HC Deb 25 October 1989 vol 158 cc877-9
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As a means of helping today's business and safeguarding the rights of Parliament—about which I am sure the Leader of the House is very concerned—may I ask you, Sir, how it can possibly be in order for the House to consider tonight the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 (Amendment) Order 1989, which repeals, on the interim advice of the European Court, sections of a law passed by Parliament only last year which was stated by the Minister introducing the Bill to be essential if British fishing quotas were to be preserved for British fishermen?

Let me make two points. The order relates solely to the nationality provisions of vessel ownership and qualified persons. Is that not sub judice? There are two other cases involving both nationality and company domicile and residence, on which the United Kingdom Government are required to provide their final submissions by 9 and 15 November. Those cases are Nos. 221 and 213 of 1989, and are known as the Crown v. Factor Tame Ltd. and Others, initiated by Spanish fishermen. If we lost that case, another order revoking another section will be required, taking up more parliamentary time, and if we win the order itself will be revoked.

The second argument is whether it might be irrelevant and time-wasting to have a debate at all tonight. In case No. 213—before the European Court—the House of Lords, in its judicial capacity, is seeking the advice of the European Court on whether British courts, and not the British Parliament, have the right to suspend or revoke laws passed by Parliament at the request of the European Court. Surely it is silly to waste our time at a late hour, when in a short time the divisional courts in Britain may have the power to act in that legislative capacity and do the job for us. As the final date for submissions of evidence is 9 November, we have not long to wait.

I hope that you will agree, Mr. Speaker, that the constitutional issues and rights of Parliament that are involved are important and fundamental, and that, in the circumstances, to discuss the order tonight would make nonsense of parliamentary procedures.

The draft order states for all to see that copies of the judgment can be obtained from the Treasury Solicitor, and not from the House of Commons. It seems wrong to me that Members of Parliament are apparently denied even the ready availability of papers that they require to do their work. I hope that you agree, Mr. Speaker, that this is an important issue and one that matters to Parliament, whatever we are doing.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman kindly gave me notice of his point of order, so I have been able to look into it with great care, and I have some sympathy with what he has said.

As to whether tonight's debate would be affected by the sub judice rule, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that rule does not apply during the consideration of delegated legislation, or to proceedings of the European Court. As to the hon. Gentleman's other points about the provisional nature of what the House is being asked to do tonight, that is really a matter for debate, not a point of order for me.

As to the availability of copies of the interim judgment of the court, copies of the judgment are available to the general public from the Treasury Solicitor, but I am informed that a copy was deposited in the House together with the draft order, and that copies for the use of Members are now available in the Vote Office. As to whether the debate proceeds, that is not a matter for me, but I am sure that, in the light of what the Leader of the House has just said, he will consider it.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I thank you for the helpful ruling that you have just given, and I think we are very encouraged by the fact that you feel that there is ground for sympathy with the point of view put by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor).

As the Leader of the House is present, may I make a suggestion in good will, as one who is not directly involved in the issue? I have consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who will be dealing with it for the Opposition. He assures me that he has met fishing interests from England, Scotland and Wales, all of whom are affected by the issue.

In addition, other hon. Members are as deeply concerned as the hon. Member for Southend, East about the constitutional aspects of the problem. Yet we are to have a debate of only an hour and a half. There is no way in which either side of the issue can be justifiably and fairly aired in an hour and a half. Therefore, I appeal to the Leader of the House to withdraw it this evening and bring it back, even if it has to be late at night. I am sure that hon. Members who are involved in constitutional issues will be willing to stay and debate it if a proper debate could be arranged.

Mr. Speaker

Allow me to deal with this matter. It is not a matter of order for me, as the deputy shadow Leader of the House——

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)


Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not a matter of order for me——

Mr. Shepherd

There is a point of order.

Mr. Speaker

Order. No, please. I am on my feet. The deputy shadow Leader of the House has put a suggestion to the Leader of the House. I am sure that these matters can be discussed through the usual channels, but they are not a matter of order for the Chair.

Mr. Shepherd

There is a point of order that I think is for us and for you, Sir, as our representative in the Chair.

Mr. Speaker

Of course I always take these points of order, but the hon. Gentleman must not jump up when the Speaker is on his feet. If he has a genuine point of order, will he please put it now?

Mr. Shepherd

There is a genuine constitutional worry here. My understanding and concern—this is why I seek your guidance—is that the supremacy of Parliament meant that the most recent legislation gainsays legislation made prior to it. In this instance, the Merchant Shipping Act was passed last year, the European Communities Act was passed in the 1970s and the Single European Act was passed some years ago. By what authority, therefore, is a piece of legislation that we have passed as recently as last year being questioned or countered by authorities beyond this territory, under preceding legislation that has since been gainsaid by our last legislative expression on the matter? That is my point of order.

Mr. Speaker

That, sympathetic though I am with it, is not a point of order for the Chair. These matters have to be put to Ministers who are dealing with this particular order. It is not a matter for me.