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Private Members' Bills (Withdrawal)

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

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I have a short statement to make in answer to a question put to me by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans).

I was asked at this time last Thursday a number of questions concerning the withdrawal of the Ministers of the Crown (Fisheries) Bill, and I promised to look further into the points raised. Having done so, I find that what I then said was a correct statement of the practice of the House.

A Public Bill presented or introduced by a Private Member remains in the charge of that Member, and he retains over it certain rights not possessed by any other Member. The Manual of Procedure, in paragraph 224, states that:
"A Bill other than a Lords' Bill may also be withdrawn by notice given at the Table before the day on which the Bill stands as an Order of the Day."
I find that, from 1932 to 1939, five Private Members' Bills were so withdrawn by the Members in charge of them, after they had been read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee. In four of these cases, the Bills had been allocated to a particular Standing Committee. In one, as in this case, the Bill had not been so allocated. The most recent example I can find was in January, 1953, when the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) withdrew the Foundry Workers (Health and Safety) Bill after the Bill had been read a Second time and allocated to a Standing Committee.

It is therefore clear that the withdrawal of the Ministers of the Crown (Fisheries) Bill was in accordance with the practice of the House.

May I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for that considered judgment. In view of the fact that the hon. Member who introduced this Bill canvassed the support of Members on all sides, which was very readily accorded to him, but took no opportunity to consult with them when, having supported him right through the Second Reading of that Bill, he took it upon himself to withdraw it, is not that against the tradition of courtesy between Members on both sides of this Chamber?

I am afraid that those circumstances do not affect the points of procedure and practice to which I have given some attention.

Further to that point of order. Perhaps it would be possible for you, Mr. Speaker, to express some opinion on this matter. The five Bills which you cited, I think I am right in saying, were Bills which were debated in this House for only a short time, and this was a Measure which occupied the whole of a Friday. It does seem unfortunate that one hon. Member, after a long debate on the Bill, when he was refused permission to withdraw and when the Bill had received a unanimous Second Reading from the House, should be in a position to do what the House had refused him permission to do. Surely there would be considerable public difficulty if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, abandoning his position, were to withdraw the Finance Bill? We cannot possibly exclude these possibilities.

In these circumstances, I hope it will be possible for you to express the view that it is undesirable that an hon. Member should introduce a Bill, occupy a whole day with it and then be able to withdraw it without the permission of the House.

That is not a point of order. It does not affect the position of the hon. Member in question as the Member in charge of the Bill.

Further to that point of order. Where is the line to be drawn between one Bill and another—for example, between a Private Member's Bill and the Finance Bill? [Interruption.] Does this not put hon. Members and the House into a difficulty when, after discussing the Measure—[Interruption]—it is withdrawn, whether it is a Private Member's Bill or the Finance Bill?

I find it hard to give a coherent answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, or to so much of it as I heard distinctly.

Could you indicate to the House, Mr. Speaker, for its future guidance, at what stage in the proceedings on a Bill the House acquires complete possession of it?

The House has possession of the Bill when the Bill is before it and the House is discussing it.

On a point of order. Your predecessor once said that it was reasonable that the House should allow an hon. Member to speak, so that you could hear what the hon. Member was saying. Can you state that you heard what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) said?

I heard sufficient of it to guess its general tenor. If it concerned itself to some extent with the contingency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer withdrawing the Finance Bill, that is a hypothetical circumstance.

Further to that point of order. You could not have heard correctly what I said, Mr. Speaker. I spoke distinctly, but there was such a noise in the House when I was putting my question that it must have been difficult for you to hear it. It was quite other than what you apparently thought it was. My question was: Where is the line to be drawn between one Bill and another? When an hon. Member introduces a Bill and invites the House to discuss it for a whole day, presumably the House has some possession or power over the Bill, some power of decision whether the Bill should go on or not. Es there any difference in kind between the Finance Bill, on the one hand, and this Private Member's Bill, on the other hand?

I have stated the practice of the House in this matter. I have expressed no opinion on the merits of the action of individual Members in withdrawing or not withdrawing Bills. That does not fall within my province at all.

Yes. The Motion which the hon. Member sought to withdraw was, "That the Bill be now read a Second time." The hon. Member could introduce it again. The Bill is now withdrawn, put out of existence, but it can be reintroduced.

I hope that I am mistaken, Mr. Speaker, in thinking that you did not grasp completely the point I was putting. My question was: At what stage in the proceedings on a Private Member's Bill does it become the complete property of this House, when the House has authority to determine that the Private Member cannot withdraw it? Your answer was that it remained the property of this House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] In that case, it would appear to contradict the practice of this House that the Bill has been withdrawn. Therefore, I again put the question to you: At what stage in the proceedings on a Bill does it become the complete property of this House, and the Private Member's right to withdraw the Bill is terminated?

The answer I gave to the hon. Member was, I think, sufficient. The Bill is the property of the House when the Bill is before the House for discussion. Between stages, as the precedents show, the hon. Member in charge of the Bill can withdraw it.