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Farriers (Registration) Bill

Volume 884: debated on Friday 24 January 1975

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Order for Second Reading read.

1.40 p.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am delighted to be able to rise at this unexpectedly early hour to commend to the House a Bill to provide for the registration of farriers.

The Bill's intention is fourfold. Most important, it is to prevent unnecessary suffering by horses and ponies. It is also to promote their proper shoeing, to increase the number of farriers by training and to prevent unqualified people from doing the shoeing.

It may help the House if I remind hon. Members of the background to the Bill. A similar measure was introduced in another place last year, obtained its Second Reading, passed through Committee and was given a Third Reading. It was coming to this House for consideration when it fell because of the General Election.

It is also worthy of note that that Bill received its Second Reading unopposed. Lord Wells-Pestell, who spoke for the Government, assured the noble Lords that the Government were in complete sympathy with some of the objectives of the Bill. He added that amendments needed to be made, and the Bill returned to the other place from Committee with amendments. Its Third Reading was also unopposed by the Government.

I understand from informal conversations that there is to be some objection to the Bill now that it is being introduced in the amended form in which it went through the other place. I gather that the Minister, who spoke to me about it informally yesterday, has some objections of which I am not yet aware. It is unfortunate that the Government should object to a Bill and not have the courtesy to tell the hon. Member concerned what the objections are. It is not my intention or the intention of anyone else to have the Bill passed in the face of opposition. We want to know what is considered to be unsatisfactory about it and to meet the objections. The Bill is necessary and has complete agreement outside.

Every organisation concerned with the welfare of the horse has given its unqualified support to the Bill. Those organisation stretch from the grand ranks of the Jockey Club right down to the mounted pony trekking associations. Every organisation, including the veterinary profession and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has given total support. Can they all be wrong? What has caused one or more officials in the bowels of some Government Department now to try to prevent the Bill from becoming law?

Perhaps it is an objection of principle. That is what the hon. Lady told me informally yesterday. No doubt she will tell us what that objection is. I plan to give her plenty of time in which to do so.

Perhaps there is an objection that when the Bill became law there would be a penalty upon those already practising farriery in an unqualified way. That is not the case. The Bill makes specific provision for such people. There are places, notably Scotland, where the work is done by a gillie or some other unqualified person. They will be able to continue to do it from the passing of the Act. All we seek to do is to prevent new, unqualified people practising this skilled and ancient trade without obtaining the necessary qualifications.

Perhaps the objection is that a complicated administrative set-up would be needed to make sure that the provisions of the Bill were carried out. I assure the hon. Lady that the administrative set-up already exists, and many farriers subscribe to it. I pay tribute to the Worshipful Company of Farriers, one of the oldest livery companies, which has put a tremendous amount of work into the Bill. It has been trying to get some form of statutory registration qualification since 1924. It knows that the Bill is necessary, I know that it is necessary, and I warmly commend it to the House.

1.46 p.m.

I listened most carefully to the case presented by the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates).

I imagine that the subject of the Bill is not one of which many hon. Members have first-hand experience or specialist knowledge. Nevertheless, its stated purpose—to protect horses from cruelty by improving the quality of the trade of farriery—will immediately commend itself to the sympathy of the whole House.

I had a meeting last summer with representatives of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and Lord Newall, who introduced a similar Bill in another place last Session. I know from that meeting, and from what the hon. Gentleman has said today, that the sponsors' intentions are entirely laudable. But it is not enough for those who place a Bill before the House merely to have good intentions. For some years I was vice-chairman of the all-party Parliamentary Animal Welfare Group, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not think that there is any lack of love of animals on my part, but we are considering a piece of legislation, and, therefore, it must be studied very carefully.

It is the duty of the proponents of a Bill to satisfy the House unequivocally on a number of issues. They must show that there is a situation which is causing problems, and that legislation is required to solve the situation, because only legislation will solve it. They must establish that the legisation they are presenting will also resolve any doubts that it will have unintentional or undesirable consequences. The sponsors' case should be tested against those criteria, and if it does not meet them the Bill should not be given a Second Reading.

It is grossly unfair that this objection should be raised at the very last minute, and that my hon. Friend was warned only last night. A similar Bill went through the House of Lords last May. There has been all this time for these decisions to be made.

As I have just pointed out, I had a meeting with the Worshipful Company of Farriers and Lord Newall, with both of whom the hon. Gentleman has no doubt been in close contact. They have no doubt transmitted to him the reservations I expressed at the meeting.

Indeed, they did. The report I received from that meeting was that you were satisfied with what they had said, and that your objections—

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The impression I got was that the objections were answered fully and frankly by the representative of the Worshipful Company of Farriers and by Lord Newall, and that the hon. Lady was satisfied by the answers which they gave to the points she had raised.

I do not think that that is quite an accurate account of the meeting. I think that the people who were present would confirm that we had definite reservations about the Bill. As I shall go on to show, on this Bill, which is not the same as the original Bill in some respects, we also have reservations.

As the hon. Gentleman explained and as the Worshipful Company also made clear to me, the Bill has two main objectives, which are directly linked. The first of these is the prevention of cruelty to horses, cruelty which they might suffer at the hands of incompetent farriers or totally unskilled people who take it upon themselves to shoe a horse. I scarcely need say that the Government are in sympathy with that objective.

The second objective is the enhancement, by various means, of the status of the trade of farriery and the reversal in the decline of the number of expert farriers. The subject of farriery is not one, as I said earlier, on which we have had many debates in the House, so perhaps I may explain to the House a little about the trade, as it appears to such Government agencies as have any involvement with it. I should perhaps mention in passing that there is no one Government Department which has a clear or overriding interest in the subject-matter of the farriery trade or the Bill. I hope that I shall be forgiven, therefore, if I am unable to answer any technical questions that may arise from what I say. But I shall answer any such questions in due course in writing, and through the appropriate Minister if necessary.

Farriery is one of the craft industries which benefit from the technical, advisory and training services provided in rural areas in England and Wales by the Council for Small Industries in Rural Areas, which I shall now refer to by its initial capital letters, "COSIRA", and in Scotland by the Small Industries Council for Rural Areas of Scotland. Both of these bodies are under the sponsorship of the Development Commission and are financed by grants from the Development Fund.

I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady in full flow, but are we not in some danger of getting away from the subject-matter of the Bill? This is not an industry. The farrier is very often a blacksmith. Blacksmithing is an industry. The farrier's trade is a profession. It is understandable that there has been a slight misapprehension about the purpose of the Bill.

Or craft. We know what we are talking about.

These bodies are sympathetic towards the Worshipful Company's wish to improve the standard of craftsmanship and the status of the trade—I have used both words there—and they have both expressed concern about the decline in the number of farriers, which is serious. On this point, I shall quote from COSIRA's report for the years 1970 to 1972, in which it said:
"Farriery is becoming an increasing headache in many counties…. Rather more master farriers are…unwilling to accept the responsibility of training…. Some farriers are enterprising enough to become itinerant and portable forges and cold shoeing are becoming the order of the day in Norfolk. But the overall picture is not a healthy one."
That was the picture seen by COSIRA a couple of years ago. The position may have changed slightly for the better over the last two years, but we are not very certain about the population of farriers. It is difficult to get definite statistics. Certainly there still appear to be insufficient farriers in many areas, and the insufficiency must, of course, be related to the trend in the population of ponies and horses that require to be shod. Again, precise information about the horse population is lacking, but whatever the size of the horse population—estimates vary between 400,000 and over a million—the number of horses continues to increase.

Both COSIRA and its Scottish equivalent and the Worshipful Company of Farriers have been tackling the problem with urgency. The two councils have in each of the last four years spent about £6,000 a year on the training of farriers, and COSIRA proposes in 1975–76 to increase its expenditure to over £10,000 by the appointment of a full-time farriery instructor. However, the increase in the number of ponies and horses to which I have referred and the necessity for their feet to be properly cared for indicate how important is the work which is already in hand to increase standards in farriery and to recruit apprentices. This is the position as the Government see it, and I do not think it differs in essence from the assessment of the Worshipful Company of Farriers. We were agreed. I am sure it makes clear why the Government are favourably disposed to the sponsor's second main objective.

The Government can, therefore, accept the proposition that there is a situation which needs attention. Yet, as I have already indicated, we have serious doubts about the Bill. On what counts do these arise? Before I answer that question, I want to look for a moment at the logic of the sponsor's case. This is not to criticise that logic but to attempt to understand it. The argument seems to be as follows.

There is a shortage of expert farriers in relation to the number of horses to be shod. A consequence of this shortage is that inexpert and unskilled persons are undertaking shoeing. The results of the latter's activities are two-fold. First, their intervention discourages master farriers from taking on the training of apprentices—which is, in the nature of the trade, a lengthy affair—and this aggravates the shortage of skilled men. Secondly, the unskilled at the least cause some discomfort to and in some cases inflict severe suffering upon the animals that they attempt to shoe.

The Bill, therefore, on the one hand aims at enhancing the status of the trade of farriery and thus encouraging new recruits to join, and on the other prevents the inexpert or unqualified from practising the activity. By both of these means it is hoped that the number of qualified farriers will increase and the incidence of cruelty being caused to horses will be diminished. Put briefly, the Bill has two inter-related objectives. Its first is to produce more skilled farriers; its second, which will arise out of the achievement of the first, is to prevent horses from suffering cruelty. For obvious and very proper reasons, the second objective has been placed first in the Long Title of the Bill.

Let me now turn to the first of the three key issues I presented at the begining of my speech. Is it necessary to legislate to achieve these objectives? Farriery is a trade—or craft, profession or job—with a long and distinguished history in this country. So long as the horse was one of the principal beasts of burden and modes of transport, the man who cared for the horse's feet was of paramount importance to the nation's economy.

The craft appears to have come to England from the Continent with William the Conqueror. The Guild of Farriers was in existence in 1356. I understand that it became the Company of Farriers in 1674, when Charles II granted it a Royal Charter. For over 600 years the Company has carried out this duty. My first thought is, to some extent, one of surprise that after so long a period of such distinguished service without the need of statutory support or of parliamentary intervention the Worshipful Company should find it necessary, in the last quarter of the 20th century, to legislate to protect the position of the trade.

Perhaps I might remind the Minister that an attempt was made to get some statutory support in 1924. Fifty years is quite a long time to be trying.

I can only assume that during that time quite good reasons must have been advanced against the proposition by successive Parliaments which served to frustrate the attempts. It is not a matter of dispute that there is a shortage of properly trained farriers.

May I deal with the Minister's point about the unsuccessful attempts? Until quite recently there was a sufficiency of farriers, and the charges they made were tolerable and reasonable. It was very easy for anyone who wished to have a horse or a donkey shod to get professional attention. Now the lack of farriers and the steep increase in costs are causing people to try to short-circuit the services of farriers, and this is leading to cruelty to animals. Legislation came quite late to the medical profession. If there were a shortage of doctors I am sure the Minister would not suggest that we should reduce the standards of the medical profession to ease that shortage. It seems logical that in present circumstances there should be some clarification of the situation.

I can see the hon. Member's point, but I am trying to pursue the argument and I shall deal with these matters later.

There is no difference between us about there being a shortage of properly trained farriers. The sponsors argue that this is an encouragement to the inadequately trained and the unskilled to become involved in shoeing. The direct result of this, they say, is cruelty to horses. It must be agreed that the Bill ought, once it has been in operation for a period, to prevent the inadequately trained from setting up in practice, and it will provide a means of removing the incompetent or the feckless from practising the trade. A man may be competent enough to pass the necessary examinations but that does not mean that he will necessarily retain, or continue to display, that level of competence in the future.

But is the Bill necessary to achieve this objective in respect of the incompetent? The shoeing of horses is by its very nature not a trade that anyone who is incompetent can profitably undertake these days. Causing direct and immediate pain to a horse which is being shod is likely to produce a direct and immediate response from the horse, while bad shoeing, which lames the horse, will readily be recognised as a fault of the farrier. In either case the incompetent man would not stay long in business.

Let me illustrate this point by quoting from a dossier which has been collected by the National Master Farriers', Blacksmiths' and Agricultural Engineers' Association and has been sent to me. It says:
"A number of members in the Staffordshire Branch have had to attend horses lamed through pricks".
This is where the nail is driven into the hoof inaccurately and pricks the soft part of the foot. It goes on:
"Some of these cases could be stated to have been caused through carelessness or lack of knowledge of the structure of a horse's foot. The pricking of an animal which has sound feet can only be put down to the inefficiency of the farrier concerned or lack of knowledge as to where the nail should start. One case is reported where a perfectly sound foot was pricked. The farrier concerned had made the foot fit the shoe, not the shoe fit the foot. Two nails on the inside were started at least 3/16″ over the white line. The farrier concerned soon came to an end but not before causing suffering to an animal."
This is my point. The animal was hurt and the farrier did not survive. The points to which I should like to draw attention are, first, that without the Bill being on the statute book the farrier went out of business, and, secondly, that his treatment of the horse could as well be attributed to a momentary carelessness as to a lack of knowledge. It is doubtful which it was. Perhaps it was a bit of both. Even a well-trained man, whose skill has for some reason deteriorated over the years or who has a temporary lapse of concentration, might cause this sort of harm to a horse. The Bill by itself would not preclude him from trading as a farrier. What would preclude him would be his incompetence if it proved to be permanent. Owners simply would not take their horses to him because the word would get around that he was an incompetent farrier.

But what of the totally unskilled, of whose activities the sponsors have made some play, the man who comes off the night shift and then goes out during the day-time offering to shoe horses without any knowledge or skill whatsoever? I think it is fair, in the first place, to express surprise that owners are foolish enough to expose their animals to risk of this sort and not to attempt to establish the bona fides of a person who is offering them this skill. It may be argued that such owners should be protected from themselves. But will the Bill provide such protection? If owners display this kind of irresponsible attitude to their animals now, will they be the less likely in an emergency to accept the services of an unregistered man? What difference will the Bill make?

To illustrate this point, let me again quote from the dossier I referred to earlier.
"A child's pony whose owner had outgrown it had been turned out but the owner realised that its feet needed trimming. Unfortunately, the local farrier was ill and unable to attend to the animal. The owner called at the local pub for a drink on the way back and mentioned about the pony having its feet trimmed. A local do-it-yourself man overheard the conversation and offered to pare the feet for a fee of £1. The owner accepted the offer and in due course the do-it-yourself man arrived, complete with hoof parers and rasp. He certainly cut the foot down—he almost cut it off. He lowered the wall far too much, then rasped across the sole. When he dropped the foot the pony was completely lame and the man was booted off the land minus £1, leaving behind a pony with three feet needing trimming and one foot he could not bear any weight on. This is a case of an animal being caused suffering by a do-it-yourself man who obviously thought a horse's hoof was similar to a block of wood. He himself ought to have been made to walk bare-footed over a patch of drawing pins."

I cannot understand the Minister's point. She is arguing against herself. She is saying that these unqualified men should not practice because they cause cruelty to animals. I cannot understand what she is driving at.

I said that I was quoting from the dossier. I do not want to comment upon the desire of the writer of the dossier to wreak physical vengeance upon the do-it-yourself man. What I want to draw to the attention of the House is that there is already a law which is designed to protect horses from suffering cruelty. The Protection of Animals Act 1911 makes it an offence punishable by a fine of up to £50 or a maximum of three months' imprisonment for any person, by wantonly or unreasonably doing or attempting to do any act, to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal or, being the owner, to permit any unnecessary suffering to be so caused. Prima facie, at any rate, the do-it-yourself man whom I have just described would seem to have committed an offence under the 1911 Act.

The Minister used the term "wantonly or unreasonably" but she did not refer to something done out of ignorance. That is not covered in the Act, which is one reason why we need this Bill.

I am not sure that it would be easy to distinguish between something done wantonly, unreasonably and out of ignorance. "Unreasonably" and "wantonly" could certainly cover the third situation. It would be very difficult for a court to distinguish one from the two others.

This situation that I have described seems to apply equally to very many of the distasteful and senseless acts of incompetence and cruelty which are cited as being a justification for this Bill. So there is already legislation to protect horses from cruelty. The Bill is supposed to add a better defence. But will it? Will the owner who is ill-advised enough to use the odd-job man now because the qualified farrier is indisposed or on holiday be discouraged by the provisions of the Bill from turning to the odd-job man in the future? What will happen if he uses him? If the job is badly done and the horse is caused suffering, all that the Bill has achieved is that two offences have been committed and not one. On the other hand, if the job is well done and the owner is satisfied, who is likely to know?

The Government would certainly concede that the provisions of the Bill could contribute to an increase in the standard of farriery, but we doubt whether the Bill is necessary in order to prevent the incompetent farrier from staying in business, and we cannot see that it will give any extra protection against the totally unskilled casual farrier. On the ground of the prevention of cruelty, therefore, the sponsors do not appear to have made their case for introducing legislation.

The more good farriers there are, the argument runs, the less chancy that an owner will turn to the incompetent man who will cause suffering to his horse. Will the Bill achieve this? We have heard the argument of the sponsors. Master farriers are disinclined to take on young men who will, after a very short time, go off and set up in opposition to them, taking many of their master's customers with them. The qualified men feel also that they are exposed to the competition of the totally unskilled. How can it be worth their spending time and energy on training a man over a long period when he will have no prospect of earning a living? The Bill, it is said, will stop this. The sponsors also claim that to give the trade a statutory basis will enhance its status. Of course it must be a matter of opinion whether these objectives will be achieved by the Bill. I have heard the arguments put in its favour and do not find them entirely persuasive.

First, there is something rather odd about the logic of the sponsors' argument about competition from the unskilled. It would seem to me to be far more likely that master farriers will lose trade to competent and properly trained men than to the half-trained and the totally unskilled. Will they not, by training more apprentices and training them well, equally be cutting their throats?

Secondly, when the Bill was before another place last summer, Lord Wigg drew attention to the work accomplished during his time as the Chairman of the Horserace Betting Levy Board to stimulate the training of farriers. This had been done by the provisions of grants. Up to 1967 the annual grant from the levy board to the Worshipful Company had been £2,000. After that it was doubled to £4,000 and has increased steadily. What effect has this had upon the training of farriers? In 1967 there was only one entrant and the total number under training was 16. In 1972–73 there were 118 and in 1973–74 127, and there are 129 this year.

The conclusion that I would be inclined to draw from this, and it is the conclusion that COSIRA pointed to in its report which I quoted earlier, is that it is not the competition from the unskilled which deters master farriers from taking on apprentices but the lack of money. This is not in any way a reprehensible attitude. The training of apprentices is costly, burdensome and time-consuming. Clearly, it needs an infusion of money to stimulate it. But does it need more? The case for the Bill on this count is by no means clear.

Lastly on this point, I draw the attention of the House to the provisions of Clause 18 of the Bill. This clause would enable the Secretary of State to exclude by order a specified part of Great Britain from the operation of the Act, after consultation with interested organisations in the area. I should explain that the pro vision was not in the Bill when it was originally introduced in another place last Session. It was put in through an amendment moved by the sponsor in response to criticisms, particularly from Scottish peers, that because of the shortage of farriers in Scotland and because of the long distances involved, especially in the Highlands and Islands, the Bill could not at present apply to Scotland. The sponsors were unwilling, as I understand it, to concede that the Bill should not apply at all to Scotland and produced this clause as a compromise, enabling the Secretary of State to disapply it for such area and for such a time as seems proper.

This reinforces the point I made in my short opening remarks, that the people who are interested in this Bill becoming law are prepared to compromise over almost anything. We want a sensible piece of legislation. If there are particular difficulties, I can undertake now that we will guarantee to try to meet any wish that may be expressed in Committee. The fact that we have taken such a reasonable attitude is no reason for killing the Bill.

Perhaps I could finish all of my arguments against the Bill before the hon. Gentleman reprimands me for opposing it. I am trying to state clearly, and at some length, I am afraid, why we oppose it.

I do not want to comment in this debate upon the procedure that is contained in the clause. What I would draw attention to is that, to use an appropriate metaphor, it seems to drive a coach and horses through the logic of the sponsors' arguments. Their argument is that the way to ensure the recruitment of farriers is to preclude anyone other than a registered farrier from shoeing a horse. But if there is an area where there is at present a shortage of farriers, as there is alleged to be in Scotland, how can it make sense of the sponsors' argument to disapply the Bill in Scotland, since without the compulsory registration scheme farriers will not be recruited? The answer is that it will not be the operation of the compulsory registration scheme which will encourage recruitment but other initiatives, of the type in which the Worshipful Company of Farriers, with help from a number of sources, has for the last few years been effectively engaged.

So far we have tested the Bill against two criteria: Is it necessary to legislate to achieve the agreed objectives; and: will the Bill achieve those objectives? We are left with the third question: Will the Bill have any unintentional or undesirable results? This is speculation that must take place and should be based upon as firm data as can be obtained. If that data are not available we shall be speculating and, what is worse, legislating in the dark.

For this reason I consider that it is reasonable to ask whether, in preparing and presenting the Bill, those who are responsible for it have any clear idea of the number of horses in the country at present and how many farriers there are. [Laughter.] They should be able to make some realistic provision about likely trends in the horse population. [Interruption.] Unless we know these facts we are being asked to face an unknown situation. We shall end up running the risk of producing a situation—

I have sometimes heard you refer to hon. Members making copious use of notes during a debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I ask the hon. Lady whether the copious notes with which she is refreshing memory reflect her personal conclusions on this subject?

It is a very serious allegation to suggest that I might be making a speech in which I did not really believe.

The hon. Lady seems to have two separate briefs from which she is reading which disagree with each other. Could she make up her mind which brief she wants to speak to?

I am sorry that hon. Members treat the subject so frivously. Here is a Bill introduced to the House. I do not think that the fact that it is about horses is particularly funny. I was vice-chairman of the animal welfare group in Parliament. I am concerned about animal welfare. I do not think it is an amusing subject. I do not think that just because the Bill concerns horses it should be rushed through the House without any consideration or thought. If my speech is of some length, it is because I am taking the subject very seriously. If we bring in a Bill concerning horses or shoeing them, or concerning the people who shoe horses, I do not think it is unreasonable to ask a question as to how many horses and farriers there are. I should have thought these were two basic questions. Hon. Members responsible for a Bill concerning horses and farriers ought to be able to answer them.

There are approximately 1,600 qualified farriers in this country. Is the Under-Secretary of State saying that she does not know what the horse population is? As regards future horse population trends, the Bill is becoming more urgently needed since sports concerned with horses—riding, trekking, hunting and racing—are growing all the time. There is a growing need. There is a very large horse population in proportion to the number of qualified farriers. That population is growing faster than the population of farriers, and that is why this Bill is necessary.

That is a serious point. The Bill would produce a situation in which we should be running the risk of not having enough farriers to shoe the existing horse population. The hon. Member is stipulating that persons should be apprenticed before they can be allowed to shoe a horse.

It is as well that the sponsors have some idea of the figures involved so that we do not run the risk of simply not having enough farriers to shoe the horses that exist. We run the risk of producing a situation in which no one other than a registered farrier will be able to shoe horses, so that when the Bill is in force horses will have to go unshod and perhaps become lame.

I have made inquiries about the number of farriers. The latest figure which the Worshipful Company of Farriers has is just short of 1,650 registered farriers, but it does not know for certain how many of that number are full-time, how many are part-time and how many are not practising. There are some farriers who are registered with the worshipful company but there may be another group, larger or smaller, which is not so registered.

What of the horse population? There is uncertainty. A number of as low as 400,000 has been estimated. The British Horse Society suggested that the figure was over 1 million. When the Bill comes into force, will the existing number of farriers be sufficient to shoe the horse population? Merely to ask the question is probably to reveal the impossibility of answering it, because we do not have accurate figures. Surely, before legislation is introduced it is necessary to find out whether its effect would be that many horses would go unshod and suffer lameness as a result, otherwise the aims of the legislation might to some extent not be achieved.

No horse need go lame as a result of being unshod, but many horses will go lame as a result of being badly shod. A horse will not go lame unless it is attended by someone who does not know what he is doing. That answers the hon. Lady's question.

There still remains one question. We may stipulate that all future farriers must be registered—we are thinking of the long-term effects of the legislation, not the effect tomorrow—whereas existing farriers may continue. It would be nice to have an assurance about the future as well as the immediate effect.

When the Bill was first introduced, it gave the owner of a horse exemption to enable him to shoe his own horse. The sponsors and others thought that was not a good thing if cruelty was to be prevented, and one can see the force of that argument. The exemption was removed. Therefore, the Bill would mean that a man could not shoe his horse in his own back yard. Many would regard that as totally unsatisfactory.

Do the sponsors of the Bill know how many people shoe their own horses? Can they say with any confidence how many further horses will come on to the registered farriers' lists because people are to be prevented from shoeing their own horses?

Last summer it was reported in a newspaper that a young lady was shoeing her horse after a three-month course at the Montgomery College of Further Education. From the picture of the young lady and of the horse, it appeared that they were both satisfied with that situation. However, when the Bill is passed she will be prevented from shoeing her horse.

Indeed she will not, because the measure allows for anyone who has been regularly doing this to continue so to do.

When considering legislation, we must take account of the long-term effects.

All that will happen concerning that young lady in future is that she will shoe her horse to a certain standard and satisfy someone that she has done it to a certain standard, and she will continue to shoe her horses. There is no magic. It is just common sense.

When the Bill is passed, a lady such as I have mentioned will be prevented from shoeing her horse.

Because she was driven to take the course through lack of a local farrier, she will once more have to run the risk of her horse going unshod. That provision may apply to someone who has been shoeing a horse satisfactorily for many years.

When we introduce a Bill, we must think of the medium- and long-term effects and not only of the immediate effects.

We could go on for so long on this point. May I ask the hon. Lady whether this is not just the sort of subject we should discuss in Committee? We are willing for all these points to be thoroughly aired, discussed and justified. If they are not justified they can be removed from the Bill. Is not that what a Committee is all about?

That point is often made by sponsors of Bills and by Governments. If there is any opposition, they tend to say that it will be dealt with in Committee. However, once a Government consider a Bill they must put all these points to the House, which is what I am doing this afternoon, for the House in its wisdom to consider. Otherwise, why have a Second Reading? Why not go straight to Committee? I know what the hon. Member would like to do.

The point I have made relates to what will happen immediately the Bill comes into effect. A similar point can be made about the undesirable effects of the Bill when it has been in operation for some time.

There are two circumstances to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. What will happen if the local farrier who serves a remote country area is temporarily or permanently disabled? If he falls ill, who will shoes the horses in his area? We cannot look to the cumbersome machinery of Clause 18 to solve the problem. That is unlikely to work speedily or specifically enough to deal with this kind of local situation.

The likelihood is that when the Bill is in force the horses in the area, for a shorter or longer time, will have to go unshod with much discomfort and suffering being caused. Alternatively, owners will have to go to great expense to get their horses to a registered farrier, or they may be compelled to break the law to deal with the situation.

Is the hon. Lady seeking to introduce the principle that, if a qualified person is ill, restrictions on those who are less qualified to perform expert attendance are undesirable? Would she care to extend that view to any other profession or calling?

That is not the point I was making. If the hon. Gentleman looks at Clause 18, he will be able to follow my argument.

Secondly, what will happen if the Bill, rather than encouraging the recruitment of farriers, does the very opposite? Has it occurred to the sponsors of the Bill that that could happen? What will happen if, as is more likely, the Bill does not affect the issue one way or the other but some external factor causes a further decline in the number of farriers? Do the sponsors expect the Secretary of State by order to disapply the Bill over the whole of Great Britain—in other words, effectively repealing a parliamentary measure by statutory instrument?

Is the Minister aware that the Bill is the result of three years of consultations between the company, the national body of master farriers, the blacksmiths and the Agricultural Engineers' Association, which is the farriers' trade union? That having been the case, surely it is not good enough to raise all these matters on Second Reading when it is well known that there has been careful consultation in the preparation of the Bill.

I am sure that there has been consultation, and indeed I know that to be the case, but it does not mean that there is universal agreement on the Bill. It does not mean that it is a perfect Bill. It is only right that the Government spokesman should point out weaknesses, anomalies and imperfections in the Bill. That is exactly what I am doing.

As for the effect of the legislation, I wish to draw attention to the fact that those who wish to be placed on the register or to retain their name upon the register—that is to say, those who wish to practise the trade of farriery—will be charged a fee for doing so. The fee will be at a level set by the Farriers Council and it is intended that it should merely cover administrative expenses.

When I saw the Worshipful Company of Farriers it assured me that the fee would need to be no more than £10 or so. This would yield an annual revenue of between £15,000 and £20,000 from the present number of registered farriers. The estimates of expenditure, however, were based upon assumptions about the assistance which the council was likely to get in the way of staff and accommodation from the Worshipful Company of Farriers and from the other bodies which give money to the company.

The administrative costs, however, are constantly increasing. There are courses to be vetted and supervised, examinations to be set and marked and disciplinary and other committees to be served. These are expensive items. What would happen if through any circumstance the worshipful company or the other benefactors proved unable to sustain their excellent charitable work? Could the fee be held at a level of £10? If it had to be increased substantially, are the sponsors satisfied that it might not discourage the recruitment of farriers?

The point I am making is that in a number of ways the Bill may have the very opposite effect from that which the sponsors wish it to have. In other words, rather than diminishing the possibility of horses being open to suffering through the activities of incompetent farriers, the Bill's provisions may increase the difficulty of getting horses shod and thus cause them suffering because their feet are insufficiently cared for.

In conclusion, I hope that what I said at the beginning was sufficient to make it clear that the Government are sympathetic to what the sponsors are trying to achieve; it is the means by which they are seeking to achieve it which give the Government cause for doubt.

However, I do not want to be entirely negative. I invite the sponsors to withdraw the Bill and seriously consider whether they might achieve their objectives by means other than legislation. I wish to draw their attention to the remarks which I made in connection with the observations made by Lord Wigg and the financing of training schemes for apprentices. Should not the sponsors wait to see how effective the training programmes have been in the last six or seven years? Would there not be benefit in initiating proceedings under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 against some who cause unnecessary suffering to horses by totally unskilled shoeing, thus ensuring that due publicity is given to those cases? I suggest that the hon. Member for Petersfield and his supporters would be better advised to take that course and to await the results before seeking to get on to the statute book legislation the likely results of which they cannot with any certainty predict.

2.37 p.m.

There are several disastrous things that can occasionally afflict this House. It happens on the rare occasions when the two Front Benches get together, and it happens, above all, when the Home Office seeks to interfere on questions relating to the welfare of animals. I can only suggest that the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department—and I know that she has the highest respect for both human and animal life—had her speech written for her by somebody whose knowledge of horses does not go much farther than gazing at equestrian statues in Central London. It is appalling how many facile arguments may be deployed on Second Reading. Committee point after Committee point was raised, and I shall not bore the House by repeating them.

It is important to remember that the Bill has already received the approval of the other place. The meeting to which the Minister referred produced no correspondence, and my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) was given information only yesterday about the Government's position. In my not unlimited experience of private Members' legislation, I have never heard of such a disgraceful breach of parliamentary etiquette as that which happened in this debate. My hon. Friend was not given a chance to deal with the facile criticisms which were put to him. It is unnecessary to treat private Members in this way.

The hon. Lady, from her own knowledge, knows the virtues of professional training and, if necessary, of legislation to restrict the practice of those skills, particularly where they relate to human or animal welfare. I do not think that I need pursue that argument.

A great deal is said on the subject of animal welfare. I saw a case of a donkey's foot at Mr. Lockwood's donkey rest home at Witley in Surrey. This man pretends to be running a welfare organisation which people can visit, but anybody who knows anything about animal welfare has only to go to the home to see the cruelty that is taking place there.

The Minister spoke of the animal welfare Act—

I beg the Minister's pardon. The Minister argued that the use of these measures was well known. If somebody did not deliberately and wantonly practise cruelty but made a genuine mistake, that is a good defence.

As for the argument about apprenticeships, my view is that anybody who can practise the highly skilled and difficult art of shoeing a horse will make a positive contribution to animal welfare. I hope the Minister will think carefully before she advises the Government to whip the Labour Members into the Lobby. It is interesting to see that not one Labour back bencher is present for this debate. They are certainly not here to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.

2.40 p.m.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). One of the reasons for doing so is that I was awakened at 6 o'clock last Saturday morning by a farrier on his way to work. He wanted to bring to my attention the merits of the Bill and the unanimous support accorded to it by about 20 farriers working in close proximity to Midhurst, where I reside.

I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) about the Under-Secretary of State's speech concerning the Protection of Animals Act. That Act would not apply in many cases which this Bill seeks to cover, and in any case the Act can be regarded as corrective whereas this Bill would be essentially preventive. The Act would not cover, as this Bill would, the many cases of cruelty caused by unregistered, untrained farriers. Many cases of cruelty in such circumstances never come to the attention of the public or the authorities. This Bill would substantially improve the situation.

The hon. Lady said that she did not find all the arguments for the Bill entirely persuasive. That suggests that she found many of them persuasive to some extent. Many of the points she raised should be more adequately and properly dealt with in Committee. On behalf of

Division No. 72.]

AYES

[2.44 p.m.

Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Hordern, PeterRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Body, RichardJames, DavidRidley, Hon Nicholas
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)Ridsdale, Julian
Channon, PaulLamont, NormanShersby, Michael
Cormack, PatrickLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Sims, Roger
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Stradling Thomas, J.
Fell, AnthonyMates, MichaelWalker, Rt Hon P. (Worcester)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)Mather, Carol
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Nelson, AnthonyTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hall, Sir JohnNeubert, MichaelMr. Jerry Wiggin and
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Pattie, GeoffreyMr. Alan Clark.
Hampson, Dr Keith

NOES

Nil
TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Thomas Cox and
Mr. Michael Cocks.

It appearing on the report of the Division that forty Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker declared

my constituents in Chichester, a predominantly rural area, and of the many farriers in that locality, I support the Bill.

2.42 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State has treated the House in a shoddy way. If she glances at the benches behind her to see what the House consists of, she will note the total lack of interest among her right hon. and hon. Friends. The Bill was introduced as long ago as last May. It has been argued in the House of Lords. There was ample time for the Home Office to indicate its opposition, and for it to do so at the elevent hour is a bit much and not fair on the House. The hon. Lady has not convinced us.

The three examples that the hon. Lady produced emerged, in the event, against her own case. For instance, she asked about the situation where the local farrier was ill. The simple answer to that is that almost all farriers are mobile now, so it is not a question of not being able to get a farrier at all if the local farrier is ill. There should be no difficulty in getting a stand-in in such circumstances. It would have been far better if the hon. Lady had allowed the Bill to go into Committee, where all these arguments could have been presented properly.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 30, Noes, Nil.

that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next Sitting of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides will agree that Private Members' Bills are of immense importance to the House. I wish to raise a point of order on whether it is correct for the Government to treat the Bill in this way. The Bill went to the House of Lords. The Government made no objection to it at that stage. I am informed that the first indication that the Government had any objection to it was conveyed to the sponsors last night. That in itself was a monstrous way to treat Private Members' legislation. However, for the Under-Secretary of State to speak against the Bill but not to have the courage to vote against it and instead abstain is another indication of the contempt with which the Government treat Private Members' business.

I hope that the Government will reflect on the manner in which they have treated this highly desirable Bill, affecting the question of cruelty to animals and other important matters, and early next week will make an apology to the House.

Order. Let me deal with the right hon. Gentleman's point of order. I fail to see why Members should raise subsequent points of order.

I make it abundantly clear that I am not responsible for the Government's actions or decisions. Even if it were open to me, I do not know that I should be willing to undertake that burden. However, hon. Members are entitled to vote as they wish. The Chair has no control over which Lobby an hon. Member enters. Therefore, the point of order does not arise.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wish to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) has said about the Government's tactics, which affect the rights and privileges of back-bench Members. The first time that I had any indication conveyed to me was last night in an informal discussion with the Under-Secretary of State behind Mr. Speaker's Chair—and that was only through the good offices of somebody on the Government side of the House who strongly supports the Bill.

I have had letters from no fewer than 60 hon. Members of all parties indicating their full support for the Bill. Had they known that objection would be raised, they would have been here today. I do not want it to be thought that there is a minimal interest in the subject-matter of the Bill. Hon. Members have other important engagements which they would have cancelled and would have attended today had they known what the Government would do. It is dishonest of the Government to treat the House in this way.

I apologise to hon. Members, but I do not think we shall get very far, because these are not points of order. I have been a Member of the House for 16 years, and to me tactics are the life-blood of politics. What conversations go on behind the Chair is not a matter for the Chair because it is not involved in them.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The formula which you read out, as you must read out on these occasions, referred to the fact that there were not 40 Members present. It is plain to anyone who casts his eye round the Chamber that there are at least 10 Government Members present. There are, therefore, 40 Members present. It is outrageous, in those circumstances, that a proper vote should not be taken and 40 names recorded and the Bill sent to Committee.

Let us take all these points of order together because they come under one heading. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I can deal with them individually. The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) said that there were a number of Members on the Government benches who could have made up the necessary number according to the Standing Order. I cannot direct hon. Members to go into any Lobby.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I fully understand what you said and that this is a matter of great difficulty for the Chair. I shall not raise a point of order on the fact that the Government Chief Whip told me earlier that the Government opposed the Bill. What is the opposition to the Bill? Not one Member voted against it. However, that is not a point of order for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, therefore, I admonish myself.

But I should like to raise this point of order. Consideration has been given to the extraordinary way in which the business on Fridays has been conducted over perhaps the last 100 years. In the last few years alterations have been made to the way in which the business on Fridays is conducted which have allowed through the House in the most peculiar manner possible the Vasectomy Bill, for instance.

Therefore, will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, refer the difficulty in which the House has found itself today to the Procedure Committee so that it might have further discussions on what properly should happen to business on Fridays.

I have carried out the Standing Orders as approved by the House. Had I failed to do so there would have been as many points of order because I would have fallen down on what the House desired to be done. I have carried out strictly the Standing Orders laid down by the House, and there is nothing more I can add.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We quite appreciate the difficulties in which you find yourself, but they are difficulties of the Government's making. Friday is traditionally a day for Private Members, for back benchers. The Leader of the House always claims that he takes an interest in back-bench Members' rights. Is not this an occasion when the Leader of the House should be here and should possibly announce that he will provide Government time to rectify this matter?

I cannot speak for any hon. Member. I say again to hon. Members that I am as anxious as anyone to maintain the proper dispatch of business, but my duty first and foremost to every hon. Member is to ensure that the Standing Orders are observed. If any hon. Member can show that I have failed to observe the Standing Orders by failing to call a Division when it was demanded, or that I failed to carry out a Standing Order relating to the smallness of the numbers present, I will listen to him.

On a new aspect of this matter, whether it is in Standing Orders I am not aware, but it is a well-established precedent, announced by Mr. Speaker, that in this House one's vote should follow one's voice. I can recall an incident when Mr. Speaker deleted the names of some hon. Members from the list because they had spoken for one side of the argument and voted for the other side of the argument in the Lobby. Disregarding the argument about numbers, there is no doubt that the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department spoke against the Bill and recommended the House to vote against it, but her vote was not recorded in the "No" Lobby. Will you consider that point?

I do not think so. I think one may be facetious and suggest that hon. Members may have found something in the Lobby which made them stay out. It may have been a dormouse. The point is that I really have no control over how Members vote. I cannot help the hon. Member.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House is fully seized of your position. We are quite aware that you have a duty to administer the rules of procedure as they stand, but it is clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the procedure governing Private Members' business. There is no doubt that Private Members are seriously disadvantaged if the Government resort to tactics of this kind. May I ask you, as a servant of the House, to ensure that this matter is referred to the Committee on Procedure for further consideration so that private Members may be better protected than they are now?

I shall do everything I can to ensure that Private Members' rights are not infringed. May I make a simple suggestion to hon. Members? They could have provided 40 Members and prevented all these points of order.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We on this side of the House sympathise with your position. We agree that you exercise your position as Deputy Speaker in accordance with the rules of this House. But it must be apparent that we on this side of the House feel genuinely offended by the manner in which the Government have tactically defeated this Bill. I hope the Government will recognise that there is a genuine feeling that this is a very shoddy way to treat something which is totally non-political. There is no cleavage between the parties. This is a shoddy way in which to treat this type of business. We want to proceed with other Bills. It would be easy for any Minister to say that, in view of the real feeling and agitation on the Opposition side of the House because of the manner in which the Bill has been treated, the whole of today's tactics will be referred to the Committee on Procedure, so that the matter can be objectively examined in the interests of Parliament. We on these benches feel that Parliament should make sure that this shabby procedure does not occur again.

The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that he can find methods of pursuing what he has just suggested other than by raising points of order with the Chair. I am as anxious as others to get on with the next Bill. I appeal to hon. Members, having ventilated their feelings on what they regard as unjust treatment—I am not expressing any views on the matter—to proceed to the next Bill.

On another point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you, having been a back bencher for many years, will appreciate how precious back-benchers' time is to hon. Members, who may never have another chance of introducing a Bill in their parliamentary lifetime. Is it right and sensible conduct of the business of the House that the first day for Private Members' Bills should immediately follow the long debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, so that many hon. Members will, naturally, have gone away? Would it not be fairer if the Consolidated Fund Bill were taken, say, on a Tuesday so that at least hon. Members present on a Thursday would more readily have a motive to stay on until Friday? Will you be good enough to convey that to the Procedure Committee?

As one who served in the Chair until 7.30 this morning, I can fully sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, but, again, that is not a matter for the Chair. It is a matter for discussion between the Opposition and the Government. May I appeal again to hon. Members? There is really nothing more to this matter. I hope that I have satisfied hon. Members that I have not failed in carrying out the Standing Order.

On a new point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise if you have any other impression, and I assure you that not one of us is casting any aspersion upon your dignified conduct of our proceedings. But it is extremely important that we revert to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin).

There was an occasion when something most unsatisfactory happened in the House in relation to opposition to the Hare Coursing Bill. As a result, the Speaker at that time issued a ruling in which, in effect, he said that a Member's vote and voice must always go together.

May I ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, at the very least to consult Mr. Speaker so that another ruling based on that may be given to the House on Monday, so that we may never again have a situation in which the Government can create such a totally unacceptable state of affairs on a Bill of major importance for many people in this country through squalid tactical manoeuvres? I ask you at the very least to consult Mr. Speaker with a view to a ruling being given to that effect.

I refer now to "Erskine May", page 374:

"The objection that a Member's vote was contrary to his voice should be taken either before the numbers are reported by the tellers or immediately afterwards; it will not be entertained after the declaration of the numbers from the chair."
That is precisely the course which I followed this afternoon. No objection was taken. May we now get on?

I am not giving ruling. I am merely reading from "Erskine May" because I was asked about it.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I suggest that you really ought to protect the interests of the House. It simply cannot be right that the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State should come here to wreck the Bill without even voting against it herself. This is an abuse of the procedure, and I feel that you ought to protect the House.

May I just say—I hope that this will clear the matter up—that I undertake to report in detail the proceedings this afternoon to Mr. Speaker. That is as far as I can go.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and further to your ruling on my previous point of order. First, may I say that it is clear that the hon. Lady could not have found anything in the Lobby which she did not like because there was nobody and nothing there. But, with reference to your quotation from "Erskine May", may I point out that as a Teller I was probably the only person who knew that the hon. Lady had not voted? I have never heard in my limited experience—I am not sure that there is a precedent—of any Teller raising a point of order between the reading of the figures at the Table and their being declared from the Chair. I feel, therefore, that there was a special circumstance in these events.

I did not write the precedent to which I referred during the time when points of order were being raised. It was a direct reference from "Erskine May". It is clear that the point of order should have been raised before the result was declared.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I say something as a variant to the point of order previously raised? Fairly recently, the House decided that on a Friday and at certain other times there should not be a count. This arose out of an occasion when a certain Member for Rutland and Stamford counted the House out on the Consolidated Fund Bill when the present Government party was in power a year or two ago.

The rules were then changed, and we do not now have the count procedure. That entails that on a Friday we can continue business with fewer than the numbers required on other occasions. Would it not be fair to take that into account in your decision, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or Mr. Speaker's decision, on the attitude of the Government party, since what the Government have done has been to take advantage of the new rule in order to indulge in a ploy simply to kill this Bill?

It was the rule also that there could not be a count at certain other times on other days. If a Division had been called during that period, the argument which the hon. Gentleman is adducing would not have applied, because if there had been fewer than 40 Members voting the same thing would have happened.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The point you have made is that, according to "Erskine May", it is essential to raise the point of order before the result is announced. May I ask you to consider the somewhat different circumstances in this case? In this instance the Government decided to put in Government Tellers, and it was, therefore, a reasonable assumption that, with Government Tellers appointed, the Government would be voting in accordance with their voices.

We now have total deceit. Government supporters have not voted and the rest of the Government Whips kept their supporters out of the Lobby. In the light of a total deficit of this nature, would it not be reasonable for the Chair to reconsider the previous decision and say that the objection about hon. Members not voting in accordance with their voices should be considered?

The right hon. Gentleman may label the action with any adjective he likes, but what I have to consider is whether in my discharge of my duties in the Chair I have failed to observe Standing Orders. I am satisfied that I have discharged my duties up to the hilt. I have given an assurance that I shall report what has happened to Mr. Speaker, and I appeal to hon. Members now to let us proceed with the next Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You were kind enough to say that you would consult Mr. Speaker. May we have a categorical assurance from you that you will ask Mr. Speaker to give a ruling on the matter? After all, "Erskine May" has evolved in the course of time and we are not bound by every precedent within it. In the extremely strange circumstances of this afternoon, particularly the fact that the paid Government Tellers acted as they did in the Lobby, surely Mr. Speaker's ruling on the matter is called for.

I am sure that on reflecting on what he has said the hon. Member will realise that to ask a very junior member of a partnership to instruct the senior partner is grossly unfair and that such instruction will probably never be listened to anyway.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to continue the argument, but it is important to put it into context. It will be within your knowledge, as it is certainly within the knowledge of many hon. Members present, that this morning some of us were inclined to oppose the ending of the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill until it became clear that there was an understanding between the two sides of the House because of the all-party support for some of the Private Members' Bills down for today, and so we withdrew that opposition in the expectation of finding a co-operative attitude for the rest of the day. If you are to report the matter to Mr. Speaker, I shall be grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker if you will also report that aspect of the matter.

I am sure that hon. Members would regret the day when the Chair became a party to any arrangements between the Government and the Opposition. The neutrality and impartiality of the Chair would then be challenged.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to detain the House, but I should like to pursue the point of order raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). The Government Whips kept out of the Lobby not only Govern ment suporters who would have voted against the Bill but a member of the Government who would actively have supported it. That is a feature of this squalid manoeuvre, which brings no honour on the House.

That is not a point of order. I call the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) on a point of order. I hope that this will be the last point of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to revert to what was said a few moments ago about Mr. Speaker giving some sort of ruling on this matter if not next Monday, next Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, or in a fortnight. I should like to cite a precedent. The precedent is not exact in that Mr. Speaker himself was in the Chair. However, let me say that there is nobody here this afternoon who for one moment disputes your handling of the case, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I draw your attention and memory to when the Vasectomy Bill was before the House. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will have much sympathy with this example in your effort to protect all Members of Parliament. In this case, it happens to be a majority that you would hope to protect if fairness reigned. In fact, chaos has reigned so far as the Government are concerned.

But in the previous case to which I refer, it was a minority of two that was affected who were trying manfully to fight a Bill. With the rules of the House as then extant, and because the vast majority of the House was against those two hon. Members, there was a great row. Mr. Speaker in his wisdom promised that he would come back—I think that this is what happened: I am trusting to my memory and do not have the book in front of me—and rule on the Monday or Tuesday. In fact, Mr. Speaker ruled in such a way that the minority of two were defeated without peradventure.

I am asking you on this occasion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether you will ask Mr. Speaker to ensure that the majority in this case is protected from the disgraceful conduct of the Chief Whip, the Deputy Chief Whip and the whole of the Government who are present at today's proceedings.

Order. I hope that we can dispose of this matter now. In reply to the point of order, I am sure that Mr. Speaker, had he been available today, would have listened to my report. Fortunately for him, he is away at a more peaceful function, the enthronement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I obviously cannot dictate to the Speaker what his course of action should be. All that I can undertake to do—I solemnly undertake to do this—is to report to him the feeling of the House. Whether he can take action or when he will want to take action is entirely outwith my responsibility. Now can we please get on to the next Bill?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I make one brief comment? While one recognises some of the views expressed, would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your consultations with Mr. Speaker, bear in mind that this is not a narrow party issue and that it might be useful to widen the issue rather than concentrate on some of the incidents mentioned today? I believe that the whole question of Private Members' time on Friday is involved. It would be a pity if we were to concentrate on this one incident.

I am sorry, but I will not enter into details. These are not matters for a Deputy Speaker. They can be raised with the Speaker in the appropriate way.

Can we say that this is the last point of order? I am sure that the hon. Member has exhausted himself.

I am afraid that I have a long way to go before I exhaust myself, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to raise another point of order. We are all deeply grateful to you for what you have said about your forthcoming consultation with Mr. Speaker. However, while you were speaking another circumstance arose. We now have in the Chamber a Member of the Cabinet, a leading member of the Government, the Chief Whip. We are delighted to see him. He could state Her Majesty's Government's position with regard to this extremely important Bill. Would you please allow him to make a statement to the effect that the Government will reinstate this Bill in the business of the House and allow it a Second Reading on an early day so that it can go into Committee and be properly debated?

Order. That is certainly not a matter for the Chair. The Clerk will now read the title of the next Bill.