HC Deb 27 June 1986 vol 100 cc597-664

Considered in Committee [Progress, 26 June]


9.36 am
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. I should like your advice. As you probably remember, in the early hours of this morning, the Government sought to report progress. When a Government Whip or Minister seeks to report progress, is it in order for that issue to be debated, or is it in order only if the motion is moved by a Back Bencher? This morning, when the Minister or Whip sought to report progress, 1 rose immediately to my feet because I was well aware that the House wanted to debate this important issue. I know that the Government are concerned to get the business, but I know that many hon. Members wished to continue the debate. When I rose to my feet, the motion had been moved but no debate took place. Is it possible for a debate to ensue only when a Back Bencher asks to report progress?

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

The motion to report progress is debatable.

Sir Edward du Cann (Taunton)

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. I wonder whether it would be for the convenience of the Committee if we were to ask for a statement about the Government's intentions in relation to the allocation of time for the remainder of this measure. A number of us find ourselves in some difficulty. We had, I thought, a clear understanding with the Government that time would be given yesterday for the Committee stage, and again today. Now we see that there is an arrangement between the usual channels for the Third Reading to be taken late on Tuesday.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

There has been no arrangement.

Sir Edward du Cann

It is on the Whip that the Third Reading will be taken on Tuesday.

Yesterday, of the nine groups of amendments for discussion, only one was completed, and one is still being debated. It is felt by many of us, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) has just remarked, that this measure is of the greatest constitutional importance, and it is obviously necessary that a full allocation of time be given to discuss it. However, arbitrarily it seems to me, and certainly without any discussion with my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, the Government curtailed the discussion this morning. That put us in some difficulty, because there is then an obligation upon us, if we are to complete our business today, to do it in very much less time than we had anticipated would be available to us.

There has been no time wasting or filibustering on these Benches. There has, instead, been a strong expression of opinion about what is an extremely significant measure. In these circumstances, and because the Government have curtailed discussion, there is an obligation on them to provide adequate time for our continuing discussions, and I hope that we shall have an announcement this morning to that effect.

The First Deputy Chairman

The Government Front Bench will have heard what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is not a matter for me.

Mr. Spearing

I shall not pursue that point, Mr. Armstrong, but it might be convenient if the Government would let us know whether they wish to pursue the business motion of which notice has been given before the usual time of moving it.

I wish to raise two separate points of order, and I hope that it will be possible for the Minister to comment on them. The first arises from the ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means yesterday as reported in Hansard at column 487. I raised the issue of the memorandum from the Minister of State, Treasury relating to the proposal for the European budget to rise to the 1.4 per cent. VAT ceiling. Quite properly, and with the help of the House, the Minister referred to that in her reply. In doing so, she gave us a great deal of additional information relating to the Government's attitude to that proposal and what would, happen on 16 and 17 July when the proposal reached the Council of Ministers. The Minister looks a little puzzled. I merely want to ask her whether she will convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the fact that for purposes of scrutiny the House and the public will need a supplementary memorandum to the inadequate one already tabled to enable the House and the Scrutiny Committee to do their job in that respect. Will she give an assurance—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order with me, but I have not heard anything yet which is in my jurisdiction.

Mr. Spearing

I have not concluded my point of order. It arises from yesterday's ruling by the Chairman of Ways and Means relating to this important matter.

Mr. Michael Foot (Blaenau Gwent)

Further to the point of order of the right hon. Member for Taunton (Sir E. du Cann), Mr. Armstrong. May I suggest how the House could be assisted by the Leader of the House, who is present, obviously for the purpose of seeing that the business is embarked on properly. I have no complaint against the Government reporting progress last night; that was obviously the right course for them to take. Those in charge of Government business at that time took into account the fact that there had been much more extensive debate on these questions than the Government may have thought likely. That being the case, the only way to solve some of these problems is for the Government to take that into acount.

Would it be possible for us to have a statement from the Leader of the House about his intentions regarding the motion on the Order Paper which is to be moved at 2.30 pm? If we wait until then to discover what the Government's intentions are, it will be extremely inconvenient for many hon. Members, especially as this arises from a matter which occurred only late last night.

In the interests of the Chair and the House generally, would it not be desirable for the Leader of the House to make a statement about the motion which might influence our discussions later today? I do not know whether the motion is tabled as a type of sanction—I know that that is not the type of filthy language which the Leader of the House would like to be used at this time—but there is an element of sanction in it because if the proceedings do not go as fast as the Government wish they may move that motion. However, if the Government have the same experience in today's debate as they had last night, they will come to the conclusion, properly, at 2.30 pm to report progress and ask leave to sit again. They made that decision wisely last night and it will be perfectly open to them to do so today at 2.30 pm. I ask the Leader of the House to assist the Committee by saying that he will adopt at 2.30 pm the same wisdom as someone did on his advice late last night.

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

I find almost irresistible the attractions of any proposal by the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot). He knows perfectly well that I am anxious to get started and have a good, robust, constructive debate. The progress that we make must in a sense determine the attitude at 2.30 pm.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Further to that point of order. Mr. Armstrong. Would it be possible for you to appeal to the Leader of the House—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The Leader of the House has heard the exchanges. If the point of order is on the same point, given the judgment of the Leader of the House, we should move on.

Mr. Marlow

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. As I said to you on a previous point of order, I rose to speak last night when the Whips proposed that we should report progress. I wished to debate the issue because it was most important —

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I was not present last night, and if the hon. Gentleman failed to catch the Chairman's eye it is, not a matter to be discussed this morning. I call Mr. Dennis Skinner.

Mr. Marlow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Many hon. Members want the issues to be debated properly —

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. I called Mr. Dennis Skinner. I shall come back to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow).

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Since you were not present last night, may I explain that the Government obviously were in great difficulty in keeping at least 100 hon. Members in the House to move a closure successfully? The Whips were running round the building and on to the Terraces trying to get Tories out of bars, and it became apparent around midnight — [Interruption.] It is perfectly true. The Government suddenly realised that they could not close the debate in which my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) was speaking at the time, especially as they knew that several other formidable Back Benchers were prepared to take part in a debate of momentous consequence for the British Isles and its people.

For that reason, the Government decided, arbitrarily and without any consultation with Back Benchers or through the usual channels, to get rid of nine hours debating time between the hours of midnight and 9.30 am. They forfeited of their own accord nine hours of debating time. Now they have the cheek to tell my right hon. and hon. Friends today that they must rush through this extremely important matter, which gives tremendous power to the European Community and removes power from the British people, by 2,30 pm. Since you, Mr. Armstrong, and your mates must sit in the Chair throughout these proceedings, you have a duty to ensure that power is not handed over from the Government to the Common Market. Indeed, the power of the Speaker is also marginally affected by handing over power to the Common Market. You, Mr. Armstrong, together with Mr. Speaker and the rest, have a vested interest in ensuring that the matter is properly debated, that more time is allocated, and that we do not debate Third Reading on Tuesday but continue the debate at 2.30 pm today.

The First Deputy Chairman

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern for the occupants of the Chair, but I remind the Committee that the motion to report progress was carried last night. I must act on that.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. In view of our obligations to the staff of the House, as well as to ourselves, would you consider it fair for you as Chairman to ask the Leader of the House to give some indicaton to us of what progress he thinks would be reasonable —

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The Leader of the House has been present throughout these proceedings and he has made a statement to the Committee. We are talking in debating time, and I think we should move on.

Mr. Marlow

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. Have you any status in the decision to move the business motion at 2.30 pm? Can you decide whether it should be moved or must it be put before the House if the Government wish to move it? As hon. Members have said, many of us wish to debate the issue properly at a time when hon. Members are present to debate it and when we do not have commitments elsewhere. As you are aware, this is a major constitutional issue and it would be completely inappropriate—

The First Deputy Chairman

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not raising a matter for decision by me. I can either accept or refuse a motion to report progress, but we shall decide that when we arrive at the appropriate time. We must not look too far ahead. We should get on with the debate.

Mr. Spearing

This is my second point of order, Mr. Armstrong. May I preface it by assuring you that I did not wish to trespass upon the rules of order. Therefore, for your assistance, may I make a preliminary inquiry?

When we are in Committee upstairs—where we have a more orderly and timely debate — it is possible for hon. Members to raise with the Chair undertakings which Ministers have given and then pursue them at the next sitting of the Committee. Yesterday, as reported at column 532 of the Official Report, the Minister graciously gave me an undertaking. Since you thought, Mr. Armstrong, that my inquiry relating to a ruling of the Chair—which I should have thought would be taken upstairs in Committee as a proper point of order — was not a proper point of order, is it now in order for ale to raise a point of order on the first two lines of column 532, which relate to an undertaking, or half an undertaking, which the Minister gave yesterday and which is now germane to our future business?

The First Deputy Chairman

That is not a matter of order. The Minister said that she would write to the hon. Gentleman if there was some disagreement on the matter.

Mr. Spearing

On a point of order, Mr. Armstrong. I hope that the Minister will provide that information before the clause stand part debate. That is a point of order. I hope that the Minister will agree to do that.

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