HC Deb 21 November 1980 vol 994 cc112-4 9.37 am
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister for the Arts (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

I beg to move,


  1. (1) Standing Order No. 6 (Precedence of Government business) shall have effect for this Session with the following modifications, namely:—
  2. In paragraph (2) the word 'twelve' shall be substituted for the word 'ten' in line 5; and in paragraph (5) the word 'eight' shall be substituted for the word 'ten' in line 30;
  3. (2) Private Members' Bills shall have precedence over Government business on 30th January, 6th, 13th, 20th and 27th February, 6th March, 1st, 8th and 15th May, 12th and 19th June and 10th July;
  4. (3) Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence over Government business on 12th December, 16th and 23rd January, 13th, 20th and 27th March, and 3rd and 10th April, and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Wednesday 26th November, Wednesday 10th December, Wednesday 17th December, Wednesday 25th February, Wednesday 4th March, Wednesday 11th March, Wednesday 18th March and Wednesday 25th March;
  5. (4) On Monday 15th December, Monday 16th February, Monday 18th May and Monday 6th July, Private Members' Notices of Motions shall have precedence until Seven o'clock and ballots for these Notices shall be held after Questions on Thursday 27th November, Thursday 29th January, Thursday 30th April and Thursday 18th June;
  6. (5) No Notice of Motion shall be handed in for any of the days on which Private Members' Notices have precedence under this Order in anticipation of the Ballot for that day.
It is customary at the beginning of a Session to move a motion providing time for Private Members' Bills and motions. It is as well to remember the importance of the Private Member's Bill procedure in our House. Of course, originally all time belonged to private Members. It is as well for business managers occasionally to remember that fact. It was only in the 1880s that the Government seized control of the whole timetable of the House of Commons, and they have kept tight hold of it ever since.

Standing Order No. 6 provides for Private Members' Bills and motions to have precedence over Government business on 20 Fridays in each Session; that is, 10 Fridays on Bills and 10 Fridays for motions. It also provides for four half-days until 7 o'clock on motions.

But, since the Session of 1970–71, with the exception of the Session of 1974, which was unusually short, and the last Session, of course, which was unusually long, the House has by resolution varied the split between the Bill days and the motion days. This Session I am proposing to renew that arrangement, namely, 12 Bill Fridays and eight motion Fridays, as well as the four half-days on motions. The first Bill Friday will be on 30 January 1981 and the last Bill Friday on 10 July 1981. That has been so placed to provide an opportunity for Lords amendments to be considered without prejudicing the date of the 1981 Summer Recess.

When private Members present their Bills on Wednesday 14 January 1981, they will also name days for the Second Readings.

Perhaps I may remind hon. Members that under Standing Order No. 6 hon. Members may not table Ten-Minute Bill motions or bring in Bills under Standing Order No. 37 until after the hon. Members successful in the ballot on 27 November have presented their Bills.

I hope that these arrangements will be for the convenience of hon. Members. Of course, the dates can be changed later, should that be necessary because of any change in the dates of recesses or should the House so decide.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

The Leader of the House referred to the problem of Ten-Minute Bills. What is the delay in being able to ask for Ten-Minute Bills? Does not this procedure become simply posture politics? Speaking as one who on seven occasions has introduced the kidney opting-out Bill, I feel a little sore that in reality there is never an opportunity for such Bills, even less controversial ones, to proceed any further. Does the Leader of the House think that it is satisfactory that Ten-Minute Bills should simply be postures and nothing else? Is it not desirable that at least one or two — not necessarily mine—get through the net?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With permission, I shall comment on that. One should be careful before one condemns so-called posture politics. If they were regarded as undesirable, a large part of our proceedings would be ruled out automatically. The Ten Minutes Rule is useful. There was a suggestion that the procedure should be postponed until later in the day. However, hon. Members value the opportunity to make a case in the House at a time when reporters are in the Press Gallery and there is a reasonable chance of being reported. I do not believe that it is as valueless as suggested.

I agree that it would be desirable if something happened occasionally by means of that procedure. Occasionally something does happen. One or two important reforms were started by that means. I counsel the hon. Gentleman to look more cheerful and to be more optimistic.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Woolwich, West)

My right hon. Friend mentioned possible dates for recesses. Will he share these possible dates with the House? He will know of my great interest in family policy and that hon. Members with families would like to bring parliamentary recesses more into line with school holidays.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I appreciate my hon. Friend's anxiety, but we have only just come back after a fairly long recess. The Easter and Whitsun Recesses centre round the great feasts of the Church, and that will give some indication of when they will occur. Because of the lighter programme, I hope that we shall be up by the end of July.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

Time is the essence of the Ten-Minute Bill procedure. When the starting orders are given, hon. Members have to go to the Bill Office at six o'clock in the morning and sit there until 10 o'clock, when the Office opens. Is that not a waste of valuable time? Will the right hon. Gentleman examine that procedure?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall examine the procedure, but the Select Committee on procedure has already examined it. The arrangements suit the larks but not the nightingales.

Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Thanet, West)

Will my right hon. Friend keep up his sleeve, with the aid of the Whips, a little time for those Private Members' Bills which would pass through the House successfully if they were given a little more time? The Indecent Displays (Control) Bill was one of many Bills that did not get through despite the clear wishes of the House. If something could be done about that, it would be a great help.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I shall bear that in mind. My right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary is suffering more and more, as is the Opposition Chief Whip. We should not pursue these matters further at this early hour, as it has a bad effect upon them.

Question put and agreed to.