§ Mr. George Cunningham
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Thursday of this week, it is proposed that the House should deal with the Second Reading 234 Committee and Report stages and Third Reading of the Isle of Man Bill. The only purpose of the Bill is to give effect to an agreement reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Government of the Isle of Man, concluded on 15 October, yet the document with the text of that agreement in it has become available only at 3.30 pm today.
I suggest that it is totally impossible for hon. Members to do their job properly if they are asked to consider a Bill in all its stages on a Thursday when the document, which has been available in the Home Office for three weeks at least, is not even available in typescript in the Library. When I asked for it even at 3.20 pm today, it was not available.
The Leader of the House surely has no reason for putting an embargo on the availability of this document to Members. Why should they not have it at 3.20 pm rather than at 3.30 pm? But whether it is one or the other, it is just not good enough for us not to have such a document until 48 hours before the Bill is due to be taken.
There is another point, Mr. Speaker, that is more directly your responsibility. We have on the Order Paper today a motion at the end of business. Goodness knows why it has been put at the end of business. It would be much better to take it now. Members would then be able to table amendments to the Bill before Second Reading. This is the normal procedure when we are to take all stages of a Bill on one day. But because the Government, in their unwisdom, have put this motion at the end of today's business, it means that the only way in which a Member can table an unstarred amendment is by staying here until the end of business tonight and then getting in quickly in the course of the half-hour Adjournment debate.
I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will therefore be extremely generous in the selection of amendments for Thursday, if any amendments are tabled, and that the Leader of the House will come forward and tell us what he is prepared to do in order to ginger up his administration of Government business in this place so that we are not constantly having this absence of the necessary documents in dealing with legislation.
§ The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point and for informing the House that the agreement document is available now at the Vote Office. The Bill, of course, was available in very good time.
Mr. James Callaghan
With respect, if the Leader of the House hopes to proceed with business, he should give a clearer explanation than that and an apology to the House for the manner in which this business has been handled. Has he nothing further to say?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The agreement is available, as the right hon. Gentleman knows. If the matter is to be pursued further, I suggest that it be done through the usual channels.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham), there has been a document in the Home Office since 15 October—three weeks ago today. Why has it not been produced before? Why do the Government insist on taking all stages of the Bill on Thursday? Should not they reconsider the business for Thursday? If they wish to take the Second Reading then, that might be reasonable, but as the document has only just become available should not the Government allow the Committee and Report stages to be taken at a later date? Surely that is a reasonable request to make. I put it to the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am willing to receive the request. There is nothing sinister about this. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be a gap between the arrival of a document and its printing. No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that one cannot order printers to deliver things at a moment's notice. But, as I have said, if the right hon. Gentleman feels that there is a genuine point here and wishes to pursue it, it should be pursued through the usual channels.