§ Considered in Committee [Progress, 15 April]
§ [MR. MICHAEL MORRIS in the Chair]4.39 pm
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Michael Morris)
In view of the character of the Bill before the Committee and the views expressed by hon. Members, both in the Chamber and privately, in connection with amendment No. 27, I think it right to make a further statement about the context in which my decision not to allow a separate Division on amendment No. 27 was taken.
In arriving at such a decision on an amendment, any occupant of the Chair must have regard to a number of factors, including the Committee's debates, the clarity or effect of an amendment, and its impact on the Bill which, if brought into effect, must be both workable and understandable. In the very nature of this case, there can be no exact precedent.
Amendment No. 27 deals with certain aspects of the United Kingdom's position with regard to the agreement annexed to the protocol on social policy. So do new clauses 74 and 75. After lengthy representations from the hon. Members concerned, I have decided that I should not alter my decision on amendment No. 27, but that further debate on the social protocol, which the Committee is to have, should be led by new clause 74, with which new clause 75 will be grouped.
I remind the Committee that I am prepared, at the appropriate time, to permit separate Divisions on amendments Nos. 225, 268, 426 and 420.
§ Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. I am grateful for the further consideration that you have given to this very important issue, and for your courtesy in making considerable time available for us to meet you to discuss the whole nexus of issues.
I cannot, however, let this occasion go by without saying that the Opposition have not changed their views about the significance of amendment No. 27, and nothing in what you have said today convinces me that we should change it. As I have made clear many times, amendment No. 27 is in order; it has been debated; and there remains no valid reason for not allowing the Committee to vote on it.
I do not wish to sound churlish when I say that we should express some gratitude to you, Mr. Morris, for accepting a vote on new clause 74, in respect of which my argument is the same as it was for new clause 75. I do not regard new clause 74 as an alternative to amendment No. 27, nor do I believe that it can be reasonably or realistically posed in those terms.
Last week, I asked for time for further consideration, and you were good enough to agree to that. I do not propose to pursue this matter indefinitely, but I want to make two further points about this decision. The first is to do with the Government's statement last week about accepting new clause 75.
40 The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office wrote on 5 April to the Local Government International Bureau expressing a view about the Government's attitude to the amendment carried by the Committee in respect of the Committee of the Regions. In his letter to Mr. Dickson-Smith, the Minister of State said:No final decisions have yet been taken either on the allocation of seats between the different parts of the United Kingdom or on what sort of representation should be nominated to the Committee.But the House of Commons has taken a decision on that matter; by a significant majority, it voted in favour of a particular method of allocating the seats.
In this letter, we have something similar to what I accused the Government of last Thursday—a clear, and in this case quite unequivocal, sign from the Government that they may not accept the will of the House in this matter. The Minister of State denied my charge in respect of the Government briefing on new clause 75. He cannot deny what he has personally written to the people making representations to him from the Local Government International Bureau.
Secondly, I refer you, Mr. Morris, to column 685 in the Official Report of 22 February 1993, when you said:We are some way off a vote on amendment No. 27"—. [Official Report, 22 February 1993; Vol. 219, c. 685.]The implication of your statement then is clear: that the Committee would have a vote on amendment No. 27. I remain completely unconvinced by the arguments against such a vote taking place, and I repeat what I said last week —that we shall take our unanswerable case to the Speaker, for this matter to be determined on Report.
§ The Chairman
Order. I should like to respond to the right hon. Gentleman. First, I request that he study with care the words that I have spoken this afternoon, which I accept he has not heard before. He will want to reflect on them.
Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman will know that the selection of amendments and the votes flowing from them are always provisional—that is what it says at the top of the Notice Paper.
Thirdly, new clause 74 will lead the debate, so it is the whole basis of that debate, and I therefore think it has a higher standing than the right hon. Gentleman has provisionally said it would have.
With regard to the Committee of the Regions, the right hon. Gentleman is right to remind the Committee that all Members of the House are bound by any Act of Parliament and the matters that flow from it.
§ Sir Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Morris. I thank you for what you have said today. Will you clarify for my constituents whether having a debate on new clause 74 will mean that the protocol which fixes this new tax will probably be considered after ratification of the treaty, not before it, as would happen with amendment No. 27?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman has been in the House long enough to know that he should read the amendment and put his own interpretation on it.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Morris. You quite properly said on Thursday, and you have repeated today, that the House has entrusted you, as Chairman of Ways and Means, with a 41 responsibility for determining whether amendments will be called or voted upon, and that you are not obliged to give your reasons. But you will also be aware that the Government have laid great emphasis throughout the debate on the fact that this Bill is to be considered by the procedures of parliamentary democracy.
Of course, it is open to the House to appeal against a ruling in the usual manner—by putting down a motion regretting the decision reached by the Chairman of Ways and Means. That is in no way personal; it is comparable to an appeal to the High Court when a lower court reaches a view that is not accepted by the litigants.
Because this is a matter of enormous procedural importance, quite apart from the merits of the Bill, if this judgment remains, "Erskine May" in all future editions will entrust to future Chairmen of Committees the right to disallow votes on amendments which they do not believe merit a vote. In this case, the social protocol was considered of such importance that the Government highlighted their requirement for an opt-out at the Maastricht treaty negotiations, so from their point of view it could hardly be a more important issue—whereas you have said that, in your judgment, it is not an important issue. That also raises certain consequences.
As you know, Mr. Morris, I have told your office—the Public Bill Office—that I am minded to table such a motion. If a motion of this kind is tabled, may I take it that you would not feel able to take the Chair of the Committee until the matter was resolved? It has long been the practice of the House that, when a motion commenting on the Chair is on the Order Paper, the Chairman concerned does not sit until the court of appeal—in this case the House as a whole—has met.
I should be grateful if you would advise me on that, because this is a matter of fundamental importance, and I have a feeling that, when we read the statement that you have made this afternoon about the basis on which amendments are selected—that they must be clear and that you must know their effect on the Bill—it may turn out to be equally important. It has never been my understanding that the Chairman had arty responsibility for considering either the intelligibility of an amendment or, for that matter, its effect if introduced to legislation.
For all these reasons, I hope, Mr. Morris, that you will appreciate that this relates not to yourself but to the procedures of the House concerning this Bill and all future legislation.
§ Mr. Tim Renton (Mid-Sussex)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. I have not spoken for as long on this important Bill as many hon. Members who are in the Committee. That is why I find it somewhat surprising that even such an expert on parliamentary affairs as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has such great difficulty with the fact that, having ruled out of order amendment No. 27, you have decided that there should be not only a vote on new clause 74 but a debate. I listened carefully to your words.
§ Mr. Renton
I suggest that my hon. Friend does not interrupt. His interruptions have become a little—[Interruption.]
§ The Chairman
Order. Points of order are matters for the Chair and not matters for debate in Committee one way or the other.
§ Mr. Renton
I have read new clause 74, which is what you suggested my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) should do, Mr. Morris. It is absolutely clear that there will be a debate on the principle whether to adopt the protocol on social policy. The new clause is not narrowly worded; it is very broad. It clearly states:This Act shall come into force only when the House of Commons has come to a Resolution on a motion tabled by a Minister of the Crown".I look forward to that debate, which will be interesting and wide-ranging.
§ The Chairman
Order. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, but we cannot have a debate now on new clause 74 and its interpretation. That is why I suggested to the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that he should read and interpret the new clause in the way that he felt was right.
§ Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)
Further to the point of order by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), Mr. Morris. I underline what my right hon. Friend said about dealing with procedure rather than personality. You may recall that one of your esteemed predecessors, Sir Robert Grant-Ferris, was in your position in 1972 and made a selection of amendments on which there were points of order for 15 hours. He had to sustain a debate of the type that my right hon. Friend mentioned, but the affection and esteem in which he was held in Parliament was unaffected, although the procedure was important.
We are grateful for your announcement, Mr. Morris. On Thursday you said that, after the debate on which we were about to embark on amendment No. 52, there would be votes on amendment No. 225, if it was pressed, and on amendment No. 268 before the debate on clause I stand part. Earlier today, you mentioned amendment No. 426. Will that be debated before clause 1 stand part?
You mentioned matters that have to be borne in mind on selection. As hon. Members know, under Standing Order No. 20, the Speaker must take certain factors into account, but gives no reasons. The factors that you mentioned bear positively, if I may put it like that, on your ruling. Can you direct the Committee to other factors contained in another source, either by reference to a book or immediately?
You said that the matter was unprecedented, and we all agree with that. What is also unprecedented is that an amendment was selected and debated and the closure was moved. You would not have accepted the closure if the debate had not been thorough. Because of the timing, you have said that the Committee shall not come to a decision. Therefore, the historic basis of selection, motion, debate and question has been broken, because there has been no decision. If the ruling is not changed by some means, that is also unprecedented, and gives rise to great anxiety among certain hon. Members.
§ The Chairman
Order. I shall clarify the matter. Amendment No. 426, if it is moved, will warrant a separate Division before the debate on clause 1 stand part. I hope that the Committee is clear on that. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman listened with care to the words in my second paragraph, because my statement was important and merits study. The statement guides me and the Committee, because it makes it plain that, every day we meet, the provisional selection of amendments is a matter for the Chairman. That provides for the Chairman to change his selection between one sitting day and the next. Events may cause such a change to take place.
§ Sir Peter Emery
Is that what the hon. Gentleman wants?
When a group of amendments is tabled for debate, it is not unknown for an hon. Member to ask for a Division on an amendment that had not previously been annotated for a Division. It is entirely up to the Chair to decide on a Division. It has been suggested that the Chairman does not decide on whether to grant a Divison, but that is obviously incorrect, because such power has always rested with the Chairman.
Secondly, if, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) suggested, there is to be a substantive motion, surely it would be right to proceed with the debate and have no more points of order on the selection of amendments.
§ The Chairman
Order. I confirm the right hon. Gentleman's first point, and I am grateful to him for making it. I have no comment on his second point.
§ Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. Members of the Committee will have noticed that you have accepted for debate some amendments to the new clauses about a referendum, which make the link between consulting the people on the Maastricht process and consulting them on the social protocol. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who is in his place, is quoted in today's issue of The Scotsman as saying that these amendments haveno chance of being debated or accepted.That has turned out to be a bad short-term forecast, because, as we see from the selection paper, they have been selected for debate. [Interruption.] I understand why the hon. Member for Hamilton is getting rather upset. His fig leaf for not supporting a referendum on Maastricht is starting to be removed. In view of that statement, Mr. Morris, will you confirm that the choice of matters for debate is made not by the Government or the Opposition, but by you alone?
§ The Chairman
I certainly confirm that. The thrust of the hon. Gentleman's point of order proves that selection is always provisional.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. Some days ago and today, you ruled that the Bill's effect is one criterion that you take into account, and that you also take account of its clarity. Without referring specifically to a television programme of which I have a 44 transcript, you reinforce that by suggesting—quite rightly, I understand—that you would not want to see the Bill wrecked.
That brings us to the significance of Second Reading. If the Bill's principle is one of your prime considerations in referring to its effect, will you bear in mind the fact that, on Second Reading on 2 May last year, almost a year ago, the Danish referendum, which significantly changed the nature of the treaty signed on 7 February, had not been held?
Secondly, the question of economic and monetary union lies at the heart of the principle of the Bill. As the Government have withdrawn from the exchange rate mechanism, considering the basis of the Second Reading debate, surely we should not be excluded from consideration of whether to allow amendment No. 27. Do you agree, Mr. Morris?
§ 5 pm
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. You will recall that, on Thursday, I suggested that your ruling on amendment No. 27 might well be opposed by a majority of the Committee; I asked how such a majority could make its view known and expect it to prevail. In the event, you accepted the motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to allow the Committee a cooling-off period. I assume that it was hoped that, during that period, you and others might have second and better thoughts.
Nearly every hon. Member who spoke in Thursday's debate endorsed the need for a cooling-off period, and expressed the hope that a different view would be taken after it. The fact that the motion was accepted without a Division strongly supports my view that a majority of the Committee does not agree with your ruling, Mr. Morris. May I ask to what extent you took account of the sequence of events—that is, the debate and its outcome—when you drafted the statement that you have read out today?
§ The Chairman
Let me make two points. First, as I was in the Chair for the whole of what the right hon. Gentleman describes as a cooling-off period, it was not a particularly cool time for me. Secondly, I must and do take every factor into consideration, but at the end of the day the buck stops here: I have to choose the amendments.
§ Mr. Michael Spicer (Worcestershire, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. When my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) expressed anxiety about how he would explain the effect of your decision about amendment No. 27 to his constituents, you said that he must make up his own mind about the impact of the Bill —he had been here long enough to do so. Earlier, in your statement, you said that the impact on the Bill was one of the criteria on which you decided whether to select an amendment for a vote. Will you tell us a little more about the possible impact of new clause 74? For instance, if a vote on it had the effect of excluding the social chapter—
§ The Chairman
Order. I do not wish to amplify anything that I have already said; I hope that the hon. Gentleman listened very carefully to what I said in my statement.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. I am grateful for your 45 statement, and will give it the careful study for which you asked. I was, however, disappointed that you stuck to your decision not to call amendment No. 27.
My point of order relates to some extent to what was said by the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer). Although you were not obliged to do so, you explained some of the factors that had influenced your decision, one of which was the effect of an amendment on the Bill. Surely this is the crux of the matter. The effects of different amendments are entirely different: amendment No. 27 would deliver a major blow to the Bill—indeed, it would destroy it, which would please me personally—while new clauses 74 and 75 are entirely acceptable to the Government, because they will have no effect on the Bill or the treaty. We want to vote on amendments that are relevant to the Bill, and have some meaning.
§ The Chairman
The guidance that I have given this afternoon is very general, and can be applied to any and every amendment.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. This is an entirely separate point of order. May I turn your attention to new clause 80, which is entitled "Transferred Powers (Scotland)"? I rerni.nd the Committee that the Union with Scotland Act 1706 contained 25 articles committing the Scottish people to full political, economic and fiscal union for ever. The words "for ever" are important.
As recently as last month, in the White Paper "Scotland in the Union", the Government recognised and acknowledged that "for ever" commitment. A set number of Scottish Members of Parliament are sent to the House of Commons: that number is quite out of proportion to the number sent from other parts of the unitary kingdom. That is because section 22 of the 1706 Act—which later became the treaty of Union, having been accepted in its entirety by the English Parliament—clearly laid down the number of Scottish Members of Parliament. It also clearly laid down the commitment, for ever, to political, economic, monetary and fiscal union.
Let me remind you, Mr. Morris, that the Scottish Parliament was never dissolved; it was simply prorogued. I believe, along with many of the people of Scotland, that Scotland's 72 Members of Parliament are the guardians of the Scottish Parliament.
New clause 80 deals directly with the requirement to debate, and have the opportunity to vote on, the giving away of Scottish and unitary parliamentary, political, economic and fiscal power to the European Community. I believe that failure to debate the matter may have profound legal and political implications in Scotland. I remind you, Mr. Morris, that the new clause is supported by both Labour and Conservative Members of Parliament, and by the leader of the Ulster Unionists.
There are two groups of amendments under which consideration of clause 80 would have been possible. It is interesting to note that, under the groups relating to entry into force, the referendum and the commencement of—
§ Mr. Walker
I am sorry, Mr. Morris; I do not want to speak at length unnecessarily.
When new clause 80 was tabled, the wording in relation to no powers being transferred was carefully chosen. You selected an amendment under the "Transferred Powers" list. You had produced a provisional list of amendments, and—as is in order, I understand—the new clause was carefully and deliberately worded in order to dovetail with the accompanying group, or rather with new clause 75, which was the only amendment selected at the time.
Following the tabling of new clause 74, we have a different grouping of amendments under a different heading. I suggest that new clause 80 could and should have been included: without it, we may face litigation in the Scottish courts that could delay any Bill passed by the House, and the implementation of the treaty.
It is no good your Clerk shaking his head, Mr. Morris. He and I know that the matter has not been properly challenged in the Scottish courts, because in the past referendums have dealt with the question of what the people think. That was true of the European Communities Act 1972. When there was any possibility of a challenge —[Interruption.] This is important, Mr. Morris.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member keeps saying that he will be brief. I think that he has made his point and I recognise the strength of his feeling. I have given careful thought to the new clause, which, if I may say so, reflects a distinctive view of the effects and significance of the Bill. Despite that, and the range of support for it, I regret that I am unable to alter my original decision not to select it for consideration.
I say as an Englishman that "prorogation" is an English term. I am advised that the Parliament of Scotland was continued in 1706 and not prorogued.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. Will you confirm that, if your decision is sustained, there will be a class of amendments or new clauses that will be debated and then voted on immediately? That, but for the chance of selection, is a normal occurrence. But for the fact that amendment No. 27 had to take its turn with other amendments in the order of voting, there would have been no time for any decision to be made.
If the precedent is supported—it is an important and, in my view, a dangerous one for the functioning of the House of Commons—and amendments are not voted on immediately following debate, we shall be refused a chance to vote for or against them in any future circumstances. I find that disturbing.
If the proposition were put to the House of Commons in those terms, I think that it would be rejected by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, bearing in mind particularly the fact that the order of selection is in the hands of the Chairman of Ways and Means and not those of the Committee. The Chairman can select the amendments on which he wants to have second thoughts to ensure that they are voted upon at a stage subsequent to the debate. That being so, he can use the opportunity to decide that there will be no vote. That is alarming.
I hope, Mr. Morris, that even at this stage you will reconsider the matter. There certainly will be criticism that the procedure that we are discussing works in favour of the Government when your function is to act as a neutral Chairman. The fact is that your decision supports or is in 47 favour of the Government. As amendment No. 27 was the one amendment of which the Government were fearful, that suggests to many both inside and outside the House of Commons that it is not a neutral position.
I have one further point of order, Mr. Morris.
§ The Chairman
No. I take one point of order at a time. I wish to make it clear to the Committee that I am, have been and will continue to be entirely neutral in the handling of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) will study my statement on voting. He should study it. I have created no precedents for voting on amendments.
§ Mr. Nicholas Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) talked about the precedents that are created by these proceedings. You will recollect that, on Thursday, I raised with you the important interview that you gave on the BBC "Westminister Live" programme. You rebuked me for not having a transcript of your important remarks. I say immediately that I was much humiliated by your rebuke, and I apologise for not having a transcript. I have now, as you know, supplied you with a transcript of your historic interview.
It is plain that the first consideration is that the occupant of the Chair cannot give reasons to the Members of the House of Commons for his or her decisions. The transcript reveals, however, that you gave reasons to the viewers of "Westminister Live". Presumably that means that you have set a precedent by which the Chair, which I assume includes the Speaker, gives reasons to television viewers but not to the House of Commons.
That is a most interesting and modern precedent of widespread importance. I hope that you will confirm that it is to be followed by the Chair in all its manifestations. It would seem that our attendance in this place is entirely unnecessary. The main thing that we must all do is buy a television set.
§ The Chairman
I note once again that the hon. Member did not quote directly from the transcript. He will have to take it from me that I gave no reasons to the viewers. I merely positioned the debate.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. I have no wish to personalise the matter —I accept entirely that you have responsibilities in the Chair—but I wonder whether you will accept the point that has been made repeatedly: that we, as Members of the House of Commons, have responsibilities, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said at the beginning of these exchanges.
You will know from your long experience of the House of Commons, Mr. Morris, that, when Members, whether in the minority or otherwise, feel that they have been cheated out of a debate or a vote that they believe should have taken place, feelings will run extremely high. I remind you that, last Thursday, you accepted—obviously, I am pleased that you did—a motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to the effect that the Committee should report progress and sit again. That was all that the Committee could do to show that it wanted a vote on amendment No. 27.
48 Perhaps I might remind you, Mr. Morris, that, when it came to a vote, and when we were in the Division Lobby, we received the message that the Government were not appointing Tellers. We could only come to the conclusion —I accept that it is not your business to come to such a conclusion—that the Government knew that they would lose the vote. As a matter of fact, the motion was carried without a vote. That was the only way in which we could show our opposition to and criticism of your decision.
As the matter will not go away—the points of order this afternoon show that—I beg you, Mr. Morris, to bear in mind the views that have been expressed, including those from the Liberal Bench. Undoubtedly, Liberal Members are much in favour of the Bill. Indeed, they could be even more enthusiastic about it than the Government. Nevertheless, on Thursday, they expressed their point of view, which was similar to that of those of us who are critical of the Bill, on amendment No. 27. If you cannot do so now, Mr. Morris, I ask you later to reconsider the issue and to bear in mind the strength of feeling, which, I repeat, will not go away.
§ The Chairman
I accept that feelings run very high, and that is why I have given the matter the care and attention that I have. At the end of the day, I have a job to do, and I have done it to the best of my ability.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. As an overwhelming majority of Members of the House of Commons are in favour of the Bill, would it not be in order to move on to a debate on principle? Those who wish to vote for the social protocol can do so when we come to new clauses 74 and 75. That reflects the overwhelming majority of those who are in favour of the Bill. As those Members would wish to express their views clearly, your position is entirely understandable, Mr. Morris, given that amendment No. 27 is entirely unclear in its application. Therefore, I believe that your decision is to be supported.
§ Mr. Stephen Byers (Wallsend)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. I take up your decision to select for debate and decision new clause 74. You will be aware that, in the context of both amendment No. 27 and new clause 75, the Government used the advice of the Law Officers to wriggle out of a debate and a vote on the issues raised by the amendment and the new clause. I have no doubt that, in the light of your decision to select for debate and Division new clause 74, some of the best legal brains will be subjecting the new clause to detailed scrutiny.
Is it your view, Mr. Morris, that new clause 74 does not mean only that the Bill, when enacted, cannot come into force until the House of Commons has had a chance to debate and vote on the inclusion of the social chapter? In this instance, the constitutional position is different from the legal position. Constitutionally, Her Majesty's Government cannot move to ratify the Maastricht treaty until such a debate and vote have taken place.
§ Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. In your statement explaining why you would not allow the Committee a vote on amendment No. 27, you said that the Chair would not allow a separate 49 Division on an amendment if the Chair believed that the amendment was insufficiently clear and had doubts about its effect on the Bill. In saying that, you were in effect the custodian of the Bill rather than the custodian of the rights of the Committee.
The amendment's effect was perfectly clear to the Committee: it would have involved the disbursement of public funds to pay for the implementation of the social chapter by the 11 other members of the Community. You, as Chairman of Ways and Means, have a responsibility to ensure that the Committee has a chance to vote on it. Will you duly reflect again?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is beginning to move into the argument again. I ask him to study the words that I used. I said that, in arriving at such a decision on an amendment, I was giving general guidance.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. In the event of either or both new clauses 74 and 75 being withdrawn, would you need to reconsider your decision on voting on amendment No. 27?
§ Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills)
I should like to associate myself with the remarks by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and all the others who have spoken in a similar vein, because the abandonment of so many amendments and our right to vote on them has enormous constitutional consequences for the running of the Chamber. I remind you, Mr. Morris, of what you reminded us of last Thursday, to which the right hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) also referred. You said:We are some way off a vote on amendment No. 27, and other developments may occur at any time, but at this juncture I am minded to take seriously the need for a further debate before the Committee votes on that amendment".— [Official Report, 22 February 1993; Vol. 219, c. 685.]All the subsequent arguments of which you advised us were about whether there would be a debate before we voted on amendment No. 27. If your ruling stands, you will be setting a precedent whereby the Committee will not be sure whether we can move and vote on amendments, because you are setting aside all votes on virtually all amendments tabled by Members of good standing. How do we express our view? That is why I wish to associate myself with the burden of the argument made by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield.
§ The Chairman
It is the hon. Gentleman's right to interpret as he wishes, but his interpretation is not necessarily shared by the Chair or anyone else. My words to the Committee were very clear right from the start: I am totally impartial in this matter. Hon. Members will have to accept that, whether they like it or not. They can put whatever interpretation they like on that, and everyone —not least the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—should recognise that statement from me.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
Will you please advise us, Mr. Morris, how the Committee is to express its wish to vote on amendment No. 27? What means and procedures are available to the Committee to do so?
§ The Chairman
Hon. Members can make representations but, at the end of the day, the power rests with the Chair, and the Chair has ruled.
§ Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)
We know that you have given very careful thought to the selection of amendments, Mr. Morris, because you tell us so. You have told us that selection depends on the clarity and effect of an amendment. In that case, under amendment No. 27, my constituents in Stroud are being asked to pay through their VAT towards implementation of the social chapter in other countries. Shall I have an opportunity to vote on that issue? If clarity is so important, why has new clause 74 appeared, as it refers to a motion yet to be tabled by a Minister of the Crown? How can there be clarity when the motion has yet to be worded?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman must make his own interpretation of new clause 74. It seemed an appropriate new clause for consideration as far as I was concerned.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Will you tell the people—not principally hon. Members but those who watch our proceedings and read Hansard—why such a decision has been taken by the Chair when a majority of hon. Members want a vote? How is it the Chair can say, "Sorry, we are not having a vote," even though, on 22 February, the same Chair said that we could have a debate and a vote?
People outside, who believe that the Chair is supposed to be impartial, will think that we should have a vote, because a majority—or so it seems—of members of the Opposition want to vote. People will not understand why the majority have no recourse to further action to get a vote, or even an explanation.
I know of no organisation or society to which I belong in which the Chair is not called on to explain its conduct; in the Labour party, in a trade union and, I suppose, in big business—although I do not know—it is likely to be called on to do so. The Chair is under so much pressure and, having had a week to think about it, is not prepared to explain how it reached a decision in line with the Government's views—
§ Mr. Skinner
You have had three days to think about it, and you are still on the Government's side. There is something bent about it. I am not prepared to accept this mumbo-jumbo. You are acting like a Tory Member on behalf of the Government. You cannot convince me otherwise. You have made it clear again and again that you back the Government.
§ The Chairman
Order. I repeat to the hon. Gentleman in particular, and to other hon. Members who have referred to it, that I am wholly impartial about the Bill. I do not care what manifestations or attitudes any hon. Member takes; I am wholly impartial. I make that clear to every hon. and right hon. Member in the Chamber now, and to every hon. and right hon. Member who is no longer in the Chamber.
51 The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would be the first to acknowledge that it is not the number of hon. Members which decides whether a vote takes place. He will recall many occasions when he has caused a vote backed by very few hon. Members present, and the Chair has accepted it.
§ Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. On BBC2 on 13 April, you said that there had been "a significant Second Reading" of the Bill and that you "cannot wreck the Bill". In saying that, did you not, in effect, explain your decision not to allow a vote on amendment No. 27?
§ Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. It is common ground that amendment No. 27 is quite different in detail and effect from new clauses 74 and 75. It is common ground that amendment No. 27 has been well debated and deals with a distinct and important constitutional issue. It is also common ground that a majority of hon. Members want a vote on amendment No. 27. I know what the Standing Orders say, and I know what "Erskine May" says, but nothing prevents you from telling the Committee why, in these circumstances, we cannot vote on amendment No. 27. My constituents want to know.
§ The Chairman
I have never noticed the hon. Gentleman having any problem communicating with his constituents, who are right next door to mine. I am not commenting on the hon. Gentleman's alleged common ground.
§ Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. I truly need your help, as a recent recruit to the Chairman's Panel. The procedural aspects of the present dilemma not only fascinate but dismay me—because, if I maintain my position on the Chairmen's Panel, I may find myself in a similar situation in future.
You said, Mr. Morris, that the Chairman has the right to allow or deny a vote. Does that mean that, if members of the Committee, regardless of whether or not they are in favour of amendment No. 27, were interested in arriving at some kind of democratic determination and tabled a motion this evening saying, "We seek a Division on amendment No. 27", and more than 326 right hon. and hon. Members voted in favour of it, that would be disregarded by the Chair?
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman knows that is not the way that the Committee works, and that such decisions are left to the Chair.
§ Dr. John Cunningham
I noted your earlier advice, Mr. Morris, to read carefully in Hansard the wording of your statement. That implies that we shall have to study the exact nature of your statement tomorrow. In so far as you spelled out factors as to whether or not amendments should be voted upon, I cannot myself accept that it is the responsibility of the Chair to take account of political judgments about the effect of amendments on legislation.
52 Surely it is for the Chair to rule whether or not an amendment is procedurally in order, not to make political judgments.
In view of your remarks, I hope that the Committee will again pause and carefully study your observations—not least because, to coin a phrase, I do not want to throw out the opportunity to vote on amendment No. 27 on Report as the Committee tries to throw out the occupant of the Chair in any motion at this stage.
I hope that members of the Committee will pause and reflect, and will read carefully tomorrow in Hansard your statement, Mr. Morris, and not rush into taking ill-judged decisions that may prevent the House once and for all having an opportunity to vote on amendment No. 27.
As I said before, I believe that there is an unanswerable case for tabling and debating that amendment on Report, when any decision will be taken not by you, Mr. Morris, but by Madam Speaker.
§ The Chairman
Order. I have called every right hon. and hon. Gentleman who wanted to raise a point of order. We will now move on to amendment No. 57.
§ The Chairman
I make it clear that it must be a new point of order. I note the four hon. Members who sought to catch my eye, and I will accept new points of order from them.
§ Mr. Spearing
My point of order relates to amendment No. 426, which, if it is pressed, could be voted on four hours or less from now. Whereas amendment No. 27 received enormous publicity and has been considered by you, Mr. Morris, and by the Committee for a long time, amendment No. 426 will not have the same advantage. That amendment, which relates to the proceedings for direct elections to the European Parliament under article 138(3) of the treaty of Rome, calls for those procedures to be fully implemented in the United Kingdom.
Article 138(3) states that the European Parliamentshall draw up proposals for elections by direct universal suffrage in accordance with a uniform procedure in all Member States.There are at least three interpretations of the amendment's implications, coupled with the article of the treaty of Rome to which it refers. One is that the procedure will apply in every member state of the European Community.
Another is that the procedure will be uniform within each member state. If the latter, and that is applied to the United Kingdom, it must be noted that the United Kingdom has no uniform procedure. The procedure in Northern Ireland differs from that in the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ The Chairman
Order. The hon. Gentleman does not need to remind the Committee of the debate that we had some days ago. In all honesty, it seems that I cannot win. When I select an amendment on which some right hon. and hon. Members want a vote, I receive a complaint on a point of order from an hon. Member who does not want a vote on it.
§ Mr. Spearing
I am asking whether it is in the remit of the Chair to explain the effects on this country's constitution of amendment No. 426. It will mean either that Northern Ireland has to adopt our procedures, or that we will have to adopt those of Northern Ireland.
§ The Chairman
Order. I said that I would call four hon. Members who had stood in their places, and the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) was one of them.
§ Mr. Cryer
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. As the Committee will debate the Bill again on Wednesday, can you say whether a motion of no confidence would take precedence over further debate in Committee? It seems to me highly desirable—arising out of your refusal to allow a Division on amendment No. 27—to allow a debate on that issue and to vote on it. Also, would such a debate be limited to three hours, or would it occupy the whole of Wednesday?
§ Mr. Knapman
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. You will acknowledge that right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the Committee have voiced over the past half an hour deep-seated concern about certain aspects of Committee procedures. You seemed to suggest that right hon. and hon. Members would be restricted to raising one point of order. Is that the case?
§ The Chairman
I find it rather easier to deal with one point of order at a time. Mr. Walker—this is the last point of order.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
On a point of order, Mr. Morris. Will you confirm that your advice is that the Scottish Parliament has been dissolved? If it has not, why can it not be recalled? The advice given by legal brains in Scotland may run contrary to your advice—in which case your decisions as to what is relevant and should be debated may be subject to revision. The Maastricht treaty goes right to the heart of the treaty of Union between Scotland and England. I speak as a unionist and as a supporter of this unitary Parliament. Because I care so deeply, I believe that we will be in danger of entering into the worst possible political, economic and legal minefield if we get it wrong.
§ The Chairman
I receive very good advice, especially on Scottish matters.
54 I may comment finally, especially to the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash), that of course "Erskine May" is all about procedure.