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Clause 60

Volume 980: debated on Monday 3 March 1980

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Power To Increase Financial Limits Under Part Iv

I beg to move amendment No. 93, in page 72, line 5, leave out from 'shall' to end of line 6 and insert

'require the approval of both Houses of 'Parliament'
The Minister said, on 4 December:
"I think that, having regard to the weight and substance and importance of this matter, it was right to proceed by way of negative resolution."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 4 December 1979; c. 533]
I take the point. If it were a matter of such
"weight and substance and importance"
one would have thought that the affirmative resolution procedure would be the more accurate to pursue. I do not follow the Minister's logic, and therefore, in following his suggestion, we have tabled the amendment. We feel that this is a matter of substance and importance which should therefore require the approval of both Houses of Parliament.

The purpose of clause 60 is to give the Secretary of State power to raise any of the financial limits mentioned in clauses 48 to 50. The effect of an order made under this clause would therefore be to relax restrictions, and as such would be a proper subject for a negative resolution, whatever I or anyone else may have said in Standing Committee. Affirmative resolutions are considered necessary where more stringent rules are imposed, and we see no reason to depart from standard parliamentary practice in this case. It is for that reason that we resist the amendment.

With great respect, I say that my hon. Friend the Minister has just endeavoured to lay down a new rule of convention, that if a statute is being relaxed the affirmative resolution procedure is unnecessary. I have never heard that argument before. It is nowhere in the book, if I may so put it. It is not a rule. There is no convention or rule of this House as to what shall be subject to the negative resolution procedure and what shall fall under the affirmative resolution procedure. Certain items are normally subject to the affirmative resolution procedure while others go under the negative resolution procedure. It is, however, a matter of judgment in each case.

In this case, the Secretary of State might be altering by statutory instrument certain limits set by the Bill. From the point of view of changing the law, it does not matter whether he is increasing or decreasing those limits. In certain cases, if he is increasing them he is not relaxing the law for those on the other side of the picture. He may be relaxing the law with regard to a director who wants a loan, but that means that he is not relaxing it for the shareholders. Therefore, there is no reason for saying that orders which increase the amounts in the Bill in this respect are relaxing the law. That does not follow.

Even if that were a rule or convention, which it certainly is not, if my hon. Friend had risen and said that the Government did not want to waste the time of the House or Standing Committees by bringing these matters forward each time on an affirmative resolution, he would have had a good case. This is merely a matter of judgment for a Minister who has to conduct the Bill as to what is done in this respect.

If the affirmative resolution procedure is used, that need not lead to a waste of time in the House or in Standing Committee. If no one wishes to object, the matter can go through on the nod. But the value of using the affirmative resolution procedure is that the Government must bring the issue before the House. We all know how difficult it is to get a prayer debated on the Floor of the House. We all know of cases where a statute has provided for the negative resolution procedure, where prayers have been put on the Order Paper to initiate the procedure, but where the prayers have never been debated.

Arrangements have to be made through the usual channels, but those channels do not always flow freely. They are frequently blocked, and prayers are not heard. This is, therefore, one of those cases where the Secretary of State intends at some time to alter some vitally important figures in the Bill, and that should be covered by the affirmative resolution procedure.

I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) for his guidance on these matters. I noted that he said that there were no rules as to the use of the respective procedures, and I am sure that that will be noted by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis), just as it will be noted by me. I bow to my right hon. Friend's experience in these matters. The nuances which relate to this part of parliamentary procedure are not commonly understood. I appear to have given perhaps the wrong reason for the right amendment. In the light of what my right hon. Friend said, I shall, of course, carefully examine the wording of the amendment.

I do not think that it is open to the Minister to examine it now. He must either accept or reject the amendment, because, as I understand it, this amendment could not be dealt with in another place in relation to the next stages of the Bill. I could adopt the arguments of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page), but I do no more than adopt the arguments of the Minister who, when addressing his mind to this matter in Committee, referred to it as one of

"weight and substance and importance"
If it is of such
"weight and substance and importance".—
and I am sure that the Minister would not demur from that opinion now—that it is appropriate that we should deal with the issue by way of the affirmative resolution procedure.

I think that the Minister might have been addressing himself to having no procedure available for the scrutiny of these matters by the House. That, of course, would have been intolerable.

In this matter the Minister would be wise to give way and to confer upon the House a duty that it ought to perform on occasions such as this, not by causing the Government to undergo a particularly arduous operation, but merely to affirm this matter, as will be the duty of another place. I hope that the Minister will go some way—I suggest that it is the only way—towards meeting his right hon. Friend and myself by accepting the amendment.

If I may have leave to speak again, I wish to press the matter upon my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He put his argument hesitatingly, and I believe that in his heart he was agreeing with my argument. It is not a political matter. There is nothing political about it. If it were otherwise, I should not have joined with the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis)—

in pressing it on my hon. Friend. There is no harm in accepting the amendment. It would recognise the duty of the House to consider important changes which may be made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument under this clause.

I have listened carefully to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Sir G. Page) and to the proposition advanced by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Davis), but I regret that, for a practical reason, I cannot accept the amendment.

My right hon. Friend said that it was a matter of judgment by the Minister responsible for a clause of this kind. It is likely that the financial limits mentioned will have to be revised, and I think it right in these circumstances for the matter to be dealt with on the basis set out in the Bill. Although I pay great attention, of course, to the points made by my right hon. Friend, I think that it would be right to resist the amendment.

Amendment negatived.