HC Deb 17 June 1998 vol 314 cc386-7 4.33 pm
Mr. Joe Ashton (Bassetlaw)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am glad that you have allowed me to raise this matter. Tomorrow morning, the Business Committee will sit to timetable part of the Crime and Disorder Bill on the age of consent. That is unique in that a Back Bencher's new clause is being given Government time. I understand that about three hours will be allocated.

Some amendments have been tabled about the age of consent, because many of us feel that a straight yes or no is not entirely appropriate. I need not go into details now, but some people think that, in view of the Utting report on child abuse, there is a case for saying that the age should be levelled at 18 just for children in care. At the end of the three hours, if that is the time that the Business Committee allocates, there will be time for only one vote and amendments, such as the ones that I have mentioned, cannot be voted on. That makes it easy for hon. Members who support one side or the other to keep talking to prevent a vote at the end of the allocated time.

On a Government Bill, timetabling can be agreed between the two sides as a sort of mutual guillotine, and that has been acceptable only since the general election: it was one of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, of which I was a member. However, if one Back Bencher's new clause is timetabled, surely it discriminates in favour of that Back Bencher if another Back Bencher's amendment or new clause cannot be voted on. Before the Business Committee sits and the motion goes on the Order Paper to be set in tablets of stone, I suggest that the Business Committee should make sure in some way that there is enough time for other amendments and new clauses to be called, even if that has to be stated on the Order Paper. In other words, it would be unfair to discriminate in favour of one Back Bencher and against another. As that is a precedent, I ask you to rule on it.

Mr. Robert Sheldon (Ashton-under-Lyne)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The problem is that, when the guillotine falls, amendments that have been selected by you cannot be voted on, which differs from what happened the past. Outstanding amendments that have been selected may not be debated, but they ought to be voted on. We had that situation last week, when, even though a large number of Members wanted to vote on it, the subject of tuition fees could not be voted on, because there had been no debate on it. Although the amendment had been selected by you, the matter could not be voted on. The situation highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) is relevant to next week's debate.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. There are amendments tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait). I bow to the expertise in House matters of the right hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Sheldon) and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton), but I emphasise that you are being invited to rule on a most important issue. It is important that Members should have the chance to have more than a yes or no vote on the issue.

Madam Speaker

I have the impression that I am being lobbied by Back Benchers. The Business Committee meets tomorrow. I listened with great interest and seriousness to what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) said, but I cannot give a ruling, because the matter is primarily one for the Business Committee. However, I shall consider what the hon. Gentleman said and see whether I can be of any help. I understand his point and recognise its importance.