HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc605-7
Mr. Rooker

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your ruling on an important matter. The draft statutory instrument entitled "The Social Security Benefits Up-rating Order 1979" was referred by the House on 12 July to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments. The instrument was dealt with by Standing Committee this morning.

Under Standing Order No. 73A, a motion must now be tabled by the Government so that the House can approve that order. Time is short. There is only Thursday and Friday before the House goes into recess.

The problem is that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in its third report of 17 July, five days after the House sent the statutory instrument upstairs, drew the special attention of both Houses to the order on the ground that for one of its purposes reliance is placed on a provision which has yet to be enacted. That provision is the Pensioners' Payments and Social Security Bill, which is not due to receive its Royal Assent in the House of Lords until Friday.

No one seeks to delay the making of the order. It is important, because it affects pensions, mobility allowance and similar benefits. However, before 3 May we heard much in the House and outside about the rule of law and the rules of procedure in the House.

In the past few days the Government have been hell-bent on cramming legislation through the House before the recess, and making mistakes. It is their Kampuchean experiment to turn everything upside down. In doing so they are bypassing procedure. Those procedures exist as much to protect the Opposition as to facilitate Government business.

When I raised this matter in Standing Committee this morning, the Minister told me that it was only a technical anomaly. If we do not stand firm now on this issue, we cannot tell what procedural bypass will be used next by the Government.

I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that the House is in no position to approve that order until the Bill receives Royal Assent. If the recess date is to be maintained, either the Royal Assent must be brought forward or the order must not be dealt with until the end of business on Friday, by which time the Bill will have been given its Royal Assent.

I looked at the "good book" because I did not want to delay the House unnecessarily. Page 585 deals with the powers of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and lays down the matters to which it can draw special attention. The laying of an instrument part of which is related to a measure that has not yet been passed is not covered. Clearly it was never conceived that a Government would lay a statutory instrument relating to a measure that was not yet enacted. I seek your ruling on this important matter, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

The point of order is clear.

Mr. Cryer

I wish to emphasise the rules under which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments can report items to the House. It can report if it appears that there is a doubt that a matter is intra vires—as in this instance. It can report if it appears to make some unusual or unexpected use of the powers conferred by the statute under which it is made, or if its drafting appears to be defective. The Committee also wanted the Standing Committee to consider the order and for it to send reports.

The Select Committee was established by the House in part as a result of a book entitled "The New Despotism". The Select Committee was designed to impose scrutiny on the enormous powers of Ministers to produce about 2,000 Acts or mini-Acts each year. I hope that the efforts of the Select Committee will be considered carefully and that action will be taken.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that the House is grateful to the Select Committees that work on our behalf. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) said that he had looked up the "good book"—in this case "Erskine May". He will not expect me to comment on his preamble about the Government. I am prepared to answer his substantial point of order.

The hon. Member is quite correct. It would not be proper for me to put the Question under paragraph 5 of Standing Order No. 73A on a draft order which depends on a Bill which has not received the Royal Assent.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the light of your ruling to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), would it not be appropriate and convenient for the Leader of the House to indicate that the business of the House will be so arranged as not to conflict with your ruling?

Mr. Speaker

The order is not before the House yet. That question could be raised when it is on the Order Paper before the House.