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Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. What seems to me to be most iniquitous is that many of us have been prevented from taking part in a serious discussion which is novel to many right hon. and hon. Members. No one doubts that the points of order are serious, but we are aware of immediacy of the guillotine--never has that word been so precise as it is today--so we are nervous about raising points of order on what everyone understands is a serious matter. I ask for your guidance and consideration, Mr. Speaker. When such discussions legitimately occur, should there not be some mechanism by which the time lost through points of order is made available for debating the Bill, or it will be impossible to raise points of order?
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It appears that the guillotine motion refers to a "Bill". The argument is that at the moment there is no such Bill before the House. If there is no such Bill before the House, the guillotine motion cannot apply and, therefore, you can accept a dilatory motion. I should like your ruling on that.
Column 1008substantial and a material alteration of the nature of the Bill and the requirements in it. In those circumstances, such a Bill is not before the House in the way that it should be under the guillotine motion and, therefore, the guillotine motion cannot apply and you, Mr. Speaker, should be able to accept a dilatory motion.
Sir Ian Gilmour (Chesham and Amersham) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. This matter could be settled easily if you could quote a precedent, which I am sure is available, for such a set of circumstances. You said that it is common practice, but I am not sure that many right hon. and hon. Members know about that. If you are able to quote a precedent, I am sure that the matter could be settled immediately.
Mr. Rooker : Further to the point of order Mr. Speaker. I am raising this point only because, while listening to the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) move his ten-minute Bill, I started to look at the amendments in detail. It suddenly dawned on me that I had only the marked copy of the Bill that I used last week and I thought the Bill had been reprinted. I went to the Vote Office and the clerk kindly looked for the new Bill at least three times because I told him that the Bill must have been reprinted because it contained an alteration.
I was reluctant to raise a point of order because of the guillotine motion. However, I realise that we are discussing a Bill that is not before us so I do not see why I or anybody else should hesitate. You might argue, Mr. Speaker--and the Clerks would agree--that we have passed the motion for the allocation of time and the Business Committee motion. The Business Committee motion makes no mention of the fact that the Bill to which the timetable applies is not printed and before the House. The second motion on the Order Paper says : "Official Secrets Bill [allotted day] : As amended, to be considered."
When you read out that motion, Mr. Speaker, I interrupted you, because I wished to challenge the words
"as amended, to be considered."
The House should decide whether we wish so to consider. There is no motion for us to approve which says that, "Notwithstanding the requirements of Standing Orders of the House that the Bill shall be printed and before the House, the House agrees to carry on." If there is a majority in favour of that, there is nothing the minority can do. We are demanding the right to decide--the right to lose--whether to continue in this unconstitutional way.
Mr. Cryer : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The question of a dilatory motion is covered in Standing Order No. 34(2). You, Mr. Speaker, said that you were not entitled to accept a dilatory motion under the terms of the guillotine motion. Hon. Members are saying that the copies of the Bill as presented do not conform to the requirements of the guillotine motion and that the Bill should be rejected. Under those circumstances, you would be able to accept a motion "That the Question be now put", because that is not within the terms of Standing Order No. 34(2), which lists dilatory actions as motions, for example, for the Adjournment of the House or debate, or for the Chair of a Committee such as yourself, Mr. Speaker, to report progress.
We have a solution if you, Mr. Speaker, can accept a motion, "That the Question be now put". The copies of the
Column 1009Bill are not adequate because they do not represent the guillotine motion that has been put before the House. That excludes the terms of the guillotine motion which you say inhibits you from accepting the motion for the Adjournment of the House proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). I should have thought that that would have been of help to you.
From both sides of the House, Mr. Speaker, you have heard concerns expressed by hon. Members who feel that the debate should not take place. Hon. Members should be provided with an opportunity to vote, because it would be outrageous for the Government to ignore what, to most hon. Members, is a clear error by them and simply bulldoze the error through the House and use their majority to trample on the rights of Members of Parliament. Surely we should have an opportunity for a vote.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I can probably save the time of the House. There is no motion before the House now. We have passed the timetable motion and I was about to propose the new clause, which would be a motion before the House.
Mr. Budgen : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Might I suggest that you invite my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to explain in practical terms what would be lost if the matter were delayed for a week or a fortnight? It is all very well for him to say that in his opinion the technicalities are in order and that as practical people we should disregard a technical difficulty in the Bill as it now stands.
This legislation for a generation has been bashed through on the guillotine. If we delayed a little longer it would provide time for the proper procedural measures to be taken and would give the public an opportunity to reflect on the Bill. They cannot do that if there is not sufficient time between the various stages. Surely my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can explain to the House and to those of us who usually support him whether anything serious would happen if we were to delay for a week or a fortnight.
Mr. Wakeham : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Budgen), I should say that when I spoke earlier--my hon. Friend may not have been listening--I supported your ruling that things are proceeding in order and in accordance with our custom. If the House believes that our long-established customs for the way in which we proceed are not satisfactory and should be looked at, we can arrange for the Procedure Committee to look at that to see whether changes should be made. However, as I understand it, we are proceeding in accordance with the established procedures of the House and we should get on with it.
Column 1010Government have presented the Bill to the House today, the Bill will go to another place in this defective form. It is not merely a question of what has happened here.
Mr. Foot : The change has not been made in the Bill before the House. Therefore, what the Leader of the House has proposed in not a remedy. For the right hon. Gentleman to say that there is no fault on the part of the Government in bringing a defective Bill before us adds to the offence. It certainly does not ease the problems. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North) : Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker. I have sympathy with the arguments expressed by Opposition Members. However, can you advise me whether in supporting them I am challenging your ruling, which I would not wish to do, or whether I am merely challenging the Government, which I would be prepared to do?
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman would be challenging a ruling that I had made. I repeat to the House that this has been our custom for many years. When a small alteration, in terms of words, is made, it has not been our custom and practice to reprint the copies of the Bill.
Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You said earlier in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and myself, when we were talking about a vote on the matter, that there were some difficulties. I am sure that you appreciate that it is possible for the Question not to be put. Only a few Fridays ago, you dealt with a matter by saying that the Question, That the Question be not now put--complicated though it is--can be put to the House. The Leader of the House is present and it is quite possible for that Question to be put. I suggest, notwithstanding other advice, that as we have had a recent example and as there was another example when such a matter arose in 1985, it is possible for the Question, That the Question be not now put, to be proceeded with. If we lose the vote, so be it, for it will show that this bulldozing Government have had their way again, notwithstanding the fact that they have not even printed the Bill.
Mr. Dobson : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. What we are concerned about--and the right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Sir I. Gilmour) clearly shares this concern--is whether there is a precedent for a significant change to be made to a Bill and then for the Bill not to be reprinted if it is subject to a guillotine motion. On precedents, we should like to know how many words would need to be amended and what significance they would need to carry before the precedent would not be binding. We find it difficult to imagine that, whereas it is possible to have a substantial number of minor changes to which no hon. Members would take offence and which
Column 1011they would be willing to nod through, the proposal before us is a substantial change which has been the subject of considerable argument and is likely to be the subject of further argument. What are the precedents that bind you, Mr. Speaker, to make the ruling that you are making today?
Sir Ian Gilmour : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect, the question of precedents is important and I had the impression that you intended to brush my point aside. We do guide our affairs by precedent. I wonder whether in the interval since I asked my first question the authorities of the House have been able to find a precedent because that would assist the House. I hope that we shall hear, sooner or later, of the precedents that are guiding you.
Mr. Speaker : Going back to the days when I had different responsibilities, I can say that it has, for many years, been our custom and practice to operate in this way. It is nothing new. I do not have the precedents to hand immediately, but they are being looked up now.
Mr. Adley : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have given the impression that between Committee and Report a Bill is not normally reprinted. Surely it is normally reprinted with the changes made. Am I not right in thinking that it has not been reprinted on this occasion because we had a Committee of the whole House and because there simply was not time?
Mr. Budgen : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The difficulty is that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has not given the House his guidance on the question of the time between Committee and Report. It is, of course, true that, with their vast majority, the Government have steamrollered all hon. Members who disagree with them on this non-party Bill and there is no doubt that that is their privilege. But surely the purpose of delay between Committee and Report is to allow the public as a whole to write to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to say, "Mr. Hurd, we notice that in your arguments with those disagreeable Tory rebels you managed to squash them on every occasion with your large and honourable, but ignorant, vote. But, as a matter of fact, I think you lost the argument on some of those issues." If one does not have a sufficient delay between Committee and Report, one cannot have any proper public interest and comment on these matters. That is just another example of the damaging effects of bashing through such legislation in a hurry and with a guillotine.
Mr. Hattersley : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that you will agree, irrespective of your rulings, that this has been a wholly legitimate series of points of order. But I hope you also agree that the House has been put in an intolerable situation. We have virtually lost the debate which would have been initiated by the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery).
[Interruption.] It is no good for the Patronage Secretary to say "Hear, hear." He is responsible for the confusion and I have no doubt that he welcomed it, as the Government's technique throughout the Bill has been to postpone and avoid as much debate as possible.
Column 1012I want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, for another ruling, which does not simply concern the availability of the Bill. You make your judgments on precedent, not on custom and practice--which are what the Prime Minister is determined to stamp out in British employment. I hope that you will tell us how many words amount to a significant alteration. Is it one, five, 11, 27, or whatever number there happens to be when the appropriate Secretary of State has forgotten to make a reprint?
My principal point is that I hope that the Leader of the House will be agreeable to another procedure, which I put to him through you, Mr. Speaker. It would be intolerable to the House and to the Leader of the House if the first crucial debate were to be extinguished. The Business Committee should be asked to sit again and agree to extend the debate simply by the amount of time that we have spent on legitimate points of order. If the Leader of the House will not agree to do that, he will not make the slightest concession to the wholly legitimate views of the House and the wish to conduct the debate in good order and with proper, democratic discussion.
Mr. Speaker : That is a helpful suggestion. We should now get on with the debate. If the usual channels were to discuss how we may get out of this considerable difficulty, the whole House would be satisfied.
Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your advice. Page 4 of the Bill refers to the "Security Service Act 1988". There is, of course, no such Security Service Act of that year, so the Bill is clearly incorrect. I assume that it was a slip and I wonder whether a Bill is in good faith when there is no such Act.
Mr. Shepherd : I understand from your ruling, Mr. Speaker, that there is a Security Service Act 1988. There is no such Act. It was only discussed this year, it is still a Bill and it has not yet gone to the House of Lords.
Mr. Shepherd : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is intolerable that the Bill refers to an Act that does not exist. We are told that that is no drafting mistake, but an amendment was tabled-- [Interruption.] There can be no Security Service Act 1988 because no such Act was passed in 1988. An amendment was tabled to correct that, but the Government would not accept it and the correction
Column 1013does not appear in the Bill. Therefore, we are trying to legislate or to make judgments on a Bill which is misprinted and which refers to an Act that does not exist.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) rose--
Mr. Winnick rose--
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) rose--
Mr. Speaker : Order. We have already spent half an hour on this and the Leader of the House has made a helpful suggestion, which would be for the convenience of the whole House. He is prepared to discuss this through the usual channels.
Mr. Hattersley : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You were kind enough to say that my suggestion that the Business Committee should meet would be helpful and now you have described the Leader of the House as helpful. The only way in which the House could be helped would be if the Leader of the House agrees to an immediate meeting of the Business Committee--the first vote should come in 30 minutes. If the House is to be treated sensibly and with respect, the Leader of the House should say now that he is prepared to have a Business Committee meeting so that we may regain the 45 minutes that you, at least, believe has been spent on legitimate points of order. I ask the Leader of the House now to say that he will have an immediate meeting with the Business Committee so that the lost time can be regained.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Julian Amery (Brighton, Pavilion) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I urge the Leader of the House to take those points seriously? The new clause that I hope to move if the Bill is, by your ruling, still in order is of considerable importance. It is an issue of principle. I do not think that we would even be discussing the reform of the Official Secrets Act 1911 had it not been for a dispute about the principle on which the authorisation for publicaton could be given.
We have had the unusual occurrence in the House that assurances given--in good faith, I know--by the Minister of State, Home Department have apparently been repudiated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State so that what stands in the Official Report at the moment may or may not still have validity. If it has not, we must have an explanation of why that is so. I do not see how, under the timetable motion, it would make sense for
Column 1014myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends-- and, indeed, hon. Members of all parties who share my view--to try to discuss the new clause.
Mr. Budgen : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I suggest that it would not be useful to have a discussion between the usual channels while the House continues its discussion of the Bill? The fact is that the most sustained criticism of the Bill has come from Conservative Benches so it would be unwise for the Chief Whip to pretend that he represents the views of Conservative Members who disagree with the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) disagrees with an important part of the Bill and it would be wrong for his objection to be disregarded because of some private discussion between the Chief Whips. If the House were to rise for even half an hour or three quarters of an hour, all hon. Members who are genuinely interested could discuss the matter. However, if the Chief Whips get together, they may do a deal that they cannot honour.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Wakeham : We are getting ourselves into some difficulties. I respond to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) who wishes to know what can be done to reallocate time and to make the best use of it so that we can have the best discussions. I sympathise totally with that proposition. I suggest that if the House gets on with the first amendment on the Amendment Paper--new clause 1--I can immediately have discussions through the usual channels to decide the best way to proceed. If the best way to proceed is to call a meeting of the Business Committee, I shall favour that, but I want to have discussions about the best way to deal with the difficulties. We should not be told what the answer is before we put the question.
Mr. Hattersley : The Leader of the House must understand that what he is proposing is not a solution. By the time the usual channels--whatever they may be--have met and had their discussions we shall be into our first vote and the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) will not have had the chance to move his new clause in the manner that it justifies.
I remind the Leader of the House that he need not be so fearful. He has a majority on the Business Committee and if the Committee meets, the Government's will will prevail. My proposition has the implicit suggestion that the Government's majority on that Committee will behave reasonably. Therefore, I ask him again to agree that it should meet. It could meet in five or ten minutes' time and return to the House with a new motion which, I am sure, will be carried unanimously. The right hon. Member for Pavilion can then move his new clause properly and in the way in which it deserves and the whole House can proceed in good order.
Mr. Amery : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for raising this again. I do not think that the House would find it acceptable if this controversial new clause, which is, I know, embarrassing to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, were to be dismissed in a matter of 20 minutes. If we are to proceed, which is of course a matter for you, Mr. Speaker, to decide, it is
Column 1015necessary that the new clause that I wish to move be given adequate time. Even under the timetable motion, that time is not adequate.
Mr. Wakeham : My proposal would be that we change the times when the guillotine will fall to make up for the time that has been lost in the first debate. If we start the first debate, we can meet and settle this in a few minutes. That is what I propose we do. Mr. Heffer rose --
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) rose --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I shall take the hon. Gentleman's point of order in a moment. I am on my feet and the hon. Gentleman must resume his seat. I have just said that what the Leader of the House has said seems a reasonable solution aimed at getting the House out of the difficulty in which it finds itself.
Mr. Heffer rose --
Mr. Heffer : Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I have been trying for long enough. I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that you have the power to suspend the sitting while the meeting takes place. I suggest that, because you have that power and because we are getting near to five o'clock when the first guillotine will fall and we cannot have a proper discussion, you suspend the House while the discussion takes place and then report back to the House so that we can then proceed.
Mr. Riddick rose --
Mr. Dobson rose --
Mr. Dobson : It appears that the Government Front Bench may be willing to adjust the later business, and obviously we welcome that. However, if the Government were to move a dilatory motion that we adjourn for 10 minutes, which they have the power to do under the guillotine motion, it would be possible to have a seemly and sensible discussion of the Business Committee at which all members of the Business Committee could be present, and it would enable the right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) to know that he could have a debate for a reasonable time without being cut off in mid-sentence, and we would know that a Minister would eventually reply to the debate.
The proposition of the Leader of the House is rather ragged and we could end up with a mess at the end of the discussion in the Business Committee. It would be altogether more sensible and seemly if the House were to adjourn for 10 minutes so that agreement could be reached in the Business Committee and the debate conducted in the way in which it should have been conducted all along.
Column 1016afternoon are out of order, because it seems to me that everything is in order? The Bill, as amended, is on the Table and the Leader of the House has come up with a sensible and reasonable suggestion. Those who are not prepared to take it are clearly trying to make mischief.
Mr. Wakeham : If it is correct that I can move a dilatory motion--I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, before I do anything--in my view it probably is the best plan if we adjourn for 10 minutes, see whether we can resolve the matter and then return.
On resuming :--
Mr. Speaker : The Business Committee recommends that the time set out in the Table of Proceedings be advanced by one hour, so that the first guillotine will fall at six o'clock, the second at 7.30 pm, the third at 8.15 pm, and the fourth at 9 pm. Third Reading will be concluded at 10 pm.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House doth agree with the Business Committee in the said resolution.