HC Deb 30 July 1980 vol 989 cc1531-4
Mr. Cryer

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise what I consider to be an important point of order, Mr. Speaker. It concerns the Draft Education (Assisted Places) Regulations, which are to be dealt with tonight.

The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments was established by a Standing Order of the House and the instructions to that Committee are set out in the current Standing Orders in page 97 and onwards. It is the duty of the Committee to examine instruments that are placed before the House. The instructions require the Committee to report to the House from time to time on matters laid before it and to make reports.

The regulations that are to come before the House tonight were first considered by the Committee on 29 July. That was the first occasion on which the Joint Committee considered the instrument. The Committee examined the instrument and asked for a memorandum from the Department.

The Committee cannot report to the House that the instrument is either within or without the criteria laid down by the Standing Order. The Committee must direct its attention to eight matters when considering an instrument. Therefore, it asked the Department for a memorandum, which it must have before making the report.

We are informed that the memorandum will be available by next Tuesday. In order to expedite matters, the Committee has also asked for witnesses to be present in case it wishes to elucidate the position further.

It is clear that if the instrument is dealt with tonight the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments will not be able to carry out the functions and duties that the House has laid upon it. Therefore, I ask the Government to agree to withdraw the instrument until the Committee can fulfil its function of examining the instrument and obtaining the memorandum. I emphasise that it must obtain the memorandum, because that is laid down in the Standing Orders. The Department must be given an opportunity to present its case before the Committee makes the report. Arrangements have been made for that case to be given in writing and orally next Tuesday.

I submit that it is impossible for the House to consider the matter before the Joint Committee has completed its consideration and made a report. Under the circumstances, I ask that the instrument be withdrawn until the report is completed.

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are deeply conscious that we are eroding the time that is available for the next debate, but the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is of extreme importance to the House. Before you give your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I submit that it would be inconvenient—and a great ill-usage to the House—if the Government were to proceed in these circumstances. Irrespective of your ruling. I trust that the Government will take the opportunity provided by my hon. Friend to say that we shall not proceed with the matter today. That might assist you with your verdict on the point of order.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Further, to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am aware of the necessity not to cut into the time allowed for the Liberal Party debate. I am aware of what happened in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. If it is a question of vires, and if the regulations are defective in any way on those grounds, the Government do not intend to move them. However, it may be that a political point is involved about the discretion held by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on that matter. I cannot make an off-the-cuff decision. I must consider it in greater detail during the course of the afternoon. I assure the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) that the rights of the Joint Committee will be respected. If there is any question of the regulations being defective in any way, or of being unsatisfactory on basic grounds, we shall not move them.

Mr. Foot

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate the remarks made by the Leader of the House, but it is not only a question whether the orders are defective. The House wishes to know the view of the Committee. We shall not know that view if the debate is held tonight. The only way in which the Government can deal satisfactorily with the matter is to say that they will not proceed with the question today. That would be best for the House. If the Government decide to debate the matter tonight we shall find ourselves in difficulty. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said, the Joint Committee has the right to consider the matter according to the normal procedure. I hope that the Leader of the House will go further, because it is not only a question whether the regulations are defective.

Mr. Cryer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I press the Leader of the House to withdraw the instrument for at least a week until the Joint Committee has had the opportunity to consider it at its regular weekly meeting. The Committee has asked for the evidence. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would consider whether a question of vires had been raised. We have asked a wide range of questions. It is not for the right hon. Gentleman to judge what the Joint Committee will do about the instrument. There are eight separate bases on which the instrument can be reported to the House, including vires. It is wrong for the right hon. Gentleman to prejudge the position. If we do not give the Department the right to present its point of view the Committee will be in breach of the duty laid upon it. If the Leader of the House will not withdraw the instrument, he will also be in breach of the Standing Orders of the House.

I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the instrument for a week to give the Committee a proper opportunity to make its judgment.

Mr. St John-Stevas

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am taking fully into consideration everything that the hon. Member for Keighley said, but it is unreasonable to ask for a snap decision. I must have time to consider the complex issues involved. I have given an undertaking that the interests both of the Committee and of the House will be fully taken into account.

Mr. Kinnock

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall take the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), but I remind him that there are two short debates to follow. I warn the House that an enormous number of hon. Members wish to speak on textiles.

Mr. Kinnock

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am aware that there are two debates to follow. That is why I was reluctant to make an earlier contribution. I hope that it is within the consideration both of yourself, Mr. Speaker, and the House, that there is no rush about this business. All the time that is needed can be taken to observe the rights and to enable the duties to be fulfilled by the Committee chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer). There is no political implication involved.

Mr. Speaker

I am sure that that point will be noted.