and 12 which could not be hurried in order to produce a special debate on Clause 13.

The problem arises entirely because of the nature of the motion that was accepted by the House and which was put to the House by the Government. The solution lies with the Government. It could be resolved by altering the Business Committee's Resolution, but it must be clear that if we are to act under the provisions of the resolution, there is no possible way in which Clause 13 or other important clauses dealing with the Welsh language—for example, Clause 11—can possibly be debated.

Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I wish to emphasise that the need for a debate on Clause 13 has not been overstated by Labour Members. It is shared by the Opposition. Therefore, I hope that something can be done about the situation. I appreciate the technical difficulties, but it should not be beyond the ingenuity of us all to get round the point.

The Chairman

This is not a matter for the Chair. As I have already said, I am bound by the Resolution which was passed by the House and, as Chairman of the Committee, I must proceed according to that Resolution.

Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. Could the Secretary of State for Wales make a statement on this important matter? He will know by now that this request for a debate on these provisions has come from hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. Will the Government now make a statement aimed at meeting those requests?

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. John Morris)

The Committee is fully aware of the Resolution from the Business Committee which was carried by the House. I commend to the Committee the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) to the effect that the matter is substantially in the hands of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the Committee. We are now eating into valuable debating time, but we still have a great deal of time before we reach 11 o'clock.

Mr. Pym

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. It is not realistic for the Secretary of State to take that view because Schedule 2 runs to 26 pages, more than a quarter of the entire Bill. It specifies the powers to be devolved to Wales. In the case of the Scotland Bill, practically none of these matters was debated, yet the powers which are to be devolved here are of the essence of the Wales Bill. How can we take on the nod—which is the equivalent of what has been asked—the powers to be devolved, in order to make way for Clause 13? It is not reasonable for the Secretary of State to think that his suggestion is a way out of the difficulty. People may take different views about Clause 13 but we all take the view that somehow or other there ought to be time for Clause 12.

Mr. Ioan Evans

We were in a similar difficulty with the Scotland Bill. A timetable was published, but because the Government later realised that a particular amendment, which related to a vital part of the Bill, could not be dealt with, the timetable was revised. I appreciate that we cannot have an immediate response to this request, but can we have an undertaking that it will be looked at?

There is a precedent, because during this Parliament clauses have been taken out of sequence in the discussion of a Bill. Would it not be possible for Clause 13 to be taken at the commencement of business on the third day, which is next Tuesday, proceeding after that to the other clauses in the time remaining? It would have to be a short debate, in any case. This is a major clause which affects the whole of local government in Wales, and there will certainly be reactions in Wales if there is no debate at all on it.

The Chairman

I have listened to the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans). I can only reiterate what I have said previously, that this is not a matter for me. I am bound by the Resolution as it was passed by the House. Hon. Members have made their views known. I suggest that we should now proceed, because time is moving on.

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