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Order read for consideration of Lords amendments .
Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the events that have occurred in connection with the International Westminster Bank Bill will be referred to the Procedure Committee.
Motion made, and Question proposed , That the Lords amendments be now considered.
Mr. Cryer : We should examine the question whether the Lords amendments should be considered. There is no record of the reasons for the amendments, because they were dealt with in an Unopposed Private Bill Committee in another place. There is no record of that, so hon. Members in this place considering legislation that will be binding in law have no reasons for considering the amendments. That is extraordinary in a legislature which I thought prided itself on the degree of scrutiny and on the availability of the records when hon. Members debate issues.
I should have thought that on the night when the Berlin wall is being removed and the gates are open we should not tolerate taking amendments from a section of the legislature that is operating behind closed doors. Surely we need more open examination. On that basis we should not consider the amendments.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Will my hon. Friend recapitulate for a moment? I understand that the record of the proceedings on this private Bill are not available and were dealt with behind closed doors. This is the so-called Mother of Parliaments which is supposed to spread its wings to the rest of the Commonwealth and the world. On the eve of televising Parliament, are we supposed to consider amendments that were dealt with in a hole-in-the-corner manner? The Prime Minister is supposed to be saving the world, but we are supposed to deal with the amendments in this cock- eyed fashion. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. Will he raise these issues with his Committee?
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If that is the view of the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), can you confirm whether the South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill will be treated in the same way when it comes before the House?
Mr. Cryer : I can assure all hon. Members that my speech extends far and wide. I should have thought that it was very important that this legislature should exercise its scrutiny. We do not do that often enough. Certain Acts that give people powers go through far too easily. We
Column 1258authorise huge sums of money on the nod. We must look at ourselves, and the procedures relating to Bills such as this deserve to be scrutinised.
The hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) said on a point of order that the proceedings on the International Westminster Bank Bill should be sent to the Procedure Committee. I do not object to that proposal. We have a new Leader of the House who is fresh from travels abroad. I know that he will take that suggestion into account when considering whether we can improve our procedures.
We are considering amendments from a non-elected body further down the Corridor and we should have a record of the arguments advanced. The other place is accountable to no one, but when it makes decisions on amendments we are not given its reasons for so doing.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : This Bill deals with important civil rights issues--the rights of people to assemble freely for whatever purpose, and the rights of others not to be caused a nuisance by those assembled. It is a difficult matter and it should be dealt with not in a private Bill, but in national legislation. We should consider how to guarantee the right of the individual to enjoy himself without at the same time upsetting other people. We must get the balance right. The way in which the Bill has been changed in the Lords alters the subtle balance between the rights of the individual and--
Mr. Cryer : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), as I want to discuss national legislation and whether we should deal with the assembly of people in a private Bill.
I do not dissent from the efforts of a local authority to try to obtain powers, but my hon. Friend is correct that what may be a problem for one authority may well be a problem for many other authorities. Surely that problem should be the subject of national legislation rather than private legislation, especially as we cannot obtain a copy of the reasons put forward by the Lords for the amendments. The Bill concerns civil liberties and that is why it is important that we should have those reasons.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : I thought that my hon. Friend would have said something about what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) said. He threatened the Opposition about the South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill. I resent such threats. The Government have been threatening us for the past fortnight. We are doing the job right, but they do not like that.
Mr. Cryer : I was appalled by the implication behind the comments of the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field). I thought, however, that he meant that he intended to defy the Tory Whips in future and to ignore them when they tell him to keep his mouth shut hour after hour because that is convenient for the Government. I thought that the hon. Gentleman meant that he would make a judgment when the Whips tell him that he must stay here so that there are 100 hon. Members to shuffle through the Lobby to vote for a closure.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman intended to exercise this scrutiny and to use his mind as he is entitled to do as
Column 1259a Member of Parliament. I did not realise that he was attempting to blackmail other hon. Members. If that was his intention, it would imply a serious potential breach of privilege. I would be unable to raise that attempted breach of privilege on the Floor. I would have to write to Mr. Speaker and it would have to be taken up by the Committee of Privileges.
I would hesitate to take such action in the ordinary interchange of debate. If the attempt at intimidation was real, however, and if it was an attempt to prevent me from speaking, that would be an attack on one of the important rules of Parliament--that hon. Members cannot be intimidated by threats to prevent them from speaking in this Chamber. That is an important protection for our constituents so that local authorities
Mr. Haynes : It took my hon. Friend's comments to draw the Chair. Does he not agree that the occupant of the Chair should have charged the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) when the intimidation occurred.
Mr. Cryer : The intervention from the Chair was most appropriate and helpful. My remarks drew it out, and I am grateful for it. I take a charitable view of Conservative Members' comments. They sometimes contain hidden threats which Conservative Members sometimes try to apply, but I try to see them in as charitable a light as I can. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) for making it clear that a threat was made and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for making it clear that no threats will be made here tonight, the Standing Orders of the House will be followed and the right of free speech will be upheld.
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West) : I fully accept the hon. Gentleman's right to scrutinise the Bill, but should such scrutiny prevent the Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill from being debated, will the hon. Gentleman come to Greater Manchester to explain to the 3 million residents who desperately need that railway why he opposed the carry-over motion for that Bill?
Mr. Cryer : I take your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to breach your ruling, but I could certainly put forward some good arguments, if I were allowed to do so, about the way in which the Government have overloaded the parliamentary timetable and, as a result, prejudiced some items of legislation.
Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) : Would my hon. Friend remember that, if the Government are desperate for time to consider these carry-over motions, many Members with Birmingham constituencies would willingly surrender the time allocated for the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill?
Mr. Cryer : That is a pertinent comment and an example of the self- sacrifice that Birmingham Members are prepared to make to get rid of the cumbersome load known as the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill.
I shall turn to the second point that I wish to make about the amendments.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : It is not just that in the House of Lords the debate and the arguments backing up the amendments are missing, but nowhere in the Lords Hansard are the amendments published. We have only this badly produced copy of amendments from the parliamentary agent, but there is nothing about the Bill on Report, when it came back from the Unopposed Bill Committee. This material is not listed in Hansard, as we would expect it to be in this House.
Mr. Cryer : Is my hon. Friend confirming that these amendments have been produced by an outside organisation--the promoters--and that they have not been produced by the internal printing organisation within the House of Commons and the House of Lords? If so, they have not been subject to the scrutiny and checking which is normally carried out by the efficient Clerks of the House. That is another reason for deferring consideration of these amendments : we should wait until the point is clarified.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett rose--
Mr. Cryer : I shall finish this point and elaborate a little. Verbatim records of Select Committees are taken by outside shorthand firms, but the transcripts are provided for members of the Committee so that they can be corrected and improved with the approval of the Committee. I am not sure whether these amendments have been subjected to the same sort of scrutiny--
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the problems of not having had a chance to see the record is that we cannot tell what the Government's views of the amendments were? Usually a Committee on an unopposed Bill takes views from the relevant Government Departments--in this case, those of the Home Office, because of the civil liberties involved, and of the Department of the Environment. We do not know whether these amendments contain Government suggestions that they want incorporated in all local Bills, or whether they contain the views of the promoters. It would be helpful if a Minister could tell us whether these are the views of the Government or of the Isle of Wight county council.
These amendments touch on civil liberties, the province of the Home Office, which is generally against them, and on the environment--the province of the DOE, which is responsible for local authorities. Reform of private Bill procedure is certainly long overdue ; this Bill is a good example of the reasons for that. One or two Conservative Members have asked whether we do not want to reach certain Bills further down the Order Paper, which goes to show that the Government put down all these Bills for consideration expecting and hoping them to go through on the nod.
Mr. Cryer : You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, the number of private Bills can be swollen by the Government suggesting that certain bodies seek powers by means of the private Bill procedure. Inevitably, you have to choose what to put down. People like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, put down legislation with the best will in the world and in good faith ; Parliament then has to exercise its scrutiny, thereby showing up discrepancies and inadequacies in the procedure.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman implies that in some way we are being denied the chance of proper scrutiny of this measure. He is an experienced parliamentarian, but could you confirm that hon. Members could have attended the proceedings in which the measure was scrutinised, that they could have listened, taken notes and effectively taken part, and that they could have brought back to the House the information thus gathered?
Mr. Cryer : I am grateful to you, Sir. I thought that what I have been saying was unexceptionable--that debating shows up areas in which improvements can be made. I am only echoing the words of the Leader of the House who said today that private Bill procedure needs examination and improvement. If the hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) wishes to challenge his right hon. and learned Friend's views, he is entitled to do so. I merely thought that, since the right hon. and learned Gentleman has never made an unreasonable remark before, his point should be noted.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : One of the Procedure Committee's first recommendations was that we should not have county council Bills which affect people nationally rather than locally, but that such proposals should be implemented by Government legislation. Does my hon. Friend agree that scrutiny of Government legislation is far more effective than scrutiny of private Bills such as this? All civil liberties issues could have been dealt with in Government legislation, not just for the Isle of Wight but for every county. The report recommended that there should be a miscellaneous local government Bill to deal with such matters, rather than this hole-in-the-corner private legislation.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : I hope that the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Cryer) will not be tempted to discuss that wide, general topic. We are considering Lords amendments to a particular Bill, and hon. Members should address their remarks to that subject.
We should not consider the amendments, because the report of the Procedure Committee has not been considered seriously enough by the Government. I am pleased that the Leader of the House is suggesting that the Committee's comments should be taken seriously. Instead
Column 1262of having individual local authority Bills such as this, the amendments to which we are being asked to consider, we should have general Bills for national legislation.
That is why it would not be fruitful to consider these amendments now. It would be for better to defer consideration of the Bill. The House can certainly expess an opinion to the Government. We have often heard that reforms and improvements are needed, yet they never come about. Select Committees such as the Procedure Committee make useful suggestions for improvement, but sometimes they are not even debated.
Therefore, by not dealing with the Bill, hon. Members will have an opportunity to say to the Government, "In the next Session of Parliament we will want to tackle this problem so that local authorities do not have to promote Bills, sometimes at considerable expense." We should have a Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. We are dealing with this Bill because the Government have crowded the legislative programme. If the Government had such a local government Bill, the Isle of Wight would not have sought to promote this Bill, and the Chairman of Ways and Means would not have had his onerous task of placing it on the agenda tonight. We could have much more measured legislation, with a far superior method of scrutiny and examination.
Mr. Barry Field : From the Vote Office, the hon. Gentleman could have obtained a copy of the House of Lords Hansard of 29 June. At column 845, he would have seen that the Isle of Wight Bill was read a Second time and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee. He could have obtained that information for himself. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman can justify his comments when the Bill is supported by the Isle of Wight Labour party, which has expressed considerable concern that the Bill might be objected to.
Mr. Cryer : Outside bodies, including the Labour party and other political parties, are quite entitled to make comments about this Bill. My guess is that the Isle of Wight Labour party would welcome legislation on a much wider basis to cover a great many local authorities. The Isle of Wight Labour party would certainly welcome the introduction and development of procedural means recommended by the Procedure Committee, which would avoid local authorities having to seek this sort of legislation in such an expensive way. If Conservative Members will support the Opposition's view that we should not deal with the amendments, and thus not deal with the Bill tonight, the Isle of Wight Labour party and other organisations would welcome that, provided that it was recognised that it is a message to the Government that a legislative programme is needed but that it should apply much more widely. That is a reasonable condition.
Mr. Skinner : The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) stated that the Isle of Wight Labour party supports the measure. I do not know whether that is true. However, one thing is certain, and that is that, whenever we have considered a private Member's Bill in the past, Labour parties in different parts of the country have written to us. I remember, for example, the Eastbourne Harbour Bill which dealt with the marina. The Eastbourne Labour party wrote to us about the measure. I am not sure that what the hon. Member for Isle of Wight said is up to date.
Column 1263My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) should not spend too much time whittling his head about that. Unless the Isle of Wight Labour party--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). We should not spend our time whittling about what Labour parties outside this place think about the consideration of Lords amendments to private Bills. That is not the issue that we are considering this evening. Let us return to the Question that is before the House.
Mr. Skinner : I was about to say, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that as Members of this place we have to scrutinise private Bills. If there is something wrong with Bills of this sort, as the Leader of the House said today, it is important that we should draw the attention of all hon. Members to the defect. If there is to be reform of private Bill procedure, that can be effected only by close scrutiny of the sort we are bringing to bear on the Isle of Wight Bill. If we engage in that scrutiny, we are likely to draw attention to the need for change much quicker.
Mr. Terry Davis : I do not agree with some of my hon. Friend's remarks, for reasons that I shall seek to explain later if I am successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend is right, however, to bring to the attention of the House the fact that a record is not available to us of the arguments that were advanced in favour of the amendments. I ask my hon. Friend to confirm what I understood him to say, that there is no record of the reasons for the amendments that are sought to be made to the Bill by another place. There is television in another place ; is he saying that the amendments were tabled and agreed to in camera?
Mr. Cryer : I must congratulate my hon. Friend on his neat turn of phrase. The question that he has raised illustrates the problem. The main debating Chamber of the other place has predated this Chamber by more than 12 months in having its proceedings televised, but they have antique procedures, which are not open to the public, for dealing with Unopposed Private Bill Committees. I agree with the hon. Member for Isle of Wight that there was a Second Reading on 29 June, but Members of this place should not be required to go to listen to the proceedings of a Committee in another place. We have tasks to perform in this place. It should not be necessary for us to grovel to a non-elected Chamber to obtain information. That Chamber should provide information. Why not? If it provided information, we probably would not be having this debate. If the information were before us, we might be satisfied with the reasons for submitting the amendments. We could have prepared ourselves by reading that information to ascertain whether the validity of the amendments could be justified.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : The case has been made for examining the private Bill procedure and making some major alterations to it. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) referred to the Isle of Wight Labour party. The Opposition have never regarded the private Bill procedure as one that should include party political involvement, or one that should be usurped by it. I suspect
Column 1264that some of the private Bills proceeding through the House are regarded by the Government as political Bills, and have been supported on that basis.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is right. Those on the Government Benches have a somewhat shabby record in this instance. I recall the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Bill and the champagne party that was laid on. I am not suggesting for a moment that that approach has been adopted to the amendments that we are being asked to consider this evening. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight has referred to the comments of a political party, and there is no doubt that the passage of some private Bills has seen the Government working vigorously to promote them. They have whipped them through this place.
It is a strange irony that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight should mention the Labour party, which has been trying its best to treat private Bills in the way in which the House should deal with them instead of using them as a form of Government legislation and, therefore, promoting them. There is no allocation of responsibility to you in this matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You carry out your job properly and thoroughly. Inevitably, the Government have a great deal of power in this place and, to a considerable extent, they determine the amount of legislation, and they can choose to include the private Bill procedure.
Our argument is that these amendments might be better deferred so that we can study the private Bill procedure. We are near the end of this Session. According to the business statement earlier today, we finish on Thursday morning and start a new Session the following Tuesday. A new Minister is sitting on the Treasury Bench, and between votes he has been practising standing at the Dispatch Box. He could make a statement accepting deferment and offering to introduce a new Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in the next Session. We do not ask for a guarantee, only that he agrees to consider doing that. That would be helpful to the House. As he has been here for so long, with his gleaming eye on the Dispatch Box, wanting desperately to stand there and utter a few words, it would be handy if he were given that opportunity. We want to encourage him to make a statement. He should have courage and be determined and start laying down policy early in his career. It might bring it to a tumbling end, but at least he could have a few memorable moments and a little press tomorrow.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : The big advantage of the Minister introducing local government legislation to cover this matter is that we would then have it for the whole country, rather than having many local authorities wanting to promote private Bills. It would take a great deal of time in the House, but each local authority that is granted powers to regulate these events puts pressure on neighbouring local authorities that do not have those powers. That is unfair.
The House of Lords is a revising Chamber. Frankly, some of us think that a Committee of this House could do all the work that it does much better and more effectively, and this debate is an example in point. What revising
Column 1265Committee in this House would not have a record of the debates and discussions before producing amendments to a Bill? The argument has always been that the place down the Corridor is somewhere that the Government can introduce routine technical amendments to public Bills and where private Bills can be dealt with in either opposed or unopposed private Bill Committees, with minor and relatively unimportant amendments being made. Yet now, what is in effect a revising committee is not providing us--the basic, important and superior legislature--with proper and adequate information.
Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend is right to say that the textbook idea of the House of Lords is of a revising committee. I wonder where the decisions were taken. As my hon. Friend is the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, can he say whether there is any specific rule about where such hole-in-the-corner decisions are made? Is it in the House of Lords? If not, where do the discussions take place? We should know. Something to remember on private Bills is that if we talk about the issues we might learn a little about how the process is developed. I am not sure about where the discussions took place.
Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is right. It has been suggested that those who are interested in discovering the background to the amendments should have asked the appropriate Clerk in the other place for the date on which the Committee sat and then searched out the Room.
However, the position of Members of the House of Commons attending a Committee in the other place is not clear. I can well remember attending a Joint Committee of the two Houses on defence matters at which Caspar Weinberger was present. Because I had criticised him mildly, warmonger that he was and is, their Lordships threatened to throw me out--those pinstriped hooligans in the other place. If we had gone to the other place to investigate the background which the other place will not provide--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is a standing convention of the House that we do not engage in criticism of the other place. It is not for the House to decide on or to discuss the procedures of their Lordships' House. They reach decisions by their own means. It is for us to bring our judgment to bear on the validity or acceptability of those decisions, and that is what we are about this evening.
Mr. Cryer : That is right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, we are discussing the absence of any explanation from the other place. I was saying that my journey into a joint Committee in the other place finished up with quite an argument. It would be unfortunate if such a position developed while following a routine procedure to obtain information. That might inhibit hon. Members from obtaining information. The solution would be for the other place to provide their reasons for the amendments in the first place.
It is patently absurd that the Committee's proceedings were not reported verbatim. If Hansard has difficulty keeping abreast of all the legislation in the House--if Hansard is flooded with work because of the huge volume
Column 1266of legislation--the other place could have hired an outside body on a daily basis to provide a verbatim record. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments does that. That is a joint Committee with the other place and the record is provided for both Houses of Parliament.
Mr. Harry Barnes : Has my hon. Friend considered the amendments? There appear to be 17 amendments, but it is difficult to be sure. The previous Bill had 10 amendments and the start of each was underlined so that we could follow them. However, these amendments are not numbered or underlined--
The amendments are difficult to follow. They are not couched in the way that we would put them in the House of Commons. Commons amendments are difficult enough to follow : we have to work very hard to place them in the exact context of a Bill.
Moreover, the Lords amendments give the Isle of Wight council certain powers about which I should like to know more. The proposed new subsection (1B) states :
"The Council may, in any case in which they think fit to do so, accept a notice given less than four months before the holding of the assembly as valid for the purpose of subsection (1) of this section".
I do not object to the council's being given extra powers ; I am not one of those who seek to take powers from local authorities, as the Tories have. It would be interesting and useful, however, to know the reasons for such a wordy and complicated amendment.
Mr. Barnes : That illustrates the point that I was making. I find it difficult to discover in these pages the "section" just referred to. Is there any system whereby we can learn what hon. Members are talking about? Many hon. Members, after all, may wish to debate it. 11.45 pm
Mr. Cryer : I implied that in my comments : I quoted from a new subsection which it is difficult to place in the context of the Bill. But I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has an illuminating point to make.
Mr. Skinner : I have just been to see the Clerk of the House, who has been very helpful. I thought that the amendments were a jumbled-up mess, and my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) have rightly pointed out that we cannot be too sure exactly where they begin and end. Although it is difficult to distinguish one from another, however, the Clerk has said that there are not 17 but 19. We may have to go through them stage by stage and one by one, as they are all different in character and they all confer different powers. The Clerk, however, is going to help us, and, of course, he will help Mr. Deputy Speaker as well ; so I think that we shall be able to sort out the amendments as we reach them--if we reach them.
Mr. Cryer : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. That, I think, shows the nature of the difficulty. If we had had a verbatim record, the amendments would have appeared at the end of the discussion. It would have been helpful to know whether there had been a vote on some of them, although we do not have to know ; a vote would have indicated controversy. Even if there had been unanimous agreement on all of them, however, at least what had been agreed would be spelt out in the record. Instead, we have two and a half pages of what appears to be an unclassified, uncategorised and unclear jumble.
Mr. Terry Davis : Running through my hon. Friend's speech has been an undercurrent--I put it no higher than that--of criticism of the other place for its failure to provide a record of the reasons, or arguments, for the amendments. Surely, however, a greater responsibility to provide a record lies with the Bill's promoters.
Mr. Cryer : That is an important point. I think that it would probably involve a change in procedure : the promoters would have to pay for the verbatim record. That brings us to the question of objectivity, to which I alluded earlier.