§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
With permission, I should like to make a short business statement. In the light of the statement just made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, the business for tomorrow will now be as follows: consideration of timetable motion on, followed by proceedings on, the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Bill. The business previously announced for that day will be taken on a later occasion.
On Wednesday 3 April, in addition to the business previously announced, the House may be asked to consider any Lords amendments that may be received. The House will also wish to know that the business on Tuesday 16 April will now be the Second Reading of the Broadcasting Bill [Lords], followed by consideration of any Lords amendments that may be received to the Education (Student Loans) Bill.
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor (Dewsbury)
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us that information, and I confirm that the Labour party will not stand in the way of the legislation that has been announced today. Obviously, the lack of time for greater consultation is very much regretted, certainly by the Labour party and, I hope, by both sides of the Chamber. Notwithstanding that, we are willing to facilitate the passage of the limited legislation on the time scale proposed.
However, we certainly do not want our co-operation on this measure to be taken as a precedent on any other occasion. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear, the Labour party is seized of the importance of fighting terrorism. It is on the basis of the security briefings that have been given that we are facilitating the measure and that we accept the unusual procedures that the Leader of the House has put forward.
The right hon. Gentleman said that tomorrow's business would have to be postponed, but he was not very definite about when we might expect the particular clauses of the Family Law Bill to be debated. Those clauses are of importance to many hon. Members, and early notification of when they are to be debated would be of assistance to all of them.
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful for the very constructive response that the hon. Lady has given on behalf of the Labour party, matching that given by the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). I note the comments that she made in expressing that co-operation. I, too, had hoped that it would be possible to proceed with the Family Law Bill tomorrow, but I have already announced a full slate of business for the first week when we return. I hope that we shall be able to proceed with it very soon thereafter.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
I welcome the statement today, not least because, as my right hon. Friend may remember, I took him to task during the previous business statement for rushing through the divorce Bill. The various Christian organisations that wrote—at least one wrote to the Prime Minister—to object to the speed will also welcome today's announcement.
47 I want to take up the point raised by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), which is important, because we feel that the Bill is a vital social measure. Will my right hon. Friend re-emphasise—this is an important opportunity for him to do so—that the Bill will be brought back at a time when hon. Members are not rushing back from their holidays; when they are not rushing off at the end of the week, perhaps after a one-line Whip or anything like that; that votes will be taken at a sensible time; and that all hon. Members, on the pay roll and otherwise, will have a full and free vote, so that the Government cannot be accused of rushing through quickie divorce legislation?
§ Mr. Newton
It would be pretty hard to accuse the Government convincingly of rushing the Family Law Bill through, as I indicated in my reply to my hon. Friend last Thursday. I note, however, that one advantage—from his point of view—of what I have just announced is that the Bill will now take a little more time.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
Given the controversial nature of the Government's proposals for dealing with the Prevention of Terrorism (Additional Powers) Bill, will there will be a business committee, on which all parties would be represented, to discuss the way in which the measure is handled?
The Bill has five clauses and one schedule. Will the Leader of the House undertake to provide considerably more time than two hours to debate them? Will he undertake that there will be a separation between the time when the House is asked to deal with the Bill in Committee and when it is asked to deal with its remaining stages? Will he ensure that all hon. Members are provided with printed copies of any amendments?
If the Bill is so urgent and important, will the Leader of the House reconsider the answer that the Home Secretary gave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and consider using the guillotine motion so that the Bill has its Second Reading tomorrow, we debate the remaining stages on Wednesday and the other place deals with the Bill on Thursday, still ensuring Royal Assent before Easter?
§ Mr. Newton
I would not wish to encourage the expectation that a proposal that would entail the other place sitting later into the week could readily be accommodated.
I shall, of course, consider the other questions that the hon. Gentleman raised, but I am bound to say that we gave a great deal of thought to the proposals for the guillotine motion, which I know have been indicated through the usual channels. I continue to think for the moment that we have it about right.
I shall certainly consider the point raised about the printing of amendments, but given the form in which the Bill will come before the House tomorrow, following its draft publication today, I find it a bit difficult to see any real scope for dealing with amendments except on the basis of manuscript amendments.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)
The Leader of the House will know that I am pleased that the Family 48 Law Bill has been postponed. Having said that, I welcome the Bill tomorrow. Some say that it infringes civil liberties and that there has not been enough time. I remind the Leader of the House, and, indeed, the House, that the people who were at South Quay station had less warning when they were sent into eternity, and many people have had their civil liberties infringed permanently.
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the approach that he outlined. He makes a salutary point.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Will the Leader of the House tell us when the timetable motion will be tabled, so that we can all see it? Will it be possible for amendments to the draft Bill to be given to the Table Office, so that at least we can see tonight what amendments other hon. Members are tabling, rather than having to wait until the manuscript amendments appear in the morning?
§ Mr. Newton
I envisage that the timetable motion will be tabled later tonight, but we have been asked to look at one or two points. Although I do not think that I have encouraged great expectations that I shall be able to make changes, I would like to give further consideration in the light of what has been said.
Perhaps I might consult further on the hon. Gentleman's question about amendments. Given that what has been published is in draft form and therefore is not formally a Bill, I find it difficult to see how the procedures of the House will be able to accommodate some formal procedure relating to amendments, but I shall give consideration to whether there are any practical means of achieving what the hon. Gentleman suggested.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman two things? First, if we can have a draft Bill, why cannot we have printed draft amendments tomorrow morning? Secondly, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor), who is the right hon. Gentleman's shadow, spoke about briefings that had been given, which persuaded them of the need to pass this legislation. As neither of my hon. Friends is a Privy Councillor, and in view of the fact that the Leader of the House wishes the whole House to support the proposed legislation, should not every hon. Member be given the same briefings at the same level and in the same detail, so that we can judge whether what has been decided by the Government and by my hon. Friends is a sensible course of action?
§ Mr. Newton
On the latter point, it is and has been appropriate to treat the hon. Member for Blackburn, albeit that he is not a Privy Councillor, in the way that the Government have sought to do. I am not sure that it would be appropriate to move in the same way in respect of all hon. Members.
On the publishing of draft amendments, the only point that I was making was that I do not think that there can formally be the publication by the House of draft amendments, any more than the publication of the draft Bill is a formal act in House of Commons terms. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is publishing a draft Bill. There is certainly nothing to prevent hon. 49 Members who wish to table amendments from making their amendments available in manuscript, printed or any other form if they wish to do so later today.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
I want to raise exactly the same point as the hon. Members for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) and for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara). I am not aware that draft amendments have been made available to the House in this way before, but I cannot see any possible way in which it could be objected to. It seems a thoroughly commendable way in which the House could proceed. If the Table Office is asked to consider draft amendments on the basis of the draft Bill, I cannot see any good reason why they should not be published by the House with the authority of Madam Speaker. I cannot think why nobody has ever thought of it before, because it seems an excellent idea.
§ Mr. Newton
I naturally listen to my right hon. Friend, with his experience, with great respect. I have already indicated that I shall do anything that I can to find a practical way to meet what is seen as a practical need, but it has to be said, on my advice and on the body language from the Chair and from those who advise the Chair, that the draft Bill has no formal status in terms of House of Commons procedure.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
Recalling that the PTA was initially introduced in 1974 in the aftermath of the terrible Birmingham pub bombings and that it was taken through all its stages in less than 48 hours—it was then described as a temporary measure—I think that it is disturbing that the Government propose to do precisely the same thing tomorrow. Will whoever promotes the Bill be able to give an explanation—clearly, none is available today—as to why this panic measure, which has serious implications for human rights and civil liberties, is being rushed through the House in this way? I hope that that explanation will be forthcoming tomorrow, because if it is not, I am sure that a number of hon. Members, including myself, will be unable to support the measure and will vote against it, not least because of the circumstances in which it is being taken through the House.
§ Mr. Newton
I naturally regret the hon. Gentleman's indication of his intentions, but that must be a matter for him.
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary clearly explained the reasons to the House in his statement.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
Does the Leader of the House accept that he and the Home Secretary have got the House into this mess by introducing the Bill, albeit in a draft unprinted form, so that many hon. Members do not even know of its existence, never mind its content? The Leader of the House is now telling us, apparently, that there is no scope to table full amendments today which can appear on the Order Paper tomorrow. Will he please do something quickly to ensure that the House can perform its proper function: the scrutiny of legislation before it is passed, not acting as a rubber stamp for whatever panic the Home Secretary of the day chooses to create?
§ Mr. Newton
I cannot really add to what I said earlier about the technicalities. The fact is that, from the point of view of the House, the Bill has not yet been introduced, and will not be introduced until tomorrow. Nevertheless, I repeat that as soon as I leave the Chamber I shall explore whether there are practical ways of achieving the same effect, although they would not involve the formal publication of draft amendments by the authorities of the House.
§ Mr. Corbyn
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will you be making a statement later this evening or tomorrow about the means by which hon. Members can table amendments to the Bill proposed by the Home Secretary, so that all hon. Members can be aware of them before the debate on the timetable motion tomorrow? Will you be able to give your selection of those amendments in advance of the debate?
§ Madam Speaker
It is not my intention at present to do so, but, following what the Leader of the House has said, I must consider the matter carefully. I would want all hon. Members to have as much opportunity as possible to table amendments, and to see the amendments that are published.
§ Mr. Barnes
We have been informed, Madam Speaker, that a draft Bill is available to us. Is that in order? I understand that First and Second Reading will take place tomorrow. Under the normal procedure, First Reading would give permission for the Bill to be printed, after which it would be available to us. Are we engaging in the correct procedure?
§ Mr. McNamara
May I pursue the point that you were making earlier, Madam Speaker? As hon. Members may recall, there is a precedent: a manuscript Bill has been considered by the House. At that time, however, we encountered major difficulties in getting amendments selected by either the then Speaker or the then Chairman of Ways and Means. The only amendment with which we succeeded asked for the Bill to be examined again in six months. Because of the nature of this Bill, Madam Speaker, may I ask you to ask the Chairman of Ways and Means—who will presumably be responsible for the matter—to bear in mind the difficulties that Back Benchers will encounter?
§ Madam Speaker
Certainly. I take the hon. Gentleman's point very seriously, and as soon as I have left the Chair, I shall take it into consideration and do what I can to assist all Back Benchers in relation to amendments that they might wish to table.