§ As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.10.56 am
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a deeply serious point of order of which I gave notice to the Clerk of the House on Wednesday of this week.
On Tuesday evening, I was informed by a highly authoritative source that a huge number of amendments for the Report stage of the Bill had been drafted by the Government for tabling by Conservative Members. The following morning, no fewer than 80 amendments appeared in the names of five Conservative Members who had taken little, if any, part in debates on the Bill since I first presented it to the House nearly two and a half years ago.
My reaction to the information that I received was to table a parliamentary question for priority written answer today, the earliest date on which that procedure could be used, asking the Lord President how many amendments for consideration at Report stage of the Bill had been drafted by the office of Parliamentary Counsel. The question need not be answered by the Lord President until this afternoon, by which time today's proceedings on the Bill could have concluded, without the House knowing how many and which of the amendments that we shall be debating today were drafted by the Government.
What makes it all the more important and urgent that we should have this information is the fact that the Government said that they would not be tabling any amendments to the Bill on Report. The House ought surely to know whose amendments these really are, and I hope that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will agree—I know how dedicated you are to protecting private Members' time—that it would be helpful if the Lord President told us this morning how many amendments were drafted by the Government at taxpayers' expense. Not to do so can only increase the—now widespread—suspicion that the Government have decided to wreck the Bill by proxy.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You are the defender of minorities, and there is no more important minority than disabled people. The points put to you by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) are extremely serious. They serve to underline what is becoming patently clear: that there is an attempt by the Treasury through the back door to undermine a Bill which publicly it is pretending to allow through. If this is the last nauseating kick of a discredited and moribund Government, it is appalling that it is disabled people who are being kicked.
§ Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)
>: Further to that.point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you advise the House whether it is in accordance with the rules and the proper spirit of procedure in this place to deluge the Order Paper with new clauses and amendments, with a clear view to talking out and scuppering the Bill? There are 6 million disabled people in this country and they, their families and friends will greatly resent any tactics of obstruction. It is for hon. Members who have tabled amendments to consider how they will face their constituents and themselves if they talk the Bill out. Can you advise the House whether it would be in order for hon. Members to 959 withdraw their amendments so that the Bill can proceed to further scrutiny in another place and so that any amendments that might be worth adding to the Bill could be tabled again in other place?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
I will deal with the matters in the order in which they were raised. Members on the Treasury Bench will have heard the comments of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) about the source of amendments. That is not a matter for the Chair.
As to the fact that amendments have been tabled on Report, that is perfectly normal. It is a matter for individual hon. Members who wish to table such amendments. As long as they are in order and Madam Speaker has selected them, it is appropriate that they be debated. It is, of course, within the power of any hon. Member to seek the leave of the House to withdraw any amendment if he or she so chooses.
It would now be in the interests of all parties if we proceeded—
§ Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Last Friday, the House passed a motion calling on Her Majesty's Ministers toprovide sufficient time on the floor of the House before 27th May 1994 to allow all remaining stages of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to be completed".That motion was carried without a single vote against it. It was not opposed by the Minister, either in his speech or in his actions at the time of voting. I am a new Member, but would not it be in order for the Minister now to make a clear statement to the House about his actions following the decision of the House last Friday, which he did not oppose?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is entirely up to any hon. Member to raise a point of order, but they must be matters for the Chair. I think that we should now proceed to new clause 3—
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
On a further point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that you are responsible for good order in the House and, in many respects, for the reputation of the House. If the reputation of the House is to fall into disrepute, it really is the responsibility of the Chair to pay attention to that; and I know that you do. The House must be being held in contempt. The Bill has had its Second Reading and has been considered in Committee—during which stage the Government tabled no amendments. If this subterfuge goes ahead today and the Bill is sunk because of the Government encouraging certain kinds of Back Benchers to come in at a late stage and destroy it, it must be bad for the reputation of the House. It could be cleared up if the Minister would say this morning, before we go on our way, that he deplores this late attempt to delay and subvert the Bill. If he made that clear statement we would know where the Government stand and that could save the reputation of the House.