HC Deb 05 December 1985 vol 88 cc457-8
Mr. Speaker

With the leave of the House, I will put the Questions on the three motions together.

Ordered, That the Representation of the People (Amendment) Regulations 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. The the draft Employment Protection (Variation of Limits) Order 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Unfair Dismissal (Increase of Limits of Basic and Special Awards) Order 1985 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.—[Mr. Neubert.]

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, which arises from what you said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd). Will you give further consideration to the problems arising from private Bills, particularly with regard to the fact that for most of the last century and early this century there was no alternative procedure for someone to promote a measure such as the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill other than by means of a private Bill in this House? Since 1949, there have been planning procedures and the opportunity to hold a planning inquiry.

It is most unfortunate that hon. Members are now required to sit for long periods in private Bill Committees listening to what is, in effect, a planning inquiry. It causes considerable difficulties for hon. Members and is not satisfactory to the general public, in that hon. Members cannot be expected to give the same detailed attention to the procedure as is given by a planning inquiry inspector sitting with assessors.

In the past, it was the usual custom for such Committees to meet at the convenience of hon. Members, but the practice which seems to have developed of late is that the Committee meets at the convenience of the promoters of the Bill and the objectors to the Bill. I understand that in the case of the Felixstowe Docks and Railway Bill the promoters and objectors were consulted as to the days on which it would be convenient for them to sit. I understand also that the managing director of the Felixstowe dock insisted that the Committee should meet this week so that he could go to Japan either today or tomorrow.

If hon. Members are to be reported to the House for non-attendance at such Committee sittings, they should be consulted as to the sitting days. The four hon. Members asked to serve on the Bill should have been consulted, especially as two of them had questions on the Order Paper. They should not have been reported for not attending the Committee when they were not consulted about sitting days or times and had no opportunity to make representations on the matter.

I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will give careful consideration to the point, because I think you indicated that there is no sanction on hon. Members if they do not attend a Committee other than to be reported to the House. I understand that if hon. Members wished to do so they could absent themselves from the Committee, thus destroying the quorum and making the proceedings unworkable. I hope that you will look carefully at all these matters, and either refer them to the Procedure Committee or perhaps make a statement to the House.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may well be correct in what he says, but it is a matter for the Procedure Committee. As he well knows, I am bound by the Standing Orders and I have to enforce them. Private Bill Committees sit in a semi-judicial capacity. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to have the Standing Order changed, he should take the matter to the Procedure Committee.

The Standing Order lays down that hon. Members who are absent from a private Bill Committee are reported to the House. That is the only penalty. The hon. Gentleman might like to take up the other matter elsewhere.