HC Deb 27 April 1981 vol 3 cc519-21 3.30 pm
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Paymaster General and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Francis Pym)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a short business statement.

The business for Wednesday 29 April has been revised and will now be as follows:

Mr. John Silkin (Deptford)

Is the Leader of the House aware that the timetable motion proposed for Wednesday is an absolute scandal, and that any constitutional Bill that requires to be subject to a timetable motion must be an extremely badly managed Bill? This is a constitutional Bill—the Government are always telling us that—and the form of it has been subject to considerable changes as a result of pressures in Committee. There ought to be sufficient time available for everyone to be able to make his point and for a decent Bill to emerge.

Mr. Pym

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman to the extent that this is the kind of Bill in respect of which, ideally, it would be infinitely preferable not to have a timetable motion. On Wednesday we shall have the opportunity of debating the two sides of the argument. I shall present the Government's case for the time that has been made available and say why we believe the timetable motion to be necessary, but I shall move it with reluctance. It is an important Bill. The Government's attitude all the way through has been constructive. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said at the outset that he would adopt a constructive view. Some amendments have been accepted and others have been proposed, so he has kept his word, as has my hon. Friend the Minister of State. Progress must be made with the Bill, and for that reason we now feel absolutely obliged to introduce the timetable motion. The issues surrounding it can and will be debated on Wednesday.

Mr. Silkin

In view of the desire of the Leader of the House to take a constructive view, will he consider bringing the Bill back to the Floor of the House, where it ought to have been right from the start? The right hon. Gentleman has between now and Wednesday to consider that request with his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. A great deal more progress might be made if that request were accepted.

Mr. Pym

If my recollection serves me correctly, the House of Commons voted to have the Committee stage upstairs. The Report stage will, of course, be taken on the Floor of the House. I do not think, therefore, that I can meet the right hon. Gentleman's request.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Before the Leader of the House brought forward this disgraceful proposal did he give any thought to the personal tragedies that will ensue if large parts of the Bill, which will affect individual rights of citizenship, are not debated and discussed in detail? Does he remember that on the Transport Bill a number of his hon. Friends had reason to complain that amendments that they wanted to discuss could not be discussed? Will he consider how much more dramatic the implications of his decision will be on a Bill that decides the citizenship rights of individuals?

Mr. Pym

I fully appreciate the dramatic nature of the decision, but I do not accept all the allegations that the hon. Gentleman made. We shall be debating a timetable motion. It is the Government's intention to allocate adequate further time, but that will be under the procedure of a timetable motion. We have reached the conclusion that, unfortunately, that is now inevitable.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall call three hon. Members from each side before we move to the next business.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that while his announcement today will be received with some relief, on a personal basis, by hon. Members who are members of the Committee—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—the consideration of the Bill has illustrated perhaps more than any other Bill the need to look very seriously at the way in which we examine our Bills? We should first have taken evidence. There is also a need to consider timetables in advance. Hon. Members who sit in Committee on complicated Bills of this kind need some support from research in order to be able to make a serious contribution. Will my right hon. Friend consider these matters in future?

Mr. Pym

I shall take note of what my hon. Friend says, but the issues that he raises are a good deal wider than the announcement that I have made.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Will the Leader of the House explain why he made this business statement this afternoon, rather than before the Easter Recess? Did it have anything to do with the Prime Minister's visit to India?

Mr. Pym

It had no connection with that. In the week before Easter, Ministers had not taken the decision that it was necessary to have a timetable motion. That is why I made the announcement today.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is an unanswerable case for taking all major legislation on a timetable properly worked out in advance? When he is researching his speech for Wednesday, will he please read every line of the speeches made by the Leader of the Opposition when he was proposing guillotines by the dozen, and consider those speeches very carefully?

Mr. Pym

There are those on each side of the House who think that a regular timetable procedure would be an advantage, but whenever it has been considered the House of Commons has come to the conclusion that it is not desirable. But, of course, it could always be considered again in the future.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, West)

Is the Minister aware that not only is the Bill complicated; there has been no filibustering, and the most complicated parts have already been passed, so that we should now be able to make faster progress? In those circumstances, as many millions of people in this country are affected by the Bill, will the Government consider the effect on them of not having the majority of the clauses in a complicated Bill properly scrutinised? Is there not time for the Government to change their mind?

Mr. Pym

The hon. and learned Gentleman expresses the view that others have expressed to me privately, that the most controversial and difficult part of the Bill has already been considered in Committee. We shall, therefore, be continuing our consideration under a timetable motion, having already disposed, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, of the most difficult part of the Bill. That is some encouragement to me to think that I may be right in proposing to deal with the rest of the Bill on an organised basis.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend, who is being submitted to the traditional hue and cry from the Opposition, bear in mind that there has been some time wasting, into the early hours of the morning, by official Opposition spokesmen, and that the person who is most likely to be prominent in the hue and cry is the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), whose main contribution to the Committee has been his long periods of absence?

Mr. Pym

These are matters that can be debated on Wednesday.

Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea, South)

The Minister said that the Government's attitude to the Bill had been constructive. Is he suggesting that any Opposition Member had an attitude that was different from that?

Mr. Pym

No, Sir; I was merely commenting on and responding to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin).

Mr. Roy Hattersley (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

May I ask the Leader of the House to return to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett)? What has altered since the last business statement that the right hon. Gentleman made to the House? Why has the House been given only 48 hours' notice of the decision? To what other conclusion can the House and the country come than that the decision was suppressed until the Prime Minister returned from those countries that had rightly accused the Bill of being racist?

Mr. Pym

The right hon. Gentleman will know perfectly well that we were in communication with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in the usual way, during a visit abroad. There was no difficulty about communicating with her. The answer is that in the course of last week, after the House had risen, Ministers came to the conclusion that the timetable motion was necessary and was now the best way in which to proceed. That is why I announced it this afternoon.