HC Deb 24 October 1985 vol 84 cc434-5

4.4 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like a ruling from you on whether it is in order for the Government unprecedentedly to push through regulations such as the board and lodging regulations, which were declared illegal in the High Court on 4 August and which, in their revised form, have now been declared ultra vires by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Is it not improper for the Government to introduce revised regulations that seek to pre-empt the decision of a court of appeal that will not be known until the end of November? Is it not invidious for hon. Members to be asked to vote on regulations that are sub judice and that one of the Select Committees has declared exceed the powers held by the Secretary of State for Social Services? Is this not particularly so as this infamous legislation will lead to evictions beginning two weeks before Christmas? I ask you, Mr. Speaker, to rule that the Government are not empowered to continue with this measure and, indeed, are now required to withdraw it.

Mr. Speaker

I do not have that authority. What measures they lay before the House, is entirely a matter for the Government and a matter for debate in the House. I have no authority to withdraw the regulations.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you give us some guidance on whether the debate will be inhibited, when it takes place, by the fact that the whole matter is sub judice?

Mr. Speaker

I do not think that the debate will be inhibited. We shall be debating an order that the Government will place before the House.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you give me a little guidance? As I understand it, when a Bill is presented to the House, you have a duty to check it and to ascertain whether it is in order so that it can proceed through the House. If hon. Members wish to table amendments to a Bill, you again have a duty to inspect them to see whether they are in order. If they are not, they cannot be debated, although they may appear on the amendment paper.

As I understand it, we have been asked to consider a statutory instrument next Tuesday about which, to say the least, there are questions as to whether it is in order. Do you have a duty, Mr. Speaker, to treat any order laid before the House in the same way as primary legislation, or is there a different procedure for statutory instruments? However, if it is your duty to see whether something is in order before we can debate it, I hope that it will be possible for you to look at this matter over the weekend and then tell us whether you agree with the Select Committee that as the matter is not in order it is inappropriate for us to debate it.

Mr. Speaker

I shall certainly look at it, but I do not think that it is a responsibility of mine. It is the Government's prerogative to put orders before the House, and it is for the House to debate them and then either accept them or reject them.

Mr. Willie W. Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May we ask the Leader of the House, through you, to say more than he said earlier this afternoon, which was that there is a conflict of legal opinion about the legality of the orders? Be that as it may, can the Leader of the House say whether it has been the precedent for the Government of the day to accept, almost automatically, the findings of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments? If that is the case, why are the Government seeking to creat further legal disturbance and controversy on this matter by introducing these controversial orders next week?

The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know what the precedent is on the point raised by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton), but it is fair to say that, if the Department of Health and Social Security has a different view. one should at least invite a meeting to see whether the matter can be resolved. I accept that, at the end of the day, one will be influenced by the judgment of the Committee. That is bound to be, and no Government would wish it otherwise.