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Procedure Debate, 31 October

Volume 972: debated on Monday 29 October 1979

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I seek your advice, Mr. Speaker, on a matter that it was possible to bring forward only today.

Last Thursday the Leader of the House announced that he would put on the Order Paper motions for the procedure debate on Wednesday next, and they appeared on Friday. I believe that the House would agree that in your capacity as protector of the interests of all Members, particularly Back Benchers, clarity of proceedings on Questions is part of our tradition.

The motions consist, first, of an omnibus motion asking the House to assent to no fewer than 13 propositions on one Question. They are followed by eight consequential motions, some of which might fall as a result of amendments to the first, followed by three further motions on Scottish business. Of those 13 propositions, some are for note and are not matters of great controversy. However, six of them are controversial. They deal with time limits for certain speeches, the abolition of the recess Adjournment debates, changes in timings for Friday sittings, procedure for the hat during Divisions, voting on Supply motions and a major revision of Standing Order No. 9—all of which would have major effects upon the rights of Back Benchers.

The taking of 13 propositions within a single motion is not likely to lead to orderly debate, particularly if amendments are tabled to some or all of those 13 matters. Even if a motion for the abolition of the 10 o'clock rule were moved—as I expect it will—at 10 o'clock on Wednesday, there could be a muddle and disagreement which could lead to misunderstandings.

If the House is to retain its reputation for proper procedure, it would be for the convenience of everybody in the House and lead to disadvantage to none if each of those 13 propositions—some of which are complex in themselves—were the subject of a distinct and different motion to which amendments might be tabled and Questions put unequivocally on each. We must try to avoid a procedural muddle. We have not done too well so far this Session in that regard. My suggestion is the only way to protect the interests of Back Benchers.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who gave me notice in writing that he would raise this subject. I always appreciate that courtesy on the part of any hon. Member.

The House itself will decide whether it will discuss all the matters together. The hon. Member will recall a previous occasion when we dealt with a number of motions—on, I think, Members' pay. At 10 o'clock the House had the opportunity to vote on all the matters separately. It is for the House to decide and it will have its opportunity.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are faced with a real difficulty because of the way that the motion has been drafted by the Leader of the House. It will be difficult for any hon. Member who wishes slightly to amend a proposal in the main motion to table an amendment in a manner which will enable the House to know what it is doing.

It would be more satisfactory if the Leader of the House examined again the main motion—I do not refer to the other motions which are specific and separate. He should consider whether he can divide the individual and component parts of the main motion into separate motions linked to the specific motions which follow. If he did that, we should all be in an easier position. If that is not done, there will be utter chaos at 10 o'clock on Wednesday.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Norman St. John Stevas)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that those prognostications will not be fulfilled. Of course, my concern is to enable the House to come to a decision on these matters, some of which have been hovering about for three or four years. If there is some difficulty because of the way in which the first motion is drafted, we shall re-examine it. Everyone agrees that the House should have an opportunity to come to a conclusion on these issues.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that the Leader of the House has undertaken to look at this matter again. He has also assured us that he will examine the question of the Education (No. 2) Bill. We shall now wait to see what the Leader of the House comes up with.

Order. The Leader of the House has undertaken to look at these matters and I was hoping that hon. Members would not seek to pursue them. Mr. Hooley, if he feels he must.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to pursue a specific point.

I am not sure why there is an inconsistency in three of the recommendations. The Leader of the House has spelt out what the recommendations mean in respect of paragraphs 2:9, 2:10 and 9:16, but he has not spelt out the implications of paragraphs 9:27 in terms of the Standing Order, which could alter the sitting time on Fridays. I fail to see how the House can alter its sitting time on Fridays unless a specific motion to amend the Standing Order is tabled.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We are all in a difficulty because of the timing of the debate. For example, the first motion asks us to agree with a particular recommendation in paragraph 2:9 of the Procedure Committee's report from the 1977–78 Session. If we did that, we could not discuss the motion for short speeches to which that paragraph relates because the motion on short speeches does not carry out the recommendation of the Procedure Committee. Clearly we cannot agree to two contradictory propositions.

If the Leader of the House is to amend the motion and we are asked to table our amendments by tomorrow, they will be starred amendments and you, Mr. Speaker, will refuse to call them. Would you kindly get us out of this difficulty?

I can help a little by saying that I shall exercise some sympathy, without giving any firm undertakings about specific amendments.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would you please help a humble Back Bencher? What is the Question before the House on which debate has taken place for over half an hour?

I am afraid that points of order are before the House. I have tried to deal with them, and I think that we should move on to the statutory instrument motion.

Order. I shall hear no further points of order about the Education (No. 2) Bill.

If it is a different matter, I shall hear it. If the hon. Member seeks to raise the subject with which we dealt earlier, I shall ask him to resume his seat.

I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise an entirely different point of order connected with the Education (No. 2) Bill.

Order. I shall not allow further points of order on that matter this afternoon. The Bill is not before the House. I have dealt with the question of procedure, and I propose to move on unless there is a point of order on a different subject.