HC Deb 10 December 1986 vol 107 cc358-60

Considered in Committee.

[MR. HAROLD WALKER in the Chair.]

4.18 pm
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Walker. I do not know whether you are aware that the list of amendments was not published until 11.30 this morning. No blame is attached to the Officers of the House—the real reason is that the Government are rushing the Bill through. This Committee stage comes only two days after Second Reading and hon. Members will have had little time to consult people outside or to prepare for today. Does not railroading such as this make parliamentary scrutiny almost impossible?

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have been confronted with the same difficulties. I understand that the exceptionally large number of amendments posed problems for the printers, which delayed the selection of amendments and the posting of the selection. I do not think that there is anything that we can do about it now.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Walker. It is not just the quantity of amendments which has caused the problem—

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

It is the quality.

Mr. Fatchett

The quality is excellent, and I hope that some Conservative Members come to debate them later.

The real problem is the fact that we are being rushed into this crucial legislation. We had the Bill's Second Reading only on Monday night and, within 48 hours, the Government expect us to go through the Bill line by line. How is it possible for hon. Members to brief themselves and to talk to their constituents and other interested parties in time for today's debate? If the House's purpose is to scrutinise legislation in detail and to watch what the Executive is doing, we must have the necessary tools and resources.

The Government's timetable has ensured that Back Benchers who want to play their role will not be allowed to do so. It is no use Conservative Members, who are only Lobby fodder, saying that they have had time to study the Bill and the amendments—we have not. I ask you, Mr. Walker, in your capacity as one who wants to preserve the procedures of the House, seriously to consider delaying our proceedings today so that we have an opportunity to spend more time on these crucial amendments.

If the Bill goes through unamended, many people will lose fundamental democratic rights. If Parliament does not have an opportunity to scrutinise the Bill properly, it will be held in very little respect. I ask you, seriously, to adjourn the sitting so that we have more opportunity to examine the amendments.

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

I shall intervene—I hope, to facilitate progress. I regret that, owing to extreme pressure of work at St. Stephen's Press last night, it did not prove possible for the marshalled amendment paper for the committee stage of the Teachers' Pay and Conditions Bill to be completed within its normal time schedule. I understand that the process was completed at 11 o'clock this morning, and that copies were available in the Vote Office at about 11.30 am. therefore, I confirm the point made by the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice). I regret the inconvenience caused to Members, but I suggest that it would be best if we proceeded.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. Cannot the real strength of feeling by Labour Back-Bench Members be gauged by the small number of them that have bothered to turn up?

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. The procedure being used today is not dissimilar from that being used after a terrorist bombing, or when a war is imminent or we are sending troops to Northern Ireland. This Bill is being rushed through with unseemly and indecent haste because of the Conservative party's desperation to get it on the statute book. This is contrary to what normally occurs in peacetime. I hope that everybody will take notice of the way in which the Bill is being pushed through. I understand that it will go to the Queen on 19 December. They have got all this organised, but it does not give us enough time to look at our briefs. It is cheating, to say the least.

The Chairman

I do not know about any arrangements with the Queen. The business for today has been agreed by the House through a motion that was tabled formally. I hope that the Committee, having listened to the explanation given by the Leader of the House, will be prepared to get down to the business before it.

Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. There is a serious point, of which the Committee should take note. It concerns the speed of proceedings and the shortness of time available for consultation with outside interests that are directly involved in this legislation. The legislation has major consequences for local education authorities and teachers' organisations. When one considers the date on which the Bill was published, the time available for discussion before Second Reading was short enough. If the Committee is to act as it should, as a representative assembly, it is important for hon. Members, whatever their view, to have the opportunity to consult those whose interests and freedoms are directly affected by the proposals, and specifically the amendments and the new clauses.

In view of that, Mr. Walker, I ask that consideration be given to the possibility of delaying a Bill which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) pointed out, is not an emergency measure like the Prevention of Terrorism (Northern Ireland) Act. Every hon. Member understands the need for emergency provisions, but this is not an emergency facing the House or the country. Would it not make more sense for the Committee to consider the whole matter at much greater leisure so that we can get the matter correctly settled and make the right decisions? I would be sorry, as I am sure you would be, Mr. Walker, if the Committee made the wrong decisions as a result of indecent and unnecessary haste.

The Chairman

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but I have to point out two things. First, it was a decision of the House that enabled amendments to be tabled in sufficient time for today's proceedings. Secondly, this is a matter not for the Committee but for the House, and that matter was decided last week. It is not for the Committee to decide. It was decided for us by the House. Perhaps now we can get on.

Mr. Barnett

Further to that point of order, Mr. Walker. Would it be possible for us, in the light of the case that I and my hon. Friends have been making, to move to report progress?

The Chairman

I do not think that it would be wise for me to consider a motion to that effect at this time. Perhaps the sensible thing would be to move on with the business before us.

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