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Enactments Repealed

Volume 895: debated on Thursday 17 July 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendments made:

No. 104, in page 112, column 3, leave out lines 28 to 33.

No. 105, in page 113, line 5, at end insert—

'1966 c. 18The Finance Act1966.Section 29(4) and (9), so far as unrepealed.
In Schedule 8, Part II so far as unrepealed'.

No. 106, in page 113, line 18, column 3, at end insert—

'In Schedule 15, paragraph 3(2) and (3)'.

No. 107, in page 113, line 43, at end insert—

'except in relation to sums payable before that day under the said section 29'.—[Mr. Robert Sheldon.]

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House will recall that early tonight an amendment was carried by the Opposition which will result in the Exchequer being unable to claim a sum of approximately £90 million as part of its revenue. That vote was carried by a majority of two.

Last year when a minority Labour Government were in power there was an instance in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lever), was involved and he was nodded through in all good faith by members of the Whips' department. Following that, there was a great fracas in this House. We had stormy scenes. The House was adjourned and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will remember only too well that the Press made great play of what was regarded at that moment as very dishonourable behaviour. There were abject apologies from my right hon. Friend at the time, because of what was then understood to be a misunderstanding.

The first thing I want to get on record is that tonight, in that momentous vote, the right hon. Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood), who is a highly respected Member of this House and who is very badly disabled and injured—it is the common practice to nod him through, and we always accept that—was nodded through in a majority of only two. It is now known that the right hon. Member for Bridlington was in fact paired and, therefore, ought not to have been nodded through. I ask at once for an explanation of that tonight from the Opposition Front Bench. That has to be explained.

Concerning the other one vote, discussions are going on through what are known as the usual channels—which remain cordial, I am glad to say; at least, I think that they do, for the moment—with regard to other votes that were or were not cast. I want to make it perfectly clear to the whole House—and the only way in which I can do it is on a point of order—that I reserve my position and that of the Government and my party as to what action we shall take following the most exhaustive inquiries into the pairing. I also want to hear from the Opposition Front Bench with regard to the nodding that took place. [Interruption.]

If it is disreputable for us to have done it, it is disreputable for the Tories to have done it. That must be clearly understood. Let there be no humbug from hon. Gentlemen who know nothing about these matters anyway.

I reserve the position of my party and the Government and make it perfectly clear that I shall return on Monday to see how this matter—if we so decide—should be resolved. I want to hear from the Opposition Front Bench the explanation for the nodding through of a Member who was paired.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I may say at once to the right hon. Gentleman—publicly, as I have already said to him privately—that the nodding through of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Wood) was an error for which I deeply apologise. It was nothing to do with my right hon. Friend himself. It was entirely the fault of myself and my department. I express publicly to the right hon. Gentleman the Government Chief Whip and to the House apology for my error. I am very sorry for it.

As the right hon. Gentleman has been generous enough to acknowledge—and rightly acknowledge—this of itself makes no difference to the outcome of the vote. He has said that discussions are going on through the usual channels and inquiries as to what happened in other cases. I am most ready to join in these discussions and inquiries and I am as anxious as he is to get to the bottom of what has happened and to ascertain whether there were any misunderstandings in the private arrangements—which pairing arrangements are—between Members. I do not think that there were, although the right hon. Gentleman may think so. Of course, we shall do our utmost to get to the bottom of it.

I can understand that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to reserve the Government's position. I am not quite sure what that means. The right hon. Gentleman used the phrase. No doubt he has some ideas in mind. I would not know what they are. But naturally, I accept that lie must reserve the Government's position.

I am deeply sorry about the error in relation to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington. I am most ready to engage in any other discussions about what happened in regard to the one vote by which the Opposition defeated the Government earlier this evening.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I listened closely to the exchanges on this point of order. In view of what took place yesterday with regard to another matter, and the question of pay for Members of Parliament who spend many hours here during the week, it is as well to point out that this matter highlights the fact that consequent upon this rather archaic pairing system we have had a vote in which about 200 Members have taken part in a Division on part of a Finance Bill which was described by my hon. Friend the Chief Whip as being momentous.

When compared with, for instance, miners being absent on Mondays at the rate of about 17 per cent., and this being represented in the Press as being blatant absenteeism, when all these things are taken into account, do not they make this place look more than a little ridiculous? Would it not be better if we had a proper system similar to that which most workers have, whereby their attendance is recorded more fully than is the attendance of hon. Members here? We should not then have the present situation which was implied by my right hon. Friend.

This is not just a question of an hon. Member being nodded through at 10·15 p.m. on a Thursday when he is not even here. According to discussions in which I have taken part, there have been pairings first with one hon. Member and then with another until even the Whips were not sure how many Opposition Members were present or should have been present when they defeated the Government. As a result, there is uncertainty about whether the vote is to be challenged at a later date. On the last occasion, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Central (Mr. Lever) was brought before the House and had to make a grovelling statement on why he was unable to be present.

This all shows this place in a very bad light. It is time we learned the lesson and did not complain about the excessive pay of manual and other workers, who produce the real wealth of this country, and did not bring in measures in order to control their wages.

Order. The question of pairing has long been accepted as one for honourable arrangement. It is nothing to do with the Chair. On the other matters that have been raised, no doubt they will be pursued in other channels. There is nothing we can do tonight. The House has just given the Bill a Third Reading.

Further to that point of order. I would hate it to go out from this House that we all agree with the words of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) who thinks our decisions should be registered in the same way as the decisions of a trade union—

Order. I can see another very experienced right hon. Gentleman sitting on the edge of his seat, which rather alarms me. I hope that we are not going to have cross-arguments on matters which are not in fact points of order that I can resolve. The only matters that can be raised with me are those for which I carry some responsibility while I am in the Chair.

It would be quite wrong to bring in the issue of pairing. The only question for you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is whether hon. Members whose names appear on the Division List in the morning were present to vote. The Opposition Chief Whip has made the honourable admission that, in one case, this was not so. The question of pairing is irrelevant. The only matter that should be raised is whether any other hon. Members were nodded through when they were not present. I know that there were many hon. Members present who did not go into the Lobbies. That is probably the reason the Government were defeated.

This is a very important matter and it looks as if the Government are claiming that the defeat was due not to the failure of their hon. Members to respond to the Whip but to some irregularity.

I have the hon. Gentleman's point. As Mr. Speaker ruled on the last occasion, a correction can be made only if the Tellers come to the Chair and say that they believe that the figures were wrong. Only in those circumstances can any change be made.

Further to the point of order. Mr. Deputy Chairman. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) has almost made the point of order I wanted to make. However, may I seek your guidance on a further matter. The Patronage Secretary said that he was reserving his position. Are we to understand that he intends to bring before the House the question of some error in pairing which, as you have said, has nothing to do with the Chair? Are we to expect some interruption of business tomorrow for something of the sort? As you have said, it cannot change the vote.

I have only two corrections. First, I am not the Deputy Chairman. Secondly, what the right hon. Gentleman says is in his own responsibility and what happens on Monday is yet to be decided.