§ Lords amendments considered.10.27 pm
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that the House of Lords completed its consideration of the Bill at 4.46 pm yesterday, and that the Lords amendments were available in the House of Commons Vote Office only at midday today? May I seek your advice on whether Back-Bench Members of this House have been given a proper opportunity to scrutinise the Lords amendments and to table further amendments? Will you also tell us whether you have any way of protecting the House from a Government who are seeking to railroad a highly controversial and obnoxious piece of legislation?
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to delay the House—I hope that we shall be having a reasonably brief debate in a minute or two—but I should like to add my protest, on behalf of the official Opposition, and to invoke your assistance, because the final stage of the Bill, the consideration of Lords amendments, is appearing with almost indecent haste.
The Third Reading in the House of Lords is a stage at which amendments can be moved, so that there is a genuine difficulty, in that we did not know the final state of the Bill—because it could well have changed during yesterday's consideration in the Lords—until a very late stage. Hon. Members would have had to show enormous agility and manoeuvrability if they were to have an opportunity of looking at the final form of the Bill and making amendments to their Lordships' final version.
I hope that Conservative Members will not take it amiss if I say that I fear that the only interpretation of events is that Bill's controversial parts—which will now be considered—have guaranteed that this non-controversial but important matter of, for example, the disabled has been sacrificed. The Government have made a headlong rush to get an obnoxious measure on to the statute book. Hon. Members face a problem. Other amendments might have been tabled if there had been time for consideration.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If hon. Members are concerned because they feel that they might not have had sufficient opportunity to consider the Lords amendments, I should point out that all the amendments that are before us were passed not less than a week ago. The other place did not pass any amendments last night. Therefore, hon. Members have had at least a week in which to consider their response to them.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister's reply does not answer the point that has been made. Hon. Members were not to know what the other place would do yesterday. Only the Government seemed to know that the matter would be brought before us, because for some reason they assumed that the other place would grant Third Reading. The rest of us could not assume that.
502 There is a practical problem. Amendments had to be lodged a few days ago. They were lodged blindly, because the Bill's exact lineage was not available to hon. Members. Although we may triumph in the fairly simple amendments before us, the principle involved in bringing a Bill from the other place in such a short space of time is bad. It could cause extreme difficulty in future unless the Chair is prepared to protect our rights against the Government's infringements.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
The Chair is not responsible for the timetable in the other place or for the business that the Government may seek to put before the House. Hon. Members will know that Lords Amendments are frequently taken at short notice. Shall we get on?
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)
Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members are in difficulty. The Bill is being dealt with with indecent haste, largely because the Government wish to justify the Secretary of State's pre-emptive statement on the question of penalising authorities which "overspend". Would it be possible to ask Mr. Speaker to refer this Bill and other Bills to the Select Committee on Procedure? Perhaps the issue could be considered against the background of the Government's timetabling of the following week's business when that business is before the other place.
Since the Conservative Party came to power, the other place has had more work to do. It has had to correct the Government's legislation. During the past two and a half years the House has often been placed in extreme difficulty because Lords amendments are made after next week's business has been announced. I should be grateful. Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you would draw Mr. Speaker's attention to our exchanges. Perhaps Mr. Speaker would consider referring this matter to the Select Committee on Procedure with the aim of ensuring that the Government treat the House fairly.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I shall certainly draw the hon. Gentleman's comments to Mr. Speaker's attention. However, the hon. Gentleman's dispute is not with the Chair but with the Leader of the House, who is responsible for tabling the business of the House.