§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call the Lord Privy Seal to move the motion, it might be helpful if I remind the House that this is not a general procedure debate but is confined to the subject matter of the reports before us. They concern public Bill procedure, questions lost when the sitting is broken, short speeches and the operation of Standing
|That this House takes note of the Second, Third and Fourth Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure of Session 1984–85 (House of Commons Papers Nos. 49, 396 and 623) and of the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure of this Session (House of Commons Paper No. 42).|
§ As you have said, Mr. Speaker, we may discuss also the following motions:
|No 2.||That Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of bills) be amended, as follows: Line 8, after 'committee', insert 'or to a special standing committee'; Line 11, after 'Member', insert '(except a motion to commit a bill to a special standing committee, which may be made only by a Minister of the Crown)'.|
|That Standing Order No. 70 (Public bills relating exclusively to Scotland) be amended by inserting, after the word 'Committee' in lines 32 and 41, the words '(or a special standing committee)'|
|(1) A special standing committee to which a bill has been committed shall have power during a period not exceeding 28 days (excluding periods when the House is adjourned for more than two days) from the committal of the bill, to send for persons, papers and records, and, for this purpose, to hold up to four morning sittings of not more than three hours each. At not more than three sittings oral evidence may be given and, unless the committee otherwise orders, all such evidence shall be given in public. Oral evidence shall be printed in the Official Report of the committee's debates together with such written evidence as the committee may order to be so printed.|
|(2)For the sittings referred to in paragraph (1) of this order, and nothwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 64 (Chairmen of standing committees), Mr. Speaker may appoint any Member other than a Minister of the Crown as chairman of a special standing committee.|
|(3)Except as provided in the foregoing paragraphs, the standings orders relating to standing committees and Standing Orders No. 84 (Withdrawal of documents before select committees), No. 88 (Entry of questions asked), No. 93 (Witnesses and evidence (select committees)) and No. 94 (Publication of evidence (select committees)) shall apply to any special standing committee.|
|(4)The question on any motion made by a Minister of the Crown to extend the period of 28 days mentioned in paragraph (1) of this order may be decided after the expiration of the time for opposed business and shall be put forthwith.|
|That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.|
(1) When a Member is in the course of making a motion or moving an amendment at any stage of proceedings on a bill, a Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the question be now proposed', and, unless it shall appear to the chair that such motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, the question, 'That the question be now proposed' shall be put forthwith.
(2) This order shall apply in committee only when the Chairman of Ways and Means or either Deputy Chairman is in the chair.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.
That Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for closure) be amended, as follows:
Line 3, after `debate)', insert 'or for the proposal of the question under Standing Order (Powers of chair to propose question)'.
That Standing Order No. 68 (Procedure in standing committees) be amended, as follows:
§ Order No. 10. After three hours, I shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of the first motion and motions 2 to 12 on the Order Paper. I have selected all the amendments to the motions under consideration, but not the sub-amendments to the amendment to motion 1.4.19 pm
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I beg to move,Line 24, after 'debate)', insert, Standing Order (Powers of chair to propose question)';Line 27, after 'closure', insert 'or for the proposal of the question'.
No. 8,That Standing Order No. 31 (Closure of debate) be amended, as follows:Line 18, leave out paragraph (3).
No. 9,That Standing Order No. 58 (Third reading) be amended, as follows:Line 4, leave out paragraph (2).
No. 10,That—(1) For the remainder of the present Session Mr. Speaker may announce at the commencement of public business that, because of the number of Members wishing to speak in a debate on one of the matters specified in paragraph (2) of this Order, he will call Members either between six o'clock and ten minutes before eight o'clock or between seven o'clock and ten minutes before nine o'clock on Monday to Thursday sittings, and between half-past eleven o'clock and one o'clock on Friday sittings, to speak for not more than ten minutes; and whenever Mr. Speaker has 1085 made such an announcement he may, between those hours, direct any Member who has spoken for ten minutes in such a debate to resume his seat forthwith.
(2) This Order shall apply to debates on:
(a) the second reading of public bills;
|No. 11,||That Standing Order No. 8 (Questions to Members) be amended, as follows: Line 99, at end, add—|
|'(9) Any questions tabled for written answer on a day on which this House does not sit by reason of the continuance of a previous sitting shall be deemed to be questions for written answer on the next sitting day and shall appear on the order paper for that day.'|
That Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) be amended as follows:
Line 4, after 'propose', insert 'in an application lasting not more than three minutes'.
§ This debate takes place as first order of business and is a tribute to the diligence of the Select Committee on Procedure under its Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). For a three-hour debate, however, the reports before us represent a formidable agenda. The four reports deal respectively with public Bill procedure, questions lost when a sitting is broken, short speeches, and applications under Standing Order No. 10. It is a programme dominated by the Committee's proposals for the timetabling of Government legislation. Naturally, I shall devote much of my speech to that subject, but I shall deal with the other matters first.
§ The House will already be familiar with the Procedure Committee's general approach to short speeches. The matter was last debated on 31 October 1984. The House then passed a motion to give Mr. Speaker conditional powers to enforce a 10-minute speech limitation in defined circumstances. Having evaluated the experiment, during which the 10-minute limit was applied on 24 occasions, the Procedure Committee believes that it should continue for this Session.
§ While I have no great enthusiasm for formal limitation of speeches, I believe that it serves a valuable purpose in enabling more Back-Bench Members to take part in a debate. Nor has the experiment been as damaging to the character of debate as I feared. I shall vote for the experiment to continue for a further Session.
§ The first report of this Session recommends that an application under Standing Order No. 10 to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration, should be limited to three minutes.
§ I agree with the recommendations of the Procedure Committee. Standing Order No. 10 applications now perform a variety of roles. Although it is not the purpose of the procedure, I suspect that the applications are something of a safety valve in their present form, in enabling the registration of political concern speedily, in prime time and where there is no provision for the arguments to be contested. All that could be put at risk if we drift into protracted speeches involving the substance of a matter, rather than its urgency. The change proposed by the Procedure Committee will not end this possible abuse, but it may check it.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
Did my right hon. Friend notice the Select Committee's recommendation that the habit which the Chair has adopted, but which is not part of the Standing Order, that an application for 1086(b) matters selected under paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 6 (Arrangement of public business) for consideration on allotted Opposition days; and(c) motions in the name of a Minister of the Crown.
a private notice question should interdict granting a Standing Order No. 10 application on the same matter, should be abolished because the criteria for the two are not the same? In a sense there is a right of reply to a private notice question, but there is none to an application under Standing Order No. 10. Moreover, an hon. Member can apply for a private notice question and, under the present rule, no hon. Member, except that hon. Member, is interdicted from getting an application under Standing Order No. 10 on the same facts. My right hon. Friend has not told the House his views about that recommendation, which is also germane to applications under Standing Order No. 10.
§ Mr. Biffen
I am not sure that that recommendation is before the House this afternoon. I have sympathy with the Procedure Committee's point.
The Committee's third report of last Session dealt with a matter which is of rather more technical interest, about questions down for answer on a day when a sitting is lost because the previous day's sitting has continued. The Committee recommended that they should be deemed to be questions for written answer on the next sitting day and should appear on the Order Paper for that day. I commend to the House the principle of the Procedure Committee's recommendation. However, it should apply initially to questions for written answer, since they, rather than questions for oral answer, are designed to elicit information rather than trigger political points.
Since I first considered the matter, I have noticed that the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) has an amendment which deals specifically with that point. I shall be interested to listen to the general mood of the House on the topic, and to react as the House desires.
The most important of the reports covered in today's debate concerns public Bill procedure, and was produced in April last year. It is an extensive and carefully researched investigation into a number of aspects of our procedure in this area. Its conclusions cover a number of points as well as the all-Important topic of timetabling legislation. I shall not detain the House for long, but I shall refer to those other considerations.
The House will see from the Order Paper that we have accepted the Committee's recommendation that there should be permanent provision in Standing Orders for the Special Standing Committee procedure. Similarly, we seek to implement the proposal that there should be a new motion to deal with exceptionally long speeches in Committee or on Report. The motion would be:That the Question be now proposed".
The Procedure Committee recommended that the "Kangaroo closure" motion provided for in Standing Order No. 31 be repealed, and we have accepted that. The Committee also recommends the repeal of paragraph 2 of Standing Order No. 58. This removes the need for a 1087 blocking motion on Third Reading, and reverts to the former practice of an automatic opportunity, though not the necessity, for the House to debate the Third Reading of a Bill. I commend that.
Finally, I turn to the major recommendation of the Procedure Committee, which concerns the timetabling of legislation. The proposals are radical and have, deservedly, provoked considerable response. I shall first discuss the content of the proposals, and then the separate issue whether they should be accepted on the basis of experimentation.
The Procedure Committee proposes a much more formalised handling of the Committee stage of Government Bills. It suggests the establishment of a Legislative Business Committee made up of 13 senior hon. Members chosen by the Committee of Selection for a Parliament. The Committee would consider every Government Bill to be taken in Standing Committee. Where the Legislative Business Committee thought that a Bill was likely to take more than 25 hours in Standing Committee, it would seek to impose a timetable on that Bill in Standing Committee from the outset. If no informal agreement were reached about time for a Bill's remaining stages, the Legislative Business Committee should prescribe that also. Its recommendations should be implemented without debate, and it would be able to revise its original proposals for a timetabled Bill only if "entirely new factors" came to light. In addition, the Committee recommended that proceedings in Standing Committees should not continue beyond 10 pm.
The Procedure Committee sets out its concern that legislation should be as fully and carefully considered as possible. That is a judgment that I share. I judge that the Committee also believes that the extensive and automatic timetabling that it now proposes would benefit Government Back-Bench Members. There is no doubt that Government Back-Bench Members—I do not speak merely of this Parliament—have become Westminster's silent and unsung heroes.
The Procedure Committee also suggests, more controversially, that time and its use for delay is not a particularly potent factor.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
I recognise that, unfortunately, some of my hon. Friends have put their names to the amendment in favour of the recommendation, but is it not of interest that a good number of hon. Members who support the proposed change are Conservative Members who came to the House in 1979 and 1983, and who are clearly bored to tears in Committee, without playing a role? Do they not recognise that since there will not always be Conservative Governments, they will be pleased when they are in opposition to be able to challenge what will undoubtedly be extremely controversial Labour Bills?
§ Mr. Biffen
I have a feeling that as the debate proceeds all that I can do is to lose votes for my side. Therefore, I have no intention of being drawn into the sort of value judgments about my hon. Friends' experience or motivation, or how wet they are behind the ears. I am certain that whether they have arrived recently, or are veterans of long standing, they are well able to make their judgments where the interests of the House lie in this matter, taking one Parliament with another.
§ Mr. Biffen
I shall give way shortly. I have set myself the task of making a short speech, because I realise that one of the penalties of a prime time debate is that it is rather shorter than would otherwise be the case, and I shall be serving the House if I allow as many of my hon. Friends as possible to take part in the debate.
§ Mr. Morrison
Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), it is important that my right hon. Friend should recall that members of the Procedure Committee represented Members of all ages and experience in the House. The Committee was particularly well representative of hon. Members who had been in the House for a long time.
§ Mr. Biffen
I do not see why interrupting my speech served the purpose of answering the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). However, that is a hazard that we all entertain from time to time.
I should like to return to the arguments about time not being a particularly potent factor. I do not see how evidence on that can be other than anecdotal, but in my judgment and experience the well-judged use of time can be crucial in political relationships. If I were concerned solely with the volume and dispatch of Government business, I would welcome such pervasive timetabling as is now suggested.
The House will be disposed to assume that the proposed arrangements will be operated in good faith and without an eye to party advantage. That may well be so, but I think I am entitled to observe that the Legislative Business Committee would have a Government majority, and that if the Government did not like any proposed timetable, it could be voted down or amended on the Floor of the House.
On balance, therefore, I think that the Government would be advantaged by the Procedure Committee proposals. All Governments are tomorrow's possible Opposition, and I think that my right hon. and hon. Friends, in their moments of supreme confidence, should consider, at least theoretically, how these proposals would bear upon the Opposition.
The Westminster political process is oblique and wide-ranging. It is like a seamless robe, which includes Government legislation, and much else. At present, the Opposition have open-ended opportunities for time and debate on legislation. If these are automatically extinguished, the Opposition will be deprived of a pressure point which is often used to secure accommodation from the Government, not merely on legislation, but on other points in the political process.
§ Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for giving way because I know that many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the Opposition and the Government in a way that ignores the fact that sometimes the opposition to the Government comes from their own side. Those who stand to lose most on this issue are Government Back Benchers who want to change what the Government are doing. If the proposal had been in operation at the time, the amendments to the Finance Bill in 1977 in my name, that of Audrey Wise and of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have 1089 been made, because the usual channels would not have existed and we would have been squeezed out of our use of time. Government Back Benchers who try to change the Government's view will lose, not gain, under this proposal.
§ Mr. Biffen
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) makes that point much more powerfully than I intended to make it.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the view of many of our hon. Friends is distorted by the balance of this Parliament? Because the Government have a majority of 150, individual Government Back Benchers do not have the chance directly to influence the Government's legislative programme in quite the same way as they would if the parties were more evenly balanced.
§ Mr. Biffen
My hon. Friend makes a point which will stand well in his speech, and I do not disagree with him.
I make these points, of a general nature, on why I feel the proposals are unwise. I could detain the House further with some of the detailed arguments concerning the rigidities and difficulties of applying an automatic formula. I suspect that Bills which now generate little time or controversy would tend to acquire the characteristics needed for a timetable. I suspect there would be great difficulties for the Legislative Business Committee in predicting successfully which Bills had the potential for 25 hours Committee stage.
Then there is the question of the Finance Bill. The provisional collection of taxes already imposes an effective constraint on the time a Finance Bill can remain in Standing Committee. As the Finance Bill is not open to further consideration in the House of Lords, any clause or amendment cut out or restricted by the Procedure Committee timetable in Standing Committee has no further chance of consideration except in the relatively brief debate on Report.
I should mention also the rigidity which that would give to our relationship with the other place in the passage of legislation. I am sure that the Legislative Business Committee would seek to take account of the need for Bills to reach the other place in time to receive proper consideration there, but I am bound to say that I think the proposals would upset the flexibility which we now seek to maintain in arranging a balanced programme, particularly in the closing weeks before the summer recess.
These, however, are modest points compared with the fundamental character of these proposals. That character is that there is a somewhat one-sided trade-off to the advantage of the Government, and, supposedly, their supporters. First, Government Back Benchers are now to have the prospect of being able to talk in Standing Committee. However, without the weapon of time—the hon. Member for Perry Barr made this point—any posse of Back-Bench rebels will be treated with appropriate courtesy by the Whip. Much more tangibly, the Government will have all the advantages of an automatically timetabled programme. Is that the precondition for ministerial behaviour more responsive to the representations of Opposition or other dissenting groups? The very circumstances and the question convey the answer.
1090 I say to the House that I cannot commend automatic timetabling. I respect the work of the Procedure Committee and its genuine commitment to parliamentary reform. My reaction, however, will not surprise the Procedure Committee in the light of the evidence that I gave it.
I should now like to turn to the parallel but separate issue of whether these automatic timetabling reforms should be proceeded upon for an experimental period.
The amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton suggests merely an experiment next Session. If the system is found to be unsatisfactory, he would doubtless say that it should be proved to be so and we should revert to the present arrangements, or make the changes that are found to be necessary. Since I have a measured and fundamental objection to automatic time-tabling, I urge hon. Members not to pursue that approach.
Furthermore, there are particular problems of timing. We cannot be sure what the experiment's effect would be, but we can be sure that it would disturb the traditional way in which the Government and the Opposition have carried out their respective roles. The Procedure Committee recognised that its proposals would mean that new conventions would be developed. There was no suggestion that they would develop within a year. In the meantime, in a Session leading up to a general election, it would be harder for all to assess how well and effectively each party in this place was fulfilling its role of putting forward or opposing legislation. The election should be fought on the basis of what the Government have done, and that can be seen clearly only in the familiar context of the way in which business is currently conducted.
I have spoken at some length about automatic timetabling. I very much hope that this aspect of the Procedure Committee's work will be rejected. say, however, to those who will be voting this evening, that the cause of reform is not solely invested in plans for automatic timetabling. I have sensed general dissatisfaction with the almost mechanical way something like 100 hours in Standing Committee has to be "clocked" before a timetable is secured. That provides for turgid pre-timetable debate and an ill-balanced consideration of the Bill subsequently. There is no reason why this situation should persist. Formerly, and in the early post-war years, timetables have been secured at an earlier time. These are all matters well within the evolution of parliamentary practice where broad understanding and mutual respect exists between the Government and the Opposition.
The Procedure Committee identified the problem as lying with a "small minority" of Bills which give rise to major controversy. The solution it identified, however, would affect all Government Bills taken in Standing Committee and impose timetables on all those thought likely to take more than 25 hours there—this seems an over-reaction.
I believe that the House would be well advised to seek reform of the current practices of timetabling by using the flexibility of our present procedures rather than by recourse to automatic and widespread means of regulating debate.
Above all, it cannot be in the interests of the House to undergo such a profound procedural change which appears to sustain and enhance the ability of the Government to increase the volume and speed of legislation. The genius of this Westminster Parliament is the balance that we strike between law making and the general political debate. The 1091 argument for the maintenance of that present balance is not blind conservatism —it is a recognition of legitimate interest of Opposition as well as ministerial law makers.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
Procedural questions are, as the Leader of the House said, of immense importance, because procedure governs the conduct of our affairs and sets the rules by which we all abide. The right hon. Gentleman has made a far-sighted and a generous speech, on which I congratulate him.
We have before us four reports, three from the last Session and one from this and, in response to them, no fewer than 12 motions on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the House. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I shall try to be brief, and I intend to say something first about what I believe to be more generally accepted recommendations, and then to confront, as the right hon. Gentleman did, more contentious questions concerning timetabling of Government Bills, which is the subject of the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir. P. Emery), who is Chairman of the Procedure Committee. That amendment is supported by many other hon. Members.
I start with a warm welcome for the first report, on the operation of Standing Order No.10. The opening up of the possibilities of debate on aspecific and important matter that should have urgent considerationis one of the monuments to the work of Richard Crossman as Leader of the House 20 years ago. It is an immensely important facility for Back Benchers and, on occasions, it has been used by the Opposition Front Bench as well. It makes the House much more responsive than it would otherwise be to very important events, when the business managers either have not anticipated them, or when they concern matters that the business managers would prefer to play down or ignore.
Requests for debates are not always granted, but to be able to ask for one under Standing Order No. 10 in prime time on the Floor of the House is a welcome, important and valuable opportunity for Back Bench Members. Given all that, we should not cavil at the Committee's recommendations that such speeches should be limited to three minutes. That is long enough for the essential points to be made and I assume, Mr. Speaker, that your response to a wider request under Standing Order No. 10 is considered to be injury time and does not count within the three minutes limit.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop
We are debating "take note" on the first report. What are the right hon. Gentleman's views of paragraph 6, in which the Select Committee recommends that an application for a private notice question should not debar an application under Standing Order No. 10 on the same subject by the same Member?
§ Mr. Shore
I am speaking about the precise recommendations of the report.
1092 Next is the Select Committee's third report dealing with the treatment of questions lost when a sitting is broken. The Committee's proposal that they should be answered as written questions the following day is entirely sensible. Why the Leader of the House wants to limit this automatic transfer to the following day to written and not oral questions I do not understand. He claimed to find a distinction of purpose between the oral and written question, but there is no clear-cut division between them. Nevertheless it is small stuff and I shall not press it hard.
The Select Committee's fourth report dealt with short speeches and proposed that the experiment begun in the 1984–85 Session whereby you, Mr. Speaker, were empowered to curtail the length of speeches to 10 minutes between certain hours when the House is sitting, should be extended to a further Session. We are a bit late in starting, but I accept the proposal made by the Leader of the House that the 10-minute limitation should operate for the remainder of this Session.
There is then the substantial and very important report of the Select Committee on public Bill procedure. Like the Leader of the House I pay my respects to those who took part in it. It is a serious report which deserves serious consideration. I shall dispose quickly of the recommendations with which I agree before moving on to those from which I dissent. I agree that the Chair, in the face of exceptionally long speeches, should have the power to propose a question during the consideration of the Bill.
I welcome the permanent provision for Special Standing Committees. A Special Standing Committee, combining the Select Committee and Standing Committee procedures, is a valuable innovation, but I hope that it will be used more frequently in the future than it has been in the past few years. I am sorry that the Leader of the House is proposing to restrict the right to propose such procedure to Ministers. The Government have been rather halfhearted about Special Standing Committees. I would like them to be used more frequently, and, if the Opposition and Back Benchers had the same right as Ministers to propose such a procedure, I am sure that their use would be considerably increased.
The central issue raised in today's debate is whether we should accept a profound change in the present rules that govern Bills, and subject, as the Select Committee proposes, all controversial Bills that are likely to take more than 25 hours in Committee to a guillotine from the moment that they have received Second Reading approval. There seem to be only two serious arguments advanced in favour of the change. The first is that it will ensure a more even consideration of all parts of the Bill than is sometimes achieved under present procedures, and the second is that it will spare Members serving on Standing Committees the long hours and tedium of prolonged debate. I do not dismiss these arguments, but they have to be set against each other and against weightier considerations and arguments.
First, the proposals would tilt the balance substantially in favour of the Government of the day. Hon. Members would do well to remind themselves, as the Leader of the House and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) and for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) did in their interventions, that today's Government are tomorrow's Opposition. After all, those of us who are what some would call optimistic and others realistic, and believe that we shall form a Government at the next general election, know that the temptation of 1093 having accelerated procedures are as great for Labour Governments as they are for Conservative Governments. I am speaking not simply as an Opposition spokesman but as one who has spent half of his time as a Member of Parliament as a member of Government. I remember both sides of the argument, and the Leader of the House was far-sighted and generous in the breadth of his remarks and consideration of the different position of a party in opposition and a party in government.
If the Government know, thanks to timetabling, that they will get their Bill by a certain date, that relieves them of a healthy and necessary democratic pressure. As the 1977–78 Select Committee argued, when rejecting a similar proposal, automatic timetabling reduces the pressure on the Government to respond to argument and it greatly reduces the bargaining power of the Opposition in seeking changes and concessions.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Is the right hon. Gentleman not exaggerating the amount of pressure on the Government when they have only one difficulty, which is that they have one junior Minister and a number of their Back Benchers tied up in a Committee of which very little notice has been taken by anyone else, in the full knowledge that they will get their timetable after about 80 hours of discussion? What kind of pressure is that?
§ Mr. Shore
There is quite considerable pressure and I shall come later to the point about where I think the pressure is most effective. The length of time that a Bill will take is unknown when the Bill is embarked upon. A convention may have grown up about moving for a timetable motion at a certain stage, but of course many Bills that are not timetabled go for much longer than the automatic, conventional and customary period of an 80 or 100-hour guillotine.
§ Mr. Budgen
The right hon. Gentleman said there is usually only a junior Minister in a Standing Committee. That is surely a reflection of the extraordinary balance in this Parliament. When Standing Committees are more evenly balanced it is usual to have a senior Minister there in the knowledge that the pressure will be stronger and that concessions may have to be made to get a Bill through the Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Shore
The pressures on junior or senior Ministers in Committee depend on the planning of legislation. If two or three Bills are coming from the same Department at the same time, the senior Minister responsible may not be able to take part in Committees on at least one of the Bills for which he is responsible. That is undesirable and requires change in a different area, the area of administration. I was speaking about the disadvantages of what has been proposed, and I should like to quote from the report of the 1977–78 Select Committee on Procedure. Its members summed up their point by saying:the Opposition may at present legitimately use their power of delay to cause the Government to consider making concessions in their bills. If time-tabling were general such power would be lost. This would amount to a significant constitutional development, to the detriment of all non-Ministerial Members,I take the point made by my hon. Friend whose name has been immortalised in the Rooker-Wise amendment.
§ Sir Dudley Smith (Warwick and Leamington)
Does the right hon. Gentleman remember any occasion in his time when the Government of the day did not get their major legislation through, either because of attrition or because of the guillotine, with the one notable exception on the Floor of the House when there was an unholy but very effective alliance between the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) and the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) on the abolition of the House of Lords? That was a constitutional measure.
§ Mr. Shore
It is relatively rare, I agree, but the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) has quoted one Bill on the Floor of the House. I can think of another one on the Floor of the House, perhaps the most important in my political lifetime, the European Communities Bill, which was won by a whisker, and if it had not been, the whole idea would have been killed at that time.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
Does my right hon. Friend remember the devolution Bill? The last Labour Government were not able to impose a guillotine on that and were eventually brought down after the referendum tie. That was the consequence of that.
§ Mr. Shore
That reflected the balance of forces in that Parliament: that is an important point to bear in mind. It is rare for a Bill to be killed by the process of amendment in debate; I take that point. However, it is often the case that major and minor amendments are secured by the Opposition and on Back Benchers by persisting with their amendments, by demonstrating the strength of their objections to specific proposals, and by consuming the time available for debate. It is this contest between the proponents and the opponents of a Bill that gives life to the legislative process. Few who have served in Committee on a Bill will dispute that the life goes out: of the debate a moment a guillotine is imposed. A guillotine Bill is like a Christmas turkey, plucked, trussed, gutted and ready for the oven.
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
There is no way that these recommendations will apply to Committee stages on the Floor of the House. The examples quoted by the right hon. Gentleman were examples from the Floor of the House. That will not apply in these recommendations and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to mislead the House by suggesting that it will.
§ Mr. Shore
I said it was rare indeed for a Bill to be killed by the process of Committee stage debate, put it is not rare for a Bill to be amended and changed as a result of pressure at Committee stage. Many Bills are defective and their provisions have painful implications that are exposed only during the course of debate in Committee. These often crucial provisions cannot be anticipated when the Bill goes into Committee. They are revealed only by diligent examination, by probing amendments and by the repeated questioning and cross-questioning of Ministers.
People outside Parliament who are affected by legislation, or who have expertise in the matters covered, need time to marshal their thoughts and to communicate with Government and Opposition. It is important that such people should have the opportunity and the time to do so, not only because they have a genuine contribution to make but because at the end of the day the acceptability of controversial legislation may well be affected by the 1095 assessment of whether proper opportunities have been given to advance all the opposing arguments, or whether the measure has simply been railroaded through the House on a fixed Government timetable. All that is well understood by hon. Members.
A great majority of highly controversial Bills are fought over, argued out and ultimately resolved, and emerge from Committee without any resort to the guillotine. The guillotine is rarely used. As the appendix to the evidence submitted to the Committee by the learned Clerk shows, in the period from 1946–47 to 1983–84, only 34 Bills in Committee were guillotined. On average, that is slightly less than one a year. Under the Select Committee proposals there would be a vast increase in the number of Bills brought under an automatic guillotine procedure. The guillotine would not be confined, as it was in the post-war period, to exceptionally protracted Bills where little progress is being made. It would be extended to all Bills that are likely to take more than 25 hours in Committee.
The establishment of a Legislative Business Committee, however senior its members—and I have no doubt that senior and responsible hon. Members would be appointed —does not overcome the fact, which the Leader of the House fairly faced, that it would contain a built-in Government majority. The objections to what is proposed, in sum, heavily outweigh the benefits claimed for the changes. I congratulate again the Leader of the House on his resolute refusal to endorse either in his evidence to the Select Committee or in his speech today what is now proposed. The amendment put down by the hon. Member for Honiton would bring a Trojan horse into the matter and I object to that as well as to the substance of the report.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis (Stamford and Spalding)
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) will accept that towards the end of his speech my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said he accepted that one of the problems facing hon. Members and people outside this House is that, prior to Bills reaching the stage when they are guillotined, they are debated only in part, often a minimal part. My right hon. Friend said he felt that was a justifiable criticism and that something should be done, so that we could fully debate Bills prior to guillotine or Bills that were not to be guillotined to ensure that each clause, or most clauses, were fully considered. That would require the co-operation of the Opposition. If this motion is voted down, will the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Opposition, co-operate with the Leader of the House to see that proper time is given to debate all clauses of Bills that are not fully debated at present?
§ Mr. Shore
The Opposition's approach to all Bills in Committee is extremely intelligent, well-balanced and carefully thought out, but that does not mean that the Opposition's handling of Bills in Committee could not be improved from time to time. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has gained some satisfaction from those remarks.
§ Mr. Shore
I shall not give way again, because I have already given way a great deal.
The timetable proposals are not only unacceptable, they are unnecessary. I have already drawn attention to the few 1096 Bills that have been guillotined since the war. Nevertheless, the power of guillotine is there all the time. Governments of both parties have used it and will use it in the future. Indeed, it needs only a three-hour debate for the Government to obtain a timetable motion. I agree with the Leader of the House that the appropriate time that should elapse before the Government seek a timetable motion should not be decided by applying arbitrary or conventional formulae, but should be decided on the merits of each case.
With the Leader of the House, I believe that we are better served by our present procedures than we would be by those proposed in the Select Committee report and the amendment. I advise the House to reject them.
§ 5 pm
§ Sir Peter Emery (Honiton)
I thank the members of the Procedure Committee who, during the past two Sessions, have spent many arduous hours working quietly behind the scenes to no political advantage. I also thank the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), who was a member of the Committee for part of the time. The Committee tries to ensure some modernisation of the proceedings of the House.
The most important part of the debate relates to Committee proceedings on public Bills, and I remind the House that it specifically asked my Committee to consider that matter and make recommendations on it. From some of the remarks by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), it would appear that they have experience of very different Committees from the ones on which I have served during the past 25 years. The Procedure Committee wishes to overcome the more archaic procedural nonsense of the House and drag it into the 20th century. At the same time, it wishes to overcome some of the restrictive practices or procedural madnesses that surround the present timetabling of Bills, which are apparently retained only for a purely party political fandango.
What normal person could believe that it makes sense to retain a procedure that condemns Members of Parliament considering the most controversial legislation to waste 80 or 100 hours on the first three, four or five clauses of a Bill so that a timetable can be forced on the Government—a procedure which, when applied, means that 30, 40 or sometimes 100 clauses of major Bills go to the House of Lords almost without any consideration by the Committee? Who, other than someone soft in the head, could believe that, in this day and age, it makes sense for serious amendments to major legislation to be considered after a full working day by a Committee sitting at 2 am or 3 am, and sometimes even at 7 am or 8 am? People outside the House think that we are mad.
May I refer to some of the less contentious recommendations of the Committee. I am pleased that the Government welcome our recommendation to include Special Standing Committees permanently in the Standing Orders. With the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, I hope that that procedure will be used much more than it has been. Every Minister who gave evidence to the Committee and who was in charge of a Bill that went to a Special Standing Committee suggested that it greatly helped his handling of the Bill. The only other amendment tabled by the Committee would extend the right to request 1097 Special Standing Committee procedures to the Opposition Front Bench and other Members of the House. It should not be reserved to Ministers.
It may have escaped hon. Members' notice that the Committee's recommendation would mean that the motion is not debatable. The Committee has tried to balance matters so that the Government do not lose time. Instead of having a debatable motion, the question should be put forthwith, but we have suggested that hon. Members other than Ministers should be allowed to propose it.
The closure in Committee is to be known as the "Golding gallop" after a loophole found by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding). I hope that I can congratulate the hon. Gentleman later today on having won a position of importance in his trade union. He will be missed by the Committee, and I hope that this will not be his swansong.
As to written or oral questions lost, one point was not raised by the Committee, but was made by the Government. One reason for not accepting that an oral question should automatically become a written question would be that the hon. Member would be debarred for six months from tabling that question for oral answer. He may not wish to do that, but he may be unable to withdraw the question because the House is not sitting. It might be better to allow the Government's suggestion to go forward, but I have no major views on that. The recommendation on Standing Order No.10 applications must be an improvement.
The main procedural amendment has been signed by more than 150 right hon. and hon. Members. It is wrong to say, as the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) did, that the vast majority of them were elected in the previous two elections. The list includes a former Opposition Chief Whip, who was elected a long time ago. It also includes right hon. and hon. Members who have been in the House for a long time. That comment was not up to the hon. Gentleman's usual standard of intervention. It is interesting to note that support for the amendment comes from both sides of the House, from former Whips, former Ministers—Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all.
§ Mr. Rooker
How many of those who signed the amendment have been in the position of being a Government Back-Bench Member seriously fighting his Government and using the time available? The list might be full of former Whips, but how many of those people ever rebelled against their Government? How many of them will vote for an amendment that would stop that happening in the future?
§ Sir Peter Emery
I do not understand how that can be relevant to the general recommendation. I am surprised that the Government have not mentioned one of the dangers to them. When there is a guillotine motion in the offing the chances of getting Back-Bench Government Members to side with the Opposition, in the nonsense debates beforehand, is very slight. The chances of getting Government Members to side with Opposition Members against the Government are much higher in a moderate and sensible debate without the high political structure of a guillotine.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
More often than not, Ministers get an inkling that there might be a revolt on their own side, and the temptation to encourage ultra-loyal Members on their own side to take 1098 up time on less controversial bids can well ensure that the key bids, where there might be cross-over voting, are never reached and that debate does not take place.
§ Sir Peter Emery
The Committee considered that and made recommendations to ensure that all parts of the Bill are considered. I, like many others, have taken Bills through Committee. Of course one attempts to look to one's loyal supporters—only a fool would not. I am under no misapprehension that it is much more difficult to get hon. Members to co-operate if there is a calm structure in the Committee than if there is a high political tone against the Opposition.
§ Sir William Clark
Will my hon. Friend consider the Finance Bill which comes up each year? For example, Government Back Benchers might table amendments to clause 60, and clauses 50 to 60 might be grouped together in the timetable. If the Opposition do not like the Back-Bench Tory Government amendments to clause 60, they could be talked out, or rather not reached. How do we overcome that? From my experience of serving on many Finance Bills, if every clause is considered, despite the fact that one is under a guillotine, every clause is debated and each Back Bencher, Government or Opposition, has the opportunity to move an amendment.
§ Sir Peter Emery
I do not disagree with my hon. Friend's last contention, but I do accept that the Legislative Business Committee, of which he might be a member, should have to analyse the normal proceedings in Finance Bills for many years to make sensible conclusions about the length of time that is required.
However—of I think this is the only exception to what the Committee says —if the Finance Bill is a special case, as it used to be because it was debated entirely on the Floor of the House, it would be exempted, from that procedure. It does not have to be exempted but that is a major possibility.
The approach to legislation of the Procedure Committee, of the Government and of the Opposition, obviously start from entirely different points of view. The Government have to ensure that their necessary and excellent legislation is obtained as expeditiously and quickly as possible. The Opposition have the right to examine, harry, oppose and delay legislation whenever they wish. The Procedure Committee takes the view that, once the principle of legislation is agreed on Second Reading, the House has a duty, which the country expects it to fulfil, to ensure that Committees will examine the Bill reasonably and fully to ensure that the legislation makes sense and is not full of nonsenses that will require correction by further legislation. The House should also consider representations from those affected and improve the Bill wherever necessary. The objectives of Opposition and Government need not be in conflict with the approach of the Procedure Committee, and I believe that our recommendations are not in conflict with their objectives.
I shall explain the workings of our recommendation because there is massive misunderstanding of it. Even on the BBC today, having had the matter explained, it was suggested that the Procedure Committee was trying to limit time on all Committees to 25 hours. That is absolute 1099 nonsense. There is some misunderstanding on both Front Benches. The flexibility remains. The suggestion that it does not is unfair and unworthy. After Second Reading, every Government Bill will be considered by the Committee.
It is thought that certain action should follow after 25 hours. If there is any weakness in the proposal, it is that 25 hours is too little. Perhaps it ought to be 30 or 35 hours. However, the Committee recommended 25. The principle is the same. There can be prolonged debate in Committee on Bills which everyone knows will be guillotined. We should not pretend that there is marvellous argument and consideration of every amendment for 80 or 90 hours before the guillotine is brought in. That is not living in the real world and it is unworthy of the Front Bench to suggest that it is.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
Does my hon. Friend agree that, when they go into Standing Committees, the public see not reasonable debate but hon. Members, especially on the Government side, answering their mail and doing other work? Does my hon. Friend agree that, although that may be very worthy, it is not good for the reputation of Parliament?
§ Sir Peter Emery
I agree. That has been the case for many years. The operation of the recommendation would allow some flexibility. If, when the set hours are reached, any new matter has arisen in Committee, it would be possible to go back to the Legislative Business Committee for an extension, if one is thought necessary.
§ Sir Kenneth Lewis
If a Bill has not been guillotined, but it has been examined by that Committee, the Government are frustrated because other Bills are being guillotined and turn the heat on the Bill, can they apply for a guillotine?
§ Sir Peter Emery
Yes. I shall explain how later. The House —through the voice of a Committee of senior Back Bench Members—not the Government will decide that the most contentious and controversial Bills, which everyone knows that the Government will duly guillotine, will be timetabled from the start of their Committee stage. The new procedure would be used, rather than our having to waste the 100-odd hours on a few clauses until the guillotine is introduced.
A shibboleth that has been adopted by both major parties—that time is power and delaying legislation in Committee wreaks havoc on the Government or stops legislation getting through —is no longer true, if it ever was. The only havoc created is for the poor hon. Members who have to go through the party political charade of wasting time and sitting through all hours of the day and night.
As to stopping legislation, the Clerk of the House can find no instance in the last 20 years where delay in Committee upstairs has meant that the Government have lost a Bill they wished to have on the statute book. That is the major point, because there is not the flexibility that the Opposition say there is. Nor is there any case of delay in one Bill stopping other Bills listed in the Queen's Speech being enacted. There is no proof of that. Everybody knows that when a Bill goes into Committee the Government Whips office has a date by which the Bill 1100 has to be out from Committee in order to go into the House of Lords. If the Opposition use all that time, in comes the guillotine. Why, therefore, try to suggest that there is any flexibility for the Opposition?
§ Mr. A. F. Bennett
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that in the case of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill and the Police and Criminal Evidence Bill, very substantial Bills on which the Government were keen not to introduce the guillotine, substantial alterations were made during their passage which the Opposition, I am sure, could claim improved the Bills, and that a lot of that improvement would not have been possible if right from the start there had been a rigid timetable?
§ Sir Peter Emery
The hon. Member can argue that quite fairly. What I would counter-argue is that I believe that, with the proper consideration of the Legislative Business Committee, appropriate time would have been given. There is just as much right in that being the case as in the point put forward by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Sir Dudley Smith
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. No Bill can be stopped in the House if it has the Government's backing unless it is objected to on the Floor of the House. Even that has to be done with the connivance of Government Back Benchers. If it is upstairs, it must get through its stage, however long it may take.
§ Sir Peter Emery
My hon. Friend is obviously right.
Two other suggestions have been made, which have to be considered. One is that we are limiting the power of Government to ensure that they obtain their legislation. This is not so, because the Government—this answers the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Latham)—by Standing Order No. 46 will still have the power to introduce their own guillotine motion, as they do at present, if they are dissatisfied with the decision on timing. What will have been achieved, however, is that the Legislative Business Committee will have stated quite clearly the time which it considers is necessary to consider a Bill. Therefore, if the Government wish to alter that decision, I believe there will be somewhat more ire than at present with the proposal to timetable. Only in this instance could there be said to be a limitation on the Government's freewheeling in obtaining their legislation.
Secondly, it is claimed that the power of the Opposition is limited. Again I dispute this. As I have clearly said, delay in Committee upstairs does not stop Government legislation; nor in recent history have there been any Government concessions forced because of delay — forced because of argument, forced because of reason, but not forced necessarily because of delay.
What our new proposals do is to give the Opposition considerable power from the start of contentious Bills—a major say in how the time in Committee upstairs will be allocated. Hon. Members who have experience of these matters will know that in a business Sub-Committee of a Bill, which is the way that time would be allocated, the Government will nearly always heed the wishes of the Opposition. In order that minority parties are not left out, we have increased the numbers who shall serve on those business Sub-Committees.
Finally, on the recommendations, the Procedure Committee believes that if these recommendations are 1101 worked properly there will be no need for Committees to have to sit all night. Therefore, a 10 o'clock time for rising of Standing Committees is recommended. One Opposition Member proposed that it might be at the rising of the House. One can understand that, but one is attempting to get a set hour for rising.
This is an integral part of the overall recommendation. The Government, once they know the number of hours allocated to a Committee, should not be allowed to crash through their legislation by making a Committee use up a specified time with all-night sittings or unreasonable sittings motions.
Another major matter needs consideration. If a Bill is to be timetabled, the Government must come to the House to obtain permission. This is thought by tradition to be of great importance. There is no doubt that 20 years ago a guillotine motion created considerable hubbub and anger in the House and for a while raised political temperatures outside the House. I look back to the guillotine of the Transport Bill under Mr. Crossman. The debate on the guillotine itself ran to 5 am before the Division was taken. After the guillotine, two months of extra time had to be given. I know, because I took part in that demonstration.
That does not apply today. On the last guillotine motion, announced in business questions only three weeks ago, there was not one question or voice of anger against it being introduced. I have to point out that, when the Leader of the Opposition got up on this major matter, only eight Members were sitting behind him with their wrath and their fury. That really is nonsense. We are trying to save time on the Floor of the House, and we could certainly save two or three days by cutting out those aspects of legislation.
In closing—I apologise to the House for having been so long—I thank the Leader of the House for his kind remarks about the Committee and for accepting a large number of our recommendations. He has also shown the greatest kindness and willingness to meet and help the Committee, although I could not for one moment suggest that the Leader of the House was the shining spearhead of innovative reform. I am sorry to have to cross swords with him on this main recommendation concerning timetabling motions. Rather I would plead that his massive intellectual strength must suggest to him that a one-year experiment cannot be other than reasonable. Surely if we do not try to see by experiment and test whether more sensible measures will work in the procedure of the House, we condemn the procedure of the House to continue to live in the 19th century. That is not what the Procedure Committee recommends. I therefore ask both sides of the House to give their support to the Procedure Committee so that we can carry forward the necessary experiment for 12 months.
§ Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau, Gwent)
The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) has naturally defended the recommendations of his Committee with great skill and determination, as we would expect of him, and of course the House owes a great deal to those who spent so much time, as he and others have done, in making these recommendations and in doing their work so thoroughly. Therefore, in criticising what he proposes, I in no way wish to criticise him or the way in which he has made the recommendations.
1102 I was not properly present when the resolution was passed limiting speeches to 10 minutes. If I had been, I would have voted against it. I have never believed such a limitation to be of service to Back Benchers. It may assist the Government in enabling business to be conducted in a most orderly manner, but on many occasions 10 minutes may be an inadequate time for a Back-Bench Member, in particular, to put his case. The hon. Member for Honiton gave an illustration of it. Indeed, he took over the 10 minutes that he is recommending.
If Aneurin Bevan or Winston Churchill had been limited to 10 minutes when they sat on the Back Benches, the Front Bench would have profited from it. That is why these factors have to be taken into account. Recommendations which supposedly are in the interests of Back Benchers very often have the opposite effect when they are applied in practice.
I agree with every word of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). He put the case overwhelmingly. He was assisted by the remarkable speech of the Leader of the House. The House has been very well served by the right hon. Gentleman. Nobody has been better served than the Government. They would have been in an appalling shambles week after week had it not been for the Leader of the House. I know that the praise that I offer him does him damage in the highest quarters. None the less, I must continue to do it in the interests of truth.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a remarkable contribution to this Parliament. Week after week the Government have been in a state of chaos and shambles. They have not known which way to turn. However, along comes the right hon. Gentleman each Thursday and suggests that everything is orderly and fine. If any controversial question is raised, he does not quite hear what is said. If my right hon. and hon. Friends ask questions about Bates' colliery, he cannot quite hear them. But he has been admirable. As I have watched the right hon. Gentleman, I have been reminded of the occasions when in my youth——
§ Mr. Foot
No, not for the moment.
I am reminded of the occasions when in my youth I went to see the films of Buster Keaton. He was my favourite actor. Week after week he was landed in the most appalling difficulties and faced the most appalling shambles. He was in car crashes and train crashes and was caught up in all kinds of difficulties. However, week after week he batted not an eyelid for a moment. He assured everybody that everything in the garden was splendid. So the right hon. Gentleman is the Buster Keaton of the House.
§ Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop
Is not the right hon. Gentleman proving the point for 10-minute speeches? When time is short in a serious debate, the 10 minutes rule concentrates speeches upon the matter under discussion.
§ Mr. Foot
It may concentrate speeches, but it may also invite hon. Members not to give way. Indeed, that happens on many occasions. When the 10-minute limit is imposed it is very rare for hon. Members to give way.
I am seeking to compliment the right hon. Gentleman upon his presentation of these matters to the House. He has 1103 protected the Government from one disaster after another. It is upon his shoulders that week after week the Government have depended. All the more, therefore, should we pay attention to what he says today. I am not sure whether the right hon. Gentleman would discuss these matters in the legislative business committee or in the Cabinet, but if he said that they ought to grab this report and run because it is of immediate advantage to the Government, I am sure that he would carry the day.
The House of Commons owes a great debt of gratitude to the Leader of the House for his speech. It protects the position not only of the present Government but of future Governments and future Oppositions. I commend especially strongly his rejection of an experiment for one year. We know what happens to experiments for one year. They can be there 10,15 or 20 years later, thus still riveting the original imposition on the House of Commons. I hope that the House will not think that if it decides to look again at this matter in 12 months' time there is no need to worry about it.
Both the Government and the Opposition Front Benches recognise that if the Government had a more orderly timetable ahead of them for 12 months, or for two or three Sessions, and knew that they would be able to get through nearly all of their legislation without any infringement, upsets or difficulties—timetable motions would contribute to that knowledge—they would have to pay much less attention to the House of Commons, to Back Benchers on both sides of the House and to the campaigns that are mobilised outside the House of Commons to bring pressure to bear upon hon. Members. A Government that had available to them all that power would be tempted to be even more dictatorial than Governments are tempted to be now.
One of the main reasons for the Government having been tempted to be so dictatorial during the past two or three years, especially in recent months, is the danger that was described by the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) after the general election: that the Government had such a huge majority. The Government have not, therefore, been too worried. It was only when certain Conservative Members joined Opposition Members that the Government were brought to their senses, or at least were brought nearer to their senses, on many of these matters. The House of Commons then began to re-establish some of its control over the Executive. If the Government were sure at the beginning of a Session that the Standing Committee procedure was to be cut and dried and that there would be very few upsets, their position facing the House of Commons would be enormously strengthened, but it would do injury to Parliament.
There have been other developments which, far from necessarily assisting the power of the House of Commons, have in my opinion injured it. Many of these developments have injured the authority of this Chamber and the way in which it can be exerted. We have to guard against any such infringements and dangers. The Leader of the House, supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, has ensured on this occasion that we shall not depart from the proper protection of the right of the House of Commons to criticise the Executive, to choose the time at which to do it and not to have that time dictated to it by the Government.
§ Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)
I see that I must address my remarks to Buster Keaton. My right hon. Friend has got into a mess, but he will find it very difficult to get out of. I support the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). In this short debate I see no point in rehearsing the arguments that were considered so extensively by the Select Committee on Procedure. I congratulate the Committee upon its work.
I am a vice-chairman of the all-party House of Commons reform group, where I sit under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), who has had to leave the Chamber. It is no secret —it is in our evidence to the Select Committee—that we wished to go much further than the Select Committee has gone. We wanted to entrench the 10 o'clock rule. We wanted also to have fixed Sessions of Parliament to achieve a better balance vis-à-vis the Executive. However, it is abundantly clear from the circular that we sent to all right hon. and hon. Members that the vast majority of Back Benchers accept and support the generality of the Select Committee's recommendations.
This is a House of Commons day, a Back-Bench Members' day. If this amendment is lost, I make so bold as to say that we shall not see reforms of this nature for many a long day. What a farce it is that this first hesitant step towards a more sensible arrangement has brought down on itself the full force of Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's loyal Opposition.
Yet even in my relatively short time in the House, as my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton said, a guillotine has passed from being a major parliamentary occasion to being absolutely an inevitable, boring routine, with predictable speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House.
We all know that the present arrangements——
§ Mr. Benyon
I cannot give way; many hon. Members wish to speak. I normally do so, but I cannot on this occasion.
The present arrangements are a stupid way to consider legislation in Committee. There is no doubt about that in the minds of most of my hon. Friends. We all know the pattern of delays in the early stages, followed by the inevitable guillotine and eventual Royal Assent. The so- called delaying power about which we have heard so much this afternoon is illusory. I have sat on Committees dealing with the type of Bills that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) was talking about. Votes stop legislation.
Anyway, who is to say that the Legislative Business Committee will not fix a much longer Committee stage than that which takes place, normally, after the guillotine is brought in? Who is to say that a future Leader of the House will not take up the point made at the end of the speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and bring in a shorter guillotine at an earlier time? What my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has suggested about bringing in timetable motions before the 80 hours have elapsed is precisely what could happen. The amendment is protection for the House.
The real reason why the idea has produced such a reaction is the increasing contempt in which Governments of both parties have progressively regarded the House of 1105 Commons. The idea that the House of Commons should take to itself even the smallest measure of what is carried out through the usual channels sends shivers down a lot of spines. That is why the vote tonight is so important.
If the amendment is lost, we shall stagger on with a procedure that is both antiquated and discredited. The Select Committee will realise that its only role in future will be to consider trivia. Parliament will suffer, because the people will realise that any reform, no matter how modest or tentative, will not stand a chance of success against the entrenched and ever more powerful Executive. Let us try this modest reform for the short period of one year, and see what happens. I would have preferred something more dramatic and extensive, but, like Cardinal Newman in his famous hymn,I do not ask to see the distant scene,One step enough for me".
§ Mr. A.J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
As the first member of the Committee to speak after the Chairman, I pay tribute to him. The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is a hard but courteous taskmaster, as the number of our reports demonstrates. I pay tribute to the way in which he runs our affairs.
One controversial recommendation of the Select Committee relates to short speeches. The Committee took the view that the 10-minute experiment should be repeated, but acknowledged that its effects have been relatively small. A price must be paid for the small benefit of perhaps one or two more Members being called in a debate. I know that some of my hon. Friends are not happy about the experiment continuing. The rule leads hon. Members to say that they are unwilling to give way. That even extends beyond the time in which the rule is in operation, because it becomes an excuse for Ministers speaking early in the debate to claim pressure of time.
I believe that Ministers should give way often. A long speech from a Minister subjected to many interventions is a service to the House if it enables points to be explored in detail. The Committee's report states:We have no doubt that Mr. Speaker will take into account the importance of his being able to call the spokesmen of parties other than the Official Opposition … before the rule comes into operation.I mention that because it has been a difficulty. If the Minister speaks for an hour, the Opposition Front Bench speech lasts three quarters of an hour and our spokesman is confined to 10 minutes, he will have no chance to cover the range of matters to which arguments have been addressed by others. I am grateful to the Committee for placing that proviso on the record, although it will remain a controversial point.
I am glad that the Leader of the House has accepted the recommendation on Special Standing Committees. The evidence of the Solicitor-General especially struck me during the proceedings. He has a way of committing interesting things to paper, some of which are not intended for publication. On that occasion, he discussed the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. He stated:I had the salutary experience of cross-examining two of the leading authorities on criminal law … as to the likely effect of a Bill about whose provisions I was already experiencing a sinking feeling …At the end of the final sitting of the special standing committee the draftsman informed me that not only did the Bill not do what it was supposed to do but that it could not be made to do it.1106It is unnecessary to relate here the unorthodox and urgent steps that were then taken to recast that part of the Bill in time for the resulting vast array of amendments to be on the paper when the ordinary standing committee first met the following week. The point is that, it was better that those defects became apparent before the ordinary standing committee began its examination of the Bill … I gratefully recognised this at the time and have never forgotten it.That is testimony to the value of the Special Standing Committee procedure.
I welcome the ingenious solution to the problem of the long opening speech in Committee —the power of the Chair to propose the Question—which is much better than the alternative of curtailing the debate on the amendment being moved.
I welcome the fact that we are getting rid of the Third Reading blocking motion, which is an interesting illustration of how procedures can be devised which the House does not follow. It has become automatic practice to table Third Reading blocking motions to the extent that parties fall over each other to table them. The House should have the opportunity to decide whether it wishes to debate a Bill on Third Reading and that would be the effect of removing the blocking motion.
I welcome the recommendation to limit Standing Order No. 10 applications to three minutes. I agree with the point that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) raised in several interventions. An hon. Member who has applied for a private notice question should not, in my humble submission, be told by the Chair that he should not make a Standing Order No. 10 application out of the question. By putting in a private notice question application he is creating the chance that his arguments will get a reply. That does not happen with a Standing Order No. 10 application unless a debate is granted. The hon. Member who fairly says privately to the Chair that if possible he would like to ask a private notice question so that others can join in and an answer can be given should not be told that if that is not granted he cannot make a Standing Order No. 10 application. The hon. Member who takes the fair route first should not be disadvantaged.
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman will prevail upon his hon. Friends to forbear from putting down Standing Order No. 10 applications on occasions when we have radio broadcasts of debates straight from the Chamber.
§ Mr. Beith
Certainly not; it is an appropriate time to do it. If the Chair were not occupied by Mr. Speaker and if he were free to take part in the debate, I am sure that he could tell us in some detail how large numbers of Standing Order No.10 applications were tabled at the time of the Labour Government when the winter of discontent and many strikes and disputes were taking place. There are some time-honoured procedures by which hon. Members can bring grievances to light.
The Select Committee raised the fundamental question of the timetable of Bills. I was especially struck by the statement of the Leader of the House that the proposals might disturb the way in which Governments and Oppositions go about their business in the House. There is an air that traditional ways of doing things might be disturbed, but that is right and intended. I do not need to dwell on the arguments about how absurd the present arangements are. At one time the fear of having to bring forward a timetable motion might have been enough of a threat to Governments to encourage them to make 1107 concessions, but I cannot believe that that is so now. The right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) has demonstrated that fact vividly. He introduced five in one day. Since that time, any modest timetable motion introduced by a Government has been as uncontroversial as a spring morning. I do not know how the right hon. Gentleman can claim that the Committee is disturbing the established rights of Back Benchers when he found an easier and briefer way of doing so — five timetable motions in one day.
The House is being asked to consider a much more elaborate procedure to enable hon. Members, especially Back Benchers, to play a part in the orderly consideration of Government Bills. As I suggested in an intervention, I do not think that having a Committee tied up for 80 hours imposes a great burden on the Government. Having a junior Minister and a number of Back Benchers dragooned into sitting in Committee does not place a tremendous pressure on the Government.
None of that applies to Bills taken on the Floor of the House. None of these recommendations applies to Bills taken on the Floor of the House. The power of delay on the Floor of the House is effective. That is why hon. Members are so jealous of the right to keep Bills on the Floor of the House when they concern constitutional matters. That does not apply to the limited number of hon. Members who are tied up in Committee.
I attach importance to the proposed Legislative Business Committee being a body wider than the usual channels. Hon. Members should not be led astray by the suggestion that such a body should not be created because they are already well represented under existing arrangements. They have been told, "Do not worry. The Whips will look after your interests. It is undesirable that you should be represented on some larger body which will be involved in these matters." Back Benchers should reject that argument quickly.
The House is asked to sanction an experiment to consider in an orderly way how time might be used in discussing Bills, which we know will eventually have time restrictions imposed on them, and to consider ways in which the process of deciding on that time can involve more hon. Members than at present.
The Leader of the House offered hon. Members an interesting alternative. He suggested that, rather than vote for these proposals, hon. Members should note that he had been seriously influenced by all that had been said about the defects of the present procedure and that he would consider, perhaps with the assistance of his counterpart on the Opposition Front Bench, whether something could be done through the usual channels. The right hon. Gentleman could gain an attractive uncovenanted bonus from today's proceedings. He has only to bring forward timetable motions much earlier, taking into account the feelings expressed in the House this afternoon, without providing any of the safeguards that the Select Committee on Procedure sought to provide and without ensuring that there is a Legislative Business Committee and certain procedures concerning the time to be allocated.
I say to hon. Members, do not fall for that one. If the amendment of the hon. Member for Honiton is defeated, I fear that the Leader of the House will go away and say, "Now I have the sanction for which I am looking to bring forward timetable motions much earlier. Clearly, this 1108 80-hour business has become outdated." The Government will have gained a great deal, but Back Benchers generally and the Opposition will not.
That is why the Select Committee on Procedure put forward a whole package and asked the House to accept that package as a whole. It will not be enormously to the advantage of Governments. There are some advantages for Government and some for Back Benchers in it. It is a reasonable overall package. If we do not accept the recommendations, we shall continue with the absurdity of many hours being spent on a few clauses of a Bill and the rest of the Bill being gabbled through, with numbers read out as the guillotine falls—a procedure that is an insult to the people who have to carry out the legislation and those who have to live with it and its consequences. That is unreasonable. Either we shall have that or we shall have much earlier timetable motions, with all the disadvantages of the present procedures and none of the safeguards which the Committee sought to give. I therefore invite the House to support the sensible proposal of the Select Committee on Procedure.
§ Sir John Farr (Harborough)
I have always felt instinctively inclined to support the recommendations of the Select Committee on Procedure, but the statement by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) that the all-party House of Commons reform group supported the recommendations made me wonder whether the Select Committee's recommendations were correct after all. I have never yet found anything produced by the reform group with which I could agree.
§ Sir John Farr
I shall not give way. I do not have time.
On reflection, my initial instinct, which was to support my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), has been tempered. I support the view of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that the report should be noted.
I have had experience of introducing private Members' Bills which have been tied down in Committee by Governments. I am particularly worried about the proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure, because the Committee seems to assume that, for almost as far ahead as one can perceive, we shall have a party in power with a large majority —in this case a Conservative majority.
I well remember in years gone by the value of existing checks and barriers to prevent legislation from going forward. The Select Committee is seeking to change those barriers in respect of Government Bills. In past years, as an Opposition Back Bencher, I rejoiced at the existence of these checks. They made life difficult for those Governments—whatever the political party—who have not sufficiently respected the Opposition and have found life too easy.
If the Select Committee's recommendations on Government business are accepted and life for Government measures is made easier, sooner or later, as surely as day follows night, that will be translated into action on private Members' measures, and we will then be in a real chamber of horrors. In recent years a succession of private Members' Bills have been introduced which have been kept under control and at bay by existing 1109 barriers. Any relaxation of the present system will make life easier for some of the extremists, giving them more time, and make it easier for some extreme measures to be passed. The present structure and system have stood the test of time in keeping those measures out.
I welcome the suggestion on the 10-minutes rule for speeches. We must remember that this is the first Parliament with a large number of extra Members. There are now 650 Members of Parliament. This places extra pressure on the Chair from Back Benchers wishing to make speeches. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House welcomes this proposal.
I fully support my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who has grave reservations about the recommendations of the Select Committee. I shall join him in the Lobby in voting against the change.
§ Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I want to talk, first, about the Government amendment to curb exceptionally long speeches. I was hurt to hear the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) suggest that the measure was prompted by my 11¼-hour speech, which has gone into the "Guinness I3ook of Records" and has been celebrated in cartoon by P.C. Nuttall. I do not regard an 11¼-hour speech as exceptionally long. Be that as it may, the speech was serious, coherent and in order; in other words, it was quite out of the ordinary.
Why has that speech aroused so much antagonism? There are two reasons: first, on that occasion, I actually knew what I was talking about; secondly, from time to time, it contained the occasional joke. When I first came into the House it was considered binding on Members making long speeches that at least they be entertaining. That convention seems to have disappeared. Now we have what is called the turgid fashion. I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referring in the Tea Room—I should not repeat this—to one of the present exponents as "Golding without the jokes". I cannot add any more to this, because it is sub judice and substantial damages are expected.
If exceptionally long speeches are to be avoided in the future I shall feel sorry, in one way, for certain Members. After I made my 11¼-hour speech, I was rung up by correspondents from periodicals and newspapers all over the world. They were not political correspondents, but rather the editors of women's journals asking the reason for the stamina that was shown. That was the interest shown in the speech. That did not apply to my own wife. I returned to my constituency on the following Saturday and was shocked at the headline, which read: "MP's wife says he goes on a bit." That was the total impact of that 11¼- hour speech.
I shall support the Government in their attempt to stop exceptionally long speeches. Today I was elected general secretary of the National Communications Union, and I shall be leaving the House. To keep my record I need the support of Members this evening. It is not only my pride that is at stake. Filibustering, if it is to be called that, is a painful business and should be brought to an end. I disagree with many of my hon. Friends on this point.
I am not talking about the pain to the Chairman—I still get into trouble with my wife because I keep on saying "Miss Fookes" in my sleep. I am not talking about Ministers —the hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and 1110 Industry, still bears the scars on his face. I am not referring to the ladies of the Tea Room—at 4 o'clock in the morning their general response to Members like me is "Do you not have a so-and-so home to go to?" Nor am I referring to the Doorkeepers and policemen who look rather bleary eyed at those of us who are keeping them up. No, I am not speaking in their defence. They have said too many hard things about me in the past, and I shall not jump to their defence.
I am referring to those who are asked by the Whips to talk for an exceptional length. Most Members will not know the horror of being pushed in to the Chamber and told that one has to speak at length—the Whips may have said that one must speak for two hours—arid to speak wisely, without knowing what the amendment is about. The terror of wondering whether one will be given the Amendment Paper open at the right page so that one may begin one's speech is unknown to many hon. Members. No one knows the terror of clashing with the Chairman who has a 9 o'clock plane to catch to Glasgow. Nobody knows the dull ache in the legs, which are weaker than the tongue, or the realisation that nature calls.
To speak for an exceptional length of time is sometimes a difficult task. I regard it as equivalent to the young lieutenants of the first work'. war who were charged with the job of leading the charge from the trenches. They did not want to do it, but did so because it was expected of them, and they did it for England. No one speaks at exceptional length out of choice. Hon. Members do it out of a duty imposed on them. They would like to be relieved of that duty, and the proposal of the hon. Member for Honiton would relieve them of that obligation.
I also support timetabling, not only out of sympathy for those who are called upon to hold up business, but because it is opposed by the Prime Minister. Although it has not been mentioned, I understand that Ministers have been summoned from all parts of the world to be here this evening to vote against this proposal. Why have they been sent for? The Prime Minister does not dislike or oppose exceptionally long speeches—she never actually listens. To the Prime Minister, an exceptionally long speech is something about which she may be told in idle conversation. The Prime Minister wants to defeat this proposition because she knows that her days are numbered. The Prime Minister knows that we will have a Labour Government. She has given up governing and has adopted an Opposition mentality. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to give up their Opposition mentality, for they will be in government.
I shall not be here, Mr. Speaker, but I constantly think of your needs. A Labour Government need timetabling, and everyone on the Opposition Benches who supports Labour should support the motion. I disagree with the hon. Member for Honiton. If Labour had won the last election, the Telecommunications Bill would have been dead, because we fought it and spoke against it at length. We held it up in Committee. That Bill would have gone, because we opposed it.
When I have left the House and I am sitting in the union offices, I do not want to read that Conservative Members have the same facility to stop putting British Telecom back into public ownership. There is only one way in which a Labour Government will be able to do what they want 1:0 do, and that is to prevent the time wasting that the present situation permits. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr will take a different view, but when he is sitting here 1111 as a senior Minister and young slips of lads from the Conservative party are keeping him up all night he will change his mind.
§ Mr. Rooker
I agree with my hon. Friend that we shall have a Labour Government, but it will be a Labour Government who truly believe in the supremacy of Parliament. That is the point. The present Government ignore Parliament and ride roughshod over the House of Commons. It is on this that I and my hon. Friend divide.
§ Mr. Golding
My right hon. Friend of the five guillotine motions supports my hon. Friend's view of the supremacy of Parliament.
I have reservations and I have placed them down as amendments. It is a relief to me that they were not called, because Members would have had to vote on them at 7 o'clock on a Thursday and that would have made me very unpopular. The usual channels must not be undermined. I think too little praise has been bestowed on this excellent system. This House depends on conflicts, and our democracy depends upon conflict in the House. The Government depend upon that conflict being kept within bounds. The one thing that the usual channels do is to ensure constantly that the system works.
I want the system to continue to work. Any new Committee system must take into account the fact that the usual channels will have to negotiate over wide areas of business. I should not like to see the usual channels thrust aside by the Procedure Committee.
If we must have timetabling, we must also deal with the question of how much time Government supporters should take up, because it is not just Government supporters who oppose the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr is the exception. Most of us are elected under a party label to support the party.
§ Mr. Golding
That is what most of us do. Most of us are loyal to our parties and loyal to the promise that we made to our electorate to support the party. If I were the Secretary of State on a Committee that was timetabled, my first thought would be to find a young man who wanted to make his name and who was prepared to talk and talk and talk in support of the Government, thereby squeezing out Opposition speeches of criticism. We must solve that problem. It can be solved only by agreements that are kept and worked out through the usual channels. If that is not done, the proposal is a charter for the Government-lackey filibuster and our democracy would be the worse for it.
I have tabled an amendment which has not been selected. It says, "Get rid of the 10 o'clock rule and relate the ending of the Committee to the rising of the House." The 10 o'clock rule is nonsense in practice. If the House sits late on a Tuesday, what sense is there in saying to hon. Members, "Finish in Committee and go and hang around the Tea Rooms until the early hours"? They will say that they might as well be in Committee. Everyone knows that Members would prefer to work late on Tuesdays and finish early on Thursdays.
Shop stewards are required in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) was called the shop steward. We have missed his services since he 1112 became a distinguished journalist. If the 10 o'clock rule is abolished, we must find a device which prevents the Government from using up all the hours in one fell swoop and getting the legislation through quickly.
A Bill needs a certain length of time in Committee, because outside interests which want to make representations need a little time to wake up to what is happening in Parliament. We need a rule related to the rising of the House, and a limited number of weeks for the Opposition and for Government supporters who want to support or oppose the Government.
I was asked by many hon. Members to spin out my speech because they do not like the proposals, but that I will not do. I echo those who say that the present rules are daft. It cannot be right to waste so much time when we could be getting on with our business. If we do not change the rules, there is an obligation on people like me who came here to support the Labour electorate to exploit the rules in the interest of our party. It is better to change the rules and stop that daft system.
§ Mr. Christopher Chope (Southampton, Itchen)
I am an enthusiastic supporter of the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). I am strengthened in my view by the knowledge that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is not content merely to rely upon his eloquence and persuasion but wishes to rely upon a three-line Whip upon Ministers and their Parliamentary Private Secretaries later this evening. If my right hon. Friend's arguments were so strong, why cannot he leave them to the House on a truly free vote?
It was implied earlier that the members of the 1983 intake did not count in the House. They have probably had more than their fair share of work on Committees which have had to be guillotined. [Interruption.] I accept that other hon. Members have done that. I do not believe that my recent experience is such that it disqualifies me from telling the House of my immediate impressions. I have served on Standing Committees on two Bills that have been guillotined—the Rates Bill and the Transport Bill.
My experience on the Rates Bill was that soon after the Committee stage began I was told that we would have to clock up 80 hours and we would then be able to have a guillotine, which would be marvellous because after that, as Government Back Benchers, we would be allowed to take part in the debate. When the Bill was guillotined, about two pages of it had been debated. The proceedings struck me as a farce. It was a waste of the time and energy of hon. Members. What a childish game it was counting the hours. We were allowed to include in the calculations the period during which the sitting was suspended for dinner and for votes in the House. We were also allowed to include the time taken for various coffee breaks or breaks for other forms of sustenance in the early hours of the morning.
It was in anticipation of one of those breaks that the Committee had one of its moments of humour. It was when not only was the Chairman asleep but his Clerk was also asleep. Some of us were aware that 2.30 am was approaching and that we were entitled to have half an hour for a bacon sandwich. It needed a great deal of movement among members of the Committee to ensure that the Clerk could remind the Chairman that it would be appropriate to suspend the sitting for half an hour. The Chairman, to his great credit, referred to the fact that the Committee had 1113 been on automatic pilot. It appeared to many of us that it had been, because the late and much lamented Member for Tyne Bridge, Mr. Cowans, had then been speaking for many hours. I cannot remember exactly how many, but he had spoken for a considerable time.
A solution to such nonsense must be found. The Procedure Committee has come up with a proposal. What have the Government to lose or fear from an experiment to try to improve matters? The Government recognise that there is a problem. In the minutes of evidence, at question 96 on page 37, when referring to the Telecommunications Bill, my right hon. Friend said:I think it is a very good case where an earlier guillotine could have brought about a better consideration of the legislation, and in my view certainly a more civilised one.
My right hon. Friend referred today to turgid pre-timetabled debates. He said that he seeks reform through the flexibility of present procedures. In that case, why has he not used the opportunity presented by the Gas Bill this Session to experiment and tried to introduce a guillotine motion rather earlier than otherwise would have been done?
§ Mr. Biffen
If my hon. Friend had acquainted himself with the Hansard report of the transactions on the proposing of the guillotine motion on the Gas Bill, he would find that I made the point that it was introduced earlier than one might have expected from earlier precedents.
§ Mr. Chope
I accept what my right hon. Friend says. I did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee, but, having spoken to some of my hon. Friends who did serve on the Committee, I have been told that even so there was a similar farce to that which I described on the Rates Bill in that much time was wasted. More time could have been spent discussing the contentious clauses in detail if the guillotine had been introduced even earlier.
I hope that my hon. Friends will support the amendment because if it is not passed, as other hon. Members who have more experience than me have said, it may be decades before any proposal comes before the House again for similar debate.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)
I believe that the House is, on the whole, best served by consensus on the part of a Select Committee which it appoints to advise it. Therefore, I believe that more attention should be given to those exceptional cases where Members who have addressed their minds in the Committee to the matters submitted to them have found it impossible, despite their sense of obligation, to arrive at a consensus.
The timetabling of Bills was one of those issues. It was an issue on which the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) and I found ourselves unable to accept the principle of the recommendation which forms the substance of the amendment of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). It is very easy to ridicule and there is very much that is ridiculous about the procedure of the House in Committee—the manner in which it disposes 1114 of its time, the fact that in Committee apparently an inordinate amount of time is spent on the early clauses of a Bill—although they are often the more important—and less upon the remainder. It is ridiculous that the Government's desire to make progress often condemns the major part of the Committee to silence. All those and other matters of common observation are perfectly true and incontestable, but it is a mistake to assume that for all such inconveniences there is a remedy by way of Standing Order.
Many procedures of the House are indispensable for the purpose of controlling and criticising Government but which, nevertheless, expose the House to inadequacies and inconveniences. However, it does not follow from those inadequacies and inconveniencies that they can wisely be removed by Standing Order. That idea is akin to the delusion that all the inadequacies and difficulties of the human condition can be removed by legislation. Nothing can give more power to a Government or inspire a Government with less interest in the views of hon. Members than to know in advance that, when they have gained the Second Reading of a Bill, by a definite date that Bill will be out of Committee and by a definite date it will reach the statute book. To have the map of the Session laid out before them like a chart, controlled if necessary by a Committee on which they are in the majority, is exactly that paradise to which Governments look forward. [Interruption.] I am aware that they can pass a guillotine motion.
From the swan song of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), if it was the swan song, we heard how much he looked forward to a future Labour Government who could force through their programme and have the advantage of timetabling Committees and other procedures of the House.
There is only one way in which the two opposite requirements of the House —that the Queen's Government must be carried on and that the Government must be exposed to criticism —can be reconciled, and that is by means of the device of the open end. No open ends are entirely open, of course: the reference which has been made to the guillotine device is a reminder of that. Under a certain penalty, a penalty which appears to have diminished in severity in recent years, the Government can come to the House—and they must come to the House —in order to secure the curtailment of the proceedings. Not that by doing so they free themselves from many of the disadvantages of the Committee procedure without a guillotine. When a guillotine has been imposed, it still happens. Just as many clauses are jumped in each of the sections as would have been omitted in an uncontrolled Committee stage. Under a guillotine, clauses on which many hon. Members might have a special competence or a special constituency reason for wishing to contribute frequently are not debated.
Therefore, the House should not disarm itself of the great power which it has, however limited from time to time, of bringing pressure to bear upon Government and of inducing Government to talk to their opponents, supporters and all and sundry. It is the shortage of time which makes Governments talk.
§ Mr. Beith
Will the right hon. Gentleman address himself to the fact that the argument about pressure of time is at its weakest when matters are safely tucked away in 1115 Committee and that, even if the proposals are carried out, there are many other affairs of the House to which the argument about pressure of time can be directed?
§ Mr. Powell
The Minister responsible for the Bill wants to get it through and the Government of whose programme the Bill is a part want to get their programme through because they are constantly being threatened by new demands for legislation, some of them necessary, and some of them, in the view of others, illegitimate. Therefore, time is always of the essence for Government. Time is the weapon which Governments most fear when it may be used against them. The undoubted inconvenience which hon. Members suffer in the service of the House, with all its imperfections, ought not to persuade the House to disarm itself, formally or automatically, of the use of the instrument of time in the post Second Reading stages of a Bill.
I now come to the other matter on which, although there was no dissent in the report of the Select Committee, there was, nevertheless, a feeling of dissatisfaction within the Committee —the proposal that the experiment with 10-minute speeches should be continued for another Session. Had the proposal been that the 10-minute rule should become a permanent Standing Order of the House, the Committee would not have been unanimous. Indeed, it was a sense that further experience might lead hon. Members to the same conclusion held by many members of the Committee that induced those who would otherwise have been dissentient to go along with the notion that the experiment might justifiably be renewed for another Session.
The Committee found it impossible to establish and was doubtful about the proposition that the 10-minute rule, in the debates in which it was applied, resulted in more hon. Members being able to speak than would otherwise have been the case. Sitting through the concluding stages of major debates when there is pressure on the time of the House and observing how, in the last hour or so, not just 10-minute speeches but speeches of seven, five and three minutes are fitted in, one must be doubtful whether the stately progression of 10-minute speeches for two hours between 6 and 8 o'clock or 7 and 9 o'clock would increase the total number of hon. Members who could contribute.
Dare I insert a query? It has not been voiced and perhaps it is dangerous to voice it. Is it desirable that the maximum numerical toll of Members should contribute to a debate? As the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) reminded the House, sÓme of the most important matters which hon. Members have sought to bring to our attention at untimely parts of the parliamentary day have required and used many more than 10 minutes. There is a constraint and the internal discipline of public opinion in the House acting on hon. Members which is the only safe and reliable limitation on the length of our speeches. Indeed, there is a sort of analogy between the function of an open end for time in the business of the House and the right of an hon. Member, once called, to occupy the Floor until he has bored the House to his satisfaction. That is the ultimate safeguard of the individual hon. Member's right to take the opportunity which has been accorded to him. We should require much 1116 more justification than we have yet had for supposing that the advantages of the 10-minute rule outweigh the disadvantages.
I should like to refer briefly to two minor matters connected with the motion. One has not so far been mentioned. It arises in an amendment to the motion on Special Standing Committees. As the motion stands, it would enable a Minister, by a motion which is to be put forthwith, to alter the 28-day period for Special Standing Committees. I know how open-minded the Leader of the House is on these matters. Indeed, he has proven today his status as a House of Commons man by his stance on the major issue. I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that where a business motion alters, for a specific purpose, a time limit which is in the Standing Orders of the House, it is our custom that it is debatable. If the Government say, "This once for this purpose we should alter this limitation in the Standing Orders," they should have the opportunity of giving reasons and of listening to arguments. I hope that on consideration the right hon. Gentleman will be persuaded that, as with other business motions, it should not be necessary for the motion mentioned in paragraph 4 of motion 4 to be put forthwith.
Finally, the right hon. Gentleman expressed himself as being open-minded about the elimination of the word "written" from motion 11. The distinction which he sought to draw between the nature and purposes of oral questions and written questions cannot be a justification for treating those questions differently, if they are to be swept out of existence by a Session being broken. There have been one or two other observations upon that point during the debate, and I hope that he will find it possible to concur with what was the considered and unanimous advice of the Select Committee, which debated the question whether only written questions should be concerned, and decided that it was wiser that the new Standing Order, if it is made, should apply to both.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
Part of the price that I pay for representing my constituency is that I am frequently compared with the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), to my disadvantage. As I listened to him, I reflected that I shall never have the compendious knowledge and passionate interest in procedure that he has, but also that for all the assertions made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that they have a great knowledge and passionate interest in procedure, the House rarely debates it. That is why I doubt whether, if a proposal were introduced on an experimental or interim basis, it would be easy to change the existing procedure. For that reason, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about experiments.
Most of all, we should recognise that it is extremely difficult for a new Parliament to change the procedure because it is seen to be a way of rigging the new Parliament in such a way as to give yet further impetus to the electorate's decision. I looked with care through the names of the 150 hon. Members who signed the first amendment. While it is true that not all the right hon. and hon. Members came to the House after 1979, a high proportion did. Since the mid-1960s we have seen in particular the rise of presidential politics. To a great extent, a Member of Parliament, especially in this Parliament, is elected, not to be a vigorous Back-Bench Member, whether by choice or chance, but to support his party and leader. The right 1117 hon. and hon. Members reflect their belief that they are here to support their leader and party. They also reflect the sheer numbers of Tory Members who were elected in 1979 and, to a greater extent, in 1983, and the difficulty of finding an issue on which the Government can be defeated.
We do not want to change our procedure so that a different Parliament with different perceptions and priorities is stuck with procedures which may be appropriate to a presidential Parliament, to which hon. Members are not elected to scrutinise the Government or legislation as carefully as may have been done in previous Parliaments. Therefore, I entirely agree with the views of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that if we agree to these proposals for automatic timetabling, we on the Back Benches would give the Executive a greater power than has been given to it previously. That would be dangerous, because it would fetter the choice of the people, which is decided by their vote, and the mysterious consequences that their collective vote has. To some extent it is hampered by the procedures of the House. If, in a future Parliament, the mysterious consequence of the collective vote is that we have a Government who believe, not in radical action and a presidential style, but in carrying on the Queen's business quietly, with more consensus, and perhaps even more deference to the House, we have procedures for them. The checks and balances continue to exist. I have nothing new or interesting to say about the proposals for automatic timetabling, except that I agree with my right hon. Friend and with the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore).
There is a proposal for a Legislative Business Committee, which is to be independent. For a short period I was rather oddly positioned in the Whips Office, and I saw something of the way in which it operated. The great advantage of the House in relation to the Whips Offices is that Whips are wrongly credited with having great power and influence, and they are understandably disliked. Except for occasional members of the Whips Offices, they remain silent, and do not even leak.
It is precisely because Whips Offices are so obviously partisan and disliked that they have to behave better than Committees which are allegedly independent. Most of all, they operate continuously. There can be no question of swinging one over and humiliating the Whips Office on the other side. One would know that if one had done a chap last week, he would return the compliment the next week. Therefore, it is important that the broad consensus of the House of Commons is adhered to. We must adhere to the broad, changing consensus of what is decent, honourable and fair within the constraints of fierce party battle.
It is difficult to decide exactly what those conventions are, but, surprisingly enough, they seem to be well understood by the usual channels. The proposals which give great power to the allegedly independent Committee will be to the disadvantage of the House of Commons. The allegedly independent Committee will be governed by the majority — by the Government. It will have a Government majority on it. Most important, it will not have to do business with the Opposition Whips next week and will, from time to time, behave badly. It will no doubt behave like that for partisan reasons, sometimes for reasons of patronage, and sometimes for reasons of friendship. However, it will behave badly.
1118 I suggest that even if the House decides — in my opinion quite wrongly—to have automatic timetabling, the much abused, much hated, but nevertheless effective system of the usual channels ought to be kept.
§ Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)
I join the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) for his kindness and tolerance in chairing the Select Committee on Procedure and for allowing hon. Members like me, who have a distinct minority view on that Committee, to have if anything more than our fair share of say in the Committee's deliberations. The Committee is very hard working.
It is rare for me to disagree with a Select Committee of which I am a member. I have never before voted against reporting a Select Committee's findings to the House. However, I found the proposals on timetabling so unacceptable that, like the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell), I felt that I had no choice but to vote against them.
I cannot support the recommendation in the fourth motion about Special Standing Committees. The evidence to which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred, and the other evidence that exists, is overwhelmingly in favour of the Special Standing Committees.
I ask hon. Members to examine the amendment to the recommendation in the second motion about committal. It is odd to limit committal to Special Standing Committees to a Minister of the Crown. If the Special Standing Committees were used more frequently, and on a broader range of Bills, many of the problems which hon. Members who support the first amendment are facing would be solved.
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to the statement by the Solicitor-General on what is now the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. I do not want to return to that, save to say that I believe that the point raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed would be true for a large number of Bills.
Referral to Special Standing Committees would rake account of more than just the point made by the hon. Member for Honiton. It is illogical to argue that the enforced timetabling and consideration of all the clauses of a Bill some of which, as all hon. Members know, are inconsequential, would provide for either better understanding of the Bill or a realisation by Ministers sponsoring the Bill that there was something fundamentally wrong with it. We would, as usual, be in opposition politics.
Consideration by a Special Standing Committee, in which detailed evidence could be taken from the people affected, could have a profound effect on Ministers, in a way which my making a speech would not have, even if I or other hon. Members were subsequently proved to be right.
I too, would like to enter the "Guinness Book of Records". As a Member sponsored by the National Communications Union, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) on being elected as my general secretary. He spoke an hour ago, and I should like to be the first to disagree with him. His conclusions about the timetabling of all Bills and the use of a Legislative Business Committee are utterly wrong. If Conservative Members had listened to my hon. 1119 Friend's arguments they would all vote against the recommendation, because my hon. Friend made strong arguments against it.
I believe that the history of successive Governments in relation to the rights and privileges of hon. Members is not a good one. Our rights and privileges have been seriously eroded over the years. If we introduce a Legislative Business Committee, our rights and privileges will be further eroded. We have not considered properly the kind of animal that we wish to create. The Committee would not be the kind of flexible body that the hon. Member for Honiton would have us believe. For example, the recommendation in paragraph 36 of the report of the Select Committee on Procedure states that the Committee should consist of senior Back-Bench Members to be elected by a Committee of Selection without the interference of the Whips. If hon. Members believe that, they will believe anything. We all know, and I am a Whip myself, what happens in the Committee of Selection. We should not be naive at the start.
We are also asked to believe that, as paragraph 39 of the Select Committee on Procedure states:Any system of time-tabling needs to preserve a measure of flexibility to cope with unexpected developments during the progress of a Bill.That is all very well, but paragraph 39 continues:Such a request should only be made if entirely new factors arose during a bill's progress—factors not known when the maximum number of hours was set.
Again that is all very well, but what happens if a mistake has been made? What happens if we have it wrong and the members of the Legislative Business Committee do not understand the full impact of some of the Bill's clauses?
One of two things would then happen. Either a Committee would be horribly strapped for time and so be unable to carry out the kind of investigation which the hon. Member for Honiton suggested, or it would be sitting around wondering what to do next and inventing amendments. That is the situation that could arise, and it is another problem which the Legislative Business Committee could cause.
The Americans invented such an animal about 150 years ago. Its original purpose was to do just what the hon. Member for Honiton suggested it ought to do. It has developed in such a way that the Executive now comes to the Committee as a supplicant. The Committee has a life of its own, and has taken to itself prerogatives which used to exist on the Floor of the House of Representatives. That could happen if a similar Committee were appointed here.
I invite hon. Members to vote against the first recommendation. If Conservative Members are worried about Committees sitting too late at night, I remind them that the Chairmen of Standing Committees will not accept a closure motion from a member of the Opposition. They will accept a closure motion only from a Minister. Government Members have the solution in their own hands. If they walk out of the Committee, I assure them that Opposition Members will follow, rendering the Committee inquorate, and that will sort out the Whip. It is not the Opposition but the Government who run Committees all night.
1120 There is a misconception that the only weapon that the Opposition have is time. That is not true. The only weapon that the Opposition have is uncertainty, and the function of that is time. We must understand that.
§ Mr. McWilliam
I shall not give way, because other hon. Members wish to speak, and I wish to conclude my speech.
If the Opposition can keep uncertainty, the Government cannot put too much legislation through the House, because they cannot map their progress, as the right hon. Member for South Down said. If the Opposition lose that uncertainty, we shall be faced with more legislation, more pressure, more congestion and fewer rights for Back-Bench Members.
§ Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
The Select Committee, which was charged with looking at all public Bill procedures and making recommendations to the House, did not seek, nor does it claim to have achieved in its recommendations, perfection. It sought improvement, and that is what its recommendations will achieve. It did not arrive at them quickly. Its Chairman allowed full debate — not just one observation from each of the Committee members — and the subject to be worked over until some consensus or irrevocable dissent had been arrived at.
I cannot share the view of the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) that he should possess a veto on the recommendation of the Select Committee.
The major Committee recommendation before the House is one that will avoid useless wastage of time and improve the scrutiny of legislation. That is its objective, and that it will secure more perfectly than the present arrangement. From all sections of the House, appeals to the Committee have come, both before it was seized of this subject and during discussions, to grasp the nettle. Therefore, I am glad that the Government have given prime time to debate this matter. I am less happy at the pressure that is being put on Ministers and others to vote, not on the merit of the argument, but according to the wishes of the Government.
My right hon. Friend made it clear that he was unaware that we were also debating the "take note" motion. We are debating "take note" of the first report of the Select Committee on Procedure. As a matter of interest, I point out that there are precedents for the House considering the passage of a "take note" motion to be an authority—not just an approval. I have had correspondence with the Accountant of the Hòuse, which went to Mr. Speaker Thomas, over what authority, if any, there was for paying the expenses of Select Committees when they were within the United Kingdom taking evidence but outside the Palace of Westminster. The answer was a "take note" motion on a report of a Select Committee, not on a motion to approve.
Therefore, it is highly relevant to know, on the "take note" motion, what the views of the two Front Benches are—the Opposition Front Bench refused to give its view—on paragraph 6 of the first report. That quite clearly recommends against the existing practice—it is not a Standing Order—whereby successive Speakers have let it be understood that they disapproved strongly of a 1121 Standing Order No. 10 application being raised on a matter that had already been the subject, by the same Member, but only by the same Member, of a private notice question.
This is absurd, as the Select Committee agreed unanimously, for two reasons. First, the rules under which a private notice question is granted are not the same as the rules governing a Standing Order No. 10 application. Secondly, that interdiction does not apply to any of the other 649 Members, but only to the Member who has raised a private notice question application. That in itself is absurd.
The Committee also looked at the injustices that can arise as a result of accusations being made against a person or body exterior to the House by a Standing Order No. 10 application, which cannot be answered because the procedures do not give any opportunity to answer them. Therefore, there is a lot to be said for a freer granting of a private notice question, where the subject can be responded to by other hon. Members, within the limitations of Mr. Speaker's discretion. That is not the case in the constraints of an application under Standing Order No. 10, to which, however unbased the charges made, there can be no reply. Even if hon. Members, on another occasion, engineer the occasion for a reply, it will never get the same publicity as the original application. That is why, in paragraph 6 of the first report, that specific recommendation was made.
Therefore, it is unfortunate that, by the Government not tabling this as a specific motion, the only way in which we can discover whether Mr. Speaker will be guided by the Select Committee on the matter is if he is good enough to make his own determination known, either of his own volition, or in response to a point of order, made, one would hope, with reasonable notice to him. Other points have been made so well that I do not wish to detain the House on them. I merely wished to make the one point, to which insufficient attention has been paid.
§ Mr. Stan Crowther (Rotherham)
I was greatly relieved to hear the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) introduce a note of reality into the debate, after the romantic, not to say sentimental, speeches that we heard from the Government and Opposition Front Benches. I do not know whether the fact that their duties some time ago relieved them of having to sit in a Committee for hours on end has resulted in their memory being slightly dimmed, but they were not talking about the world that I know in those Committee rooms. I remind my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), who is the greatest romantic of us all, that the film industry has moved on a little since the days of Buster Keaton and some of us think that it might be a good thing if the House of Commons did as well.
The most unfortunate thing about the speech made by the Leader of the House was that he dealt at great length with one of the elements in the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Honiton and left out the other. Taking the two together is vital. Either one on its own would swing the balance of advantage either to the Government or to the Opposition, but the two together keep the balance where it is, while making the House of Commons a great deal more efficient and, more importantly, providing a more civilised and healthy way of life for those who have to work here. Nobody can pretend that our system is conducive to good health. It is ridiculous that an hon. 1122 Member can sit all night in Committee. The hon. Member for Honiton was right to say that people outside think that we are mad. Unfortunately, I can find little evidence to prove that we are not.
There was a time when Oppositions would regard it as a great victory if they were able to slow down the progress of a Bill to the point where the Government had to come to the House for a guillotine motion. Ministers would come quite shamefacedly to ask the House to give them a timetable because they had been in Committee for 90 hours and had reached only clause 1. Those days have gone. Ministers are no longer embarrassed when they come along for a guillotine; it is just a matter of course.
The idea that something is achieved by the Opposition by holding a Bill up as long as they can to bring about a guillotine is nonsense because nothing is won by that. Despite what my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) has said, Ministers know from the word go their target date for getting a Bill out of Committee. Everybody knows that and we should not pretend that the situation is any different. Because Ministers are prepared to go for a guillotine if necessary, they sit back quite happily in the Standing Committee as Opposition Members flog themselves to death in the middle of the night. Meanwhile Government supporters go out on a rota basis to have a sleep in the room next door.
The only people suffering are the poor old Chairmen, and I hope hon. Members will spare a thought for the Chairmen, because, despite what we heard from the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope) about one of my hon. Friends who apparently dozed off a little, the fact is that we are supposed to sit there and listen to people like my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle under Lyme (Mr. Golding) speaking interminably. We are supposed to listen to every word to make sure that nobody is out of order.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the result of that, as happened recently on the Telecommunications Bill, is that we end up without the legislation being properly considered? As a result of that, it all goes through without consideration until it reaches the Upper House.
§ Mr. Crowther
I think that point has already been made. I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme spoke about his marathon performance that brought him worldwide fame. I was about to mention it anyway. The thing that is remembered about that speech, the big talking point, is that he spoke for 11¼ hours, but does anybody remember what he said? My hon. Friend remembers but nobody else does. Nobody remembered even the next day. What mattered was that it had taken 11¼ hours to say it. That demonstrates the farcical nature of our present proceedings.
It is in the interests of the Opposition as well as the Government to have a timetable clearly laid out at the beginning so that Opposition Members can work out what amount of time to allocate to each clause. That in itself would give an advantage to the Government, as hon. Members have said. But we must balance against that the time limit on the sittings. I agree with the recommendation by the Select Committee about 10 o'clock, but whatever it is, a time limit on sittings would prevent the Government using all their allocated hours quickly by keeping the Committee there all night on Tuesday and all night on 1123 Thursday and all night the next week and then saying, "My goodness, we have only been there a fortnight but we have got all the hours in." A time limit on sittings would prevent that and these two proposals taken together—that is the essential qualification—would provide us with a far more sensible way of carrying on our business.
§ Mr. Speaker
It may be for the convenience of the House if I say that I understand the Leader of the House will seek to rise at 14 minutes past 7 because the debate ends at 20 past 7.
§ 7.5 pm
§ Mr. Ian Lloyd (Havant)
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther). He injected a refreshing element of common sense into the debate and I agree with much of what he said. This is a powerfully interesting debate and while listening to it, I could not help reflecting that hon. Members approach power in much the same way as artists approach colour. Van Gogh saw it in bold and brilliant strokes and his pictures are at least discernible. Canaletto had to have it in the greatest possible detail—that is my preference—and Salvador Dali used his colour in such a way that the only thing discernible is chaos. Listening to the debate, it seemed to me that at times there was a preference for chaos. We are used to that.
I contribute to the debate with a considerable sense of humility, because I have never regarded myself in any sense, and certainly not in the sense of two of the right hon. Members who have spoken, as an expert on procedure. It may sound paradoxical but I have a great and profound respect for this place and a somewhat less and less profound respect for its procedure. In some senses, it has been damaging to our democracy.
I agree with both the right hon. Members on one matter, and it is about the limitation of speeches to 10 minutes. If we applied that rule rigidly Burke, Fox, Pitt, Disraeli, Gladstone and right hon. Members presently in the Chamber would never have spoken or developed their careers as they have done. The rigid application of a 10 minute rule is particularly unfair to those hon. and right hon. Members who speak rarely in the House, and perhaps do so quite deliberately, and those who speak regularly on every conceivable occasion. Perhaps the self-limiting rule should apply much more rigorously to the latter than it does to the former.
The topic I want to raise in this debate can be summarised in two sentences of the report. They are critical and of the greatest importance. The first sentence is on page xxiii, and I agree with every word. It says about the House:Present practices do its prestige a profound disservice".That is true, and it would be found to be true if we conducted an opinion poll among our constituents or even among those who follow the affairs of the House in the greatest detail. Alas and alack, they are few in number. Whatever we may say to justify it, our general reputation is that our procedure is archaic and damaging, and does not serve democracy. That is why I strongly support what my hon Friend has done in the work of this Committee.
The second sentence is equally important. In the first sentence of paragraph 45 the Committee recommends: 1124proceedings in standing committees should not be allowed to continue beyond 10 pm.I strongly endorse that. My experience in this House does not compare with that of many right hon. Members. I have been here for some 21 years, 10 years in opposition and 11 years—I was about to say in government—out of government. There is a vital distinction and one which can be described by those who have experienced it as soul-searing, perhaps. There are those who would have taken part in this debate had they been alive. They are not here, they are dead. I can give two examples: David Webster on the Government side of the House and Stephen Swingler on the Opposition side. I am convinced those two men lost their lives because of this procedure. However, they are not here and their names are not recorded on any tablets of stone or on any vellum parchment. They contributed their lives to a procedure that is archaic and totally indefensible.
I regret that the Government are using the method they are to defend this procedure which, as the years have gone by, has revealed itself increasingly to successive generations of hon. Members as profoundly indefensible. I so call it, and I so describe it. No one who looks at the operations of this place, even in the context of democracy and in the context that we are here to check the Executive, can possibly argue that this must go on basically unchanged or that this important report should not be accepted in any sense. If we ask ourselves the question: has it worked, has it produced the most successful western democracy since the end of the second world war, the answer must be no. If we ask: has it produced what one can describe as the most successful economy since the end of the second world war under successive Governments, again the answer must be no. Has it produced the most stable, civil society in the Western world? Perhaps there alone the answer can be yes, but we cannot say it is due to the procedures of this House. It is due to far more basic and fundamental democratic attributes of which we are rightly and justly proud.
If we want to go forward to a state where we can defend the future of this House, the future of our democracy and the relevance of our procedures here and elsewhere to the kind of problems that our society is facing, we shall not do it by keeping people, who have worn themselves out throughout the day and who have been here since possibly nine in the morning, until two or three o'clock the following morning, and then seriously expect that their contribution to the discussion will be sensible, intelligent and relevant. No one can pretend it is and the country does not think it is. Therefore I support what my hon. Friend has proposed, with all the conviction that I can command.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I congratulate the Select Committee on its work and on its report, and I support the amendment that has been tabled to try to ensure some sanity in the pattern of work in Standing Committees and in our handling of legislation. I also thank the Committee for giving us an opportunity to give evidence and, in giving that evidence, to draw attention to the fact that more than 70 per cent. of hon. Members who responded to a questionnaire—that was more than half the number of hon. Members in the Houe—said that they wanted a change in this vital area.
I entered the House 12 years ago tomorrow. Other hon. Members have had much more experience than I have, but 1125 during that time I have served on the Committees considering the Industry Bill and the Telecommunications Bill and I have seen how time can be wasted. I accept that using time can sometimes hold the Government back, but the practice has had minimal success over the years. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) on his appointment, but I must tell him that even if the Opposition had not achieved such success in Committee the Telecommunications Bill would not have gone through because of the election in May. Even in that instance, the case is not proven.
I am in a different position from almost all hon. Members in that I am always likely to be in opposition, as are my colleagues in Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party. However, we still believe that it makes much more sense to get coherent legislation out of Committees instead of spending so many hours in Committee day and night to no purpose whatever. If we used our time constructively, we would have much better legislation than we do now. There is no earthly justification for spending hour after hour in Committee, as we do on many Bills.
I regret the fact that the Government believe it necessary to put pressure on the so-called payroll vote to be present here tonight. May I suggest that the real vote in a few minutes' time will be the Back Bench vote, and the votes of the payroll should be disregarded in trying to establish the will of the House.
§ Mr. Charles Morrison (Devizes)
I agree with the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) that it is a mistake to assume that the remedy for all the weaknesses, shortcomings and failings in the legislative process lies in Standing Orders. Perfection would be to have no Standing Orders, as is the case in another place, but I suppose that that would be too near to paradise for this House. We had to develop Standing Orders over the years to cope with our procedure. Standing Orders are the framework within which we operate, but there is no reason why the framework should not be renewed and redesigned in the light of circumstances. The proposals of the Select Committee on Procedure, especially the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), are aimed at modernising our procedure just a little.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that the proposals were radical. If he believes that, he is being a little unambitious. I regard them as moderate, mild, timely and full of good sense. Some of the speeches that we heard today about the implied perfection of our present procedures almost force me into despair.
My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton argued his case with great dexterity. I repeat what he said about why the recommendations are before the House. The Procedure Committee was specifically instructed to examine the time spent on legislation in Committee because Members of Parliament and the outside world were dissatisfied with the way in which we conduct our business. The proposals contained in the report and my hon. Friend's amendment will go some small way towards improving matters.
§ Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you tell me which rule in "Erskine May" says that in a three-hour debate on a procedure motion we must have eight speeches from hon. Members who served 1126 on the Select Committee and four speeches from Privy Councillors? Surely this was an opportunity to listen to other Back-Bench Members, not to Members who sat on the Committee.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman was the only Member who wished to speak who was not called.
§ Mr. Biffen
I do not wish to engage in further controversy, least of all upon the issue of timetabling, which has occupied so much of this evening's debate. However, I shall make one or two comments in response to specific points that were put to me on other issues.
May I first respond to the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) regarding his amendment to the motion on Special Standing Committees. I am happy to accept his amendment.
In that context, may I also refer to the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) on committal, which raises much more substantial points. I repeat the Government's preference that they should control commital to Special Standing Committees, partly because the convention has arisen that the Special Standing Committee procedure should apply to Bills that raise substantial issues not of acute party controversy. Therefore, one will appreciate that there is a real interest in the Government's determining which Bills should come within that category.
The right hon. Gentleman also asked about questions that lapse because of an overrun in business. The Government's view—it is shared more widely—is that written answers merit reinstatement, which is a fairly straightforward procedure. However, if oral questions were reinstated as written questions, it would prevent those hon. Members who had tabled them as oral questions from putting them down again as oral questions for six months. It was thought that, on the whole, this would put those hon. Members at a disadvantage. That was the basis on which we made our judgment.
Finally, on a personal note, I feel obliged to refer to the speech of the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot), whose reference to me as a latter-day Buster Keaton of the Treasury Bench leads me to believe that, unlike me, he is old enough to have seen those films in the 1930s and is showing the social disposition which I do not have of watching the repeats at weekends. Therefore, I am unable to judge the implied compliment or otherwise, but I console myself with the fact that at least I am not described as the Boris Karloff of Tory monetarism.
Amendment proposed to the proposed motion in line 4, at end add
'; approves in principle the holding of an experiment implementing, during the next session of Parliament, recommendations Nos. 9 to 16 contained in the Committee's Second Report relating to timetabling of Government bills and to the time of rising of standing committees; and believes that the Committee should monitor the operation of such an experiment.'.—[Sir Peter Emery.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made—
§ The House divided: Ayes 166, Noes 231.1129
|Division No. 86]||[7.20 pm|
|Alexander, Richard||Banks, Robert (Harrogate)|
|Alton, David||Beith, A. J.|
|Ashby, David||Bellingham, Henry|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Benyon, William|
|Ashton, Joe||Best, Keith|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Bidwell, Sydney|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Litherland, Robert|
|Body, Sir Richard||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||McCrindle, Robert|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Madel, David|
|Brinton, Tim||Malins, Humfrey|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Marlow, Antony|
|Bryan, Sir Paul||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Merchant, Piers|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Meyer, Sir Anthony|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Michie, William|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Cartwright, John||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Cash, William||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Chope, Christopher||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Nelson, Anthony|
|Cockeram, Eric||Normanton, Tom|
|Coombs, Simon||O'Brien, William|
|Cormack, Patrick||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Osborn, Sir John|
|Crowther, Stan||Owen, Rt Hon Dr David|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Parris, Matthew|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Pike, Peter|
|Dicks, Terry||Portillo, Michael|
|Dover, Den||Powley, John|
|Dykes, Hugh||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Eastham, Ken||Raffan, Keith|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Randall, Stuart|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Rathbone, Tim|
|Evennett, David||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||Roberts, Allan (Bootle)|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Rogers, Allan|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Rost, Peter|
|Forman, Nigel||Rowe, Andrew|
|Forrester, John||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Forth, Eric||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Freud, Clement||Shersby, Michael|
|Gale, Roger||Silvester, Fred|
|Galley, Roy||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Speed, Keith|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Spencer, Derek|
|Golding, John||Squire, Robin|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Greenway, Harry||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Griffiths, Sir Eldon||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Hannam, John||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Harvey, Robert||Thurnham, Peter|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Hayes, J.||Wainwright, R.|
|Heddle, John||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Hind, Kenneth||Wallace, James|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Waller, Gary|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Warren, Kenneth|
|Howells, Geraint||Watts, John|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Weetch, Ken|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)||Whitfield, John|
|Jackson, Robert||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Wilson, Gordon|
|Kennedy, Charles||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Wood, Timothy|
|Knox, David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Latham, Michael||Yeo, Tim|
|Lawrence, Ivan||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Mr. Hugh McCartney and|
|Lightbown, David||Mr. Roger Sims.|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Grist, Ian|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Gummer, Rt Hon John S|
|Ancram, Michael||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Hamilton, James (M'well N)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Hamilton, W. W. (Fife Central)|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Hardy, Peter|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Baldry, Tony||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Barnett, Guy||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Barron, Kevin||Haynes, Frank|
|Batiste, Spencer||Hayward, Robert|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Heathcoat-Amory, David|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Henderson, Barry|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Blackburn, John||Hirst, Michael|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Home Robertson, John|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Howard, Michael|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Boyes, Roland||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)|
|Bright, Graham||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hunter, Andrew|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Budgen, Nick||Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick|
|Butcher, John||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Caborn, Richard||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Key, Robert|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Lamont, Norman|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Lang, Ian|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Clarke, Thomas||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Clay, Robert||Leighton, Ronald|
|Clelland, David Gordon||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||Lilley, Peter|
|Cohen, Harry||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Colvin, Michael||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Lord, Michael|
|Cope, John||Luce, Rt Hon Richard|
|Corbett, Robin||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Couchman, James||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Craigen, J. M.||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Deakins, Eric||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Dewar, Donald||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Dixon, Donald||McKelvey, William|
|Dormand, Jack||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Dorrell, Stephen||McWilliam, John|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Madden, Max|
|Dubs, Alfred||Major, John|
|Dunn, Robert||Malone, Gerald|
|Eadie, Alex||Marek, Dr John|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Marland, Paul|
|Eggar, Tim||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Ewing, Harry||Mather, Carol|
|Fallon, Michael||Maude, Hon Francis|
|Farr, Sir John||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Fatchett, Derek||Maxton, John|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||Mayhew, Sir Patrick|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Meacher, Michael|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mellor, David|
|Foster, Derek||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Foulkes, George||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Freeman, Roger||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Moate, Roger|
|Garrett, W. E.||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|George, Bruce||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Neale, Gerrard|
|Gorst, John||Needham, Richard|
|Nellist, David||Scott, Nicholas|
|Neubert, Michael||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Newton, Tony||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Norris, Steven||Skinner, Dennis|
|Onslow, Cranley||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Snape, Peter|
|Ottaway, Richard||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Page, Sir John (Harrow W)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)||Stern, Michael|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
|Pollock, Alexander||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E.||Sumberg, David|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Renton, Tim||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Tracey, Richard|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Trippier, David|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Waddington, David|
|Robinson, Mark (N'port W)||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Rooker, J. W.||Walden, George|
|Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Ward, John|
|Ryder, Richard||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Sackville, Hon Thomas||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|That Standing Order No. 42 (Committal of bills) be amended, as follows: Line 8, after 'committee', insert 'or to a special standing committee'; Line 11, after 'Member', insert `(except a motion to commit a bill to a special standing committee, which may be made only by a Minister of the Crown)'. —[Mr. Biffen.]|
§ Amendment proposed to the Question, to leave out lines 3 and 4—[Sir Peter Emery.]
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 196, Noes, 158.1130
|Division No. 87]||[7.30 pm|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Cash, William|
|Alexander, Richard||Chapman, Sydney|
|Alton, David||Chope, Christopher|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Ashby, David||Clarke, Thomas|
|Ashton, Joe||Clay, Robert|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Clelland, David Gordon|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)||Clwyd, Mrs Ann|
|Barnett, Guy||Cockeram, Eric|
|Barron, Kevin||Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Cohen, Harry|
|Beith, A. J.||Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||Corbett, Robin|
|Benyon, William||Cormack, Patrick|
|Best, Keith||Craigen, J. M.|
|Bevan, David Gilroy||Crowther, Stan|
|Blackburn, John||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Deakins, Eric|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Dewar, Donald|
|Boyes, Roland||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Brinton, Tim||Dixon, Donald|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Dormand, Jack|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Dover, Den|
|Caborn, Richard||Dubs, Alfred|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Dykes, Hugh|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Eastham, Ken|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Emery, Sir Peter|
|Carlisle, John (Luton N)||Evennett, David|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Eyre, Sir Reginald|
|Cartwright, John||Fatchett, Derek|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Fields, T. (L 'pool Broad Gn)|
|Wareing, Robert||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Welsh, Michael||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Whitney, Raymond||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Williams, Rt Hon A.||Mr. Tim Sainsbury and|
|Winnick, David||Mr. Tony Durant.|
|Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Latham, Michael|
|Forman, Nigel||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Forrester, John||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Forth, Eric||Lightbown, David|
|Foster, Derek||Litherland, Robert|
|Foulkes, George||Lloyd, Ian (Havant)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Freud, Clement||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Galley, Roy||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Garrett, W. E.||Maclennan, Robert|
|George, Bruce||McWilliam, John|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Madel, David|
|Golding, John||Malins, Humfrey|
|Greenway, Harry||Marek, Dr John|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Marlow, Antony|
|Hardy, Peter||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Hargreaves, Kenneth||Maxton, John|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith||Meacher, Michael|
|Harvey, Robert||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Michie, William|
|Haynes, Frank||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Hind, Kenneth||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Home Robertson, John||Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Murphy, Christopher|
|Howells, Geraint||Nellist, David|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Nelson, Anthony|
|Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)||Normanton, Tom|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Jackson, Robert||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Janner, Hon Greville||Orme, Rt Hon Stanley|
|Johnston, Sir Russell||Parris, Matthew|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Kennedy, Charles||Pike, Peter|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Portillo, Michael|
|Kirkwood, Archy||Powell, Rt Hon J. E.|
|Knox, David||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Radice, Giles||Vaughan, Sir Gerard|
|Raffan, Keith||Wainwright, R.|
|Randall, Stuart||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Rathbone, Tim||Wallace, James|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Waller, Gary|
|Richardson, Ms Jo||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Rooker, J. W.||Wareing, Robert|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Warren, Kenneth|
|Rowe, Andrew||Watts, John|
|Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)||Welsh, Michael|
|Shersby, Michael||Whitfield, John|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Silvester, Fred||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Skinner, Dennis||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)||Wilson, Gordon|
|Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)||Winnick, David|
|Snape, Peter||Winterton, Mrs Ann|
|Spearing, Nigel||Wolfson, Mark|
|Spencer, Derek||Wood, Timothy|
|Steel, Rt Hon David||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)||Yeo, Tim|
|Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)||Young, David (Bolton SE)|
|Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Thurnham, Peter||Mr. Hugh McCartney and|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)||Mr. Roger Sims.|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Cope, John|
|Ancram, Michael||Couchman, James|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Baldry, Tony||Dunn, Robert|
|Banks, Robert (Harrogate)||Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)|
|Batiste, Spencer||Eggar, Tim|
|Bellingham, Henry||Fallon, Michael|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Fenner, Mrs Peggy|
|Body, Sir Richard||Fowler, Rt Hon Norman|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Freeman, Roger|
|Bottomley, Peter||Garel-Jones, Tristan|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Glyn, Dr Alan|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Goodlad, Alastair|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Gorst, John|
|Bright, Graham||Grist, Ian|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Gummer, Rt Hon John S|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Hayhoe, Rt Hon Barney|
|Budgen, Nick||Hayward, Robert|
|Butcher, John||Henderson, Barry|
|Butterfill, John||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Hirst, Michael|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Howard, Michael|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Colvin, Michael||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Coombs, Simon||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|(1) A special standing committee to which a bill has been committed shall have power during a period not exceeding 28 days (excluding periods when the House is adjourned for more than two days) from the committal of the bill, to send for persons, papers and records, and, for this purpose, to hold up to four morning sittings of not more than three hours each. At not more than three sittings oral evidence may be given and, unless the committee otherwise orders, all such evidence shall be given in public. Oral evidence shall be printed in the Official Report of the committee's debates together with such written evidence as the committee may order to be so printed.|
|(2) For the sittings referred to in paragraph (1) of this order, and nothwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 64 (Chairmen of standing committees), Mr. Speaker may appoint any Member other than a Minister of the Crown as chairman of a special standing committee.|
|(3) Except as provided in the foregoing paragraphs, the standings orders relating to standing committees and Standing Orders No. 84 (Withdrawal of documents before select committees), No. 88 (Entry of questions asked), No. 93 (Witnesses and evidence (select committees)) and No. 94 (Publication of evidence (select committees)) shall apply to any special standing committee.|
|Hunter, Andrew||Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)|
|Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas||Pattie, Geoffrey|
|Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Jones, Robert (Herts W)||Pollock, Alexander|
|Jopling, Rt Hon Michael||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Key, Robert||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Renton, Tim|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Lamont, Norman||Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm|
|Lang, Ian||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel||Robinson, Mark (N'port W)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Roe, Mrs Marion|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Rumbold, Mrs Angela|
|Lilley, Peter||Ryder, Richard|
|Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Lord, Michael||Sayeed, Jonathan|
|Luce, Rt Hon Richard||Scott, Nicholas|
|Lyell, Nicholas||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|MacGregor, Rt Hon John||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Stern, Michael|
|Major, John||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Malone, Gerald||Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
|Marland, Paul||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Mather, Carol||Sumberg, David|
|Maude, Hon Francis||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.|
|Mellor, David||Thomas, Rt Hon Peter|
|Merchant, Piers||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)||Tracey, Richard|
|Mills, Iain (Meriden)||Trippier, David|
|Mitchell, David (Hants NW)||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Moate, Roger||Waddington, David|
|Moore, Rt Hon John||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Waldegrave, Hon William|
|Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)||Walden, George|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)|
|Neale, Gerrard||Ward, John|
|Needham, Richard||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Neubert, Michael||Wheeler, John|
|Newton, Tony||Whitney, Raymond|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Norris, Steven||Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Osborn, Sir John|
|Ottaway, Richard||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Mr. Tim Sainsbury and|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Mr. Tony Durant.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ It being more than three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. SPEAKER proceeded to put forthwith the remaining Questions necessary to dispose of the Motions relating to Procedure, Committal of Bills, Public Bills relating exclusively to Scotland, Special Standing Committees, Powers of Chair to propose Question, Majority for Closure, Procedure in Standing Committees, Closure of Debate, Third Reading, Short Speeches, Questions to Members, and Adjournment on Specific and Important Matter that should have Urgent Consideration, pursuant to order [21 February].
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of the Second, Third and Fourth Reports of the Select Committee on Procedure of Session 1984–85 (House of Commons Papers Nos. 49, 396 and 623) and of the First Report of the Select Committee on Procedure of this Session (House of Commons Paper No. 42).
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,1132
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That Standing Order No. 70 (Public bills relating exclusively to Scotland) be amended by inserting, after the word `Committee' in lines 32 and 41, the words `(or a special standing committee)'.—[Mr. Biffen.]
§ Motion made, and Question proposed,1133
|(4) The question on any motion made by a Minister of the Crown to extend the period of 28 days mentioned in paragraph (1) of this order may be decided after the expiration of the time for opposed business and shall be put forthwith.|
|That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.—[Mr. Biffen.]|
§ Amendment made to the Question, in line 21, leave out "and shall be put forthwith."—[Mr. J. Enoch Powell.]
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
(1) When a Member is in the course of making a motion or moving an amendment at any stage of proceedings on a Bill, a Member rising in his place may claim to move, 'That the question be now proposed', and, unless it shall appear to the chair that such motion is an abuse of the rules of the House, the question, 'That the question be now proposed' shall be put forthwith.
(2) This order shall apply in committee only when the Chairman of Ways and Means or either Deputy Chairman is in the chair.
That this Order be a Standing Order of the House.—[Mr. Biffen.]
That Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for closure) be amended, as follows:
Line 3, after `debate)', insert 'or for the proposal of the question under Standing Order (Powers of chair to propose question)'.—[4r. Biffen.]
That Standing Order No. 68 (Procedure in standing committees) be amended, as follows;
Line 24, after 'debate)', insert Standing Order (Powers of chair to propose question)':
Line 27, after 'closure', insert 'or for the proposal of the question'.—[Mr. Biffen.]
That Standing Order No. 31 (Closure of debate) be amended, as follows:
Line 18, leave out paragraph (3).—[Mr. Biffen.]
That Standing Order No. 58 (Third reading) be amended, as follows:
Line 4, leave out paragraph (2).—[Mr. Biffen.]
§ Motion made, and Question put,
(1) For the remainder of the present Session Mr. Speaker may announce at the commencement of public business that, because of the number of Members wishing to speak in a debate on one of the matters specified in paragraph (2) of this Order, he will call Members either between six o'clock and ten minutes before eight o'clock or between seven o'clock and ten minutes before nine o'clock on Monday to Thursday sittings, and between half-past eleven o'clock and one o'clock on Friday sittings, to speak for not more than ten minutes; and whenever Mr. Speaker has made such an announcement he may, between those hours, direct any Member who has spoken for ten minutes in such a debate to resume his seat forthwith.
(2) This Order shall apply to debates on:
- (a) the second reading of public bills;
- (b) matters selected under paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 6 (Arrangement of public business) for consideration on allotted Opposition days; and
- (c) motions in the name of a Minister of the Crown.—[Mr. Biffen.]
§ The House divided: Ayes 267, Noes 32.1136
|Division No. 88]||[7.45 pm|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)|
|Alexander, Richard||Baldry, Tony|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael||Barnett, Guy|
|Ancram, Michael||Batiste, Spencer|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Benyon, William|
|Ashton, Joe||Bermingham, Gerald|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Best, Keith|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Bevan, David Gilroy|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Biffen, Rt Hon John|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Biggs-Davison, Sir John|
|Blackburn, John||Gorst, John|
|Body, Sir Richard||Greenway, Harry|
|Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Gummer, Rt Hon John S|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)|
|Bottomley, Peter||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Boyes, Roland||Harrison, Rt Hon Walter|
|Boyson, Dr Rhodes||Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Harvey, Robert|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael|
|Bright, Graham||Hawkins, C. (High Peak)|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Haynes, Frank|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Hayward, Robert|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Henderson, Barry|
|Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon A.||Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Hind, Kenneth|
|Butcher, John||Hirst, Michael|
|Butterfill, John||Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Caborn, Richard||Home Robertson, John|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||Howard, Michael|
|Campbell-Savours, Dale||Howarth, Alan (Stratf'd-on-A)|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (W'ton S)||Hoyle, Douglas|
|Cash, William||Hubbard-Miles, Peter|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Hughes, Dr Mark (Durham)|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hunt, David (Wirral W)|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hunter, Andrew|
|Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th S'n)||Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Clarke, Thomas||Jackson, Robert|
|Clay, Robert||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Jones, Robert (Herts W)|
|Cockeram, Eric||Jopling, Rt Hon Michael|
|Cohen, Harry||Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith|
|Colvin, Michael||Key, Robert|
|Coombs, Simon||King, Roger (B'ham N'field)|
|Cope, John||King, Rt Hon Tom|
|Corbett, Robin||Knight, Greg (Derby N)|
|Cormack, Patrick||Knox, David|
|Couchman, James||Lamont, Norman|
|Currie, Mrs Edwina||Lang, Ian|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Latham, Michael|
|Dixon, Donald||Lawler, Geoffrey|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.||Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel|
|Dover, Den||Lee, John (Pendle)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark|
|Dunn, Robert||Lilley, Peter|
|Durant, Tony||Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)|
|Eastham, Ken||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Edwards, Bob (W'h'mpt'n SE)||Lofthouse, Geoffrey|
|Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)||Lord, Michael|
|Eggar, Tim||Luce, Rt Hon Richard|
|Emery, Sir Peter||Lyell, Nicholas|
|Evennett, David||McCurley, Mrs Anna|
|Eyre, Sir Reginald||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Fallon, Michael||MacGregor, Rt Hon John|
|Fatchett, Derek||MacKay, Andrew (Berkshire)|
|Fenner, Mrs Peggy||MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||McWilliam, John|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Malins, Humfrey|
|Fletcher, Alexander||Maples, John|
|Forman, Nigel||Marlow, Antony|
|Forrester, John||Marshall, Michael (Arundel)|
|Forth, Eric||Mather, Carol|
|Foulkes, George||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Norman||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Freeman, Roger||Michie, William|
|Galley, Roy||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|George, Bruce||Mitchell, David (Hants NW)|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Moore, Rt Hon John|
|Golding, John||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Morris, M. (N'hampton S)|
|Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)||Scott, Nicholas|
|Moynihan, Hon C.||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Murphy, Christopher||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Neale, Gerrard||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Needham, Richard||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Nellist, David||Shersby, Michael|
|Neubert, Michael||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Newton, Tony||Silvester, Fred|
|Nicholls, Patrick||Sims, Roger|
|Normanton, Tom||Smith, C.(Isl'ton S & F'bury)|
|Norris, Steven||Spencer, Derek|
|Oppenheim, Phillip||Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)|
|Osborn, Sir John||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Ottaway, Richard||Stern, Michael|
|Page, Richard (Herts SW)||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|Parris, Matthew||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Patten, Christopher (Bath)||Stewart, Ian (Hertf'dshire N)|
|Patten, J. (Oxf W & Abgdn)||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Pattie, Geoffrey||Sumberg, David|
|Pavitt, Laurie||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Pike, Peter||Thorne, Neil (Ilford S)|
|Pollock, Alexander||Thurnham, Peter|
|Powell, Rt Hon J. E.||Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)|
|Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)||Tracey, Richard|
|Powell, William (Corby)||Trippier, David|
|Powley, John||Twinn, Dr Ian|
|Prentice, Rt Hon Reg||Viggers, Peter|
|Proctor, K. Harvey||Waddington, David|
|Raffan, Keith||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Raison, Rt Hon Timothy||Walden, George|
|Randall, Stuart||Walker, Bill (T'side N)|
|Renton, Tim||Waller, Gary|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Ward, John|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas||Wardle, C. (Bexhill)|
|Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm||Warren, Kenneth|
|Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)||Watts, John|
|Robinson, P. (Belfast E)||Welsh, Michael|
|Roe, Mrs Marion||Wheeler, John|
|Rooker, J. W.||Whitney, Raymond|
|Rowe, Andrew||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Rumbold, Mrs Angela||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Ryder, Richard||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Sainsbury, Hon Timothy||Wilson, Gordon|
|Sayeed, Jonathan||Winnick, David|
|Yeo, Tim||Tellers for the Ayes|
|Young, David (Bolton SE)||Mr. Donald Thompson and|
|Young, Sir George (Acton)||Mr. Francis Maude|
|Younger, Rt Hon George|
|Alton, David||MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Barron, Kevin||Marek, Dr John|
|Beith, A. J.||Marlow, Antony|
|Bruce, Malcolm||Maxton, John|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Cartwright, John||Moate, Roger|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Skinner, Dennis|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Snape, Peter|
|Freud, Clement||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)||Wainwright, R.|
|Howells, Geraint||Wallace, James|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Johnston, Sir Russell|
|Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Kennedy, Charles||Mr. Archy Kirkwood and|
|McKay, Allen (Penistone)||Mr. Robert Maclennan.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That Standing Order No. 8 (Questions to Members) be amended, as follows:
Line 99, at end, add—
'(9) Any questions tabled for written answer on a day on which this House does not sit by reason of the continuance of a previous sitting shall be deemed to be questions for written answer on the next sitting day and shall appear on the order paper for that day.'—[Mr. Biffen.]
That Standing Order No. 10 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) be amended, as follows:
Line 4, after 'propose', insert 'in an application lasting not more than three minutes'.—[Mr. Biffen.]