HC Deb 22 July 1986 vol 102 cc201-3
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

I wish to raise a point of order on a matter of which I have given prior notice.

Together with several of my Labour comrades I sat for many weeks on Standing Committee K, considering the Wages Bill, which is to come before the House tomorrow, after the Social Security Bill and the Social Security Regulations, and after the clotted cream and strawberries have been served at a wedding that I understand is to take place.

There are strict conventions governing what we are allowed to discuss tomorrow night. For instance, we are only allowed to discuss the amendments made to the Bill in the House of Lords. I should have liked to be able to table amendments to those Lords amendments and to put them before the House tomorrow evening. However, the Lords are not debating the Third Reading of the Wages Bill until tonight. The Vote Office can provide no information about what has been discussed so far or what changes might be made tonight on Third Reading.

I should like to quote from the Report of the Select Committee on Procedure of 1984–85: If Parliament is adequately to scrutinise legislation and to have time to improve it, we believe it is essential that (emergencies excepted) reasonable periods are allowed for reflection and for consultation. We propose that the following intervals be laid down in Standing Orders as the minimum between various stages of a Bill:

  1. (a) two weekends between first and second reading;
  2. (b) ten days between second reading and the start of committee stage; and
  3. (c) ten days between report from committee and the start of Report stage."
We shall have barely 10 hours after the Lords finish with the Bill before it returns to the Commons. I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to protect the 3 million workers who are to lose either holidays or legal minimum wages under the Bill, and to protect the rights of hon. Members adequately to analyse legislation and to consult those affected before we speak in the Chamber. May we either have advice on how to delay consideration of the Bill or have the recess delayed for at least two weeks so that we can do the job that our electors sent us here to do?

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Poplar)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As one who sat through the Standing Committee which considered the Wages Bill, may I put it to you and the House that this is an involved, complicated and technically difficult Bill which is not easy to understand? Indeed, for most of the time, the Minister in charge of the Committee found great difficulty in understanding the Bill. When he was forced to depart from the bits of paper that his advisers gave him, he flopped around because he did not understand it.

I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that we shall not have the Lords amendments until tomorrow morning and that that is grossly unfair. There are many interests involved. The Low Pay Unit, a public institution, is very much involved. It has taken a great interest in the Bill. It will be impossible to consult it in the few hours that are available. Many trade unions are involved, as is the Equal Opportunities Commission. This is an abuse of the procedures of the House and I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will be kind enough, as you always are, to give some thought to the matter.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you also bear in mind, when considering the point of order, the shabby way in which the Government have treated hon. Members during the passage of the Bill? On numerous occasions in Committee I and other hon. Members protested because Hansard was not available to enable members of the Committee to consider the Minister's speeches. It was pointed out that because there were 10 Standing Committees at that time the printers could not print Hansard in time. The Hansard staff were not at fault.

In addition, the Government amended part III during the passage of the Bill which brought forward the redundancy payment scheme. The reason given was that the Government intended to take another £50 million out of the redundancy fund—a fund incidentally, which is contributed to by employers and employers in Britain. Nevertheless, the Government wanted to steal an extra £50 million. That is the way that the Government have treated the Bill during its passage through the House.

I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East, (Mr. Nellist) said about amendments not being available for hon. Members to consider until tomorrow because the other place is having the Third Reading debate today, during which amendments can be tabled.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you will appreciate that my hon. Friends have a real and serious point. We shall have amendments which, as yet, we can only speculate on, and which will be of profound importance to many of our constituents. Yet not only shall we not see them, but, unless you are willing to help in some way, there seems at the moment to be no way in which we shall be able to amend the amendments in time. Therefore, we would appreciate your guidance on that. However, I emphasise that, whatever arrangement you make, for which we shall be grateful, we still regard them as a poor substitute for the proper consideration that the legislation should have had.

Mr. Speaker

I understand the difficulty in which the House finds itself, and I thank the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) for having given notice of the point of order. He and the House will know that I am not responsible for the organisation of business; that is a matter which would be best discussed through the usual channels.

The timing of the business and the fact that the House is due to go into recess this weekend is in the hands of the House. I fully recognise the difficulties in which hon. Members have been placed in this matter and I shall bear that in mind when I make my selection.

Mr. Nellist

Further to my point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I am not sure that I can help the hon. Gentleman any more.

Mr. Nellist

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for having helped in the way that you have done so far. However, did I correctly understand the latter part of your remarks to mean that if amendments were tabled tomorrow as a result of tonight's Third Reading in the other place, the normal convention of a couple of days' notice would be set aside so that Labour Members could table amendments? Secondly, through you, Mr. Speaker, as the Leader of the House is listening, may I appeal to the Leader of the House to say whether he has anything to say about the position in which we will find ourselves tomorrow?

Mr. Speaker

I shall consider starred amendments, and I might, if time is short, have to consider manuscript amendments. We do not know what will happen, but I shall consider the matter carefully.

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

I am sure that the House will appreciate your concern, Mr. Speaker, to help us in the way in which amendments are selected. The arrangements for dealing with the Bill are, of course, far less than ideal, but they are by no means unprecedented. If the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) would like to do just a little homework, he will find that taking the Commons consideration of Lords' amendments the day after the Bill leaves the other place is by no means unprecedented. For example, the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, completed its passage in the other place on Wednesday 23 March 1977 — a significant date—and was considered by the Commons on Thursday 24 March.