HC Deb 01 February 1988 vol 126 cc714-6

4.4 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On Friday 29 January, the Government tabled three pages of wide-ranging, controversial, important amendments to the Local Government Bill currently under consideration in another place. The Bill was in Committee in this House from July until December, but we were not given any indication that amendments would be tabled in this way—

Mr. Speaker

Is the Bill in Committee, because if it is—

Dr. Cunningham

No, in the Lords.

Mr. Speaker

If the Bill is in the Lords, it is not a matter for me.

Dr. Cunningham

If I could pursue the matter for a moment, Mr. Speaker. The amendments give increased powers to auditors over elected councillors, so are of great importance. They could, and should, more properly—

Mr. Speaker

Order. If a Bill is in the Lords, it is not a matter for me and I cannot comment or rule on it.

Dr. Cunningham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have a Local Government Finance Bill before the Commons now. The Government have tabled in the Lords amendments to the Local Government Bill, which are about the administration of local government finance. Why have the Government chosen to proceed in this way? In doing so they are preventing the House of Commons from scrutinising the proposals properly. The House is entitled to an explanation why that has been done and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must stop the hon. Member there. If the Lords amend the Bill, it will have to come back to the House of Commons with Lords amendments, and that will be the appropriate moment to discuss it. I am sorry, but I cannot rule on this now because it is not a matter for me.

Dr. Cunningham

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that you will agree that I rarely take the time of the House to raise points of order. Two questions arise from this. First, in proceeding in this way the Government are depriving the Commons of proper time to scrutinise these matters, so surely there must be a point of protection of hon. Members somewhere. Secondly, even setting that aside, surely it is proper for the Leader of the House — I am grateful for his presence — to give an assurance now that additional time will be provided in the Commons for the proper consideration of these matters. That is a perfectly reasonable request.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

These are matters for the usual channels at the right time.

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you could possibly help some hon. Members on both sides of the House. A few years ago a Select Committee, chaired by one of my former hon. Friends who is now in the other place, made recommendations on Appeal Court decisions. It made several recommendations on the improvement in dealing with procedures where appeals had been rejected by the Court of Appeal and on how more effective justice could be brought about.

I am raising this matter because we have a narrow window in time between the decision on the Birmingham Six on Thursday and a possible appeal to the House of Lords next Monday. I hope that you may be able to help the House by thinking about this because that would enable the House, if it felt so inclined, to improve the way in which decisions are reached and to have a discussion, bearing in mind all the relevant facts from the Birmingham Six case which would otherwise be declared, properly, to be sub judice.

Mr. Speaker

Select Committees frequently make recommendations that are not debated by the House. It is a pity that they are not debated, but there has been no change in our Standing Orders in that regard.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) begged to ask leave to adjourn the House under Standing Order No. 20 to discuss the case of the six men who were found guilty, by a jury, of the bombings in Birmingham. Page 361 of "Erskine May" deals with matters to be dealt with by a substantive motion. I understand that certain matters cannot be debated save upon a substantive motion, and that they include the behaviour or actions of judges of superior courts. The hon. Member, maybe inadvertently, said that judges were unable to own up to their mistakes, or words to that effect. I imagine that that is in direct contravention of the provisions set out in "Erskine May". If that is the case, can we have your advice on the matter?

Mr. Speaker

I did not interrupt the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) in the three minutes available to him, but I have ruled that I do not think that it was an appropriate matter for discussion under Standing Order No. 20.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Recently, and at my request, you kindly furnished me with some details of rowdyism in the House of Commons to show that rowdyism in today's Parliament is considerably less than it has been in previous ones. One of the things which became clear to me when reading that information was that the House, certainly the Opposition, tend to get more rowdy when confronted by a Government who are bloated with arrogance, as they say, who fail to—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It would be unfair to discuss across the Floor of the House what the hon. Gentleman and I may have discussed in private.

Mr. Banks

I merely wished to say that there is potential for further rowdyism this afternoon, it would seem, because we have heard and read in the media recently a lot about a possible proposal to abolish the Inner London education authority. The Secretary of State has not seen fit to make a statement, and it is about time that we had one.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may have an opportunity to debate this matter in the business upon which we are about to embark.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

I do not wish to challenge your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but, further to the point of order, the motion that we are to debate is not about ILEA. It is about a timetable motion for the Education Reform Bill. Thousands of my constituents were alarmed at the news of the potential break-up of ILEA and the enormously increased costs that that would impose on them. Surely it is incumbent on the Government to make a clear statement to the House about the future of ILEA before we debate the timetable motion, which has nothing to do with ILEA.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are today being invited to vote for a motion which would curtail debate on the Education Reform Bill, one of the provisions of which would allow what Conservative Members call the opting out of London boroughs from ILEA. That is an important matter, but it is relatively small compared with the possibility of abolition of ILEA. Opposition Members and, I am sure, parents in inner London believe that if it is proposed to abolish ILEA, doing it as a side-show through this Bill after a timetable motion has been passed by the House would be utterly unacceptable. We would like a statement from the Secretary of State outlining what he proposes to do.

Mr. Speaker

I do not know whether ILEA is to be abolished. I accept that we are about to debate a timetable motion which is based on the fact that ILEA is not to be abolished. No doubt if anything of that kind were to occur, it would be a matter to bring to the Leader of the House for further discussions on the timetable.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have listened carefully to what my hon. Friends have said about this matter. The Secretary of State, who is promoting the Education Reform Bill — GERBIL, as it is known—will change the very nature of the Bill if these proposals go through. It seems to me that the motion which suggests that we get rid of ILEA, which has been signed by more than 100 Tory Members, headed by the right hon. Members for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) and for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), is not just about the Education Reform Bill, but about the successor to the Prime Minister. In those circumstances, the Secretary of State should make a statement and—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I cannot answer questions such as that which the hon. Gentleman is about to ask.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You may not be aware of this but, during the weekend, a matter relating to the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) was widely reported in the Scottish press, but that is incidental. Some of his suits were destroyed in his flat. The hon. and learned Gentleman was reported as saying: One of the suits was made by Mr. Speaker's firm at a cost of £1,500 plus VAT. The hon. and learned Gentleman continued: You cannot just go up to the Speaker and ask him to make a suit for a couple of hundred pounds. Before other hon. Members start receiving letters from constituents, can you make it clear that not all of us get such favours?

Mr. Speaker

I have nothing to do with my family business these days and I have no idea what they charge, but if what the hon. Gentleman says is correct, I shall have seriously to consider taking a second part-time job.