HC Deb 07 March 1978 vol 945 cc1235-8


Considered in Committee. [Progress, 2nd March.]

[Mr. Oscar Murton in the Chair]

3.57 p.m.

Sir Raymond Gower (Barry)

On a point of order, Mr. Murton. I apologise to you and to the Committee for raising one matter again.

Last weekend many of us obtained the impression that the guillotine was operating to exclude discussion on particular parts of the Bill—above all, the relationship between this legislation and possible changes in local government. This is a matter of deep concern.

I appreciate that you, Mr. Murton, and the Committee are in great difficulty. We are almost hamstrung by the procedural problem. Yet I hope that something can be done to solve this problem; otherwise, there will be grave misunderstanding outside if we fail to discuss what many people regard as one of the most important parts of the Bill.

I wonder whether anything can be done. Is it possible for the Government to co-operate to introduce a motion to vary the terms which bind our discussion? I plead with the Government and all present to appreciate that this is a matter of the utmost importance, as has been revealed not only in correspondence that I have received, but in conversations with many of my constituents over the weekend.

Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)

On a similar point of order, Mr. Murton. My point relates specifically to Clause 13. As you know, I have raised this matter on two previous occasions. I fear that we may reach 7 o'clock this evening without having had adequate discussion on a vital clause—Clause 13—which calls upon the Assembly to review the structure of local government in Wales and to report its conclusions to the Secretary of State.

I understand the difficulty of trying to select all the amendments and clauses that must be dealt with before 7 o'clock. How- ever, according to the list of amendments, there will have to be 32 debates before we reach the amendments dealing with Clause 13. I believe it is physically impossible to have an adequate discussion on 32 groups of amendments before we reach Clause 13. It is regrettable, but it appears that the House will have to reach without adequate discussion a decision on an immediate issue of importance that will affect the decision in Wales about whether we shall have an Assembly.

I understand that it might be possible for us to make reference to the matter because it is related to Schedule 2. May I have your ruling, Mr. Murton, that we shall be able to discuss this matter on amendments to Schedule 2? Otherwise the Committee will not have the opportunity to debate a matter which is of paramount concern to local government in Wales and which involves both district and county councils.

The Chairman

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) for raising this point of order. Indeed, I expected it to be raised. The Chair has to abide by the terms of the Business Resolution which was passed by the House. The Chair also has a duty to make a provisional selection of amendments. It has done that.

The suggestion has been made that some reference to this issue could be made when we reach Government Amendment No. 52. I am aware that Amendment No. 73 is the last amendment to be taken before 7 o'clock. I know that hon. Members desire to debate that issue, but I regret that, with the best will in the world, I cannot allow this. Clause 13, in all respects, goes beyond the matter that will be discussed on Government Amendment No. 52. The difference is fundamental. I am genuinely sorry that I cannot allow it.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. I appreciate the matter that has been raised and I shall try to be of help to the Committee. Would it not be possible to bring in many of the issues that hon. Members wish to raise under Amendment No. 53 which has been selected for discussion with Amendment No. 52? I know that it does not cover the exact powers of Clause 13 but I am sure that that solution would afford some scope for debate.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. There is a shift of unusual hope coming from the Plaid Cymru Benches. In view of your previous ruling, which I understand to be offered with the best of will and in an attempt to help the Committee, there will be limitations on discussions on the important question of local government reform because an opportunity is not given to scrutinise and debate Clause 13. I know that your job is particularly difficult, Mr. Murton, because of the cramped way in which we are to discuss this Bill, but the Welsh people are anxious about the whole question of local government reform. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), in an uncharacteristic exaggeration, said last Thursday that it was a popular clause. That is a question that we should debate.

The idea is a jewel in the Government's crown and, if I may be allowed to mix my metaphors, the Government deliberately want to hide under a bushel in the way that they wish to conduct the guillotine. It is important for us to have a clear avenue in which to discuss the issues that are involved in Clause 13.

I hope that you, Mr. Murton, will use the maximum generosity when we discuss Amendments Nos. 52 and 53, by not excluding any considerations that might arise which are not specifically included in the amendments.

The Chairman

The great problem with which the Chair is faced in reviewing the amendments which have been mentioned is that Government Amendment No. 52 and Amendment No. 53 deal with existing powers, whereas Clause 13 is different: it concerns the review of the structure. I understand the concern that has been expressed by hon. Members, but there is also a secondary point. If one were to allow a debate on the terms of Clause 13 at an earlier stage it would cut out many other important amendments. The Chair feels that that should not be allowed to happen. I am bound by the terms of the timetable motion.

Sir Raymond Gower

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. Is it not appalling that discussion on constitutional changes of this magnitude should be prevented by the terms of a guillotine? Constitutional changes of this kind should not be dealt with in this manner. It is inconsistent with our reputation for democratic discussion. Discussion has been stifled at an important point.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) makes these comments but the Chair is in no position to answer them.

Mr. Ioan Evans

Further to that point of order, Mr. Murton. We have less than three hours, until 7 o'clock, for 32 debates. Between 7 o'clock and 11 o'clock there are five debates. Is it possible to ask my right hon. Friends, through you, to allow Clause 13 to be taken earlier than proposed? Is it possible to change the timetable? I voted for the guillotine. If I had known what was going to happen I should have voted differently.

The Chairman

The hon. Member for Aberdare has had an ingenious idea. However, the guillotine has been approved by right hon. and hon. Members and there is nothing to do but to accept the terms of it. That is the timetable motion and that is the way in which we must proceed.

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