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Business Of The House

Volume 892: debated on Monday 12 May 1975

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Motion made, and Question proposed,

That, at this day's Sitting, Mr. Speaker shall put the Question on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill not later than Seven o'clock; and if the proceedings on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill shall have been concluded before Seven o'clock Mr. Speaker shall put the Question on the Motion relating to New Towns [Money; not later than Seven o'clock, but that if the Question on the Second Reading of the New Towns Bill shall have been put at Seven o'clock Mr. Speaker shall put the Question forthwith on the Motion relating to New Towns [Money].—[Miss Margaret Jackson.]

I shall take no more than a moment or two to demonstrate once more that this type of motion is both unnecessary and objectionable. There is, I assume, broad agreement that, however important the first item of business, it is desirable that the House should move on to the guillotine motion at about seven o'clock. There would be no difficulty in this result being secured if, as is usual, and no doubt by arrangement between the two Front Benches, as is possible, the Minister who is to wind up the debate were to intimate that he would be rising, let us say, 20 minutes before seven o'clock. When he had sat down if there were a disposition to continue the debate, which I very much doubt, it would be within the power of the Government—and they would no doubt succeed—to seek a closure, and, if necessary, to carry the closure by a Division. We have normally managed to divide the day's business in this way, by policing the Divisions on the rare occasions when it was necessary to do so.

Most hon. Members would presumably think that there was not sufficient scope for debate in the Money Resolution. Nevertheless, it is not impossible that an hon. Member might have a point to make on that motion which he could very properly and very briefly put to the Minister. Under the motion which is now before us, he would be precluded from doing that. On the other hand, if there were any disposition to use the Money Resolution as a means of wrecking the intended division of business over the day's sitting, once again the House have, both formally and informally, a remedy in their own hands.

I say once again, therefore, Mr. Speaker, that the growing prevalence of this type of motion removes a necessary flexibility from the management of our business but does nothing to assist the Government in what they have a right to achieve—substantial control over the business of the House. Before it goes much further I believe that it should be submitted to the Select Committee on Procedure.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

The House will be aware of the views of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on this subject, because he has expressed them on a number of occasions. On the last occasion when he did so I said that when the Select Committee on Procedure had finished its present remit I should be prepared to send this matter to it. However, at present it is still engaged on its present terms of reference.

The House divides its parliamentary day either by Standing Order or by ad hoc motion. The major business of the day finishes at 10 o'clock. If we have an order, the debate on it is limited by Standing Order to one and a half hours. However, frequently we extend, by motion, the major business of the day by one or two hours. From time to time we extend the one and a half hours on an order by one hour or any given time. Therefore, the House accepts the principle of dividing up its parliamentary day either by Standing Order, which is based on a motion, or by a motion to deal with some particular business.

Today we are dealing with an important Bill, but it is not highly controversial. I understand that many hon. Members wish to speak on it. The Bill is followed by a timetable motion which is intensely controversial. The second matter, the timetable motion, is limited by Standing Order to three hours. Therefore, it seemed to us sensible to begin that business at seven o'clock. We discussed this matter fully through the usual channels and there was no dissent from what we proposed. I believed that this arrangement was for the general convenience of the House. However, I realise that the right hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the matter, and I undertake to refer the matter to the Select Committee on Procedure.

Question put and agreed to.