HC Deb 23 July 1986 vol 102 cc470-508

Lords amendments considered.

11.13 pm
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

The House will wish to know that Mr. Speaker has selected two manuscript amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and other hon. Members. Copies are available in the House and from the Vote Office. The amendments will be discussed in the appropriate groups, which are those headed by the Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 34.

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am pleased that Mr. Speaker has accepted two manuscript amendments. However, the Government have acted with unholy haste to try to get this shabby legislation on the statute book.

In Committee hon. Members did not have a copy of Hansard, because of the number of Bills going through the House. At that time, about 10 Bills were being considered by Standing Committees. Hon. Members were unable to avail themselves of the Hansard record of Committee sittings. The Government amended clause 26 concerning the redundancy payments scheme. Originally, the scheme was to be operative from 1 October. The Government decided that, by amending clause 26, they could save an extra £50 million. That proposal has caused complications in my constituency, where there have been massive redundancies in the shipbuilding industry. As a result of the date being brought forward, more shipyard workers were made redundant. The shipbuilding employers were not able to claim the 35 per cent. from the central fund. Therefore, more workers than necessary were made redundant to make up the shortfall.

I submit that there is no reason why the Bill should be discussed tonight. Hon. Members should have sufficient time to table amendments and consider those made by the other place. Wages councils are not discussing employees' claims pending the passage of this legislation and they hope that the Bill will be passed before the recess.

Clause 26 is sufficient reason for the House not to discuss the Bill. The redundancy payments scheme, to which employers and employees contribute, made a profit last year of £9 million.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member is straying far from his point of order. He is arguing his case.

Mr. Dixon

I am explaining why I am raising the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I submit that the House should not proceed with the debate on the Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The only consideration for me is the decision of the House. The House has already decided that the Bill will be considered. A motion to that effect has already been passed.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House that the 10 o'clock business motion was carried without a Division. It stated that the Bill would be considered tonight until any hour. I cannot go against that decision.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I am bound by the decision of the House.

Mr. McWilliam

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The business motion merely says that the Bill "may" be considered after 10 o'clock. It does not say that it "must" be considered.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The arguments yesterday by the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) were made to Mr. Speaker by other hon. Members. That is why Mr. Speaker considered the manuscript amendments. The timing of the debate is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Nellist

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I thank you for your ruling on the two manuscript amendments, which we submitted this afternoon in the expectation of the debate being taken later this evening.

The point of order that I raised yesterday in the presence of Mr. Speaker was considered by him on the basis that the 1984–85 report of the Committee on Procedure clearly laid down standard guidelines as to how much time should pass between consideration of different stages of a Bill. The Leader of the House was present during that exchange. At my request, the right hon. Gentleman came to the Dispatch Box. He produced an example of the last time a Bill had left the other place and arrived in the Commons the following day. In 1977, almost 10 years ago, that not unprecedented but certainly unusual mechanism was used.

I do not want to develop the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon), but I wish to request a further ruling. It is clear that the Bill is being rushed through because of the change of the date in part III, which was announced on virtually the last sitting of Standing Committee K. As far as I can discover from a brief reading of "Erskine May", we may consider on the same day or subsequent day to the Third Reading in the House of Lords the final stages of a Bill in this place if there is an "emergency". How is an "emergency" defined? Is it an "emergency" if the Government want to "save" an extra £50 million from the redundancy payments scheme? That is not their money. That is a scheme into which employers and employees have paid and from which they expect to gain money when faced with the problem of job losses.

I have raised this point of order now, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because, when I raised it yesterday and Mr. Speaker kindly and carefully gave his ruling, neither he nor I was aware that at about 8 o'clock last night the Government would bring in a host of new amendments on Third Reading in the other place. Those amendments were not available to any hon. Member until later this morning. It took my hon. Friends and I some hours poring over last night's amendments—

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

The hon. Gentleman was moonlighting.

Mr. Nellist

If the hon. Gentleman wants to comment, he can do so under his own steam. He should give me a little quiet while I am finishing my comments.

We were not able to consider those amendments until this morning because they were not tabled by the Government until 8 o'clock yesterday—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) must contain himself.

Mr. Nellist

My legitimate point of order, not like the bogus heckling coming from the Tory Benches, is to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how, in the light of the rules that govern the House, in "Erskine May" or wherever, the Chair defines an "emergency" when it allows the Government to bring a Bill from the House of Lords into the Commons within 24 hours. I can think of several occasions in the past three years, never mind the past 10, which marked a far greater crisis for the Government to get through than merely the saving of £50 million, by creative accountancy, which has been put into a redundancy insurance fund by workers and employers in this country. I ask you to rule on that. Is this a necessary emergency to enable them to get away with this tonight?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not the job of the Chair to give definitions about "Erskine May", I am glad to say. The Chair's job is to carry out the rules of the Houe and to proceed with what is in order. I understand that hon. Members may well criticise the timing and actions of the Government and so on. However, everything that is taking place is completely in order and it will be in order when we consider the Wages Bill.

Mr. Ken Eastham (Manchester, Blackley)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. An important point has been raised by my hon. Friend the member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon). He said that Government Departments are already interpreting law which has not even been made yet because the Bill has not been approved by the House. If that is the case, it is a serious legal principle that should be clarified. If people are being denied their rights under the present legislation because this legislation has not been introduced, it is a serious matter that should be clarified by the Chair.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

My job is to decide whether it is proper and in order to discuss the Lords amendments to the Wages Bill tonight, and it is.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bow and Popular)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You were good enough, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), to say what you considered to be the duties of the Chair. With respect, I have always understood that one of the duties of the Chair is to protect the rights of private Members so that they can properly carry out their duties to the House and to their constituents. The procedure which is now being adopted does not provide facilities for hon. Members to carry out their duties properly.

We are dealing with a Bill of considerable complexity. It is a Bill which, as those who served on the Standing Committee will recall, involved a great deal of research to understand all its implications. It involved not only a great deal of research, but a great deal of consultation with interested parties, such as the Low Pay Unit and others. Since it is impossible for any such study of the complexity to be made and for any consultation with outside bodies to take place between 10.30 am and 11 pm on a single day, I submit that the procedure we are now having to undergo does not provide proper facilities for hon. Members to carry out their duties to the House and to their constituents. Therefore, I believe that it is right for my hon. Friends to seek your help, against the Government, to ensure that the job can be done properly and in accordance with the normal procedures of the House. That can be done only if the Minister will take the Bill away and bring it back at another time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has had great experience in the House. I have made arguments such as that myself, and it may be valid. However, my duty is to interpret the rights of Back Benchers in accordance with the rules and procedures of the House. All I can say is that, although we may think that the debate comes too soon after the Bill has left the other place, everything is in order. It is in order to proceed with the debate on the Lords amendments, and I am bound to allow the debate to take place.

  1. Clause 1
    1. cc473-4
  2. Clause 2
    1. cc474-83
  3. Clause 4
    1. cc483-6
  4. Clause 6
    1. cc486-91
  5. Clause 14
    1. cc491-9
    2. WAGES ORDERS 4,543 words
  6. New Clause
    1. cc499-501
  7. Clause 18
    1. c501
  8. Schedule 2
    1. cc501-5
  9. Schedule 6
    1. cc505-8
Forward to