HC Deb 16 June 1981 vol 6 cc880-1

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

4.35 pm
Mr. John Morris (Aberavon)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On your selection of amendments and new clauses to be considered, may I draw your attention to amendment No. 11, in my name and that of my right hon. and hon. Friends, which you have not selected for debate? The amendment goes to the heart of the Bill and to a matter which, I concede immediately, was canvassed in Committee. The amendment that was discussed in Committee related to England and Wales on the one hand, and to Scotland on the other, and during the debate it became clear that the amendment as it related to Scotland was not acceptable to Scottish Members.

The amendment was voted upon and lost by a majority of one, and it was made clear in Committee that we would return to the matter on Report and propose an amendment that would be acceptable to Scottish Members, and that is what we have done. The proposition as it relates to England and Wales is similar to that which we discussed in Committee when we considered the commencement of strict liability, but the position in Scotland is different. We have sought to meet the views of Scottish Members, and we have tried to meet the needs of representatives of the press in Scotland.

The question of when strict liability should arise is of enormous concern to Fleet Street. One of the objects of the Bill is to replace uncertainty with certainty, and if the amendment is not selected we shall not have an opportunity to canvass the matter on the Floor of the House.

You have been generous in your selection of amendments, Mr. Speaker, but there are other amendments that we should have liked to debate. I suggest, with respect but with as much force as I can, that, having put our tackle in good order, we are being denied the opportunity to return to a matter that goes to the heart of the Bill. I hope that you will give an indication—perhaps no more than that at this stage—that in the course of the evening you might reconsider your selection.

The Attorney-General (Sir Michael Havers)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter was dealt with in Committee at considerable length. It is one of the main planks of the principle of the Bill. It would be fair to say that any errors that might have existed about the Scottish aspect were subordinate to the discusson on the main principle.

As the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said, the Opposition regret that you have not selected certain amendments. On the Government Benches there is some regret that you have selected other amendments that were debated at great length in Committee. Perhaps in the end a fair balance has been achieved.

The amendment was properly argued and decided in Committee. The whole of the third sitting of the Committee was devoted to this aspect of the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

I am much obliged to both right hon. and learned Gentlemen. I always work on the principle that every amendment that is tabled is dear to the heart of the people who tabled it, so I am not surprised at the attitude of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) on that question.

As the House knows, I never give reasons for selection; it is risky to do so. I was not unmindful of the facts mentioned by the Attorney-General. As usual, I shall look at the matter at the request of the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon, but I do not want to raise false hopes.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be relieved to know that my point of order is not about new clause 3, which, being starred, I understand could not be selected.

I sat through the Committee proceedings, and my problem arises from your selection of Government amendment No. 20, which removes clause 8, and, simultaneously, the failure to select amendment No. 5.

I understand that the principle of the Bill is to create certainty. If we take away clause 8 that will leave tribunals at the mercy of the judgment of the courts from time to time, whereas if we were to be able to decide the principle of amendment No. 5, that would create certainty.

I do not know why I am speaking for my Front Bench on this matter, except that we have worked together in Committee. There is a problem here, and if you are spending a little time considering the matter put to you by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris), I should be obliged if you would consider also the point I have put to you.

Mr. Speaker

I feel almost like saying "Welcome home" to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). It is natural enough that he should raise a point of order on the first occasion that I hear him since he has returned to us. I shall look at the question, but, again, the hon. Member has even less hope than has his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) that I shall tell the House that I reject Government amendment No. 20, which I have selected. It is true that if that amendment is carried amendment No. 5 will fall and there will not be a vote on it. I was well aware of that when I took the decision.

Forward to