§ 37. Mr. Simon Coombs
To ask the Lord President of the Council if he will make a statement on the implementation of the proposals of the Select Committee on Sittings of the House.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
As I reaffirmed at Business Question Time last Thursday, the prospect of progress with the Jopling proposals depends on our discussions through the usual channels.
§ Mr. Coombs
I recognise that progress has been made on the Jopling report, especially in the early notice given to hon. Members of recess dates, but is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable restlessness throughout the House at the general lack of action? Would it be asking too much for him to direct his best endeavours towards ensuring that, even though we may not have a debate on the subject during this Session because of other pressures, there is a statement of intent from the Government on what they propose to do?
§ Mr. Newton
I understand my hon. Friend's point. Even if I did not, I would have registered the riot unexpected murmurs—or more than murmurs—of support for my hon. Friend from both sides of the House. I have no doubt that that support has also been registered by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett).
We have made rather more informal progress towards the Jopling recommendations than my hon. Friend suggested. Of course, I want to make more formal progress, but it must be against the background of the long and, I believe, proper tradition in the House of seeking to make procedural changes with a degree of agreement among all parties. That remains an important ingredient, as I think that the right hon. Lady would agree.
§ Mrs. Beckett
I agree with the Lord President's remarks, but does he accept that whatever views may be held about the sitting hours of the House, a large number of Back Benchers on both sides have reservations about the Government's wish, and the proposal in the report, to have automatic timetabling of all Government legislation? Will the right hon. Gentleman make it known, especially to his colleagues, that it does nothing to ease those fears when the Government use our present guillotine procedures to curtail legislative scrutiny on the basis of a timetable which they then discard, as has happened both with the paving motion for the Maastricht legislation and with the Education Bill last week?
§ Mr. Newton
The right hon. Lady made a similar point about the Education Bill at Business Question Time last week. I do not want to elaborate further on what I said then. The fact is that a reasonable amount of time was allowed for that Bill. We have to plan its progress in relation to other measures and she can expect its remaining stages to come before the House fairly shortly.
On the right hon. Lady's other comments, as I said in the debate on the Jopling report last July, whatever phrase is used to describe it—whether automatic timetabling or programming—there is no doubt that the report was essentially a balanced package between, on the one hand, changes to improve and in many ways reduce the working hours of the House, against on the other hand a degree of greater certainty on the progress of Bills. It is difficult to understand how the one can proceed without the other.
§ Mr. Jopling
Will my right hon. Friend recognise two points? First, the Select Committee did not recommend the automatic timetabling of all Government Bills; it excluded constitutional Bills taken on the Floor of the House. Secondly, it produced a unanimous report almost exactly a year ago, which was endorsed by 85 per cent. of hon. Members in the debate in July, so the Committee has demonstrated admirable restraint and patience. There is now a growing impatience in the House for something to be done to implement its opinions, which I believe are broadly held to be balanced and in need of urgent attention.
§ Mr. Newton
I hope that I have already shown that I well understand the point that my right hon. Friend made in the latter part of his remarks. As to the first part, that important point needs to be understood. To put it in shorthand terms, nothing in the Jopling report would have applied to the European Communities (Amendment) Bill.