HC Deb 15 October 1990 vol 177 cc983-1015

Order read for consideration of Lords amendment.

Lords amendment: In page 4, lines 9 to 17, leave out clause 6.

7.1 pm

Mr. Vivian Bendall (Ilford, North)

I beg to move, That the amendment be now considered.

Hon. Members may wonder why I rise to speak to the Bill. It is because my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) is with an IPU delegation in Uruguay. He sends his apologies for not being able to be here. I shall say nothing more about the Bill because it has been debated in both Houses and in Committee.

Mr. Michael Neubert (Romford)

I am pleased to have this early opportunity to speak, on our first day back after the long summer recess. It is seven and a half years since I spoke from the Back Benches; for a great deal of that time I was a Government Whip and was therefore not able to speak in the Chamber at all, other than to move procedural motions. To my surprise and disappointment, I found that such motions are not the stuff of tomorrow's headlines. After my being consigned to silence for so long, I know that my constituents will be reassured to hear me more often in future and to know that I am alive and well and working on their behalf at Westminster.

When I was at the Ministry of Defence I had the occasional opportunity to speak and to appear on the parliamentary peep show and, through the merciless medium of television, I sometimes appeared in every living room in the land. However, on private business the same Trappist vow of silence descends on Ministers, leaving them inert and mute, even though the business may affect one's own constituents. The disability is that much greater when the title of the Bill does not immediately reveal the reasons for one's presence. Colleagues who saw me sitting silently during earlier debates on the Bill may have assumed that I was overcome by momentary tiredness or that during the long hot summer I was taking advantage of the air conditioning in the Chamber, seeing no connection between me and the Redbridge Bill.

Hon. Members who have taken part in the debates know that the Bill should be called the Romford (Extinguishment of Centuries-old Exclusive Royal Market Franchise) Bill. If that were its title, my interest in it and opposition to it would be apparent to everyone. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), the promoter of the Bill, is not here, but I am glad that he was able to persuade his next-door colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) to speak on his behalf. We regret his absence, but understand that South American affairs have called him away from the Chamber. Even at this late stage in proceedings on the Bill I am glad to have this opportunity to speak, even if only in relation to clause 6.

I express my warm gratitude to my fellow Members for the London borough of Havering—my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor). They ably sustained the heat and burden of battle on many occasions without any direct assistance from the Member for Romford in whose constituency the charter market stands. I felt as guilty as any first world war general, quaffing claret in comfort behind the lines while sending other officers to face the flak at the front.

I am indebted to my Havering colleagues for all that they have done on behalf of my constituents, and theirs, while I sat through the proceedings unable to contribute to the debate. My hon. Friends have distinguished themselves by what they have achieved, because the Bill is now very different from the one that was introduced to the House about two years ago.

We are considering yet another amendment, this time from the Lords. No doubt it responds to the strength of the arguments deployed at an earlier stage and not simply to arguments deployed in the other House alone. My hon. Friends' efforts deserved a wider audience, but it is in the nature of things that there has been limited participation in the debate and, not surprisingly, at times the debate degenerated into a dispute between neighbours, the Members for Redbridge on one side and the three Havering Members on the other. As we all know from our surgeries, disputes between neighbours are sometimes the most intractable issues with which we have to deal.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

My hon. Friend has mentioned several hon. Members. I hope that he will not overlook the noble contribution by our hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), whose sterling speech highlighted some of the problems with clause 6. No doubt in due course we shall come to those and it would be unfair not to recognise that contribution.

Mr. Neubert

I am glad to record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), who, on a memorable evening, contributed to a discussion on clause 6, which comes before us now as a result of the Lords amendment. I am sure that she wishes us well in our opposition to the Bill, because she is one of many hon. Members who have charter markets in their constituencies and who will see them threatened by the Bill.

The original Bill contained just two pages and its substance was contained in only one. It included clause 6 about the transfer of rights, but did not have the last two lines that are now contained in the clause: provided that no such transfer or disposal or rights shall take effect without the consent in writing of the council. After amendment, the Bill now covers the best part of four pages. The major additions to its length are the revised proposals for compensation.

The concern that this question aroused in the Chamber and in Committee underlines the seriousness of the main purpose of the measure, which is to remove an advantage conferred on Romford by royal charter by Henry III in 1247. That royal charter predates our Parliament and it has been a major factor in the prosperity of Romford and the London borough of which it has been part for the past 25 years. It is ironic that, after seven and a half years. I should find myself speaking for the first time in defence of a royal franchise, which has benefited the people of Romford for seven and a half centuries.

I am not a Conservative for nothing; I wish to conserve the best of our traditions and institutions until persuaded that there are good reasons for not doing so. The Bill does not constitute such a reason. The rights to which clause 6 refers are not related to the right to hold an open-air market in the borough of Redbridge. Redbridge is an extensive and highly desirable area of north-east London and is represented in the House by three assiduous and active Members. It is unacceptable for it not to be also adorned by a lively open-air market where customers can enjoy the cut and thrust of the stallholders' repartee while looking for a bargain among the cauliflowers and cucumbers.

It would indeed be unneighbourly of the next-door London borough of Havering to object to and place an obstacle in the way of such a market anywhere in Redbridge. That is not the case. Many residents of Redbridge widen their consumer choice by patronising the market at Romford, which has a long-standing and deserved reputation for good prices and value for money.

The Bill would establish a new market in Ilford, within the six and two thirds miles radius of Romford market, which, for no fewer than 743 years, has been the subject of an exclusive royal franchise. Some have suggested that the whole concept of a charter market with a radius of six and two thirds miles is unbelievably archaic—a description given by an eminent legal luminary. However, it does not lack all sense or relevance to today's trading conditions.

The distance was decided on the basis that that was as far as a man could drive his cattle and back again in a day, allowing sufficient time in between for him to conduct his business and pursue his livelihood. Allowing markets within shorter distances of each other would have undermined the viability of the markets and the individual livelihoods of their traders because it would have diluted the spending power of those attending them. There are no longer any cattle at Romford market, and the straight high road from London, which used to pass through the market, has been bypassed with a ring road. The market is now a pedestrian precinct where shoppers can walk without risk, other than that of occasionally slipping on a cabbage stalk or, for politicians, a banana skin.

The old style of the market is not really that long in the past. I first visited Romford when I was a small boy. My grandmother took me there on the top of a bus, and the market still had cattle and other livestock. Romford was still part of the rural county of Essex; now it is part of metropolitan London, having been swallowed by the metropolis 25 years ago. Cattle were last sold at the market in 1959, only slightly more than 30 years ago, so it is not as archaic as might be thought.

Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton)

The location of the proposed market was an important point of debate on Third Reading. Labour Members were concerned that there was no plan identifying its proposed site. Some of us were under the impression that the market would be part of a larger commercial development in the area, rather than a market in the general terms that most of us understand. That matter caused a great deal of concern, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will comment on it.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

I regret that I cannot allow the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) to answer that point. As he said at the beginning of his remarks, we are debating a narrow procedural motion, and we must deal with the matter before us.

Mr. Neubert

I hear your guiding words, Madam Deputy Speaker, and, as ever, will seek to observe them. Of course, we are discussing not simply whether we should consider clause 6, but presumably—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are considering whether we should debate the Lords amendment. It is a narrow procedural motion.

Mr. Neubert

For the reasons that I have already given, I shall seek to argue that we should defer consideration for six months. That will require a certain amount of attention to the wider case, not simply clause 6.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. That would require a great deal of ingenuity, but I know that the hon. Gentleman has that. I shall be as tolerant as possible.

7.15 pm
Mr. Neubert

I am indebted to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I cannot respond to the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), but I was present during all the previous proceedings, and I recall the occasion that he mentioned.

The rights enshrined in clause 6 relate to the establishment of a market in Ilford, which is in a part of Redbridge that comes within six and two thirds miles of Romford market, a distance thought to be archaic. However, under clause 6, Redbridge council wants not only to establish such a right against the long-standing claim of common law that ensures a safeguard for Romford market, but to transfer that right to others.

It might have been helpful if my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North had explained the background to the Lords amendment. It is not clear to me, or to the advisers from the London borough of Havering, why we are even considering it. We can only speculate, as I intend to do during my speech. The clause states: any person entitled or authorised by virtue of this Act to hold a market may transfer or dispose of all or part of his rights to another. We need to examine not only the justification for whether we should tonight debate clause 6, but whether the privilege obtained by private Acts of Parliament should be for the benefit of others, and whether that is the right way to proceed.

It is a matter of some pain to me that the Bill has proceeded this far only through the support of Conservative colleagues. Members of Parliament have many calls upon their time and it is understandable that they may not always be as familiar as the sponsors with the issues involved in a private Bill. One reason for deferring consideration of clause 6 for another six months is to enable more hon. Members to attend the debate than the relatively few who are here tonight.

I have already mentioned the confusion caused by the title of the Bill, in which the removal of a franchise—a negative outcome—is revealed only upon closer examination. It suggests the positive purpose of establishing a new market. Nothing is more likely to enthuse a modern Conservative than the mention of the word "market", but "franchise" is an equally respectable commercial concept and, in effect, the royal charter granted to Havering all those hundreds of years ago is just that.

What sort of market are we dealing with? Its rights are to be transferred to others under clause 6. It is not just a single site, but part of a wider market economy. The relatively few colleagues who have voted for the Bill to date may think that the rights to which the clause refers extend the free market and increase fair competition, but do they realise that they are conferring rights on the new market similar to those that Romford has enjoyed for so many years? That is hardly progress. If we were to move on to considering the clause, and if we rejected the Lords amendment, as I understand it, that protection could be transferred to a third party—not the local authority or some other representative of public interest, but to anyone who might take over the ownership perhaps, or certainly the operation, of the market. Of course, I read the clause as a layman and without any advice from the promoters.

It is likely and, again, understandable that some of my colleagues may have assumed that because the London borough of Redbridge has repeatedly had the good sense to elect a Conservative majority to its council, any private Bill promoted in its name must, by definition, be a good thing that deserves support without question. I have been a leader of a London borough council—before coming to Westminster, I was mayor of Bromley. I have a high regard for the benefits of Tory local council administration.

However, I would not suggest that on every occasion, and on every issue, a Tory town hall administration is necessarily infallible. Perhaps I may derive some support for at least that assertion from Opposition Members. I hope that the fact that the Bill has been vigorously opposed by other Conservative Members—12 heroes voted against it on Second Reading—will be enough to raise doubts in the minds of other of my right hon. and hon. Friends about the advisability of accepting too readily the Bill's virtues and granting the powers and privileges that it seeks to establish.

Some of those privileges to be found in clause 6 would be capable of being transferred to another party. Although the Bill has received some support in this House, it has never received the support of the full Redbridge council. Before considering whether we should debate the Bill further, there are questions to be raised about the aspect. Opposition to the Bill by Havering council has been not only overwhelming but all-party.

Mr. Squire

My hon. Friend mentioned that 12 of our right hon. and hon. Friends opposed the measure. No doubt he will mention also the germane point that no fewer than 30 colleagues supported an amendment to delete a little piece of clause 6. When one considers that about 100 right hon. and hon. Members were present for that debate, it is obvious that there is scope for a larger number of them to examine clause 6 in its entirety.

Mr. Neubert

I am indebted to my hon. Friend for his intervention. The question whether we should give the Bill further consideration without interruption relates to my point concerning the support that the Bill received before it was promoted. My advice is that, for such a Bill to be promoted in Parliament, it must receive a minimum level of support from the local authority in question, as expressed by a vote in council for the Bill to proceed. My information is that that level of support was exceeded in Redbridge council by only one vote.

Local elections were held in May. It would be interesting to know whether that narrow margin of necessary support for the Bill survived the changes of councillors that occurred in those elections. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North can say whether the council has been consulted about the promotion of the Bill since the May elections. One also wonders whether the council has been consulted about the Lords amendment and the attitude that should be adopted towards it. We have received no advice from the promoters on whether the Bill still has the council's support. We should know the answer to those questions before we consider the deletion or otherwise of clause 6.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster)

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In view of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), perhaps we should seek the guidance of the Chair on whether it would be right to proceed with the Bill if it no longer has the majority support of Redbridge council.

Madam Deputy Speaker

That is a matter for debate, and there is no reason why the debate should not continue.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My understanding is that, if we pass the Bill today, there is no further step the House can take to stop or reverse its progress. If it would be unlawful in procedural terms for the Bill to be promoted without its having the majority support of Redbridge council, surely we should not proceed with it tonight.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The House must decide, at the end of this debate, whether or not to proceed with the Bill.

Mr. Neubert

If that is so, perhaps I am wrong in thinking that a council must have the support of its own members for a Bill before it can be promoted. It may be that, having once made the decision to promote a Bill, no further reconsideration is needed in altered circumstances. Nevertheless, it is unusual for a Bill to take two calendar years to get under way. The original Bill was printed on 16 November 1988. It is feasible that the newly elected council does not support the Bill by the majority needed for it to be promoted. That is relevant when we are considering whether we should continue to consider it in this House. We must question whether it has the necessary legal and statutory support from the promoting local authority. I cannot answer my own question on my feet, but we owe it to the House to give that aspect some thought before reaching a decision on the motion.

It may appear at face value that the Bill has received the support of Conservatives both at a local level and to a limited extent in Westminster. The matter is less clear-cut than it appears. Line 13 of clause 6 makes reference to section 50 of the 1984 Act, which in turn refers to the Food Act 1984. That legislation, enacted by a Conservative Government, left intact the rule that a franchise market is protected against any rival market within six and two thirds miles, and that a statutory market is protected within six and two thirds miles of any rival other than another statutory market.

If we reject the motion and move to consideration of clause 6 and it is passed, and if the Bill is passed with or without clause 6, Redbridge will enjoy protection against another market being established in the borough. Such protection is of very real commercial value and would be an important consideration in any arrangement to transfer the rights with which clause 6 deals. As the relevant legislation is so recent, having been enacted only six years ago, it follows that a number of right hon. and hon. Members—at least on these Benches—who supported the Bill in the belief that it would in a small way create a free market would have certainly voted for the 1984 Act that embodies the protection that Redbridge will to a large part enjoy under the Bill. Alternatively, they may argue that in this respect they are being consistent. If so, why do those same Members of Parliament not respect Romford's long-held common law rights? Why favour Redbridge over Romford and at Romford's expense?

On Second Reading, the Bill as then drafted would have given Redbridge protection within the same six and two thirds miles' distance as has been attacked as anachronistic in the case of Romford. Subsequently, the Bill was substantially amended in Committee. The Lords amendment is only the latest in a number of amendments to ensure that the protection was limited to the area of the London borough of Redbridge only, which is less than six and two thirds miles distance from Ilford in the round. Nevertheless, an inconsistency remains—and to vote for the Bill and for the proceedings to continue would be a vote for statutory protection, not for a free market.

The reference in clause 6 to section 50 of the 1984 Act is consistent with clause 5, which states: A market established under this Act shall be deemed to have been established by the Council under section 50 of the Act of 1984. It is not clear why clause 6 was inserted in the Bill and subsequently amended, or why it is now proposed that it should be deleted at this late stage, on the Bill's return from another place. It is not clear either why we are being asked to give further time to its consideration.

What place does such a clause have in such a Bill? It has already been amended, and it is now proposed to delete it from the Bill. I am open to correction, but I have received nothing in my post from the promoters to explain that surprising turnabout.

Mr. Squire

Nor I.

Mr. Neubert

Apparently, my hon. Friend has received no such communication either. At a very late stage the Bill appears back in the House with a proposal that this clause should be deleted.

Mr. Squire

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend has reminded me—I had not fully considered it—that to my knowledge, and obviously to yours, promoters of private Bills are required to notify hon. Members on either side of the House of details of the arguments for the Bill at each stage that the matter is debated in the Chamber. Echoing my hon. Friend's remarks, I have received nothing from the promoters of the Bill about this evening's debate. I wonder whether that is in order, or whether some breach of private Bill procedure has taken place which would negate our proceedings tonight?

7.30 pm
Madam Deputy Speaker

As far as I am aware there has been no breach of private Bill procedure. Of course it is usual for promoters to provide as much information as possible, but I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that there has been no breach of our procedures in this matter.

Mr. Neubert

I am reassured by what you say, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was questioning why there should be such a clause in the Bill in the first place, so that I should have some inkling of why it should be removed. To answer those questions I sought advice from the borough secretary and solicitor, Mr. Michael Tink, who has been handling Havering's case against the Bill. I refer to his letter of 21 September on this matter, which confirms the lack of information that seems to be common to my colleagues and myself, as far as Havering council is concerned.

Mr. Tink says: It may sound odd to say after all the attention given to this Bill that we cannot give a precise account of the reasoning for the amendment which now prompts the return of the Bill to the Commons and which gives occasion for this procedural motion tonight. He goes on to say that he had no communication from the promoters but the amendment"— as we know—

is for the deletion of the whole of clause 6 of the Bill. He thinks that that may spring from arguments that he and others made before the Committee in the House of Lords, but he believes that the Committee did not recommend the amendment and that the Third Reading in the Lords was without debate.

The background to the matter was that Redbridge was apparently seeking in the Lords to counter the argument that it is wrong in principle to use piecemeal local legislation for overcoming limitations in the general law—something which my colleagues and other hon. Members believe in very strongly and which we urge upon the Government, represented by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment tonight. We think that that is a fair argument, and I may return to it later.

Redbridge's case was that local authorities throughout the country operate statutory markets under section 50 of the Food Act 1984, including Havering with the Friday market at Romford.

Redbridge wants to run a market under those powers and wants to site it at Ilford. Powers under the Food Act cannot be used to interfere with common law market rights in the area without consent. The Wednesday and Saturday markets at Romford are common law markets and their protection extends to the Ilford area. Therefore, Redbridge needed the Bill to overcome the effects of those rights and to allow it to use the powers granted by the Food Act without Havering's consent.

Redbridge has never sought Havering's consent. That is relevant to this motion. We might not be here tonight and we might not need to consider the motion if Redbridge had sought Havering's consent. From the outset, Redbridge has acted on the assumption that it would promote a Bill in Parliament rather than seek a licence. That is unfortunate because the Bill embodies the sort of compensation which as a licence fee might—I stress the word "might"—have interested Havering, and the House might have been spared hours spent on private legislation and any future hours we may spend debating clause 6 if we agree to do so tonight, or in debating the motion if we continue to do so.

I shall offer some evidence to the House to support my assertion. It comes from Committee proceedings last year, which show how long this unhappy Bill has been proceeding. I was supplied with some of the relevant Committee proceedings. I suggest that, rather than go on to consider clause 6 and give up further valuable parliamentary time, by not agreeing with the motion we might call upon Redbridge to consider opening negotiations with the London borough of Havering at this late stage, which would avoid the necessity of promoting the Bill. There appears to be no end to it.

Is the licensed approach feasible? I have relevant extracts from Committee. If any members of the Committee are present in the House they may recall that on the first day in Committee Mr. J. Hawkins was giving evidence. He was asked: In July 1986 did the Council by its Environmental Health (Urgent Action) Sub-Committee agree that, subject to consideration of a report on the establishment of a market dealing with legal considerations and so on, it was prepared to consider the establishment of a market in the Borough under the powers contained in Section 50 of the Food Act? The answer was, "Yes." Later, he was asked: Was it resolved that the officers should carry out a further study of the implications of pursuing private legislation and to report back? The answer was, "Yes."

The questioning continued:

On 13 April 1988, did the General Services Committee authorise the officers to proceed with the promotion of Private legislation for the provision of a permanent market site in Ilford and to engage consultants? Mr. Hawkins answered: They made that recommendation, yes. I stress the date—13 April 1988—as it is two and a half years since the general services committee of Redbridge council authorised the officers to proceed, which adds weight to my suggestion that it might be time, if the opportunity has not already been taken, for Redbridge council to be consulted again about whether it wishes to proceed. The circumstances may have greatly changed.

Mr. Squire

A major change since then, as my hon. Friend will confirm, is the arrival of the unified business rate, which must have had a major impact in Ilford, knowing the impact that it has had in Romford. Surely that is a factor which the council should have taken into account?

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. It may well be a major factor, but it is not relevant to the question before us.

Mr. Neubert

To support my contention that at no time did Redbridge seek consent from Havering, as is allowed under common law and under statute law, I again refer to the Committee report on page 46, when Mr. J. Hawkins is being questioned. He was asked whether, about a week after the meeting of the general services committee to which I referred, there was a without prejudice meeting between the director of administration and legal services and the solicitor to the Havering London Borough Council. The answer was, "Yes."

It was only after all those decisions to promote the Bill had been taken by the council that it finally approached Havering. Presumably it did so out of courtesy and a desire to inform it of the proceedings, but without any intention of negotiating and avoiding the necessity of a private Bill which would use valuable private Bill time in the House.

Hon. Members may think that perhaps it was not feasible for Redbridge to seek such consent. Perhaps Havering's past record went against it. That is certainly not so, because Mr. Tink also gives evidence about Kingston upon Thames, which is another example of a franchise market where such a license was sought and granted. There are hundreds of such markets and there may be other examples. In those circumstances it would be easy for Redbridge to make a similar diplomatic approach to the London borough of Havering, seeking its consent to have such a market within the six and two thirds miles' radius on the grant of a licence and on payment of the licence fee.

Before we consider debating the Bill further, we should understand that there is an example in Kingston upon Thames. On page 38, Michael Tink, giving evidence to a Committee of this House, answered the question: Do you know, by way of example, of any other authority that has been prepared to grant a licence on proper terms in relation to its market rights?", with:

Yes, sir, I do. I have caused inquiries to be made, and I know that the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames does grant licences for, I believe, four or five rival markets, one of them in the London Borough of Sutton, one at Wimbledon Stadium. I am told there is another one in Kingston town centre itself, which operates on some sort of licence; one at Kempton Race Course and one at Merton. I believe there was formerly one at Putney which has now ceased. It is perfectly feasible for Redbridge to negotiate with Havering, without our giving further time to considering the Bill in this House as we approach the end of the Session. I cannot guarantee a favourable outcome, but we should certainly consider that option before debating clause 6 and agreeing to the amendment. If the amendment is rejected, I imagine that the same applies to private legislation as to Government legislation, and that the Bill will have to go back to their Lordships who will have to consider the views of this House. Therefore, even if we reach a decision here tonight, it will not necessarily be the end of the matter.

The licence might be related to compensation. As a result of the decision of the Committee of this House, Redbridge would be required to pay compensation to Havering for the loss of commercial value to its market by the establishment of a market within six and two thirds miles of Romford. That has been put at 10 per cent. of the operating profit of the new market when it is established. I have no idea what sum that might be, but it might be the same as a licence fee negotiated directly between the two councils, without promoting a Bill or creating the precedents which threaten other markets, of which there are several hundreds. Indeed, there is a whole network of such markets.

The question of such a licence was raised. At no time has Redbridge followed that path, although it might well have done. On page 18, the aforementioned Mr. J. Hawkins, a witness for Redbridge, was asked: Do you know whether the London Borough of Redbridge has ever applied to Havering for a licence to operate a market within Havering's protected area? He answered: I am not aware that there has been such an approach. That confirms that there was not such an approach and that, instead, the House has been asked to spend considerable time examining the Bill with all its shortcomings and defects and despite its lack of popular support. That is the result of Redbridge's unwillingness to negotiate. We are again asked to give time to explore the reasons for deleting clause 6, without having been told those reasons in advance of tonight's debate.

Counsel examined Mr. Hawkins about the licence and asked: Can we explore, nevertheless, some of what the basic terms of such a licence might be? Firstly, provision would be made, would it not, for which days of the week the licensed market was to be permitted to operate, do you agree? The answer was, "Yes." Secondly, and importantly, provision would be made for the duration of the relevant licence? The answer was, "Yes, it could be." Counsel asked: You could have provision for a fixed term, or you could have provision for a term capable of being brought to an end by either side by notice, could you not? The answer was, "Yes." In either event, the duration would be limited? The answer was: That is a possible approach, yes. The examination continued: Thirdly, and importantly, there would be the amount of the fee to be paid by the licence-holder? The answer was, "There would be, yes", to which counsel asked: Which you accept might be geared to the profit made by the licensee in operating his market? 7.45 pm

That is relevant because it is exactly the conclusion that the Committee reached, which persuaded it to require the promoters to add such an amendment to the Bill. The answer was: That could be the approach of the franchise-holder, yes. What the reaction from the person seeking the licence would be, of course, is another matter. Counsel continued: If that were the approach, is there any reason why a percentage should, in your view, be fixed at any particular figure—the percentage of the profit made by the licence operator? The answer was: If this was the approach that was being accepted on both sides, then yes, there could be negotiation on any figure. In other words, it was open to Redbridge and Havering to negotiate a licence fee which would enable Ilford to realise its ambition to have such a market, without affecting the 750 years' franchise conferred by Henry III on Romford market. Counsel said: Thank you. That was going to be the next point I was going to put to you. It would be the result, would it not, of a bargain between a willing seller and a willing buyer, or to be more precise, a willing licensor and a willing licensee? The answer was, "Yes."

I raise that at length at this stage because it is still possible for proceedings on the Bill to be adjourned to enable the neighbouring local authorities to get together and negotiate a reasonable arrangement. It probably would not cost Redbridge more than it would cost in the amendment to the Bill, because it has already agreed to a substantial 10 per cent. of the operating profit of the market going to Havering in compensation. That might be held to be a reasonable amount for Havering to ask as a licence fee. I have no brief to speak for Havering council and I cannot anticipate what its answer would be, but I am sure that it would wish the precedents created in the Bill not to be established, if there were an avoidable way out, such as the negotiation of a licence for a fee.

Counsel continued: It is right, is it not, that while such licence continued, the licensor could not be in any position to complain that the licensee's market was causing him any damage, could he? The answer was: No. Subject to the terms of the licence, I am sure that would be right, yes. In other words, once Havering had agreed to such an arrangement without the Bill, it could not complain. It would be getting its licence fee. That is what happens between markets in Kingston upon Thames and no doubt elsewhere.

It occurred to Mr. Tink, the borough secretary and solicitor, that clause 6 was not related to any restriction arising from Romford's market rights. He concluded: if Clause 6 was necessary at all then it must have been intended to give Redbridge different (and better) powers than those available under the Food Act to any other Local Authority. Hon. Members might well be surprised if that were the case. Clause 6 would certainly be objectionable, if we were told that Redbridge were underprivileged and Romford sought a great advantage. If it were known that originally Redbridge were promoting a Bill to give itself greater advantage than Romford and countless other charter markets, many hon. Members might have taken a different view from the start.

The amendment seems to vindicate Havering's argument that clause 6 is either unnecessary or contrary to the case being made for the Bill. It is surprising that Havering has had no communication with the promoters on that point.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Am I right in thinking that this question was revealed in Committee and that Havering made the points that my hon. Friend is now making but that those representing Redbridge made no attempt to answer them? Therefore, the House has had no guidance from the promoters of the Bill on why they sought to put the clause in, just as we have had no further guidance on why they now wish to remove it.

Mr. Neubert

In general, that must be so. It is not that there has been insufficient time for them to do so. The Committee considered the Bill in the previous Session of Parliament well before the summer recess last year. Therefore, there has been ample time for an explanation to be given.

Redbridge's parliamentary agents are Sharpe Pritchard, who are well known to hon. Members. Their no doubt expensive services enjoy a high reputation in the House. Proceedings on the Bill have been under way for nearly two years if one dates them from the printing of the Bill on 16 November 1988. Redbridge residents must have been paying a packet all this time. The Bill has been controversial from the start, even if the extinguishing of a royal charter does not, to my regret, count as lèse-majesty. It has undergone substantial amendment, of which the Lords amendment is yet another example.

Proceedings have been protracted and have detained the House for an avoidable length of time. I am now detaining the House for an avoidable length of time and I ask for forbearance and understanding. The proceedings have played a part in putting pressure on the Leader of the House to change the private Bill procedure which will restrict our freedom and the rights of hon. Members to play their traditional role in such proceedings. All that has happened despite the fact that on Third Reading the Bill had a majority of only five. That is a narrow squeak in anybody's estimation.

As I understand it, if we were to disagree with the Lords amendment, it would return to the upper House. The Bill has survived this far only because the Government introduced a carry-over motion from the last Session to this. We are now coming towards the end of the second Session. I do not know whether it is possible for a private Bill to be carried over a second time. It is my understanding that, if a private Bill does not secure enough support to pass through all its stages in one Session, it would go against the principle of private Bills for it to proceed at all. It would go against that understanding if it were to be carried over yet again. As I have said, there is no doubt that it has played its part in putting pressure on the Government and the Leader of the House to change private Bill procedure and I regret that.

Before the House reaches a decision, I ask again whether it would be wiser for Redbridge to withdraw the Bill. The expense does not stop at Queen Anne's Chambers. Redbridge is also being advised by a well-known firm of public relations consultants. I have no hard words to say against the company concerned. It does an excellent job and has even been shrewd enough on occasion to offer me hospitality at its offices not 100 miles from here.

The only other person I know who lives in that street is my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Incidentally, he should take a close interest in the Bill, as he is one of the many hon. Members who has a charter market in his constituency which would be threatened by the precedent set by the Bill.

The fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Watford lives in that street suggests the quality of the firm of consultants and I am sure it does not come cheap. It has been said—it has not been denied so far—that the consultants are being paid £50,000 plus £4,000 a month for expenses. Some of that money might, with advantage, have been spent on explaining to hon. Members the reasons for the to-ing and fro-ing on clause 6. We would all benefit from that, including the Chairman of Ways and Means who is responsible for private legislation in the House. He may regret as much as we do that we have no clear understanding of why we are at this unusual stage in private Bill procedure.

This legislation has very little support in the House—it was carried on Third Reading by 48 votes to 43—and I am distressed at the amount it must be costing the community charge payers of Redbridge with each week that passes.

It may be that clause 6 relates to the original clause 3. That clause as printed in the Bill of 16 November 1988, said that the council may

(1) establish a market within a distance of one mile from the town hall, and (2) authorise on such terms, (whether financial or otherwise) as they think fit, the establishment by others of a market within a distance of one mile from the town hall. The second option might have entailed the transfer of rights as set out in clause 6. However, clause 3(2) has now been removed from the Bill, and, as a result, clause 6 may be redundant. I await an explanation. As I said earlier, I am a layman in these matters. I do not know precisely the reason why the promoters want to remove clause 6 and I cannot deduce from the wording of the clause why it is no longer appropriate. However, Havering made some play of arguing against the clause in their Lordships' House and it may be that this is a concession to those arguments.

It is clear that by the inclusion of clause 6 Redbridge had ambitions beyond what is necessary for a local authority to own and operate a market. That brings me back to my objection in principle to the clause and my main argument for wishing to see my motion carried. They should have an opportunity for second, third or even fourth thoughts.

Throughout the country, there are many markets such as that in Romford. The figure of 284 has been cited, but I am not sure whether that represents the number of markets nationwide or whether it is the number of hon. Members whose constituents have access to such a market. A list has been circulated to some hon. Members by the National Market Traders Federation and it lists 284 hon. Members as having such a charter market. It is disappointing that so few of them seem to be aware of the issues in the Bill which, although it affects my constituency of Romford and is promoted by Redbridge, has implications for charter markets all over the country.

The network of markets has developed over hundreds of years and has provided the basis for local prosperity in many towns, especially mine. Romford is famous for its market. It is not famous for much else. It is not famous for its Member of Parliament and it no longer has a football club. It has an excellent brewery which promotes John Bull bitter, but only within the London Weekend Television area. It may be that some towns in this country have developed and been sustained solely as a result of their having a market. If the market is to have its charter removed by a private Act of Parliament, it may be that not only Romford but many other markets will be threatened and picked off one by one.

My hon. Friend the Minister is very patient to sit through the proceedings. His predecessor said on Second Reading that the House should be given an opportunity to examine the Bill although the Government have not supported it. However, they should have taken more interest in the motion to defer consideration. In fact, I would welcome a contribution from my hon. Friend the Minister on whether we should proceed or whether we should do as the motion suggests and defer consideration for six months.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

On the Government's attitude, the House should take note of what Lord Davidson said in the other place:

We have reviewed the whole matter of charter market rights to consider whether they are a restraint on trade. We found this a highly complex matter, which could involve compensation for loss of rights and which might well be expensive … As existing franchise rights present little impediment to trade—market trading being such a very small part of UK retail trade—we should leave matters as they stand at present."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 April 1990; Vol. 517, c. 1612.] Although I am sure that the Government do not wish to intervene on the Bill, that sentiment implies that matters should be left as they stood in Romford as well as in the rest of the country.

8 pm

Mr. Neubert

I am ready to agree with my hon. Friend, because with his unerring instinct for what is apt, he has anticipated my next point. The Government came clean in another place about their reasons for not proceeding with such legislation. It is a matter of complexity and compensation, and if the system is thought to be outdated—there is no doubt that in historical terms it is outdated, although it has some relevance to present day conditions—it would be better reformed outright, not by picking off one franchise market at a time by private Act of Parliament. Although they are a radical Administration, the Government have not sought that reform, and I have no doubt that my noble friend Viscount Davidson had his finger on the point.

That confirms the value of such charters and that they should not be taken over and transferred to others, as anticipated in clause 6, without adequate recompense and without it being dealt with evenhandedly.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)

Is not it true that many towns have grown around ancient charter markets and that in recent years authorities have put considerable investment into new market facilities? If such a Bill had been proposed at that time, they might not have made that investment.

Mr. Neubert

I am glad to have given way to the hon. Gentleman, who has sustained his interest throughout the long proceedings on this Bill; we have welcomed the value of his advice on more than one occasion. These arrangements are long established and will be upset by a Bill that picks off one market. The economy of Romford, which is prospering and supporting the livelihoods of many people in and around the town, is based on those long-standing arrangements, and simply changing them will have serious repercussions. The Committee that considered the Bill recognised that fact by requiring Redbridge to pay adequate compensation, but I do not know whether it is anything more a mitigating amendment. If we support the Bill, which attacks the long protected rights of a single market, we may condemn ourselves to endless such Bills, which is one of my greatest anxieties.

It cannot be right to proceed in this way and I hope that I have made it clear that the best for all concerned, even at this late stage and notwithstanding the expense incurred, the many hours of debate and discussion and the valued experience and knowledge that have been used to amend the Bill, would be to proceed by negotiation and to avoid putting this precedent on the statute book. It may be argued that there is already a precedent—the agreement reached by the borough of Bexley with Greenwich. It is not for me or other hon. Members to argue the case for Bexley or Greenwich, but, whatever their arguments or interests, they reached an agreement.

The Bill is not the subject of such an agreement—it would not need to be promoted in the House if there were such an agreement—but the result of Redbridge's single-minded determination to promote legislation as a way of achieving its objectives. For that reason, I support the motion to defer consideration because it gives Redbridge a chance to reconsider and to open negotiations with Havering and to explore whether there is another way out that does not require this precedent, which would be highly unfortunate for charter markets throughout the country and for Members of Parliament whose constituents enjoy the benefits of them. I very much hope that the motion will be carried.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) back to the land of the living. As one of his colleagues in Havering, I have very much missed his presence on the Back Benches. I hope that he will not take it amiss when I say that it was a sadness to me that the Government did not dispense with his services a few months earlier, because had they done so I have no doubt that the Bill would not have reached this stage. With my hon. Friend's assistance, which he was debarred from giving, we would have managed to knock this absurd Bill on the head long ago.

Hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, have sat through many nights of discussion on the Bill. We thought that we had exhaustively dealt with all the subjects that could have been brought before us, but it appears that we had not because the amendment radically transforms the nature of the Bill in such a way that it would be wrong for the House to consider it tonight.

No warning was given to Havering council as far as I am aware, and certainly to my hon. Friends or me, that the amendment would be moved. There was no discussion and it was unilaterally decided by Redbridge council to delete this clause lock stock and barrel fromn the Bill. I am not clear—I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) will intervene and enlighten me—what are the consequences of the clause's removal. I shall read clause 6 as it was—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. We are not yet dealing with the amendment to the Bill. The question before us is whether we move on to deal with the amendment.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

That is right, but we cannot decide whether we should debate the amendment without considering the consequences of removing clause 6. I shall refresh the memory of the House and read that clause. It says:

Any person entitled or authorised by virtue of this Act to hold a market may transfer or dispose of all or part of his rights to another and that other shall have and may exercise, to the extent authorised by the Council, all or any of the powers that the Council have in relation to markets established by them under Section 50 of the Act of 1984, other than any powers to make byelaws, but shall be subject to all the restrictions, liabilities and obligations in respect thereof to which the Council are subject. How can the House assess what the result will be of removing the clause from the Bill without considering the amendment? I disclose my ignorance by saying so, but I cannot understand what the position will be if the Bill is passed without clause 6. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North will enlighten me, but if he cannot the House cannot conceivably consider whether the clause should be deleted.

Mr. Neubert

I had hoped, as no doubt my hon. Friend had, that we would have an explanation, not, as appears likely, at the end of the debate but at an early stage. It would have been helpful for an explanation to have been given so that I could have considered it. If we are not to have an explanation until the end of the debate, it will make a farce of it.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Or, indeed, if we are not to have an explanation at all. As you, Madam Deputy Speaker, may have noted. I hesitated before rising, because I wished to give my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North an opportunity to clarify the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford. It is most unsatisfactory if those of us who criticise the Bill and who wish the motion to be carried are not to be given the advantage of knowing precisely what we are discussing.

I have scrutinised the rest of the Bill in an attempt to discover what the consequence of omitting clause 6 would be. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North is talking to some of my hon. Friends. I hope that he will pay attention, because if he does not, he will not be able to answer the questions that I am putting to him. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us whether the council will authorise the transfer of stalls if there is no clause 6 and on what terms the transfer of rights in each stall will be made. Will the council have a blanket right to allow transfer by whatever means it wishes, or will it have no rights to authorise a transfer at all?

As far as I can see, nothing elsewhere in the Bill either grants or limits the power of transfer. Clause 3 deals with the establishment of the market. Clause 4 deals with the compensation payable in the event of the Bill being enacted and clause 5 merely specifies that section 50 of the 1984 Act shall apply to the Bill.

Mr. O'Brien

I consider this to be a very important matter. I have examined the proceedings in the other place and in Committee. Nowhere was any evidence given to support the case for the removal of the clause. Until the facts are made available to the House, we cannot proceed, and we should therefore support the motion. Does the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) have any information about the circumstances that gave rise to the tabling of the amendment?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I have no such information and I think it very unfortunate that I have none. As far as I am aware, no hon. Member—with the possible exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, has any such information. Indeed, I remain to be convinced that even my hon. Friend has such information. I deeply regret the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) cannot be here, although I understand the reasons. His absence handicaps those of us who seek a proper debate on an important part of the Bill. He is one of the two primary sponsors who have argued in favour of the Bill throughout our long proceedings on it, and it is regrettable that he cannot be here during its final stages.

I invite my my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North to enlighten the House, if he can, on the consequences of removing clause 6. Unfortunately, it seems that my hon. Friend cannot enlighten us, so let me speculate.

It is possible that if the clause is removed, the council will have no power to authorise the transfer of the trading stalls—in which case, I cannot see how it can proceed to set up and maintain a market in Ilford. Another possibility is that the council will have the power to authorise the transfer of the stalls without imposing any conditions on them. If that is so, I should be grateful for information about how that arrangement compares with arrangements for other markets where councils set up stalls.

Do the councils usually have the power to authorise transfer of stalls from one person to another without having any say in the type of business taking place at those stalls, or are restrictions perhaps imposed under section 50 of the 1984 Act? I do not think that it is incumbent on me to give the House the solutions. Those who are promoting the Bill and those who have brought it before us have a duty to tell us the consequences of accepting the amendment. At the moment, every hon. Member in the Chamber—and everyone who has considered the matter—is as much in the dark as I am.

Mr. Neubert

I find it quite intolerable that, even at the third or fourth time of asking, we are to be offered no explanation of the fact that we have been called here to deal with this business tonight—even though it was known before the summer recess that this business would be taken. I have had to spend some time preparing for tonight's debate, in ignorance of the reasons for it but in the confident belief that the sponsor of the Bill would make it plain at the outset why we were being asked to consider the Lords amendment and what the background to it was. It makes a mockery of our proceedings if we are to be given no explanation at all of a matter that is clearly so directly relevant to the Bill.

8.15 pm
Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I echo my hon. Friend's sentiments. It is an abuse of the procedures of the House if business is brought before it for which no explanation is offered. There has been no proper resistance to the motion and no proper explanation has been given of why those who tabled it may be mistaken.

While remaining neutral on the fundamental question whether Redbridge should be given the power in the Bill, the Government should certainly not be neutral when it comes to matters affecting the procedures of the House. They should not be neutral about the fact that the sponsors of the Bill have not informed the House of precisely what they are asking it to agree. As the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) said, no explanation was given when the amendment was moved in the other place. Having resisted such an amendment throughout the Committee stage—without giving any reasons for resisting it—the promoter has suddenly decided to adopt such an amendment and to try to force it through both Houses of Parliament without even opening their mouths to defend what they are doing. That is something that the House simply cannot tolerate.

I regret the fact that so few hon. Members are present, although it is not surprising on the first day back after a long summer recess, and especially as the Bill is not perhaps the most important business with which we are likely to be faced in the next fortnight—except to my hon. Friends the Members for Romford and for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and myself. Our colleagues who are not present would not for one moment tolerate such a procedure and I predict that there will be a roar of fury when hon. Members read Hansard and see what is being done in their name and in their absence and without any explanation from the sponsors.

That is the first reason why I vigorously support the motion, tabled to try to defer discussion of the amendment so that proper consideration can be given to it, so that proper consultation can take place between Romford and Redbridge and so that my hon. Friends and I can be given a full explanation of the consequences of accepting the amendment and of the reasons why it has been tabled.

I touched upon my second reason for supporting the motion in my point of order. I am not clear whether the locus standi of the promoter is still intact. I do not know the procedures and rules of the House in relation to a Bill being proposed without having complied—at the time when it was proposed—with the qualifications laid down in "Erskine May" for the introduction of such a Bill.

Perhaps it is enough—as my hon. Friend the Member for Romford suggested—that the conditions were intact when the Bill was first proposed and perhaps it does not matter what happens thereafter. But perhaps by now—some two and a half years after the introduction of the Bill —the qualifications allowing Redbridge to assert its right to introduce the Bill are no longer intact. If that is so, I do not know whether the Bill should be allowed to proceed.

If it should not be allowed to proceed, we should certainly not debate the amendment tonight. The debate should be adjourned and the matter should be considered further, perhaps by the occupant of the Chair, to determine whether the Bill still has proper standing to be considered in this place. That is a question of fundamental importance. There must be similar instances; indeed, I can think of one parallel straight away.

Suppose that a Government Bill is hybrid. As I understand it, a hybrid Bill cannot proceed through the House in the face of objection because it is not properly founded; it can be stopped. If my submission is right, the same rules should apply to this Bill. Unless the promoter can establish that the foundation on which the Bill has come to the Chamber is sound and intact, the Bill must fail. I must admit that I am not clear about what procedure should apply. If my supposition is correct, how can we stop the Bill at any time other than now? I am in your hands, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I am making a speech and not raising a point of order.

Madam Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman raised the matter on a point of order earlier and I assured him then, as I do now, that the Bill is in perfect order, otherwise we would not be debating it tonight.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I accept that and I move my guard, as any good defensive boxer must when he has just been effectively punched.

The fact that the Bill is in order does not mean that the House should consider these matters without having been given prior notice that the change was to be made to the Bill. Even though it is in order for Redbridge to bring forward the Bill, the council may no longer have the requisite support for it, because it might have changed its complexion and many no longer support the Bill. It would be an insult for the new councillors of Redbridge who oppose the Bill and for those councillors who have steadfastly opposed it—I believe that those councillors have always comprised one third of the council—if the House were to proceed with the Bill and allow it to reach the statute book. It would be insulting for the House to do that if the council that brought the Bill to the House no longer wished to proceed with it because it had not yet had an opportunity to change its mind on the issue.

I invite my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North to discuss with the council representatives who are present this evening whether it would be better, and in the interests of the constituents of Redbridge, for the Bill to be deferred so that proper consideration can be given to whether it is still popular in the constituency and the borough, whether it is still wanted and whether, above all, the council would still put the Bill before the House should it take such a decision today instead of relying on a decision taken two and a half years ago.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North will comment on those points. If he does not do so, we must conclude that the Bill is being brought before the House without adequate consideration even by the people living in the borough on whose behalf the Bill is allegedly being promoted.

The final point, which I strongly believe the House should consider when deciding whether we should continue the debate on clause 6, is the fact that we were not told by Redbridge council or by its representatives in the House why clause 6 was included in the first place. Not only are we ignorant of the consequences of removing clause 6: we are equally ignorant of the reasons why it was included. It is important that the House should know whether what Redbridge was seeking in clause 6 were powers in excess of those granted by the Food Act 1984. Redbridge said nothing about that in Committee, despite the fact that counsel for Havering borough and others speaking on behalf of Havering raised that point several times. The point was never answered satisfactorily. Indeed, it was not answered at all.

The House must be ignorant about the purpose behind clause 6 and whether Redbridge was seeking powers well beyond the removal of the rights granted by ancient charter in Romford. The House was going to be used, had clause 6 not been removed, to do something which would have been unique in this country and which would have given Redbridge borough powers that no other borough possesses.

That may be why clause 6 was included in the Bill and perhaps it is being removed because Redbridge borough council has thought better of asking the House for powers that no other council possesses. However, I cannot say often enough or with adequate feeling that the House is not being properly treated or adequately briefed by the Bill's sponsors.

The procedures for private business have worked well for many years. I have served on private Bill Committees and the procedure is comprehensive. However, it is comprehensive only if the good will and good faith of the promoter allows a proper and full examination of the proposals in the Bill. That, dismally, did not occur in this case—although every opportunity was given to the promoter to answer the allegations.

If we had allowed the Bill to pass with clause 6, that could have thrown much ill light on the private Bill procedures. I submit that it would be wrong for us to proceed with the consideration of whether we should continue with clause 6 or allow the Bill to proceed without it. Such consideration cannot happen when we have not received the information that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford and I have been requesting this evening. That information was pressed for vigorously in Committee and the issue has been raised every time this business has come before the House.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North will seize this last opportunity and tell the House the facts that we are longing to know and so justify the stance that his council is putting forward as the reason for our supporting the Bill.

Mr. Pike

Unfortunately for the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), I am going to delay the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) for a few moments, but I also await the comments of the latter.

We welcome the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) to the Government Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment. As he comes here in a virgin state as a Minister tonight, untainted by any previous involvement in this Bill, I hope that he will steer the House to a sensible conclusion in this debate and defer consideration for six months. I hope that that would be a sensible way forward at the moment.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The motion before the House is whether we consider the Lords amendment. It is not the six months motion.

Mr. Pike

Thank you for correcting me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am sure that we all understand the situation.

Mr. Neubert

Does the hon. Gentleman take some encouragement from the fact that the new Under-Secretary of State, to whom I extend congratulations, is the hon. Member for Salisbury and has a charter market in his constituency and that he may well therefore be concerned to learn the implications of the Bill for his market? What is more, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is flanked by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs, who is the hon. Member for Wokingham. He is one of the long list of hon. Members who have markets which benefit their constituents. With such a representation on the Government Front Bench, perhaps greater consideration can be given to the arguments that we have deployed for nearly two years now.

Mr. Pike

The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) has rightly made a pertinent point. I have been involved in the debates at every stage of this Bill and I know that concerns have not only centred around the implications for Redbridge and the neighbouring authority, but on the implications for all towns with charter markets.

It was somewhat unfortunate that, although he made his position perfectly clear in previous debates, the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) was unable to make a contribution to the proceedings. Tonight he has put forward an extremely good case for why we should not debate the Lords amendment. I congratulate him on that speech. Although I am sorry that he has had to go back to the Government Back Benches, his contribution to the debate has been most welcome, and I shall now concentrate on his final remarks.

8.30 pm

The hon. Member's argument was that we should not debate the Lords amendment because there should be a period in which the local authorities involved should be able to negotiate and consult, to see whether some mutually convenient and acceptable arrangement can be achieved. That is an eminently sensible proposal, which should commend itself to the House. I hope that the House will support that point of view.

We in Burnley have a charter market that dates back about 800 years. We fear that the next thing that we shall see is another Bill relating to another local authority, and then another Bill, and so on. That would be a dangerous precedent. The Burnley market was established by charter on the doorsteps of the church more than 800 years ago, and that pattern has been repeated on many occasions. We have often debated how the distance between markets was established, and so on.

As I said when the hon. Member for Romford kindly gave way to me, the local authority in Burnley has made a major investment in a new indoor and outdoor market. If charter rights had been in jeopardy, there would have been great reservations about that investment. Many other local authorities have made investments to bring their markets up to modern-day standards. If they thought that their charter rights would not be protected, they would not have made that investment: that is our worry.

I recognise that we are not debating the Lords amendment at this stage, but it is right to refer to the context of the debate. We do not know why, having resisted changes at all stages of the proceedings in this House, at this late stage we are presented with a proposal to delete clause 6. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your role as Chairman of Ways and Means, know very well that the normal procedure with private Member's Bills is that their promoters give reasons for major changes. It is strange that we are not in a position to know why that debate is to take place tonight, why that clause is to be deleted. It represents a major change to the Bill, and that matter is of concern to us.

It particularly worries me that the hon. Members for Romford and for Upminster, even though their local authority is directly affected, have not received the courtesy of being consulted or informed. Since July, we have known that the Redbridge Bill was the business for Monday 15 October at 7 o'clock. We have known that for a considerable time. That is a discourtesy not only to the House but to hon. Members with neighbouring constituencies that are directly involved, who have expressed reservations at every stage.

Mr. Neubert

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that this business was put down at short notice for consideration on 24 July and was not reached then only because of the weight of debate on the private business which preceded it? But for the fact that it was set down for second business on that day, we would have been in this position all those weeks and months ago. Even now we have no explanation. It is quite extraordinary.

Mr. Pike

The hon. Member for Romford is absolutely right. He would obviously be joined not only by the hon. Member for Upminster and others but by the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire), who has taken a close interest in this Bill. With no disrespect to the hon. Member for Ilford, North, who has made his position clear throughout the proceedings, the principal advocate on most occasions has been the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who unfortunately cannot be present tonight. It would be wrong for us to proceed when he is not present to state exactly why the clause should be deleted.

The issues are clear. Hon. Members should refrain from discussing the deletion of clause 6 and allow adequate time for further consultation. That is the sensible course of action to pursue. It would also allow the two authorities involved to get their heads together and perhaps reach an acceptable compromise.

The hon. Member for Upminster questioned whether the people of Redbridge are still as enthusiastic about the Bill as they might have been when it started on its passage a considerable time ago. If we do not proceed tonight, we shall allow time for reflection. It is certainly not my wish to prolong the proceedings, but those two grounds alone constitute extremely good reasons not to debate the Lords amendment tonight. I hope that the House is also of that view and that the matter can be deferred.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)

I, too, am concerned about the length of notice that hon. Members have received. I add my congratulations to those of my colleagues on both sides of the House to my hon. Friend the Minister, the hon. Member for Salisbury, (Mr. Key). I am delighted to see him in a very well deserved post. Hon. Members look forward to hearing his contributions on many occasions.

My hon. Friend and I do not always agree on everything, but I have immense respect for him, which I know is universally shared, and I am delighted to see him on the Government Front Bench. I should like to talk at even greater length on his promotion, but at this point I should address the main question, which is whether we should debate the amendment or whether we should delay.

I was keen to hear the arguments for why we should debate the amendment. When I saw the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) on the screen, I ran in at high speed, because I wished to hear his arguments. I was not coming from a great distance, but, by the time I arrived in the Chamber, he had concluded his remarks. Sadly, therefore, I have heard no argument whatever for our debating the amendment now.

As I understand it, notice of the amendment was given from the other place immediately before we adjourned for the summer recess. Now, on the first day back, this amendment is on the Order Paper. Hon. Members cannot possibly have had sufficient time to consider its implications. I am told that no explanatory memorandum has been submitted, despite endless requests, so that we should know exactly what was in the minds of those in the other place when they decided to make the amendment.

Mr. Pike

Did I understand the hon. Lady correctly when she said that the borough of Havering had specifically requested that an explanatory memorandum should be made available?

Miss Widdecombe

I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Romford that numerous requests have been made for an explanation. I would welcome my hon. Friend's clarification of that.

Mr. Neubert

I am happy to be able to confirm that numerous requests have been made in this Chamber to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall). All I have been able to do is present evidence to show that the borough secretary and solicitor for the London borough of Havering are as unaware of the background to this most surprising development as we are. Havering borough has been the chief protagonist and petitioner against the Bill in both Houses and one would have thought that that borough at least would have been given the courtesy of some explanation. Certainly the hon. Members representing that borough have had no such explanation, and it follows that my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) is equally underprivileged.

Miss Widdecombe

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification.

We are here tonight to discuss something for which we have been given no explanation, either verbal or written. We have not had time to consider it properly, because a number of sitting days have not passed. We have not had time for informal discussion of this important amendment. You may remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, from my earlier contributions that I am in sympathy with deleting that clause, but I would not stretch your patience by dwelling on the reasons for that. Nevertheless, I believe that proper forms must be observed. However technically in order it might be, it seems quite improper that such a major amendment of a clause that occupied hours of debate during earlier consideration of the Bill should be sprung on the House, especially as no proper explanation of it has been given.

The proposed change would affect all those constituencies with markets. I was most interested to hear the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) discuss the market at Burnley. He may recall that I had an acquaintance with Burnley—not as successful as his acquaintance with it—in 1979. I recall that market extremely well and the great contribution that it makes to Burnley life.

I can understand that the hon. Gentleman is concerned that we should not be precipitated into a situation in which a major Bill, which will create precedents, has an important consideration removed from it—the powers of local councils over the disposal of those markets. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman considers that that is unacceptable. I too have a market in my constituency and I am surprised that we have not been given further opportunity to consider the effect of deleting the clause.

When the Bill left the House in the summer, the clause was intact. Those local authorities and markets examining the likely effects of the Bill will obviously be studying it in the form in which it last left the House.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

My hon. Friend's argument is even more forceful because of the way in which an earlier attempt to get an explanation from the promoter of why the clause was there was so firmly blocked. Every attempt by those opposed to the Bill to challenge that clause was met with a dead-wall defence. No explanation was given at any stage of why the clause was in the Bill and there has been less than zero information as to why it should be taken out of the Bill. That is a complete volte-face from the position adopted in Committee.

Miss Widdecombe

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In our earlier proceedings on the Bill, I remember that we had a most unsatisfactory time trying to establish why on earth the restrictions under the Shops Act 1950 would not do, and why such an eccentric blanket provision should be built in to give local councils total control over disposals. Such powers would make it impossible for anyone to take sensible commercial decisions. Nobody would know what rules would govern the disposal of markets or parts of markets at the time that they chose to dispose of them.

I remember that questions were raised about nepotism on councils and about frequent switches of political control of councils. Those questions were never answered. We asked for clarification, but we did not get it. Tonight, the clause has disappeared and it has been amended out of existence. We have asked for an explanation, but we have not received one.

8.45 pm
Mr. Neubert

My hon. Friend mentioned clause 6. It is important to remember that we have not yet amended it out of existence. We are discussing whether we should consider such a thing tonight. Things are even more mysterious than my hon. Friend has portrayed, because clause 6 not only existed in the original Bill, but two lines were added to it in the course of proceedings in the House. Lines 16 and 17 provided: No such transfer or disposal of rights

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I think that the debate now is perhaps anticipating the debate that we may have on the amendment. We should confine the debate to the question whether the Lords amendment should be considered or otherwise.

Mr. Neubert

I understand your argument, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am simply making the point that the proposal as to whether we should consider the amendment tonight arises from an amendment which seems to be in contradistinction to the direction taken by the Committee that amended the clause in our proceedings in this House.

Miss Widdecombe

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend.

I should be grateful for some guidance from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although I understand why we should discuss whether the amendment should be heard, surely the parameters of that amendment and how it relates to the things we agreed earlier are important factors when considering whether to hear that amendment tonight. Although I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Romford is not in order because you say so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he was raising a most important consideration of which the House should take cognisance when deciding whether to discuss the amendment.

You have referred, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to a debate that we may well have. I sincerely hope that we do not have that debate without proper time for reflection in order to establish why the clause should be wholly amended. My hon. Friend the Member for Romford is right to correct me from suggesting that the clause has already been amended out of existence, but that is the proposal we are discussing. I sincerely hope that we do not have that debate until we have had time to reflect on the effects of that decision. We should not discuss it until we have time to consult our traders, markets and local authorities to tell them that the situation has changed fairly dramatically. It is important to know that the Bill that left this place is no longer what is proposed.

Mr. O'Brien

The hon. Lady has reminded the House three times that, when the Bill left this place, the clause was intact. When the Committee in the other place considered the Bill, the clause was intact, but on Third Reading in the other place it was suggested that the clause should be deleted. No explanation has been given, and if there is no explanation on record in the other place, we are entitled to an explanation before any Division in this House. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to address that point.

Miss Widdecombe

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because he has summarised the matter admirably. He has said what I have tried to say in the course of what has perhaps been a rather long-winded contribution.

Throughout, the clause has been intact. It was challenged at one point, but that challenge was repelled. Therefore, it was reasonable for those considering the practical effects of the Bill to assume that the clause would be an integral part of it. As the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) rightly said, because it has survived scrutiny at all stages so far, it is fairly surprising that it now comes back with a proposal for deletion. What practical effect will that have? It means that those considering the Bill and those who have to live with its consequences have a different animal to examine. It is not sufficient for us to take a hasty decision tonight.

I did not know that the clause had been deleted, so I have not undertaken the proper consultation that I would have done had I known. I think that the same would apply to many other hon. Members with constituencies with markets or local authorities with a special interest in the matter. We are not talking about a minor deletion, which we could have swallowed, although we would still have expected the courtesy of an explanation. We are talking about telling local authorities that they will have no control, other than that already enshrined in legislation governing completely different set-ups such as rows of shops, over the disposal of rights to trade in this fashion.

Just as I bitterly opposed the eccentric blanket provision that councils should simply refuse permission to dispose without a specified set of grounds being included in the Bill, I now believe that the Bill has gone the other way and there is too little protection. Now, councils do not have the ability to refuse disposal if they consider that the consequences would be undesirable for the district under their control. I appreciate that, to a certain extent, to debate that is to debate the merits of the amendment. I believe that it is such a major consideration that it is important that those authorities, markets and traders should all have an input. If the clause is to be deleted and nothing is substituted, or the substitution is inadequate, that creates a different sort of Bill from that which left this place, and we have not had adequate time to consider it.

Mr. Pike

As well as the traders and those who use the markets, would not another factor involve the fact that many councils derive crucial income from their markets? I do not want to enter the argument on whether we have poll tax or rates, but local government funding, however it is raised from local residents, can be affected by the proposal we are debating tonight. If a council's income falls, it must affect local charge payers in one form or another.

Miss Widdecombe

The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) is absolutely right, and has raised yet another major consideration. As I said, we are discussing not a minor clause but something that will have long-term practical consequences for many local authorities, traders and citizens. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to get it right, which we cannot do with the sort of notice or explanation—or lack of explanation—that we have been given. We should not consider the clause tonight, but should have time for proper consultation.

Mr. Neubert

On that very point, is there not art extra dimension that has not yet been mentioned? This Bill, with a clause 6 that was not only not deleted by the Committee but actually added to in Committee and approved on Third Reading, comes back from their Lordships' House with a proposal to delete that self-same clause. I do not want to exaggerate the issues, but there is a possibility of a constitutional clash between the two Houses of Parliament because one is taking an entirely different view from the other. Therefore, should we not have had some explanation for that at the debate's outset?

Miss Widdecombe

Indeed, and the possibility of a clash makes it all the more urgent that we do not consider the amendment passed in another place, with the possibility that we shall refuse it. Surely it is better for us to take due time to consult in all the necessary places and consider the consequences of accepting or rejecting the amendment, talk to interested parties and come to a reasoned view rather than one formed on the spur of the moment—as it must be, since this is the first day back.

Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) on his new post, although he will not expect me to wish him to be there too long. I hope that he may be Opposition spokesman before too long, rather than a Minister, but I congratulate him.

There are three reasons why we should not discuss the Lords amendment. First—this does not colour my point of view—the Market Traders Association is in my constituency. Secondly, I have a great deal of feeling and nostalgia for markets in my constituency. Thirdly, although it is a Redbridge Bill, it could affect 246 other constituency areas, which means that we must not consider it lightly but should study it in depth to see where we are going.

When the markets were set up by charter 700 or 800 years ago, the people who gave them were wise, because they realised, even then, that there was only so much money to go round and so much trade to be had; to stop dog eating dog, a charter was created that allowed a market to be built and provided that, within a certain mileage of that central market, others should not be built. It did not make it impossible, but it meant that those involved got together and decided on the arrangements.

A practical illustration involves my own little village, Hoyland, under the Barnsley authority, where there was a charter market. The authority came down heavily and said that there could not be another one, but then reason prevailed and, between the parties, they decided what could be done. However, if we do not allow time for such discussion and negotiation, we are in danger of letting the Bill go through inadequately discussed or thought about and, worse still, with the parties involved not having had the chance to get together and decide whether the House should be used as an instrument to pass a private Member's Bill for one part of a district to usurp another part of that district, bringing full authority to bear with the permission of the House—which is how the House is being used. Before we do that, we should think clearly and deeply about it.

If the Bill goes through, we must consider what we are doing to the 246 constituencies with charter markets.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Why, does it affect them?

Mr. McKay

It could easily affect them, because, once a precedent is created by the Bill, another authority will be able to say, "Wait a minute, they have done it, so we can." If my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and his authority decided that legislation involving their district should be passed, there would be another market between Wakefield and Barnsley.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. With respect, I suggest that the hon. Gentleman's speech would be more appropriate on Second Reading. At this point, we are considering whether to give consideration to an amendment made in another place. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Bill received a Second and Third Reading in this House.

9 pm

Mr. McKay

I am hoping that we can prove our point that it would be better not to discuss the Lords amendment tonight, but to let the participants go back and decide for themselves rather than the House deciding for them. If our argument is valid and accepted, we will not need a Second or Third Reading. However, that can be left until later to tidy up any little bits that may return.

While I naturally accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that the points that I have made will stop a Second and Third Reading from taking place. I hope that common sense will prevail.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Given that clause 6 has not been explained by the sponsors of the Bill, does that not bear out what the hon. Gentleman is saying? No one has had the opportunity to explore the effect of clause 6, or the effect of removing it. In those circumstances, is it not important that the effect on the other charter markets is explored by the House before we decide even whether to debate the removal of clause 6?

Mr. McKay

Certainly we should have time to explore that. We should not sit back gently and be steamrollered; we are bigger and more important than that. Time should be given for us to have an explanation of what the Bill means.

Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) has been here since 7 o'clock listening to the debate. Is he saying that neither the sponsors of the Bill nor anyone connected with its purpose has explained what is in clause 6? We know from experience that some Bills get through without proper discussion, especially private Bills. Is my hon. Friend saying that, despite all our efforts, we cannot get anyone to get up to explain what is in clause 6 and why the Lords have passed the amendment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It might be more appropriate to consider the effect of clause 6 and its deletion when we come to debate the Lords amendment. We are debating whether the House should consider that Lords amendment.

Mr. McKay

I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) that we have not had an explanation. If we had, we would probably not be in this position. We would probably have had a better knowledge of the Bill and its effect on other areas and constituencies.

Mr. Neubert

We have proceeded for two hours without explanation from the sponsors for the reasons for the amendment, and we are now being asked whether we should consider it now or in six months' time. I can only assume—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The six-months motion is not before the House; the question is whether the House should consider the Lords amendment. I have just said that we should wait until the debate on the Lords amendment to find out what clause 6 is all about. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring what I have just said.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am exposing my ignorance, and at risk of incurring your displeasure, but I do not understand why the Order Paper specifies That the Lords Amendment be considered upon this day six months"—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not our practice to debate a motion that has not been selected for debate. I repeat that the Question before the House is that the Lords amendment be now considered. I hope that hon. Members will address themselves to that.

Mr. McKay

Our question is why the Lords amendment should be considered. If it were dealt with in that way, it would give more time—time that is needed for explanations, for participation, for us to try to right the mistakes that we will probably make and for us to ensure that, before anything goes out of the House, it has been considered to the best of our ability.

Mr. Skinner

Now we know what we are about. We have had no explanation for two hours, although clearly the Lords passed the amendment. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have said that we must speak about the Lords amendment. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien): how many Lords were present when they passed the amendment?

Mr. O'Brien


Mr. Skinner

My hon. Friend, who is well informed on these matters, says, "None." That is a tired old state of affairs, is it not? We have had no explanation about clause 6, and when I asked how many Lords took part in the great debate that introduced the amendment, I was told that the answer was none. Now my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) is trying his level best to discuss that matter, but we are told by the Chair that we must stick to a narrow formula that precludes my hon. Friend from making any comment at all.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover knows that interventions must be brief.

Mr. McKay

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for explaining the matter in his usual direct and blunt way. The amendment has not been considered in the Lords and we are being asked to rubber-stamp it and forget it—but the House will not forget it.

Mr. O'Brien

As I tried to explain earlier, when the Bill was considered in the other place, it went through Committee in the form in which it left this House, with clause 6 intact. The Bill was given a Third Reading without debate in the House of Lords, and it was then suggested that it should be accepted with the amendment. Never has any reason been given as to why clause 6 should be deleted. That is why my hon. Friend is saying that it should not be considered here tonight, and that is why his appeal is justified.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have just been to the Vote Office, and it seems that Sharpe Pritchard, the parliamentary agent for the Bill, has distributed the wrong copy of the Bill to the House. The copy that we have contains no clause 6, so the amendment, which reads

page 4, lines 9 to 17, leave out clause 6", refers to part of clause 4 and part of clause 5.

I ask for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should have thought that we should discontinue this sitting at least until Sharpe Pritchard gives us proper copies of the Bill. Then we should start again from the beginning, since we have been discussing something that does not exist.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I may have misheard the hon. Gentleman. Did he refer to a Bill which he has just obtained from the Vote Office?

Mr. Barnes

I collected the Bill from the Vote Office as I came in. It is not the correct Bill because page 4, lines 9 to 17 are not part of clause 6. There is no clause 6 in the Bill; parts of clauses 4 and 5 are being referred to.

Until this has been corrected, the House cannot proceed with this measure. You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may hold a copy which is correct, but hon. Members are in the dark.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will have seen me taking advice while he was addressing the Chair. I am advised that the Bill that is available in the Vote Office does contain all the clauses—I refer to the House of Commons Bill. The hon. Gentleman may have been supplied with a copy of the House of Lords Bill, in which case there has been a mistake at the Vote Office. But I understand that copies of the House of Commons Bill contain the clause to which he refers.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I also collected from the Vote Office a copy which does not contain the clause. If you like, I shall go to the Vote Office and check whether it has a copy that contains the clause, but the copies that have been given to Members who have asked for them certainly do not contain it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I shall take immediate steps to obtain clarification, and I suggest that, until the House obtains it, we continue the debate.

Mr. Harry Barnes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I went to the Vote Office twice. When I examined the Bill that I had collected, I wondered what on earth was being discussed, because I could not find the clause in question. I returned to the Vote Office, which told me that Sharpe Pritchard had distributed the wrong copy of the Bill and that someone from the Vote Office had rung up the agent to try to get hold of the correct copy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

As I have suggested, perhaps we should continue until I have obtained clarification, when I shall report to the House.

Mr. Skinner

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This seems a bit cock-eyed to me. We have just discovered that we are debating a clause of which Members have no copy. It is high time that you took a decision and suspended the sitting so that you can get in touch with Sharpe Pritchard—it will cost a tidy fortune, I am sure.

I know that it is the first day back after the 10-week holiday, but one would have thought that these well paid parliamentary agents would have produced the Bill on time. As we cannot discuss it, I think that the sitting should be suspended and we should start again another day.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman heard my decision. We shall continue until the matter has been clarified.

Mr. McKay

We now see the importance of what we are discussing. Amendments were introduced on Third Reading in the other place. They were approved without debate and passed to us. Clause 6 is not in the Bill, so it must have been decided that we would rubber-stamp the decision to leave it out. We got hold of a copy of the Bill that does not contain clause 6. It is important to find out whether the sitting should be suspended, but it is more important for every hon. Member to realise what he is voting on.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

There is precious little chance of the House knowing what it is voting on when hon. Members have the wrong copy of the Bill and have not had a word of explanation from the promoter about why the amendment has been tabled or why the clause was there in the first place. Therefore, a proper debate on the matter is impossible. That is why we are moving an amendment to try to defer discussion on the removal of clause 6 until we have had a proper chance to consider the consequences to the Bill.

Mr. McKay

The hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. Matters get worse as we go on, because we continue to find little wrinkles and caveats. We should opt for a proper debate by deferring the whole matter so that we can get the proper documentation and a proper explanation. Before we take any decision, we must be fully aware of all the facts.

Mr. Harry Barnes

We cannot discuss whether to leave out clause 6 because we do not have that clause in front of us and do not know what is to be left out. If we are obliged to vote on we know not what, we shall have to vote against the measure in order to prevent procedural nonsense. I hope that we are not obliged to decide on a matter that is not in front of us, because that would be acting blindly. Much happens in the House as a result of partial understanding and it is assumed that things are done according to the correct procedures. However, when we sus a matter out and discover the problems, we must correct them so that we do not pass defective legislation.

Mr. Neubert

Perhaps I could clear up some of my own procedural nonsense. I was rightly pulled up and told that we were discussing a motion about whether to consider the Lords amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) has said, it was all over in a flash. I thought that we were discussing the motion to defer discussion for six months and that was why I said that I hoped that the motion would be carried. Now I know that the motion is to consider the Lords amendment and I am opposed to that and will vote accordingly.

Mr. Harry Barnes

We should not be asked to vote on the Lords amendment. If we are obliged to do that then we shall go into the No Lobby in order to prevent constitutional and procedural nonsense.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I listened to the first part of the debate and at that stage it was about whether the House should discuss the Lords amendment. I now understand that the Lords amendment is not available and that nobody knows what it is. Does my hon. Friend agree that, if the House proceeds in this way, it will undermine parliamentary democracy because we could be accused of approving something that is secret and about which no hon. Member knows anything?

Mr. Barnes

In fact, the Lords amendment is not missing. I have a copy of it, and it states Page 4, lines 9 to 17, leave out Clause 6. We could debate that—

Mr. O'Brien

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that you can guide me. You called my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), but he does not have the necessary information to enable him to make his speech. It is quite ridiculous that hon. Members should have to address the House when they do not know what they are talking about. That could be rectified by adjourning the debate until the necessary information is available. I appeal to you to ensure that my hon. Friend has the details that he requires to address the House.

9.15 pm
Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) is right. If the debate were being televised—as, indeed, it might be—people would think it was another Monty Python sketch. When the amendment came before another place, no one spoke to it. There are 1,100 Members in the other House, but not one opened his mouth to discuss the amendment. They have sent it to the House of Commons to be debated on the first day after the holidays, no doubt thinking that no one would be here.

Here we are, but clause 6 does not even appear in the Bill. Hon. Members are debating clause 6, but no one knows anything about it. It is like that parrot—it is extinct, it is dead, it is late, it was, it is no longer. If we do not keep talking until 10 o'clock, the Tories will bring in their troops. None of them will have listened to the debate, but they will be told by their shop stewards to walk through the Lobby and vote for the motion.

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton to do his level best to talk about the non-existent clause for as long as possible in the interests of parliamentary democracy. I suppose that this is what they do in the Common Market. It is probably a Common Market system. After all, the debate is about markets—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is this an intervention?

Mr. Skinner

It is a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask you to send for Mr. Speaker, the man in the full gear. That will make the sketch complete.

Mr. Harry Barnes


Mr. Deputy Speaker

I call Mr. Bendall.

Mr. Barnes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was on my feet when the first point of order was raised. I waited for you to respond to the point of order, but you did not. You chose to call another Member.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If the hon. Gentleman is patient for half a minute, he will realise that, in an indirect manner, I am responding.

Mr. Bendall

Perhaps I can assist the House—

Mr. Neubert

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is this further to the points of order that have already been raised, or is it a speech?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is further to the points of order.

Mr. Bendall

The reason that I did not delve deeply into clause 6 when I opened the debate was that it was not the subject of our debate. However, as the Bill deposited in the Vote Office—which I understand is the Bill that the parliamentary agents were told to deposit—is causing such great concern, I beg to move, That the debate be now adjourned.

Question put and agreed to.

Debate to be resumed on Thursday next.