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Commons Chamber

Volume 170: debated on Friday 30 March 1990

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House Of Commons

Friday 30 March 1990

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Orders Of The Day

Consumer Guarantees Bill

Order read for consideration of Bill, as amended (in Standing Committee).

9.34 am

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance about the precedents for the recommittal of a Bill to a Committee of the whole House, which I understand we are about to do to reconsider clause 12, because of the failure to include a money resolution. Page 507 of "Erskine May" under the heading "Recommittal of Bill" states that you are entitled to accept a recommittal

"(d) to enable the committee to consider in a regular manner a clause improperly agreed to before a money resolution had been passed".
That paragraph then refers back to page 495. I read through that page to find a precedent for the recommittal of a private Member's Bill, but could not find anything.

I am grateful to the staff of the Public Bill Office and the Journal Office who helped me with my considerable research. We found no precedents in the 21st edition of "Erskine May" for a recommittal. However, in the 20th edition—I am not sure whether you have a copy here, Mr. Speaker—on consideration of the Road Traffic Bill [Lords] 1930, the Speaker called the attention of the House to the fact that, while considering a new clause, the Standing Committee had agreed to an amendment which authorised the payment of certain fines to the Exchequer, which it had no authority by way of money resolution to do. That is a precedent for what I think you will allow to be in order today. I have taken the precaution of bringing that Bill with me, and you will notice that it is not a private Member's Bill but a Government Bill.

I undertook further research and found another precedent for what will happen today in our consideration of the Mineral Workings Bill on 18 June 1951. I do not want to take up more time than necessary, but——

Order. What is the hon. Gentleman's point of order? He is drawing my attention to precedents.

My point is that I have established that there is no precedent for a private Member's Bill to be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House because of an error connected with a money resolution. Do you accept that there is no precedent and that we are setting a precedent today not to improve our procedures, but to right an error?

It is an interesting point. The hon. Gentleman drew my attention to page 507 of "Erskine May" and I draw his to page 505. The answer is that there is no procedural obligation on the House to recommit the Bill to the Standing Committee that considered it. A Committee of the whole House is perfectly capable of regularising the position. The fact that this precise course may not have been followed before is irrelevant. I have selected this motion by the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) who is in charge of the Bill. If hon. Members oppose it, they are free to speak against it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have seen in this morning's newspapers that last night the farm price talks in Luxembourg broke down. That means that the farming industry will enter the 1990–91 farm price year not knowing what farm prices will be. Clearly, that is bad for the farmers and those——

Do you know, Mr. Speaker, whether a request has been made for a statement on the matter?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It relates to the matter before us.

Unfortunately, I was travelling back from the other side of the globe last night in order to be here this morning. I got Hansard first thing this morning to see what transpired in respect of the money resolution last night, but that edition of Hansard only covered the business up to 10 pm. Before we consider the motion on the Order Paper, surely we should be told exactly what happened last night. Furthermore——

Order. The hon. Gentleman was not here, but had he been he would know that the money resolution —[Interruption] Order. I am dealing with this. The money resolution was passed last night; if the hon. Gentleman looks at the Votes and Proceedings he will see that.

I beg to move,

That the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House in respect of clause 12.
The recommittal of the Bill became necessary when it transpired, after the Bill had been reported from Committee, that the provisions of clause 12, if passed into law, would involve the expenditure of such sums of public money as would need the authorisation of the House by a money resolution. The application by clause 12 of part IV of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 would cost an estimated £1 million to enforce.

Clause 12 was considered in Committee without the authority of a money resolution. I must add that I hold no responsibility for that, and I have a letter from the Minister to confirm that. The motion for recommittal——


The motion standing in my name will allow us to correct the irregularity.

The hon. Member for Clwyd South-West (Mr. Jones), the promoter of the Bill, would not give way to me when I sought to make an obvious point—that two kinds of legislation come before the House. The first is public, Government legislation which is led by Ministers and for which the Government are responsible. The second type of legislation is private Members' legislation for which an individual Member is responsible.

Today we find ourselves in a monstrous situation. I am not reassured by the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West who seeks to exculpate himself from any responsibility when it has everything to do with him. He is the private Member who sought to put the Bill before the House. He is responsible. If he got it wrong, his advisers should have advised him better.

Who is responsible for this lash-up?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman on whom I can rely to intervene on my speeches.

Are the Government responsible? The Government will be responsible for the legislation when it is implemented.

My hon. Friend is correct.

I know that the Government have expressed satisfaction with some parts of the Bill. I remember the Sale of Goods Act 1893 well from my student days, when I learned about it in my studies to become a solicitor. I know that the Government believe that that Act could do with some revision and updating. Are the Government responsible for the conduct of the Bill? The answer must be no, because the promoter of a private Member's Bill leads by explaining why he believes it to be a good idea. The Minister intervenes during the debate, virtually by way of amicus curiae, to give the Government's view of the Bill.

Surely in such circumstances Ministers usually listen and guide hon. Members on such matters. I hope that the Minister is listening now, as I am not sure that he may not be the villain. Before my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) dismisses the role of the Minister, I am not so sure that the real responsibility does not lie on the Front Bench.

I am concerned that the Government have some responsibility, because, if and when the legislation becomes law, it will be for the Government to implement it. Imagine the difficulty, however, if we had passed the Bill into law and then found it was defective. It would have been the Government's responsibility to administer the necessary changes. We cannot relieve the Minister and his advisers of some of the responsibility.

When the Bill was in Committee, I implored the Minister many times to give us his advice, but he rarely did so. I do not want to make a lot out of this, as I want to get the Bill into the right state so that it can be passed, and I do not want to be accused of filibustering—I hope that that is not the aim of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers). The hon. Gentleman must be advised that, so far, the Minister has not been extremely helpful.

I was not discussing whether the Minister has been helpful or not, but whether the Minister is responsible for the legislation.

I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I shall not give way; I am anxious not to delay the House.

The Minister must accept some responsibility, and I would be interested to hear his thoughts on this matter. He must have rafts of advisers—I suspect, not too far away —who have followed the Bill with keen interest. One or more of them must feel some responsibility, and perhaps some shame, that we have reached this stage and require the special motion now before us. I am afraid to say that the Government have some responsibility.

The second responsible group are those close to your august Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I remember seeking to introduce various ten-minute Bills under Standing Order No. 37, as it then was. Then I sought the advice of the Clerks of the House. They helpfully told me that there was a back way round the normal requirement for a money resolution. I was able to put my Bill before the House by claiming that the money would come from the national insurance fund. That quirk was helpfully pointed out to me by the Clerks who can be helpful on such occasions.

How can it be that Homer has nodded in this case? How is it that the Clerks allowed the Bill to reach this stage without pointing out its defects? What were they doing? That we have been let down in this way is an effective breach of the privileges of the House. Previously, when someone was guilty of a breach of parliamentary privilege, he used to be called to the Bar of the House. He had to account for himself and stand at the Bar while his case was debated. I believe that, until the 19th century, the person accused of such a breach had to kneel at the Bar. In this case it might be appropriate for the Clerk of the House to kneel at the Bar.

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman realises that the Clerks give their advice to hon. Gentlemen in private. On reflection, I am sure that he will accept that public criticism of the Clerks is not seemly.

I have sought to identify the second group to whom we should look for blame in this matter, but I intended to say that it is not the Clerks, whose services we all respect, who are primarily responsible. I have been in the House for 16 years and no body of people are more devoted to their duty and more skilful in guiding individual members than the Clerks.

The third party with responsibility is obviously the promoter of the Bill. We know that he has been advised by the National Consumer Council. Two days ago, it committed the extraordinary discourtesy of issuing a most abusive press release about me without the courtesy of sending me a copy. That press release was drawn to my attention during a television interview, when the interviewer produced it and asked me for comment. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can assure me that the NCC is not in receipt of any public funds. It would be wrong if a body that behaved in such a way was in receipt of such funds.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister, who this morning has been described as unhelpful, is responsible for giving the National Consumer Council £2 million of taxpayers' money. Is issuing press releases attacking Members of Parliament a sensible way of spending taxpayers' money?

I am horrified to hear that it is £2 million of public money. We are discussing whether the House should waive its normal rules and allow a money resolution to be attached to a private Members' Bill, thereby allowing a further £1 million a year to be spent. We should not allow that to pass.

The House of Commons has a limited number of opportunities for Members to present private legislation. Many of us are unsuccessful in the ballot. It is disgraceful that an individual who was successful has put before the House a defective Bill, causing us to debate this issue on a Friday, when most hon. Members want to be in their constituencies. I oppose the motion.

I, too, oppose the motion. As you may not have heard, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because you had not quite come into the Chamber when I was raising my point of order, I have done some research on this matter. We are talking about setting a precedent, and I do not believe that we should set it. Its roots lie in the speech of my hon. Friend the Minister on Second Reading on 26 January 1990, when he said:

"The exchanges illustrate my earlier point: that the Standing Committee proceedings on a measure such as this —a long and complex measure for which Standing Committees on private Member's Bills are not entirely suited —would lead to even greater problems that might be very difficult to resolve. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle for having highlighted the point."—[Official Report, 26 January 1990; Vol. 165, c. 1236.]
My hon. Friend was looking into a crystal ball and foretelling the kind of problems that might arise on the Bill. This highly complex measure, with a considerable number of clauses, is not an appropriate subject for Standing Committee proceedings. That is illustrated by the mess we are in.

Unlike some hon. Members, I was here until the Adjournment debate last night. I was sitting on the Bench where my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown) now sits advising the Minister. I saw the Minister come into the Chamber like a dark creature of the night, a saturnine figure dragging his chains. I think that perhaps he lives hanging from the rafters. The House was almost deserted. Where was the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones)?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like to clarify a point. The motion that we are debating is that the Bill be recommitted to a Committee of the whole House. Surely the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) should restrict his remarks precisely to the motion. May I ask you, Sir, to call him back into order?

I hope that the hon. Member will leave order to me; otherwise, we might get into a muddle on this very complicated day. I realise that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) was on his preamble, but it would be helpful to the House to remind him that we are dealing with the recommittal of clause 12. Remarks should be directed to that matter, not to the whole Bill.

I am simply speaking on a constitutional point. I do not believe that a precedent should be set. As you will know from your great experience in the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, precedents are not set every day. We are not some little banana republic where one can do what one likes and change the rules simply because someone has made a cock-up—which is what has happened with the Bill. We change the rules because we want to improve procedures.

When I was carrying out my research for my point of order last night in the Public Bill Office and Journal Office, I was told that it was not entirely unusual for precedents to be set and that a precedent had been set recently to allow a guillotine on Lords amendments. That is a major issue, and it is central to what the Government want to do. Presumably, the Government persuaded Mr. Speaker that that action was in the interests of good government and legislation. This matter is entirely different.

It is extraordinary that no one spotted this problem before. I made the effort of looking at the Committee proceedings. I thought that there would have been considerable discussion on clause 12 and that these matters might have come up. I suppose that I should have been warned, because I was here at the start of the Second Reading debate, when the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West gave a cursory speech, lasting some 15 minutes, on this highly complex measure. I can only assume that, rather than wanting to inform the House on every clause, he galloped through his speech because he thought, wrongly, that other hon. Members would want to speak at some length. I spoke for only eight minutes, and the average length of speeches that day was 15 minutes.

If the House wishes, I can refer in more detail to the speech that the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West made on Second Reading. I see no mention in it of clause 12 or any evidence that he had researched adequately as someone who had been given a unique opportunity with the No. 1 spot—something for which many of us have waited many years. As a result, we are faced on a Friday morning with having to set these matters right.

My hon. Friend has spent a lot of time researching the Committee and Second Reading debates. How much time did the Committee spend discussing clause 12? One would have thought that there would be lengthy discussion in Committee and that, this point would be raised then.

Exactly. I thought that I would go through the Standing Committee debates and find out whether my hon. Friend the Minister had given advice, backed up by an entire team of civil servants. How many civil servants are sitting in the Box now? I can count no fewer than seven——

Order. I remind the hon. Member that it is not in order to refer to civil servants in the Box or in the Gallery.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Some blame must attach to the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West. There was only a cursory discussion of clause 12 in Standing Committee C on 14 February 1990. The hon. Gentleman moved amendment No. 82, the Chairman said that it would be convenient to take another amendment and, judging by the length of the Hansard reference, the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West spoke for no more than two minutes. That was the end of the consideration of clause 12. I am prepared to give way to him if he can convince me that there was more discussion. Unfortunately, I did not have the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee.

Was my hon. Friend the Minister a member of the Committee? Was he present on 14 February 1990? Why is his name not listed? Instead of doing his duty and warning the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West that a money resolution might be necessary—advised as my hon. Friend is by the weight of the civil service—I see no reference to his having intervened at that point. Why is there no evidence that the mind of the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West was exercised on this point?

We may seem to be nit-picking, although I do not think that we are. This is an important point. The matter has been dealt with before. I need not go through all the points that I raised in my point of order, but they are of some relevance. Only twice in our parliamentary history have we had such a motion. For instance, the Road Traffic Bill was presented on 18 Februry 1930 by the then Minister of Transport, Mr. Herbert Morrison, but because it was a Government Bill and because of its content, it was entirely different from the measure that we are now discussing. Let me illustrate that by quoting the then Minister of Transport, Mr. Herbert Morrison—a man whom I have always admired—

I am appalled that my hon. Friend should admire the late Herbert Morrison, who was the originator of many of the nasty council estates that disfigured London for so long. I am also appalled that he should recommend a course of action followed by a Government led by Mr. Ramsay MacDonald. I should have thought that the fact that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was in favour of it would convince the promoter of the Bill that he should not be.

10 am

Order. I remind the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) that that is a long way away from the recommittal motion on clause 12.

I want to illustrate my point by explaining that the Bill that Mr. Herbert Morrison introduced was entirely different in kind and in substance from this Bill —not only by reason of being a Government Bill but because of its size. Mr. Herbert Morrison said:

"The Bill which we now introduce is a consolidating as well as an amending Bill."
I am not aware that the Consumer Guarantees Bill is a consolidation measure. Mr. Morrison continued:
"There is, I am glad to say, in the last Schedule to the Bill, much existing legislation repealed."—[0fficial Report, 18 February 1930; Vol. 235. c. 1205.]
I am not aware that the Consumer Guarantees Bill repeals existing legislation.

This is a constitutional point, and precedent is most important, because we base all our procedures on it. But I found no precedent for this motion in connection with the Road Traffic Act 1930, so I sought inspiration from the proceedings on another Bill—the Mineral Workings Bill 1950—in the hope that I might find a measure on all fours with today's motion. What I found was something quite different. The then Minister of Local Government and Planning, Mr. Dalton—another famous figure in Labour party history—said:
"This Bill makes financial arrangements in connection with the announcement which I made on 4th July …and the Special Development Order".—[Official Report, 9 April 1951; Vol. 486, c. 664.]
In essence, what he said was that that Bill was about financial arrangements. In that respect it was entirely different from this Bill. The Mineral Workings Act 1951 was a major Government measure to repair damage that had been done to a number of sites because of mineral excavations. Mr. Dalton said that the places that he had visited resembled the "deserts of the moon".

I then decided to see whether, with the help of the Clerks, I could discover any further information on this matter. I am not privy to all the inner workings of the Whips' Office. I leave such matters to my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell), who is sitting behind the Minister. I discovered an interesting letter from the Clerk, then Kenneth Bradshaw, to the then Chief Whip, my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling), on 17 January 1980. It said:
"You raised with me at the Table earlier this week the question whether motions to recommit bills fell into the category of motions which could be moved without notice and therefore required special vigilance from your point of view."
I emphasise the word "vigilance". That is why I raised my point of order: this is a constitutional matter and we should be exercising vigilance.

The letter continues:
"Since then, we have looked at every recommittal motion since 1945 to see when and in what circumstances this kind of motion has been offered without notice, and might therefore be so offered in future."
We must remember that this is a letter from a distinguished Clerk of the House. I make no criticism of the Clerks, who have always been most courteous and who have advised me in the most correct fashion.

The letter continues:
"These bills are normally Government Bills, and written notice is invariably given of motions to recommit them".
I return to the point that I raised at the beginning of the debate. Was written notice given in this case? All we had in this case was the Minister slinking in at the dead of night to table the motion. A former distinguished Clerk of the House has told us, first, that motions are normally restricted to Government Bill, and, secondly, that written notice is given.

The letter continues:
"It is true that at the end of the committee stage of the controversial House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Bill 1979"—
some of us remember how controversial that was; it was very different from the Bill that we are discussing today—
"a motion to recommit the Bill a Committee of the whole House was accepted by the Chair and put to the vote. The circumstances were, however, unusual. The recommittal motion was offered at about 3.00 am, and the occupant of the Chair was reluctant to delay the House while the Speaker was woken up".
I want to know whether Mr. Speaker was woken up last night. Did the Minister bang on his door at 3 am and inform him of what we should be discussing today?

But let me finish my quote:
"the occupant of the Chair was reluctant to delay the House while the Speaker was woken up to exercise his power of selection (which he alone can do). As the procedure under which the House considers a motion to recommit a bill is very brief … the Chair decided to let this motion go forward. The intention of the mover was in any case known in advance, and the (then) Government Whips were kept fully informed, so that there was no question of anyone being surprised."
I want to know where the Chief Whip is. And where is the Patronage Secretary? We are talking about setting a precedent, and frankly this is not good enough. We have already found out that Mr. Speaker was not woken up and there is no sign of the Patronage Secretary—just an empty green Bench and a couple of junior Whips. I am led to think that the Government are not treating the matter sufficiently seriously. I hope that, at the end of the debate, the Minister will offer us an apology and give us an explanation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs
(Mr. Eric Forth)

My hon. Friends have asked me a number of questions. I hope that I shall be able to catch your eye in due course, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so that I may explain. Some fairly serious allegations have been made against me, but I feel that I can explain my role and that of the Government in this matter. Having said that, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) will leave out references to the Patronnage Secretary, who does not have a role in the matter. I shall accept my share of responsibility in due course.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend.

There is another member of the Government whom I should like to see present today. I do not see the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, but, according to my research —I may be wrong because I was advised of this by another hon. Member and I have not had an opportunity to confirm it—it is the Chief Secretary who tables such motions.

I shall refer to the matter in my remarks, but let me make it clear that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury puts his name to money resolutions. As I shall also explain, I was here last night to move the money resolution to show good faith on behalf of the Government.

My hon. Friend has mentioned various members of the Government who he feels ought to be present, but so far he has not referred to the Department of the Environment. It seems to me that the House is all too willing to place additional responsibilities on local authorities and then complain about the community charge levied by those authorities. Does my hon. Friend agree that a representative of the Department of the Environment should be here to discuss this further additional burden upon community charge payers throughout the country?

I am sure that the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle will remember that we are dealing with a motion to recommit clause 12.

I do not wish to delay the House any longer than I need to, to underline my constitutional point, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

How extraordinary it is that the promoter of the Bill —the man who has piloted the Bill through the House so far—has not only informed the House that he was not aware that a money resolution was necessary; apparently he was not here last night and knew nothing of what the Minister was doing. I may have misunderstood and I shall happily give way to the hon. Gentleman if he wishes me to do so. Is this a private Member's Bill or a Government Bill? Is it really up to my hon. Friend the Minister to rescue the hon. Gentleman from his own mistakes?

I am piloting a private Members' Bill through the House at present, and I do not expect Ministers of the Crown to rescue me from my own folly. Ministers of the Crown are supposed to give their views and observations on private Members' Bills on behalf of the Crown. They are not supposed to intervene in this detailed manner in private Members' business.

That is another constitutional point. The promoter of the Bill should have spotted the difficulty and ensured that a money resolution was incorporated in the Bill. I must say that, in that regard, some element of responsibility must rest with the Clerks, whose job it is to advise on these matters, although, as I said before, I make no criticism of them. We are not experts. I do not entirely blame the Bill's promoter, and perhaps if I had been bringing in such a Bill I would have made a similar mistake.

The Opposition are constantly criticising the Government for increasing the community charge and public expenditure in a way that they do not like. I do not want to waste the time of the House by quoting from the speech made on Second Reading by the promoter of the Bill, but I have read through it. Presumably he was trying to convince the House by what he left unsaid that the Bill would cost nothing. At the end of Second Reading and proceedings in Committee we found that the Bill would be a charge on the public purse.

Are our procedures worth nothing? Every schoolboy who studies our constitution knows that a Bill has to go through Second Reading, Committee and Report stage, during the last of which any amendments considered in Committee are considered again by the whole House. Finally, a Bill is given its Third Reading. Schoolboys are not told that in some cases, because mistakes are made, matters are sometimes swept under the carpet and someone says, "Let us send it to a Commitee of the whole House." We should reject the motion and send the Bill back to Committee for proper discussion which it has clearly not enjoyed thus far. I shall vote against the motion.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), I rise to speak not because I oppose the Bill but because I want some guidance from the Minister and the promoter to help me make up my mind whether to vote for or against the motion. As hon. Members have said, the procedures being followed raise fundamental constitutional issues and cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. We must know whether what we are doing is right or merely expedient. If it is right, I shall vote for it; if it is a matter of expediency to help somebody out of a hole, I shall not vote for it.

I make no apology for detaining the House because two important constitutional issues are raised. First, how do we legislate and how is Britain governed by its legislature? Secondly, what is the quality of our legislation? We need to think about those matters before we go any further. Some hon. Members have said that anybody who wishes to go down this road is simply using a procedural ploy to try to kill the Bill.

The intervention makes my point.

The Official Report makes it crystal clear that in Committee I said that I am not seeking to wreck the Bill. I wholeheartedly support its objectives and the record will bear me out. Every hon. Member wishes to encourage competition in the market place.

It is becoming apparent that the hon. Gentleman has come halfway round the world to sabotage the Bill and that there is an orchestrated attempt to sabotage it. That is the purpose of all the bogus filibustering points of order and amendments. Spurious points of order have been made, not one of which has been accepted by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as genuine. It is a monstrous filibuster to ensure that the consumer is the victim and to ensure that the rights of producers are protected by their vested interests.

That was a fascinating speech rather than an intervention, and it was wrong from start to finish. I am perfectly content to stand by my record and I do not worry about such ill-researched accusations. I sat through Second Reading and made constructive comments. The Opposition moved a closure motion which prevented me from making further constructive and helpful comments. I served on the Committee and I defy the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) to find anything that I said there which was a wrecking tactic. My contributions were constructive. I pointed to weaknesses and offered to try to improve the Bill on Report. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman again if he wishes to advance evidence to back his stupid claims.

If the Government were genuine in wanting to protect the consumer, by this stage we should be well into the proceedings and not engaging in nitpicking on technical aspects of the Bill. Notes have been passed to Conservative Members from the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary and the Government Whip has been speaking from behind his hand issuing instructions to his colleagues. The tactics being employed are quite clear and we deplore them.

I shall deal with this continuing nonsense. It is clear from the intervention that if something is important to the Labour party, blow the constitution and the procedures of the House. I shall return to that. When it suits the Opposition's purpose, procedures seem not to matter. I was accused of returning to this country to take part in an attempt to kill the Bill. I shall explain why I made every effort to be here today. It is a courtesy to be involved in every stage of the Bill. I am sorry that I could not be here last night. At least I am prepared to apologise even if other hon. Members are not. I came back because I have played a constructive part from the beginning, and I wished as a matter of courtesy to the House to see the Bill through to the end. I reject the allegations that have been made.

10.15 am

In view of the offensive attack by the Opposition, I should point out to my hon. Friend that when the issue came before the House on 26 January I was the first to intervene in the promoter's speech to say that I had a serious concern on behalf of the consumer electronics industry with which I have no financial connection whatever. I said that appendix 2, which lists the products that are the subject of the Bill, was too wide and I asked the promoter whether he would be prepared to consider revising that list. I have already expressed serious concern about the breadth of the Bill and I find it most offensive that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) should accuse me and others of seeking to filibuster and to destroy the Bill. That is certainly not my purpose.

My hon. Friend's intervention underlines the fact that the allegations being levelled against us are based on no research whatever. They are not backed by the facts, which makes one wonder just who is trying to wreck the Bill.

My hon. Friend will remember that I spoke on Second Reading and have followed the Bill closely. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) accuses us of wrecking tactics, but we did not create the situation. There has been no suggestion that this is the fault of those Back Benchers who did not sponsor the Bill. We have yet to hear whether the fault lies with the Minister or the promoter. We are being accused of delay and I find that offensive.

I entirely agree, and I shall return to that.

As I was seeking to make clear to the House when I was interrupted by Opposition nonsense, every hon. Member seeks to encourage competition in the market place between producers and products. There is no dispute about that. It is equally important to understand, when speaking about procedural matters, that the second objective of the Bill, which is about clearing up any doubt about consumer rights, is supported by all of us. Thirdly, when we pursue important procedural matters it is because we seek a better quality of product through legislation. There is no basic disagreement. It is possible to have concerns about procedural matters without being opposed to the objectives of the Bill. It is dangerous, however, to play fast and loose with the procedures of a sovereign Parliament merely because the intentions behind a Bill are laudable.

I realise that procedural wrangles excite people. Equally, I understand that such wrangles make bad viewing and bad listening. It is important, therefore, to spell out why procedural wrangles are sometimes of fundamental importance to the British people as well as to the House. First, it must be understood that this is a sovereign Parliament. We do not have a constitution and, to put it bluntly, if we wished to do so we could change anything we wished. We could pass whatever legislation we liked. That could be a dangerous power. If we are considering setting a precedent and behaving like a sovereign Parliament, as we have every right to do, we need to stop and think for a moment. We should step back from consumer protection and talk about the sovereignty of Parliament and the interests of the British people. Secondly—this is a danger to guard against—we are about to enter into a discussion on whether the ends justify the means. Those who wish to question the means of keeping the Bill on the tracks are being accused of being against the Bill, but 1 am concerned that we do not take what history has shown time and again to be a dangerous step. When the ends are made to justify the means, awful things have a horrible habit of following. It is important that we take time to consider that.

Thirdly, even if we accept that the procedure that we are discussing is right for a sovereign Parliament, and even if we reject the worry about the ends justifying the means, what about the slippery-slope argument—that having done it once, it is convenient to do it again, perhaps in small ways initially—until in three, four or five years' time we discover that the House of Commons, far from being a protector of the British people, has become an organisation which will do anything on the spur of the moment merely because it suits the convenience of a private Member or the Government of the day? These matters are so fundamental that we need to stop and think about them.

The way in which legislation is processed is at the heart of every democracy, and we bring the process into disrepute at our peril. When mistakes are made, as has clearly happened in this instance, we have to learn to live with the consequences. It seems that we are being told that with a bit of sleight of hand, a quick vote and a shuffle, we can get rid of the record and start again. On a matter of such importance to the National Consumer Council and to consumers, we are being asked to do the opposite of what the Bill sets out to achieve.

My hon. Friend was kind enough to explain why he was unable to be present last night. I moved the money resolution at about 11 pm, almost at the close of the day's proceedings. My hon. Friend may not appreciate that I was able to move the resolution formally because the promoter was unable to be present. There was no debate on the resolution. My hon. Friend must understand that we have not had a chance to consider the money resolution in the way that we normally would. I hope that he will bear that in mind.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention as I wished to refer to that very matter. That is why I raised it on a point of order at the beginning of the debate. I wished to establish from Hansard what was said last night. There are some important issues to consider, and I shall refer to them in due course.

It is important to understand that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that the manufacturer or supplier of a product is not allowed to get off the hook if it suits his convenience. That is at the heart of the Bill, but to enact it we are being asked to let the drafter, the promoter, the Minister and everyone else go back to the beginning again because a mistake has been made. That privilege will not be granted to a manufacturer if the Bill takes its place on the statute book. We are being asked to set a dangerous precedent.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the promoter is engaging in a charade with the House? I draw the attention of my hon. Friend to amendments Nos. 133 and 134, which stand in the promoter's name. I note that the promoter is not even listening. His amendments would provide no guarantee. Indeed, if they were accepted they would make this discussion irrelevant. It is disgraceful that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to table amendments in a hole and corner way which, if accepted, would take the guts out of his Bill. We are wasting the time of the House. As I have said, if amendments Nos. 133 and 134 are agreed to, this discussion will be irrelevant.

Order. We must not anticipate amendments which may be discussed later.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A serious matter has been raised. My hon. Friends and I have been accused of trying to waste time when we wish to debate important constitutional issues. We are being asked to agree to a motion which would enable the Bill to be reconsidered in Committee by a Committee of the whole House, to agree to a money resolution and to spend £1 million of public money, when there are amendments which, if agreed to, would wipe out all that we are dealing with now. Those amendments have been tabled by the promoter. It is a farce from beginning to end and there is a danger of the House being brought into disrepute. I urge you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to adjourn the sitting for a few minutes so that the promoter can reflect on what the hell he is playing at.

Order. The procedure before us is complicated enough without introducing further complications. Let us take one step at a time. If we do that, we may get on better.

I shall follow your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

For the moment, I shall be pleased to debate constitutional issues rather than the details of the Bill. It is vital that we separate what is fundamental to the way in which the country is governed from a piece of legislation that we may have to consider at another stage. First, we must overcome the hurdle of whether we can deal with the Bill this morning, but if I am asked to support the Bill I shall need to have frank answers to some pertinent questions. The formal statement made by the sponsor was, in my judgment, wholly inadequate and did not help me to make up my mind. We need to be persuaded why we should support the motion rather than being told why the motion is necessary. We must consider whether to support the motion, not whether it is necessary. We must consider whether we should set a precedent so as to enable the Bill to take its place on the statute book.

If the promoter can spare a moment from his discussion on tactics, I wish to put some questions which he must answer. First, may we be assured that clause 12 is the only clause which involves a money resolution, or shall we be told at some later stage that there is another? There must be a categorical assurance on the record so that we know where we stand. If things go wrong again, the same arguments cannot be advanced a second time.

Next, who is responsible for this cock-up?

I am only echoing what was said earlier. I believe that the term that I used properly describes the mess in which we find ourselves and I do not apologise for using it on this occasion—it is the best description that I can think of.

Who is responsible? Is it the National Consumer Council? The briefing that it sent to all hon. Members for Second Reading, in support of a Bill which it openly admits to having sponsored and prepared from the beginning, and then persuaded the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) to bring forward, states on page 2 under the heading "Legally Sound":
"The report was drawn up by an NCC working party, including practising lawyers and leading academics."
So the report was right. The most telling part of all states:
"The Bill was drafted by experienced counsel with guidance from a leading authority on consumer law and technical assistance from the Former First Parliamentary Counsel."
10.30 am

Given that expertise, and that claim about how well things have been done, it is odd that we should be in this mess. Will the promoter of the Bill tell me whether the NCC has anything to answer for? Alternatively, was it the promoter himself? At the beginning he said no, and of course I believe him, but it would be helpful for him to explain in some detail why the answer is no.

No one has yet asked whether the Department of Trade and Industry was somehow responsible. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister could tell me what Sir Humphrey and Bernard were up to during this process. Or, to come closer to home, was the Minister himself responsible? I am sorry to say this, but it must be put on the record if we are seeking to find out who got it wrong. Did his silence, for which he has been criticised, conceal something that he knew?

If it proves impossible to dig the Bill out of this mess, many accusations will follow. There will be attempts to spell out for the British public who was to blame. I can already imagine the toothy smile on a Sunday night, with a series of little pictures saying that these are the people who spoke about the procedures of the United Kingdom —send them a postcard. I can equally see some screaming headlines in Which?, with little photographs—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) wish to say something? It seems not.

Hon. Members will be accused of trying to kill the Bill, for whatever reasons. We must get this clear from the beginning. If people outside the House wish to apportion blame, we need to know the truth about who is to blame, or the wrong assumptions will be made.

Thirdly, will the promoter address the question of why the mistake was made? His answer will colour the way in which I vote. Was it because the people who prepared the Bill did not seek advice, or because they did not follow advice? It is important for us to know. Perhaps it was because they did not stop to think.

Opposition Members may say that I am talking nonsense and accuse me of not wanting an answer, but I want an answer. If someone can show that the mistake was made in good faith, I will have some sympathy for the people who have got themselves into such a pickle. If it was done because someone could not be bothered, however, or because they thought that they knew better than the professional advice that they received, we are being asked to pay too high a price. We are being asked to get someone off the hook because of incompetence. The democratic process is far more important than any piece of legislation, however worthy that legislation may be.

Fourthly, why is the promoter asking for a Committee of the whole House? That is dangerous. If clause 12 is considered in isolation by the whole House, what about the other clauses? What about those hon. Members who did not serve on the Standing Committee? Surely we cannot consider a money resolution's implications and a specific clause if hon. Members have not heard the detail of the other parts of the debate. It is doubly dangerous to ask the whole House to deal with a little bit of a Bill that has not been considered in detail.

It is not done every time. If my hon. Friend had been here from the beginning, he would have heard it said that we are in danger of setting a precedent —[HON. MEMBERS: "He was here at the beginning."]—In that case, I withdraw that comment unreservedly.

It is certainly dangerous to ask the whole House just to consider clause 12. If we are to involve the whole House in detailed consideration of just one bit, the House should be entitled to consider every clause to put the Bill into context; otherwise, we are in danger of committing "ad hoccery" as well as setting precedents.

Those are four genuine questions to which I want answers. I hope that either the promoter of the Bill or the Minister—or both of them—will seek to answer those questions. Who made the mistake; why did they do it; why the whole House; and are we certain that clause 12 is the only clause involved? I do not speak for others, but the answers that I receive will determine how I vote later.

I am sad that so few of the Bill's original sponsors are here this morning. I am certain that many of them will have issued press releases to their local press, saying how strongly they support the concept of consumer protection legislation. I do not doubt that the leader of what used to be called the Liberal party, whose name is appended to the Bill and none of whose colleagues are present, will have ensured that the relevant hocus-pocus leaflets were issued the length and breadth of the land.

I strongly believe that all the sponsors of the Bill must take full responsibility for our present position—and I say that as one of those sponsors. I believe that to some extent we have failed in our duty in Committee. I say that with no pleasure whatsoever. There are hon. Members present who believe that this piece of consumer protection legislation is necessary: my hon. Friend the Member for AldridgeBrownhills (Mr. Shepherd)—not an original sponsor of the Bill—was stalwart in Committee in putting his point of view. Clearly it is our responsibility that the money implications of the legislation were not perceived in Committee—I accept that unreservedly—it is apparent that many hon. Members are inexpert in parliamentary draftsmanship, and not entirely expert in foreseeing all the financial implications of private Members' legislation.

It has been correctly said that this is an ambitious piece of legislation—perhaps over-ambitious for a private Member's Bill. It would have been helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister, with the support of his civil servants, had in Committee been able to say that there were financial implications that needed further consideration. Had that been done, we could have addressed the matter—even at a late stage—in Committee. My hon. Friend the Minister has been accused of failing in his duty. I am saddened about that, and that aspersions have been cast on the performance of his civil servants and on that of the Clerks—which is unusual in the House, as we take responsibility for our decisions. It is our duty vigilantly to scrutinise legislation and to get it right. I am therefore grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister because although he did not raise the matter as a member of the Committee, at least he came here at a late hour last night and instigated the motion that we are now debating to allow the Bill to stay on the rails. Had he not done so, the proceedings would have collapsed because the Bill would have been unsound.

In essence, the Bill is simple. It seeks to give consumers guarantees that are worth the paper on which they are written. They must be written clearly and must be meaningful. As was said on Second Reading and in Committee, the products that we are seeking to include are those upon which most households, albeit infrequently, spend very large sums of money. Although my hon. Friend the Minister does not agree with every dot and comma of the Bill, I know that he believes that additional protection is necessary, either through this Bill or under the Sale of Goods Act 1979. I hope and believe that those hon. Members present today also believe that additional consumer protection is necessary.

At the start of this morning's proceedings, Mr. Speaker ruled that it was in order to take this opportunity to correct an error made by the Committee, and therefore by the House. I do not regard that as setting a dangerous precedent, as some have suggested. The procedures of the House have been followed and Mr. Speaker has ruled that we are in order. Our procedures exist not to prevent legislation but to assist its passage. We want to get the Bill right. A large number of important amendments have been tabled both by the Bill's sponsor and by others, and we need to debate them this morning.

I hope that the House will not this morning send out a message to the public that we either wish to kill the Bill or that we are not concerned with the need for greater consumer protection through proper guarantees. I hope that the House will take this opportunity, which has quite properly been afforded by Mr. Speaker under our procedures, to accept the motion as swiftly as possible, so that the necessary corrections to the Bill can be made. We can then move on to discuss important amendments that will not only improve the legislation but make it possible for it to pass through its stages and become an Act that will give consumers the protection that I, at least, believe they deserve.

I was surprised when, earlier in the debate, my hon. Friend the Minister was described as unhelpful. I have known him for some time. He and I, together with our hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Taylor) were elected to the European Parliament in 1979. My hon. Friend the Minister is an independent person, and he became known as a highly conscientious and hard-working MEP. Now that he is a British Minister, he has unfortunately lost his independence, but he remains as hard-working and conscientious as ever.

Both my hon. Friend and the Bill's sponsor knew last night that a money resolution was required. It is obvious that the Bill's sponsor knew that, because it was he who tabled the motion on the Order Paper in respect of clause 12. However, it is significant that, of the two individuals who are the kernel of the debate, it was my hon. Friend the Minister who was here last night to move the money resolution. My understanding is that the Bill's sponsor was not even here. Who is the more helpful Member—my hon. Friend or the Bill's sponsor? It is quite clear that it is very much my hon. Friend, who has been at the forefront in this matter.

It is appalling that a number of hon. Members have criticised the civil servants and the Clerks of the House, who must be silent advisers. As one of my right hon. Friends said on another occasion, advisers advise and Ministers decide. To attack advisers is deplorable and unparliamentary. They have no redress—[interruption.] It should be put on the record that advisers are hard-working, conscientious and, perhaps, reasonably well paid.

10.45 am

I am appalled that so much of the time of the House is being devoted to this discussion when the Bill's promoter wants to take the guts out of his own legislation. He intends to move amendments Nos. 133 and 134. Had he done that in Committtee, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would have accepted them. I should like some guidance from my hon. Friend on whether he finds the amendments acceptable——

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not anticipate amendments that will be discussed later.

They are relevant to this debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are being asked to commit clause 12 to a Committee of the whole House, yet later the Bill's sponsor will move an amendment asking that a large slug of the Bill be removed. Clause 12 will then be irrelevant. How can the sponsor ask that clause 12 be committed to a Committee of the whole House and then later, on Report, ask that it be taken out of the Bill? It is Alice in Wonderland.

Has there ever been another occasion on which a Bill's sponsor has come to the House on a Friday morning and asked for a discussion in time that has not been allocated? I am sure that the House is aware that some of my colleagues want other Bills, such as the War Crimes Bill, to be considered by a Committee of the whole House. The Bill's promoter wants a Committee of the whole House to discuss clause 12, and then later he will say, "Take it out." That is monstrous. I cannot understand the logic that makes him think that this is the way in which the House should spend its time on a Friday morning.

This very important clause 12, which we are being asked to debate and then to take out of the Bill, seeks to impose statutory duties upon local authorities to enforce the provisions of the Bill—the provisions that the sponsor then wants to remove. The clause is a monstrous further imposition upon local Government. We are asking trading standards officers, who already have many important responsibilities—which many of us feel are not adequately carried out—to undertake additional responsibilities at a cost to the community charge of £1 million.

Only yesterday, Labour Members told us that the community charges were too high. I wonder how they will react when some authorities are capped in a few weeks' time. Will they vote for or against capping? This morning they are planning to increase the level of local Government expenditure—and at a time when trading standards officers cannot carry out all their current responsibilities. It is highly irresponsible to discuss a clause that will add to local Government expenditure and the responsibilities of local authorities.

It is monstrous that the Bill's sponsor should waste so much of the time of the House asking us to debate clause 12 in detail, and then, when we come to debate amendments Nos. 133 and 134, ask us to take the guts out of the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman had had the courage to say that in Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister would have accepted the amendments, and the House would not need to spend time today discussing a Bill that its own promoter believes is highly defective.

As I said at the beginning of my speech on Second Reading, I have a long-standing interest in Lombard North Central, which employed me before I became legitimate—if that is what one does on entering the House—and I remain a financial adviser to that company. However, that interest is not relevant to the motion before the House. When we debate the amendments, I hope that I may have an opportunity to explain that, thanks to the Bill's promoter and to the amendments that have been introduced, the finance industry is now satisfied with the Bill, whereas it was somewhat anxious about its original form. I make that point now in case there is any suggestion that I am speaking on behalf of that industry.

As I also said on Second Reading, parts of the Bill are important and should be put on the statute book, whereas other of its provisions are unworkable. I have tabled amendments that seek to improve what I consider to be the unworkable provisions.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), a sponsor of the Bill, on his fair summation. I share his view that the Bill deserves support, but unlike my hon. Friend, I find it difficult to approve of the Bill in its entirety—partly because of my experience of the finance industry over a number of years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) legitimately raised the question of whether the House can be certain that no other part of the Bill similarly requires a money resolution, or some other form of resolution. That goes to the heart of our difficulty this morning. I am not too concerned about where responsibility for the error lies, with one exception that I shall mention later. Perhaps I was unfairly critical earlier of my hon. Friend the Minister, but we shall hear about that in a moment. However, I am sure that all right hon. and hon. Members are united in wanting to avoid any repetition of such an oversight. To do so, the House must establish where the responsibility for the error lies.

If the responsibility for this lies with my hon. Friend the Minister, it is arguable that the House should, today or on another occasion, instruct Ministers that they have a responsibility to ensure that a Bill's promoter—be it a Department or a private Member—is advised of any provisions in it that will require specific additional parliamentary action. It may be that ultimate responsibility for the oversight does not lie with my hon. Friend the Minister. If not, it must be that of the Bill's promoter. In that case, I should have an enormous amount of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, having myself piloted a Bill through the House.

Whatever the theory may be, it is impossible in practice for every right hon. and hon. Member to be wholly aware of the more arcane aspects of parliamentary procedure and to be able unaided to spot an omission such as that which we are now debating. Even if a right hon. or hon. Member is expected to be so informed, the Select Committee on Procedure should consider how Members of Parliament —and the problem particularly affects ordinary right hon. and hon. Members—can be provided with sufficient information to ensure that the need for a money resolution is identified early, so that the House does not need to waste time when it should be debating the amendments that I am anxious to reach.

The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, and he approaches the problem rationally. It may be helpful if I explain the procedure that is followed. Before a Bill reaches the Floor of the House for its Second Reading, it goes before a senior ministerial committee considering the following week's business. It used to be the most senior committee below the Cabinet. At that level, all the procedural expertise of the Government is brought to bear. The Department concerned advises the committee as to whether it opposes the Bill, and other interests within Government point out any procedural flaws or shortcomings. From the very start, the Bill now before the House should have been subject to scrutiny at the most senior level below Cabinet. It is inconceivable that the Minister and his Department could not have known of the flaw.

The House will be most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who speaks with past ministerial experience. If one accepts the accuracy of his remarks—and I certainly do—then clearly the finger points at my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs and at other Ministers.

The principle is of such importance because, although the legislation in question is a private Member's Bill, it is still a public Bill of this House. What if the Government had produced non-controversial legislation—for example, the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, or even the community charge Bill—and at the eleventh hour or later, had told the House, "We're terribly sorry, but we're advised that the Bill needs a money resolution to cover a particular clause."? I can imagine what the response would be. The Minister concerned would be laughed out of the Chamber, and the House would be unable to take any decision, perhaps for one week, and be held up to ridicule—as would the Government, and, arguably, rightly so.

When a Bill leaves Standing Committee, it becomes the property of the whole House and the distinction between a Government Bill and a private Member's Bill is no longer relevant for virtually all purposes. That, for the benefit of the public watching or reading this debate, is the significance of the matter before us.

As to the principle of what business should or should not be considered on the Floor of the House, during my 11 years in this place, it has been clear to me at least the kind of legislation that is conventionally considered by a Committee of the whole House—[Hon. Members: "The Patronage Secretary is here at last."] It is not often that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary arrives in the Chamber in the middle of one of my speeches, but whether that is a good thing or bad, I am not sure.

One category of legislation that is usually considered by a Committee of the whole House is that involving major points of principle. Right hon. and hon. Members will soon be debating embryo research, when I understand that a key clause of that Bill will be considered on the Floor of the House. Many right hon. and hon. Members hold strong views on that subject, so it is right and proper that it should be debated in the Chamber rather than in Committee. Another category is legislation of constitutional importance.

11 am

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) for intervening in his speech. Eleven o'clock on Friday is the normal time for statements and I see that the Patronage Secretary has just arrived. I am not sure whether he is the harbinger of a statement.

Late last night I was given information for the first time that the Ministry of Defence has unilaterally broken off negotiations with the borough of Gosport in my constituency about the future of the Royal Naval armaments museum there.

The borough of Gosport wished to take over the armaments museum, which contains unique and priceless artefacts ranging from the time of Henry VIII through to nuclear weapons and weapons used in the Falklands campaign. That museum is of great importance to my constituents.

The point of order is that I was not informed in advance of that unilateral decision by the Ministry of Defence. Within the rules of order, for example under Standing Order No. 20, or in some other way, is it possible to seek to bring this important issue before the House?

That is a request for a statement from a Minister. At this stage it is not possible for the hon. Member to use Standing Order No. 20 procedure, but I am sure that he will find other ways to raise that important matter. In the meantime, I am sure that what has been said has been heard on the Treasury Bench.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will be aware that I am one of the sponsors of the early-day motion on the Birmingham Six. In a Granada television drama documentary two weeks ago serious allegations were made about police brutality and the way in which the police had forced confessions out of the defendants. Yesterday, the deputy chief constable of the Yorkshire constabulary, who is conducting the inquiry into the now disbanded West Midlands serious crime squad, revealed that a number of police documents and notebooks have gone missing. Surely we should have a statement on that important matter today. If the Home Office does not clarify the issue there will be further doubt about its good faith in the matter of the Birmingham Six. Can we have a statement on that today as a matter of urgency?

I give the same answer to the hon. Gentleman as I gave to his hon. Friend. He should seek other ways to raise that important matter in the House. I am sure that his comments will also have been heard on the Treasury Bench.

I hope that the House does not believe that I have finished my speech. I was talking about the second reason for Bills to be legitimately debated in a Committee of the whole House —major constitutional issues.

Scottish devolution is one obvious example. If we were to have a Labour Government—however unlikely that is —I am sure that they would wish to discuss such as issue on the Floor of the Chamber, and no one would argue with the principle behind that. We would argue with the policy but not with the principle of taking it on the Floor of the House.

I do not argue that clause 12 is of such major or constitutional importance, but discussing it on the Floor of the House means that we seem to be acting out of mere convenience, rather than sending the Bill back to Committee for detailed examination, and I regret that, because it is not the right way for us to proceed.

My hon. Friend has said that this is a matter of administrative convenience. I am sure that the House wishes the Bill well and wants it to proceed. Therefore, this debate should be seen as a way forward rather than simply as a matter of administrative convenience. To take up his other point, there is a precedent for discussing financial matters in a Committee of the whole House. This subject is a financial matter and there is no reason why, as such, it should not be considered by the whole House.

I do not want to enter into an argument with my hon. Friend as I have much respect for him. However, my impression is that big issues—such as the Budget—tend to be discussed on the Floor of the House and others in Committee. I am happy to accept the principle behind what he says.

I regret that we are in this position today and I shall be happy when we come to discuss detailed amendments to the Bill.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As the Patronage Secretary is present and as he has such important influence in this place, I should like to know whether he will make a statement about the Greenham Common situation developing across the road on College Green, where one person was camping out with a notice board at the beginning of the week and now there are more than a dozen people. Every time I go past on my way to my office and back again I am accosted by people who ask me to sign petitions. When I tell them that the matter on which they are crusading appears to be the community charge, and that I like it, they are extremely abusive to me.

This morning there is a large notice there asking drivers to toot as they go past if they dislike the community charge. Since that is taking place within the curtilage of this House, where we discuss national issues and where visitors to our capital gather in large numbers, is it appropriate that such a group of people should be allowed to remain on the green?

I have made inquiries and asked for the matter to be brought before the House urgently. I have been given to understand that by some freak accident private consent was given for one person to be on the green for a limited time. However, this is developing into a Greenham Common situation and we must deal with it urgently or it will bring the House into disrepute. Think of the noise that will be caused in the neighbourhood by the tooting of many car horns—by drivers who I have no doubt support the community charge.

I think that the hon. Lady is saying that the situation that she describes is taking place within the precincts of the House, and I shall cause inquiries to be made.

I do not want to delay matters, and I was not planning to speak in this short debate until the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) launched into an attack on the motives of Conservative Members. He talked about nit-pickers. I did not arrive in the Chamber until about ten minutes to 10 o'clock, and I am certainly not a nit-picker. I came to listen to the debate; I did not come to filibuster or to cause trouble. I have not had Whips and Parliamentary Private Secretaries hovering around me to tell me what to say, because I support the principles of the Bill and I have admiration for the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) who is its promoter. He is a good friend of mine and we have worked together closely on such matters as firearms and timber preservatives.

Far be it from me to try to put the boot in to the hon. Gentleman on his big day; that is the last thing I would wish to do. However, having listened to the debate for an hour and a half, I feel strongly that a number of important issues have emerged. I do not see how we can skirt round them in the way that some hon. Members wish to do.

I admire the sponsor of the Bill and the way in which he has presented it. It is weighty and full for a private Member's Bill and will carry considerable risks, even though hon. Members on both sides of the House support it. I find it extraordinary that the omission was not noticed earlier.

I understand that, in his brief introductory remarks, lasting one minute, the sponsor said that he had had expert advice on the Bill. He had access to a number of leading authorities on the subject. I find it extraordinary and beyond belief that they did not manage to spot this pitfall. It is staggering. The Bill was in Committee for a number of hours and although there was only a short discussion on the clause, at that juncture he was in a position to receive advice and help from a large number of people.

One of the principles of private Members' Bills is that they will not have major revenue or financial implications. I should have thought that the first thing any private Member would do, when presenting a Bill, would be to look carefully at those aspects. [Interruption.] I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) to listen for one second. I am co-sponsor of his Bill on agricultural rights of way and we have considered the revenue implications in considerable detail. I am the second sponsor of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, on which we had a good debate.

My hon. Friend and I went through the Bill with a fine-toothed comb. We satisfied ourselves that that Bill contains no revenue or finance-raising implications. I should have thought that that was the primary task for any hon. Member who promotes a private Member's Bill. It is extraordinary that this problem was not spotted earlier. If that pitfall in clause 12 has been spotted, what about other clauses? We may suddenly spot another ugly financial implication. That may also apply to other private Member's Bills.

I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs on coming to the House last night to table the motion. However, he ought to have spotted this problem earlier. It is wrong for any hon. Member or Minister to cast aspersions on Clerks or civil servants. I have been in the House on a number of Fridays during the last year or so. I came to support the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, and I was here about a month ago to support another private Member's Bill.

I have never seen the Box so full of civil servants as on this occasion. It shows how hard they have been working on the matter. It is wrong for anyone to conclude that they are in any way to blame. We are elected to the House to scrutinise legislation. It is up to us to spot these matters. It is not up to Clerks or civil servants to do anything except guide us and help us when we need assistance. It is wrong to launch any attack on them, and I should like to distance myself from any such attacks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) referred to fundamental constitutional matters. It may be easy to do what seems to be neat and sensible on the day, but we could be creating an unfortunate precedent. In 10 or 15 years, another hon. Member, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle, might come to the House on a Friday morning weighed down by Hansard reports and law books, pick up the report of this debate on Friday 30 March 1990 and take it as a precedent. We must be careful not to create a precedent. Therefore, the Bill ought to be referred back to the Standing Committee and looked at in great detail.

We are here this morning, ironically, to provide the consumer with guarantees, but we are also here as guardians of our constituents' interests and freedoms. If we create a precedent simply for the sake of expediency, we may come to regret it. We must therefore be cautious and bear in mind the point that was raised a short while ago: that it is ludicrous beyond belief that we should be discussing the committal of clause 12 to a Committee of the whole House when an amendment has been tabled to delete the clause. Are we not in "Alice in Wonderland"? We have reached the stage when we ought to return the Bill to the Standing Committee where the matter could be properly sorted out.

11.15 am

It is obvious from what has been said that hon. Members are very concerned about the matter. However, that concern has been expressed only on this side of the House. The Opposition do not seem to be concerned about this important issue. That puzzles me. When I have given my explanation, I expect the sponsor of the Bill, the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) to give his explanation of these matters. He has been strangely silent up to now. However, that is a matter for him.

My hon. Friends have raised a number of important issues. However, I ought first to point out somthing that all hon. Members should bear in mind—that this is a private Member's Bill.

The Minister has made it clear that the Government do not want the Bill. He has organised that lot; they are filibustering instead of allowing the Bill to make progress. I have been sitting on a Committee that made progress on a Bill. We always make progress when I am on a Bill. The Minister is deliberately adopting delaying tactics. He intends to kill the Bill, if that is possible, but he had better watch out.

If the hon. Gentleman is so confident that Bills in which he is involved always make progress, he ought to have involved himself a little more with this Bill during its previous stages. Obviously it needed considerable help.

Before we hear any more nonsense about my hon. Friend trying to kill the Bill, will he confirm that he came here last night and saved the Bill from extinction? Will he also confirm that, if he had not come to the House last night and tabled the motion, the Bill would already have been dead?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I shall return to that point in a moment.

A number of my hon. Friends have criticised my role, but I hope that I shall be able to satisfy them that I have done my best to discharge honourably my responsibilities throughout the proceedings on the Bill.

I emphasise that this is a private Member's Bill and that therefore the primary responsibility for it must rest with the sponsor. It should not and cannot be otherwise. The Government are responsible for their Bills. Hon. Members who are fortunate enough to come high in the ballot for private Member's Bills must take responsibility for their Bills. Therefore, the primary responsibility throughout the proceedings lay with the sponsor and with those from whom he sought advice.

I assume that the hon. Gentleman sought advice from various sources—from the House authorities, as I do from time to time, and from the National Consumer Council. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised that point. Therefore, I should emphasise that taxpayers fund the National Consumer Council to the tune of £2 million a year in order to further the interests of consumers. Generally speaking, the council does good work.

However, in view of that council's conduct, to which my hon. Friend referred earlier—which shocked me and I shall be looking into it—we shall have to look at the way in which that council conducted itself in terms of the advice that it may or may not have given to the sponsor of the Bill.

Furthermore, if the National Consumer Council, funded by taxpayers money, is using that money to launch attacks on hon. Members, we shall have to look into the council's conduct and into the use into which it is putting taxpayers' money.

Is the Minister saying to the House that he will investigate the National Consumer Council and that he is threatening to withdraw its funding if his investigations substantiate certain allegations that have been made?

In view of the allegations that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport, I should be doing less than my duty as, for the time being, the custodian of this large amount of taxpayers' money if I did not look closely into the way in which the National Consumer Council is conducting its affairs. I hope that the hon. Gentleman would be shocked and dismayed if l did not do that, as part of my duty.

The press release to which the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) referred was released by me. It said exactly what I intended it to say.

In a moment.

If it is the hon. Gentleman who is making scurrilous and unjustified attacks on my hon. Friend, that exemplifies what has happened throughout the proceedings on the Bill. That will have to be looked into; obviously it bears some examination.

I simply want to put on record the fact that if I inadvertently misled the House, I apologise. I was not given a copy of the press release. I understood that it was from the National Consumer Council, but obviously I was incorrect.

We shall have to clarify these matters properly. I do not want to dwell on them, but I wanted to pick up the point that my hon. Friend raised.

We have established that, as this is a private Member's Bill, primary responsibility for its conduct must rest with the promoter and his advisers. However, I want to give the House my explanation, and, if necessary, my apology.

A little while ago the Minister made threats—not even veiled threats—against the National Consumer Council. In view of the comments of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), can we take it that the Minister now withdraws those threats?

If what is alleged has taken place, it needs to be investigated. When I have established to my own satisfaction that matters are in order, no further action will be necessary.

An hon. Gentleman has stood here in the House and said that the press release was his. Is the Minister accusing another hon. Gentleman of lying to the House, which is not permitted under the rules of the House?

We are making rather heavy weather of this. I hope that Opposition Members are not trying to delay the proceedings, but it is beginning to look as if they are. I am trying to explain my role in this from the Dispatch Box, as many of my hon. Friends have asked me. All that Opposition Members can do is seek to delay the proceedings. That is rather disgraceful, but as the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) has asked me, I shall say it again in words of as few syllables as I can manage.

The sponsor of the Bill and the National Consumer Council worked closely, and they bear joint responsibility for the Bill. It is no secret that the Bill grew out of a report by the National Consumer Council, which, I understand, was largely responsible for drafting the Bill. If scurrilous accusations have been made about someone, we know not who made them at this stage, nor do we know the role that the National Consumer Council may or may not have played in the matter, but as it is an organisation in receipt of taxpayers' money, we should be satisfied about how it is spending that money.

As my hon. Friend rightly pointed out, the Bill was originally produced by the National Consumer Council. However, the Confederation of British Industry has criticised the drafting of the Bill because the evidence on which it was drawn up was so poorly assembled and the transactions of which people allegedly complained had not been evaluated or quantified. So the CBI made very strong criticisms of the National Consumer Council.

My hon. Friend is perfectly right. As proceedings unwind today, we may have to look more closely at the roles and relationships and what different people and organisations have said and done, but I do not want to get unduly bogged down in that now.

A few moments ago, I was attempting to clarify for the House my role in the matter, and in doing so I accept my share of the responsibility. As my hon. Friends have pointed out, by convention if not by rule of the House, the Government are responsible for laying money resolutions when they are established as a necessary part of a Bill. That much is clear. In the normal course of events, a money resolution should have been tabled before the Bill left Committee.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) pointed out that I was present throughout the proceedings of the Committee, as I should have been, and that none of us identified that a money resolution should have been a necessary part of the Bill. Casting around for blame, as some of my hon. Friends have done, is probably a fruitless exercise, although a vital point may have been concealed. It has led to the constitutional point raised so ably by my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), and I shall return to that in a moment.

Let us focus on why this private Member's Bill was given a Second Reading and completed its Committee stage without that need having been identified. I accept my personal share of the responsibility, but at the same time I totally exonerate officials in my Department and deny that they were in any way to blame. The officials in my Department have played an honourable, expert and detailed role throughout. I accept that the blame for not spotting the need for a money resolution is mine alone. However, during this morning's proceedings we have established that it was not so obvious that the Bill required a money resolution that we should have spotted it as readily as some have suggested. That is my only exoneration of my role.

The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), in a helpful intervention in my speech, referred specifically to a senior committee. I assume that he was speaking from experience. Can my hon. Friend shed some light on that, as it appears to be one way in which that discrepancy might have been discovered, if such a Committee exists?

I might have to be uncharacteristically coy. My hon. Friend is trying to get me to reveal some of the inner workings of Government, which by tradition are not revealed, certainly from the Dispatch Box, and I hope from nowhere else either. I concede that the Government consider such matters, but it is not necessarily the case that procedural matters are dealt with by the Government, as their collective responsibility relates to policy matters, but not procedural matters. We are dealing with a procedural matter.

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that, when a Bill goes before the non-existent committee which none of us admits operates under whichever Goverment are in power, if there is a major procedural fault in the legislation, that would normally be pointed out as part of the background to the Bill.

Yes, but we are getting our time sequence out of synchronisation. If a Bill went to the committee that hon. Members have hinted at, that committee would not be obliged to identify whether a Bill required a money resolution. That normally happens in Standing Committee, as the clause that requires a money resolution might well be deleted in Committee. Therefore, it is only reasonable to say that, until the Committee stage had been completed, we could not identify whether there should be a money resolution.

I am delighted to see the Minister digging himself into a pit, but he is digging himself increasingly deeper. The Bill would have been considered by that committee before its Second reading, but the Minister is saying that no one would have cared whether it needed that money resolution, although it should have been tabled at that time, because it was possible that the relevant clauses might have been removed in Committee. However, the Minister did not move an amendment to delete those clauses, so he was either culpable or irresponsible.

I am beginning to wonder about the right hon. Gentleman's motive in this. Is it not peculiar, as some of my hon. Friends have already pointed out, that the promoter of the Bill should come to the House and move recommittal into Committee for a clause that he may subsequently want to delete? There are all sorts of anomalies and inconsistencies, but those of my hon. Friends who have not been involved in the Bill up to now —although a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have—may be beginning to get the flavour of the Bill. I have to say with all my normal charm and courtesy that the conduct on the Bill throughout has not exemplified coolness, preparation or determination. It has exemplified a degree of chaos and a lack of organisation which have made the Bill its own worst enemy.

As my hon. Friends have pointed out, it is a large, complex and controversial Bill, as the number of representations we have all received will illustrate. That in itself would be bad enough, but the fact that the promoter of the Bill has not received good advice means that we have reached this stage with a procedural point on our hands, with doubts being expressed about how, why and where it should have been tabled and with me having to stand at the Dispatch Box having to explain my role in events. That illustrates the problem that we face.

Before my hon. Friend departs from his point about blame and responsibility, may I say that it is typical of his generosity and graciousness that he is willing to carry the can? However, I find that surprising and difficult in this case. Is he saying that Back-Bench Members can draft what we like and that, if we are lucky in the ballot, we can wash our hands of the responsibility for ensuring that it complies with our procedures? If that is his thesis, I find it extraordinary. As I said earlier, the NCC gave an undertaking that expert counsel went through the Bill. Are we not entitled to expect that, if outside experts say that they have done something, they must carry their share of the blame?

11.30 am

My hon. Friend is entitled to express that view. We are trying to tease from this confusion where the relative responsibilities lie, which is difficult. I hope that my hon. Friend agrees that, if this morning's proceedings have done nothing else, they have helped the House to consider the pitfalls and traps that we can fall into and see whether we can avoid them in future. The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West may have done all future promoters of private Members' Bills a large service in inadvertently bringing to their attention and that of the House, the House authorities and the Clerks the fact that this problem can easily arise. It has taken us all by surprise.

I shall attempt to give an explanation of my role. It was not until last week that, almost inadvertently, we identified the lacuna in our procedures and the Bill. I moved as quickly as possible to establish the procedural position and what responsibility I may have had in the matter. Towards the end of last week, we established beyond reasonable doubt, bearing in mind all the points about precedent that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle has raised, that a money resolution was required for the Bill. I was then told that, by convention, it had to be moved by the Government, in Government time. I hope that my hon. Friends understand my position and that the promoter will give me some credit for moving as quickly as I could to find Government time and to persuade my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to put his name to a money resolution and commit public funds to the Bill, should it be necesssry if the Bill is passed.

I then ensured that I was in the House in person at 11 pm last night to make sure that the money resolution was approved. I was surprised that the promoter was not present, and he must give his explanation of that. I am pleased, although only to one extent, that the House approved the money resolution on the nod. It leaves us with the slight difficulty that, even at this stage, we have not had an opportunity fully to debate what the money resolution might mean. I hope that such an opportunity may arise.

We are still considering the procedural motion whether we should refer the Bill to a Committee of the whole House to consider the implications of clause 12 and the money resolution. I do not want to detain the House much longer. I hope that, when we decide whether to recommit the Bill, we shall have an opportunity fully to consider the implications of the money resolution.

Will my hon. Friend support this procedural motion?

My hon. Friend will agree that what the promoter says will be crucial in persuading us whether we should support the motion. I have not yet made up my mind.[Laughter.]

That is a revealing display from Opposition Members, especially considering all their recent criticisms that the Government are oppressive with private Members' Bills and always interfering with them. Here is a Minister with an open-minded, flexible attitude, encouraging the promoter to give a lucid, reasonable explanation of his attitude.

Does my hon. Friend agree that every promoter is in charge of the progress and success of his Bill, and therefore should be competent to steer it through? Does he agree that it is good fortune to win the ballot for Bills and procedures? My hon. Friend has reacted fairly and reasonably in saying that he has not yet decided his stance on this complicated point. This is an unusual procedure and mistakes have been made, yet all we hear from Opposition Members are ignorant guffaws. I am sorry to use such a strong adjective. Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Members should welcome his being potentially so helpful? I thank him for taking this attitude.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. This is a revealing episode. My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne has asked the promoter to explain how he saw the procedure developing and I am waiting to hear the answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "Well, sit down."] It is distressing that Opposition Members appear to mock us for listening to the debate on this important procedural and constitutional issue before making up our minds.

Whether the House approves the recommittal is an open question. We may set a precedent. We have certainly teased out some serious problems. I must say yet again, although I do not wish to over-emphasise the point, that the primary responsibility for the scrutiny, integrity and progress of a private Member's Bill must rest with the promoter. The Government may or may not have a role of one kind or another, but they certainly must not be seen to be responsible for ensuring that the Bill proceeds or is in order.

Given all those factors, I shall listen to the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West and then decide whether it is right to support the recommittal, or whether we should reconsider the Bill in some other way or at some other time. I hope that I have satisfied my hon. Friends who have asked questions. I have been as open with them as possible in explaining my role. I have given my apology to the House for any oversight of mine. I have tried to persuade the House that I moved as quickly as possible to ensure that the Bill would not fall as a result of an oversight by me or the promoter.

I appreciate that. I really want to know my hon. Friend's intentions. I accept that we have a serious procedural difficulty and that we must be cautious. I do not take the high constitutional line adopted by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh). My hon. Friend the Minister could advance the interests of the House. He will remember that he did not manage to block the Bill on Second Reading, because the House showed its support by the procedural means of accepting the closure.

If my hon. Friend can say that the Government are well disposed towards the central intentions of the Bill and that, if this motion fails, they will legislate along the lines of the Bill, making full use of my hon. Friend's breadth of experience and the extraordinarily hard work of his Department on the Bill, I will be satisfied that his intentions are good.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because he allows me to make my position clear. He sat through the Committee stage and he knows that I was never happy with the Bill. I always thought that it contained serious flaws and difficulties, and the advice I gave on Second Reading and in Committee was that it was "irredeemable and irrecoverable".

I have made no secret of the fact, however, that we want to update the Sale of Goods Act 1893 and that part V of the Bill therefore has my support. I have also given an undertaking that, partly as a result of the National Consumer Council report and partly as a result of the Bill, should the Bill not succeed, I shall want to consider the whole subject of guarantees to see what can properly be done. I have said that before, and I am delighted to repeat it. That does not mean that I do not support the Bill in its present form: I am waiting to see how it might emerge either from recommittal to Committee or on Report. I shall then decide how to advise my hon. Friends.

My hon. Friend is renowned for his statesmanlike approach to such matters. Will he confirm to the House and to the promoter that, if the promoter's amendments Nos. 133 and 134 were passed, my hon. Friend would be able to recommend to the House that the Bill should be approved?

Among the guidance that the promoter will seek to give the House on the procedural matter of a recommittal to Committee, I hope that he will explain why those rather odd amendments have appeared in his name. I accept that we shall come to them subsequently, but they are germane to our debate, as it is rather interesting and somewhat puzzling—I share my hon. Friend's confusion —that the amendments have appeared out of the blue and without, as yet, a word of explanation from the promoter.

I hope that I have given a full explanation to the House of my position on the Bill. If there are any other matters that need to be clarified, I shall be delighted to do so. We now all look forward to hearing the advice of the promoter. Perhaps he will give us an inkling about how he believes we shall proceed during the rest of the day.

I am deeply saddened by what we have heard in the past two and a quarter hours. The Government move business motions and procedural motions regularly. On Wednesday they moved two procedural motions relating to the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill, as well as a money resolution last night. Much of the debate on this motion has been totally insignificant.

As the promoter of the Bill I accept responsibility for it, but I have already said that I will not accept all responsibility. A number of problems were inherent in the procedures on the Bill. I shall not lay blame in any quarter, but I am extremely glad that the Minister has also admitted that he is to blame. That is a move forward and I like the way in which he has put matters right.

I should like to put matters right regarding the money resolution. I saw the title of the Bill come up on the annunciator and I was on my way here when it disappeared off the screen. I judged that it was an uncontroversial measure and had gone through on the nod.

Will my hon. Friend also accept that the Government had to put a money resolution through on the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill last night and extend the long title of it before amendments were debated because they had made a cock-up?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As I have already said, such motions are tabled by the Government all the time without two-hour debates about their constitutionality.

11.45 am

Did the Government notify the hon. Gentleman that they intended to table the money resolution?

Yes, they informed me on Monday and I was grateful. I assumed that it was a procedural measure which would cause no problems. No problems arose last night about that money resolution or about the one for the Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill.

I am intrigued by all this. Surely the promoter of a Bill should be present when its money resolution comes before the House. Why did the hon. Gentleman miss that particularly important moment?

One of the sponsors was in the Chamber and I would have been here within minutes. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that one cannot predict exactly when an item of business will come before the House. If he does not admit that, he is not the man I thought he was.

I shall not give way and I will not be a party to talking out my own Bill.

I wish to put straight the many unnecessary and trivial comments that we have heard today. [Interruption.] Credit is due to the Minister for putting right what he admits was his mistake. He said he was to blame and I commend him for that.[Interruption.]

Order. There are too many private conversations going on. I want to hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

I did not hear exactly what the hon. Gentleman said because of the hubbub from the Opposition. I said that we must all share an element of the blame, but the promoter of the Bill has the main responsibility. I hope that I admitted that I was prepared to accept that to the extent that Government have any role in private Members' Bills, I had a responsibility. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that I discharged my responsibility thereafter.

Obviously the Minister did not hear what I said because of the hubbub, but Hansard will put the record right for both of us. I am trying to give the Minister credit for accepting his part of the blame, but obviously I accept overall responsibility.

I am sure that hon. Members also accept that, as a Back Bencher, I do not have the panoply of advice available to Ministers. In all honesty, I accept the overall responsibility, and for any bad advice that I have been given from whatever source. I am not attempting to lay the blame elsewhere. I am glad that the Minister has accepted his responsibility and has done his best to put the matter right. He demonstrated that by tabling the money resolution, which is a ministerial responsibility.

I hope that the House will accept the unexceptional motion. A mistake was made but, whoever was responsible, it was made in good faith. I hope that we can proceed into Committee.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 85, Noes 0.

Division No. 150][11.48 am
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Murphy, Paul
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)Norris, Steve
Barron, KevinOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)Patchett, Terry
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterPendry, Tom
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)Pike, Peter L.
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Carrington, MatthewPrimarolo, Dawn
Chapman, SydneyQuin, Ms Joyce
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)Randall, Stuart
Clay, BobRathbone, Tim
Clwyd, Mrs AnnRichardson, Jo
Cohen, HarryRowlands, Ted
Crowther, StanRuddock, Joan
Cryer, BobSedgemore, Brian
Cummings, JohnShepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)Shersby, Michael
Dixon, DonShore, Rt Hon Peter
Dykes, HughSkinner, Dennis
Fearn, RonaldSmith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Field, Frank (Birkenhead)Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Finsberg, Sir GeoffreySmith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
Fisher, MarkSquire, Robin
Fookes, Dame JanetStanbrook, Ivor
French, DouglasStrang, Gavin
Gale, RogerStraw, Jack
Garel-Jones, TristanSummerson, Hugo
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)Trotter, Neville
Harris, DavidVaz, Keith
Haynes, FrankViggers, Peter
Heffer, Eric S.Walker, Bill (T'slde North)
Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)Waller, Gary
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)Wheeler, Sir John
Illsley, EricWilliams, Rt Hon Alan
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn)Winnick, David
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)Wise, Mrs Audrey
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Loyden, EddieTellers for the Ayes:
Macdonald, Calum A.Mr. Andrew F. Bennett and
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Dr. John Marek.
Madden, Max


Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Edward Leigh and
Mr. David Wilshire.

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the Bill be recommitted to aCommittee of the whole House in respect of clause 12.

Order read for consideration in Committee.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that the motion is debatable?

12 noon

On a separate point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I gave you notice that I intended to raise this point of order, which has nothing to do with the Consumer Guarantees Bill, although it relates to a matter of concern to the House.

I would welcome your guidance in respect of a circular letter from the Department of the Environment, which was on the board this morning, for all Members of the House, dealing with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dog registration and other matters. I do not propose to comment on the contents of the letter, but it has been brought to my attention that a number of complaints have been received from hon. Members and from hard-working Members of staff—the doorkeepers who look after the message and letter boards—about the increasing frequency of circular letters from Departments that are put on the board for all Members.

I must emphasise that I am not criticising ministerial colleagues. Presumably it is the civil servants who decide whether to send such letters. The difficulty is that that practice creates unnecessary extra work for the doorkeepers, who presumably have to deal with 650 copies of each letter. No doubt the Department is understandably seeking to save postage costs by not sending the letter through the normal postal service, addressed to individual Members at the House of Commons or at their own addresses. Although the money-saving exercise may be desirable and praiseworthy in one sense, one must ask whether it is right for the House to be burdened in this way.

Presumably it is not an urgent letter, although it may be of interest to hon. Members. If the matter were urgent, one could understand a hand-delivered message being left on the board for all hon. Members. Equally, a hand-delivered letter for a smaller number of hon. Members would be understandable. But surely a universal circular letter from a Department on a non-urgent aspect of policy should go through the normal postal service rather than being allowed to place an extra burden on the House authorities. I would welcome your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman is raising an important point. I think that he realises that it is a matter not for the Chair but for the Services Committee.

I suggest that he makes his point to that Committee and asks it to consider the matter.

Motion made, and Question Proposed, That this House do immediately resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.

This is no filibuster; it is an attempt to get some legislation out of the administrative chaos that the promoter of the Bill has created. We find ourselves debating this motion at 12.2 pm because of the chaos and mayhem for which the promoter has accepted primary responsibility. It is always encouraging when a politician stands up and says, "Mea culpa," and this morning we have heard the encouraging sound of two politicians doing so. We should congratulate both of them on their willingness to accept their share of responsibility rather than seeking to hide behind the skirts of civil servants—or even their trousers.

There is one positive reason why the Bill should not be debated in Committee this morning. By tabling amendments Nos. 133 and 134, the promoter has indicated his willingness to remove the guts of his own Bill. The Minister has made it clear from the beginning, that the Government would welcome the amendment of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and I think that the Opposition would do the same. If amendments No. 133 and 134 were carried, that is what would happen. If we delayed our debate on the Bill until the next private Members' day, we should give the promoter of the Bill the opportunity to go to the Minister, who is a very reasonable gentleman—on this and on every other matter—and ask, "Can we do a deal?" I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman went to the Minister with that progressive attitude, the Minister would be happy to do a deal.

We should not debate the measure further this morning, because we are getting into controversial style —not usually the style of the Minister or of Conservative Members generally. We have been pushed into it by the events of last night. Given that that is the case, we should give the promoter of the Bill the opportunity to go behind the Chair to talk to the Minister and see whether a compromise can be reached.

If we debate this Bill, we shall be prevented from debating the other private Members' Bills whose titles appear on the Order Paper. No doubt some hon. Members will have read the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill, which is the next Bill on the Order Paper. If we were not debating motions related to the Consumer Guarantees Bill, in this slightly cantankerous way, we should be debating that Bill and I came to the House hoping that we should be doing so. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, Raoul Wallenberg was one of the great heroes of the second world war. As a citizen of neutral Sweden——

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be tempted to discuss the next Bill, which may or may not be called today.

I hesitate to cross swords with a man of your eminence and experience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but surely we are faced with alternatives. We can carry on debating the Consumer Guarantees Bill or we can drop that Bill and go to the next item on the Order Paper, which is the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill. We must weigh the relative merits of dealing with the current Bill and of dealing with the next Bill and we can do that only if we discuss, albeit briefly, the provisions of the next Bill. Raoul Wallenberg was a great international figure——

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, but I must reiterate that this is a narrow procedural motion and he must stick to it in his speech.

Is not my hon. Friend overlooking the fact that if, as I suspect, the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill has universal appeal, we may reach later Bills, including the Local Government (Access to Information) (Disabled Persons) Bill, on which I am very keen?

My hon. Friend is right. As I hope that no one will object to the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill, we may reach later Bills, one of which is the Rape in Marriage (Offence) Bill. The Government have shown their progressive approach by announcing an inquiry. I had hoped that that Bill would be reached this morning, because it would bring the law of England and Wales into line with the law in Scotland, which would be a progressive step. My hon. Friend the Minister has a deep knowledge of Scottish law, because, like me, he lived in Glasgow for some time. He knows that Scottish law is frequently superior to the law in England and Wales and I have no doubt that he would like the law in England and Wales to be brought into line with that in Scotland on this matter.

We must examine closely the alternative before the House this morning, which is to discuss the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill. Wallenberg was a great hero of the second world war. One hundred thousand lives were saved because those people were given a Wallenberg passport——

Order. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not quite got my point. He must not anticipate Bills that may or may not be discussed later. He was perfectly in order in the first part of his speech, and I am sure that he will stick to that theme.

I must appeal against attempts to impugn my name. Perhaps the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) wishes to make a proper intervention, in which case I shall happily give way. If he does not wish to intervene, he should bow to the normal courtesy of the House and allow an hon. Member on his feet to continue to speak without uttering sedentary interventions which distract that hon. Member and affect the good humour of the House.

Both my hon. Friend and I hope that the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill will be reached. Does he agree that the best way to ensure that is to sit down and let the present Bill proceed?

I was slightly surprised when the lady who hopes to succeed my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) announced that, if she was elected to the House, she would give up acting. She should quickly learn that politicians can act too.

Order. The hon. Gentleman is being tempted, but I am sure that he will act within the rules of order of the House.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) had heard the whole of this morning's debate, he would understand that so many amendments are necessary to get the Bill into an acceptable state that, if the motion is accepted, there is no question of the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill being reached.

My hon. Friend takes the words out of my mouth. It is clear that, if we were fully to discuss the many amendments to the Bill, and especially amendments Nos. 133 and 134 which were tabled by the promoter, we would have no opportunity whatever to proceed to the long agenda before the House. We all came here to talk about the important Bills on the Order Paper, and it is essential for us to reach them. I am glad to see that the promoter is consulting his colleagues. He should consult the Minister to see whether there is a way out of this impasse.

All hon. Members have accepted the need for the Sale of Goods Act 1979 to be amended.

Can my hon. Friend give the House more guidance on this matter, because some semantics and confusion are creeping in, although I am sure that that is not his fault? Is he saying that the proposed amendments are so complicated and lengthy that there is no possibility of a compromise, or does he feel that that possibility still exists and that there is still time as the Bill has substantial support?

I am sure that there is the possibility of a compromise, but I suspect that there is not much compromise in the atmosphere today. However, if we all had a weekend in our constituencies and came back on Monday, I am sure that the spirit of compromise would prevail. My hon. Friend the Minister is a reasonable and moderate man and has made it quite clear in Committee and in the House that he would like to see the Sale of Goods Act amended. There is no doubt that the promoter would also like to see it amended, as would almost every hon. Member.

The way to do that is for the promoter of the Bill to recognise that, given the number of amendments to the Bill, we will not have an adequate chance to debate them today. I appeal to his good nature and ask him to do a deal with the Minister. Such a deal would be more likely if we did not debate the Bill today. We should defer it and move on to the Raoul Wallenberg (Memorial) Bill and the other important Bills on the Order Paper. I appeal to the hon. Gentleman not to let pride come before a fall. If he has too much pride in his creation, there is a danger that it will fall. If he adopts a moderate approach, he will make progress.

12.15 pm

I am sure that my hon. Friend does not mean to be so gratuitously rude to the promoter of the Bill. I served on the Committee that examined the Bill and, like other hon. Members, I commend the promoter for his extraordinary courtesy. He went as far as he could to meet all objections, to the extent of moving amendments to ensure that they were debated. There is no question of pride going before a fall. Some of us would have liked the promoter to be more assertive on some points, but his conduct has been exemplary.

I apologise to the promoter if I was being gratuitously offensive. That is not my style, nor that of the Minister. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) for his intervention.

I appeal to the Bill's promoter to allow the spirit of compromise to reign and to do a deal next week with the Minister. No one would then object to the Bill, subject to amendments Nos. 133 and 134 being made. That would be a much better path for the House to follow than to debate the Bill later today.

We have had a long debate on the first issue that we had to decide, which was a matter of some constitutional importance. I welcome the fact that the House has now made clear its view. We now know where we stand in terms of the principle of what we have to do to put the matter right. If we can put it right, the consumer will get a better deal in future.

Having taken that decision in principle, we now face some serious additional procedural issues arising from the motion to recommit and deal with the Bill immediately. If we pass the second motion, we will give the Bill preference over all others. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) has said, there are 24 other matters on today's Order Paper. As well as giving the Bill special treatment, we are ignoring the normal parliamentary timetable. I have often heard hon. Members complaining about not enough time being allowed or about somebody trying to steamroller legislation through the House.

Once again, we are having to consider serious procedural issues, and we have seen blood pressure rise. We saw the symptoms of that a moment ago. I have no doubt that, before I sit down, we shall hear again the allegations that this is a great waste of time.

That intervention makes my point. The Opposition are saying that the procedures about how we run the United Kingdom are a waste of time. We shall also hear them say that hon. Members were not elected to get involved in such things. This is not a waste of time, because Parliament's job is to protect the rights of a whole range of people.

In the course of one sitting, we have granted the Bill one big favour and are being asked to give it a second. As I said first time round, if I and other hon. Members are to be persuaded to vote for a second big favour we need to know the reasons. I asked four questions earlier, and I think that I got about one and a quarter answers. That is no way to treat the House. If there is a desire to get legislation through, reasons have to be given, especially on a Friday morning when the Whips are not involved.

There are more Whips on the Government side, and that is a demonstration that Conservative Members are far more ready to listen to the reasons for voting for or against.

The Government Whips are not on the Front Bench. They are busily going round trying to orchestrate a filibuster on this matter. I was told that the Government Whips were trying to mount a sophisticated exercise. Anyone who has experienced the crude filibuster this morning must know that it is aimed at wrecking part I of the Bill.

That is a fascinating intervention. When the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard, he will see that I said that there are more Government Whips in the building and in the Chamber today than Opposition Whips. I commended my hon. Friends for being here on a Friday morning willing to listen to the debate before making up their minds.

When we are asked to do favours in the House, the reasons for them must be spelled out. Some questions must be posed and answered if we are to make progress. The first issue that was raised by the Opposition is the question of wasting time. Are we wasting time?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Whenever I seek to clarify how the Opposition view these matters, they obligingly tell me that anyone who seeks to talk about the procedures of the House and the nation's constitution is wasting the time of the House. Let them continue to say that. The more that they do so, the more the people will understand what the Labour party really stands for.

My hon. Friends and I are not wasting time, and I say that for some important reasons. Private Members' Bills are the precious right of all Back-Bench Members. Back-Bench Members queue each year in their hundreds for the right to introduce a private Member's Bill, and each year 20 strike lucky. Of the 20, only six, on average, stand anything like a realistic chance of getting legislation on to the Statute book.

So fantastic is the opportunity for the first six of the 20 that I have always regarded it as sacred that the promoters with that good fortune watch every millimetre of the development of their Bills all the way through the legislative process, including—I do not wish to be unkind—money resolutions. It is entirely feasible to tell when money resolutions will appear on the Order Paper, for example. It surprises me if there is the slightest appearance of insouciance on the part of a promoter that could jeopardise his Bill, which may be wanted by many hon. Members on both sides of the House.

Is my hon. Friend rather depresesed by what he has seen? There are many desirable features of the Bill which hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome, subject to suitable amendment if there is time. Does my hon. Friend agree that what we have seen during the passage of a significant piece of legislation has been rather saddening?

I would not say that I am depressed, but I understand what my hon Friend says. I am more alarmed than depressed by the position in which we find ourselves.

In defending the rights of Back-Bench Members, it is important that the House sends a message to all those who are present this afternoon, and to those who are not, that hon. Members who are fortunate enough to secure a place in the top 20, as it were, and especially in the top six, must understand that the House will apply the same standards of scrutiny and care to their Bills as it applies to Government legislation. If it does not, private Members' occasions will become ever more sloppy and their Bills ever more badly drafted. As a result, precious opportunities to legislate will be lost. The message must be that Back-Bench Members get it right before they start.

We must speak up for all Back-Bench Members, but we must remember that there are supporters of worthy causes outside this place who have interests as well.

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that all legislation should be right before it begins its passage through this place? If so, my colleagues on the Government Front Bench might have something to answer for.

That is an interesting thesis, which I shall not pursue. If my hon. Friends and I went down that track, we might be here until next Friday. It would not then be possible to make progress.

We must consider the rights and interests of supporters of worthy causes as much as the rights and interests of Back-Bench Members. As I have said, hundreds of Back-Bench Members queue every year to take their chance in the ballot, and at the same time there are hundreds of good ideas queueing up every year. Almost all those ideas would, in some shape or form, make for a better Britain. Only 20 of all the many good ideas will ever get into print in any one year, and of the 20 only half a dozen are likely to take their place on the statute book.

However, each of the hundreds of ideas, if implemented, stands some chance of righting a wrong, and each one will help individuals who have particular problems. Most important of all, each idea has the backing of enthusiastic supporters. We must consider the enthusiastic supporters of the Bill that is before us, including enthusiastic Members, but at the same time we must take account of and speak up for those who support causes that have not secured first place in the ballot.

If we are tempted to give special treatment over and over again to one cause, we are in danger of riding roughshod over the interests of other Back-Bench Members. We are in danger also of turning a deaf ear to those who have good causes who have not been lucky enough to persuade six of our collegues to take them on board.

We must protect the rights of Back-Bench Members, the sponsors of private Bills that are designed to further worthy causes and the members of pressure groups, but we must consider whether it is important to take time to deal with procedural issues when there are matters that other hon. Members wish to pursue so that other private Members' Bills can find their way on to the statute book. I believe that we should give attention to procedural matters.

To recommit the Bill now would be to fly in the face of the normal timetables of the House. I have not been in this place long enough to be a procedural expert, but as I understand it there have to be several days between a Second Reading, a money resolution and consideration in Committee. That has been the procedure since I have been in the House. Good reasons have always been advanced why any proposals to rush legislation through the House should not be entertained.

There are two reasons why it is important to have a breathing space in this instance. The motion relates only to clause 12, but it takes us back, in effect, to Second Reading, which took place on the general understanding that the Bill did not involve public expenditure. That was the premise on Second Reading. That was the premise when we considered each clause in Committee. As a result of the Division earlier this morning, however, we know now that public expenditure is involved. I did not feel satisfied, and I am not now, that only clause 12 would involve public expenditure. I consider that the premise on Second Reading has been undermined. It is important, therefore, that every hon. Member should be given appropriate time to consider whether the view that he or she took on Second Reading is the view, bearing in mind what has happened this morning, that he or she will wish to take in future.

Even if hon. Members are satisfied on the generality of the Bill, what is the position of clause 12 now that we know that public expenditure is involved? Only half an hour ago, the House decided that clause 12 was different from the rest of the Bill and should be considered again. Normally, half an hour is entirely inadequate to decide whether we should vote for or against something, especially when the rules seem to have been changed.

On both counts, the normal procedures of the House matter. There should be time for all hon. Members to consider their position. Fewer than 90 Members voted this morning, and many hon. Members are not here and thus are not able to consider whether they wish to vote one way or the other. We must bear in mind the fact that every hon. Member is now involved. The vote was for the whole House to consider the Bill, rather than just a Standing Committee. Although some members of the Standing Committee are here who have had the opportunity to consider the issues and can probably contribute again, every other hon. Member now has a stake in what we are doing.

12.30 pm

All those hon. Members who are not present, who received the National Consumer Council briefing at the outset, were told in words of one syllable on page 2 of the briefing that no public expenditure was involved——

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying somewhat into remarks that would have been in order on the money resolution last night. I remind him and the House that all we have to decide is whether to consider the Bill in Committee now.

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. That underlines the point, that no hon. Member was willing or able, or present with the necessary information, to pursue the question last night. It is vital—certainly when we discuss clause 12—that we look in detail at whether the expenditure is adequate. I willingly accept your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

As far as I can see, Mr. Deputy Speaker, even within the terms of your guidance on the narrowness of the motion, we still need answers to questions. Why is the Bill so much more important than 25 other measures? Just because it has a strong pressure group and that pressure group has easy access to the television, must we give it preference over everything else? [HON. MEMBERS: "It came first in the ballot."] That was one of my earlier points. Coming first in the ballot gives an hon. Member the first chance to do something. It is a privilege and a piece of luck, and the hon. Member must get it right. The further up the ballot he is, the more right he must be on the first occasion.

It is unfair to other Back Benchers—Nos. 2 to 20 in the ballot, and all those who were not lucky enough to reach the top 20—to say that, just because one hon. Member has reached No. 1 in the ballot, the others do not matter, and to demand a second or third go. The promoter must tell us, if we are to vote with him, why the Bill is so much more important than all the other measures that have come before the House in this Session.

It is more important because it will protect the rights of consumers, extend to them a right that they have not had before and put industry right on quality control. That is far more important than any legislation with which we have dealt in this whole Session.

That is a fascinating point. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friends have been saying from sedentary positions, there is an amendment to come that will undermine that.

As we have said repeatedly, no one dissents from the statement that the Bill's objectives are good. It will help people and improve competition. However, before we come to the details of that, we must be clear whether those objectives—however laudable—should be allowed to ride roughshod over the procedures of the House, the rights of Back Benchers and the rights of pressure groups, lobbyists and others with good ideas. We must have answers. Simply asserting that the Bill is better than all the others is not good enough. Why should we give it a second chance this morning at half an hour's notice?

I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) and with the similar arguments deployed by our hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) who is not in the Chamber at present, against an immediate Committee stage for clause 12. I hope that the promoter does not misunderstand my motives. I have expressed my distress that a potentially important piece of legislation has, for whatever reason, been deliberately mishandled. I am sorry to have to put it like that. Mistakes have been made. As I was not a member of the Standing Committee, I shall refrain from referring presumptuously to all the details.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has followed our proceedings in immaculate detail, as he always does. That is due to his pristine legal training some years ago. I do not suggest that he is not still a young man, but he was even younger then. That legal training led him to appreciate the importance of attention to detail.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne was correct in a number of aspects, but I disagree with the fundamentals of his argument. He and others of my hon. Friends said that to win the ballot was precious; that even to follow each centimetre would be too wide, and that we must follow each millimetre of the process.

The Government are known for their robust attitude in a number of policy areas, and it is no apology for them to say that, by and large, they are opposed to private Members' legislation. It is wrong to suppose that Mr. Nice Guy—I do not necessarily refer to the promoter—can say that it does not matter if there are a few accidents in Committee because when the crunch comes everything will be put right in later stages of the Bill. Legislation is a complex business. We know that civil servants do not like private Members' Bills. They regard them as an impertinent intrusion into public life, where legislation is drafted rather badly by civil servants, pursued rather badly by Ministers and taken through to what we usually end up with—bad legislation which needs repealing or adjusting. That is the entrancing aspect of our system. It is no use any promoter saying that the real world is unfair because that is how it is in the mother of Parliaments. This is a robust parliamentary assembly where people watch every point. I see you nod your assent, Madam Deputy Speaker——

Order. I must correct the hon. Gentleman. I am speaking to my Clerk. I have nothing to add to what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

I am grateful for that comment, Madam Deputy Speaker, which was very interesting. I am making only a short speech, but I entertain the modest hope that you will nod at one or two of my assertions if I am on the right lines. I always look to the Chair for the psychological guidance that we all seek on such occasions.

I have tabled some amendments and I would like them to be debated if there is time. I am in favour of the broad outline of the Bill, subject to a number of crucial amendments to which I hope that the Government will respond positively. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister has already hinted that they will. Therefore, we should move on to Committee stage immediately.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) worries me a little. He is universally regarded as an honourable Member of the House and he handled the Committee stage with a degree of politeness——

My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West, handled the Committee with politeness and generosity. The Committee had three or four sittings. This may be a complex Bill, but that is still a hefty Committee stage to debate amendments and clauses. It is not as though there was just one stage and then it was noticed that there were serious flaws. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would admit that the stages prior to the painful muddle in which we now find ourselves, whatever the cause, were fair and acceptable.

The hon. Gentleman intervened a few minutes ago to suggest that the Bill was unique and that nothing else in the ballot mattered. He suggested that it was the only significant piece of legislation this Session.

I was referring to Government legislation, not to private Members' Bills.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's correction. I thought that he meant that. I wish that I had been a member of the Committee, because then I could have enjoyed his very attractive demeanour. I can understand why people are keen to see his Bill progress.

When I had the good fortune to be second in the ballot some years ago—I shall not say when, as it was a long time ago—my Bill eventually became an Act. It is now known as the Dykes Act. Some people have unkindly remarked that it is a good cure for insomnia, because anyone who starts reading it is guaranteed to doze off in five minutes flat. In any event, it was a very worthy piece of legislation, and I am very proud of it. In the beginning, the then Government were hostile to my Bill, but we brought them around and they eventually supported it. All the majesty of the Civil Service came into play in respect of the drafting—I always remember the phrase, "Lending you a spare pen." It was very helpful and I received endless advice.

There was a psychological transformation when the Administration came on to the scene, using all the impressive power available to any Government to support what I considered to be a very worthy measure. Nevertheless, I did not take the view that the Administration were obliged to provide that assistance because my Bill was a unique piece of legislation and it would be an appalling state of affairs if it did not become law. I did not take the view either that the Bills behind mine in the ballot were of no importance. It is usually said that the first six Bills to be successful in the ballot have a reasonably good chance of reaching the statute book, depending on their subject matter and proposals.

I hope that the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West does not think I am giving him a condescending lecture when I say to him and to his right hon. and hon. Friends that their attitude is also important.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those of us who are sympathetic to the broad concepts of the Bill feel that it goes rather too wide and that they should make their concern known to the promoter? Does my hon. Friend agree also that it is sometimes necessary to compromise if a Bill is to succeed?

Yes, my hon. Friend makes with greater eloquence the point that I tried feebly to make earlier. In textual and constructional terms the end result may look different from the Bill that one originally devised or had drafted by parliamentary agents, but that is all part of the process. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) that it would be marvellous if this Parliament were mature enough to undertake the same searching examinations of Government Bills. The attitude of any Administration—I am not getting at the present one and my right hon. and hon. Friends know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of most aspects of Government policy and action—is to regard their own legislation as being beyond close scrutiny. We all go through the motions, of course, and there are times when any Government have to concede a point, but the Government really want Members of Parliament to pay only the slightest amount of attention to their proposals and then turn up for the 10 o'clock Division on Second Reading and support a Bill through all its other stages.

However, in the case of a private Member's Bill—here I have sympathy with the promoter—the Government undertake a massive search of every word and every line, and keep saying, "This clause hasn't been properly drafted." We pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills for his work in trying to improve the constitutional behaviour of this House. We know of endless examples of badly drafted, inadequately thought-out clauses which later have had to be altered. They are not even part of the usual alternance, to use a French phrase, of the party battle, when a new Government repeal the previous Administration's legislation. That is one of the cruder aspects of political life, but I refer more to this House, the realities of Government attitudes, careless drafting and so on. A promoter is entitled to say, "My Bill deserves just treatment because it is in proper order." That may be the consequence of the efforts of the Public Bill Office, which is very helpful, a parliamentary agent or draftsman, or intervention by expert Government draftsmen. At present, we are only debating an immediate Committee stage, which I favour, in respect of clause 12—the others having been dealt with. There are other amendments on other clauses and I should refer to them if it were not out of order to do so.

1 knew that you would say that, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I am grateful to you for reminding the whole House of that fact.

That is the spirit of most of the amendments and it is interesting to note that they have mostly been proposed by Conservative Members. My colleagues take a great interest in this subject. I wish that more Opposition Members had been here today to support the motion.

A number of the amendments would produce significant improvements in legal, juridical and operational aspects of the Bill. That end could have been served if the Bill had been handled correctly so far. There is still time for the Committee stage on clause 12 to take place. It need not take up much time. We could then make further progress and I am strongly in favour of that.

12.45 pm

I have seen a number of damascene conversions in the course of my membership of the House and I have watched my hon. Friends' activities with enthusiasm today. They have identified two procedural problems and they are right to do so. I do not think that any hon. Member can complain when hon. Members use procedural techniques in relation to measures that they wish to oppose, but I wish that there were a little more even-handedness. It is not unfamiliar to my memory that the Government occasionally make cock-ups, but our natural instinct is to appreciate that a measure is important and that we should therefore try to find ways to move the business of the House forward.

The question before us is whether we continue with the Bill. That is really what it is about. I judge from debates in Committee, on Second Reading and today that there is a body of my colleagues who do not like the Bill. They feel that it is fundamentally flawed. I am not trying to apportion blame or credit but to observe that that has a relevance to whether we should debate the motion now.

I have watched the Whips, with their usual vigour on a Friday morning, scurrying around to point out observations and arguments which might be of use in prolonging the debate. I have watched the hon. Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), who was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister in Committee, trying to further the argument on the procedural debate about whether the Bill should proceed. I judge from all those activities, and from the curious statement by my hon. Friend——

I should correct my hon. Friend on the role of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown). I assumed that he was Parliamentary Private Secretary to the hon. Member for Gainsburgh and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh).

My hon. Friend's eye roved further. The hon. Member was extending the role of a Parliamentary Private Secretary to give counsel to others.

When we weigh up whether it is appropriate to continue with the Bill and the amendment on the Floor of the House we should weigh the various forces that have contributed to the present position and whether it is worth supporting the motion.

I have come to the conclusion that the Minister was deeply opposed to the Bill from the beginning. He felt that it was not appropriate to make that argument about the details and areas of error straight out, but he was fundamentally opposed to the Bill. To bring it to an end, he used a technique—I make no complaint because I, too, have tried to move a Bill through the Chamber—which elicited a response less characteristic of the traditions of the House but which achieved the same object.

The Minister takes the view that the Bill must not proceed. He tried to talk it out, but the House decided, through the procedural motions in Second Reading, that the Bill should go to Committee. Then the Minister sat through Committee giving neither guidance nor help despite the extraordinary generosity and kindness of the promoter of the Bill who always wanted to know in what way he could meet the objections. The Official Report of the Committee proceedings shows that amendments were passed. The promoter of the Bill attempted to address those questions in Committee. The Minister must have been aware for some time that a money resolution would be required. I regret that I was unaware of the fact that a money resolution would be needed. The question is whether we should be discussing it now. The use of procedural devices will ensure that the Bill does not proceed today, so it is doomed.

Can my hon. Friend say what, in his judgment, led the promoter of the Bill to table amendments Nos. 133 and 134 which seek to delete the major part of his own Bill?

Order. Before the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd) and the Minister go down that road, I must emphasise that the only question before the House is whether the House should resolve itself immediately into a Committee of the whole House. I hope that hon. Members will address the very narrow question that is before the House.

I am trying to keep within those narrow confines, Madam Deputy Speaker. If the House agreed to that motion, we should be unable to raise many matters. I do not know on what basis the Government have raised such fundamental objections to the Bill, but they have led the entire Whips Office to gee itself up and scuttle around today, which means that the Bill is doomed. However, the Government have not put forward their arguments openly. I regret that we have been unable to discover what the Government's objections are—other than the fact that people outside this place, who have not been named, fear the Bill. As they would not come up front and discuss the matter, it is fruitless to consider the Bill now. The Minister has made it clear that he does not intend to allow the Bill to pass. We should therefore not continue to discuss it but acknowledge the means by which the Minister made his point and got his way.

I came to the House this morning—as, I am sure, did many other hon. Members—and gave up a number of constitutional engagements in the hope that we would reach the Tax Relief for Household Employers Bill, which I introduced to the House under the ten-minute rule. Had I had any inkling that the House would spend such an inordinate amount of time on the Consumer Guarantees Bill, I should not have bothered to come. My morning could have been spent more profitably.

The Bill that I introduced has attracted a great deal of attention throughout the country. I cannot speak to it now; that would be out of order. However, the drafting of the Consumer Protection Bill must have been incompetent; as a result of which we are spending an enormous amount of time on a procedural matter.

The National Consumer Council is receiving £2 million of taxpayers' money to fund its activities, and it has persuaded the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) to promote the Bill. Surely, therefore, if it knows its job, it should have thrashed out all these points——

Order. I dislike having to be heavy-handed when I am in the Chair, but this is a very narrow motion. All that we are debating is whether clause 12 should be immediately considered in a Committee of the whole House.

As one of the hon. Members whose Bill is listed for today, I am sorry about that, because it means that those of us who had attended for other purposes will be crowded out.

I have said that I feel strongly that the Bill should go back upstairs into Committee, so that it can be properly considered and all the important matters can be examined. I should like to ask my hon. Friend the Minister exactly what the position will be if the House decides that the Bill should go back upstairs so that all these matters can be thrashed out. I came here this morning with a view to supporting the Bill.

My understanding is that the House has made a decision of principle to recommit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House. The only decision that we have to take is whether we do that now or subsequently. I hope that that helps my hon. Friend.

It helps me enormously. Obviously there will not be time to conduct the Committee stage of the Bill on the Floor of the House. Is there any possibility of a way being found to get the Bill back into Committee upstairs, as we have come across a number of serious pitfalls?

Is not the reality of what we have just heard from my hon. Friend the Minister that, if we do not debate the Bill today, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will need to find another time for the whole House to debate it?

Order. This is a private Member's Bill; therefore, it is debated in private Members time.

The only decision we are taking now is whether we proceed with the Bill in Committee here. That is the narrow decision we are taking now.

I am sorry for causing a slight side track.

I came here hoping to go through some of the arguments on Report. As I have said on a number of occasions, I support many aspects of the Bill. I support it in principle as there is a great deal of good in it, but I am saddened by the complications that have been thrown up today.

It goes without saying that, had the Government found themselves in the same predicament with one of their less controversial Bills such as the Water Bill or the Bill dealing with the poll tax system, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister described it the other day, Opposition Members would have been going berserk. They would have been going haywire and seizing every possible opportunity to filibuster and reprimand the Minister and his officials for not spotting that discrepancy. Opposition Members cannot complain about hon. Members such as myself, who came here this morning hoping to participate and to play a constructive part in the debate only to find total chaos and that people evidently have not done their homework.

I hope that we can find some way of proceeding constructively so that we can examine the Bill in detail with the right amount of time. If we try to rush it through this morning, we shall be issuing hostages to fortune and setting a very bad example indeed.

Order. May I make it quite clear to the House that our only concern this morning is whether we immediately resolve ourselves into a Committee on the Bill to debate clause 12? That is the only thing that we are discussing.

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it not also the case that the decision to commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House has been taken, so that the only question is whether that is done now? If it is not done now, is it not the case that it will not happen at all?

I wish to oppose the motion, and take as my text the words on the flysheet of the twentieth edition of "Erskine May" which are addressed not to the current Speaker but

"To The Right Honourable George Thomas, MP Speaker of the House of Commons, and to The Speakers of the Commonwealth, within whose hands the priceless heritage of Parliament is securely held".
It is strange that in the current edition of "Erskine May" those words have been changed to:
"The Speakers and Officers of Commonwealth Parliaments, all of whom guard the precious heritage of Parliamentary government."
"Priceless" is much stronger than "precious".

I oppose the motion because of the word "now" and because written notice has not been given. As a result, colleagues have not had an opportunity to study the issue or come to the debate. To convince the House of my view, I have researched all such motions since 1945. I hope that the House will forgive me if I refer to what has happened in the past, but it is germane to our decision whether to approve the motion. I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you do not have the 20th edition of "Erskine May". No doubt your Clerks can find you a copy.

1 pm

We can exclude two groups. There are motions, of which there were apparently many before the 1960s, to recommit a Bill at the beginning of its Report stage to a Committee of the whole House in respect of specific amendments. Apart from the fact that that practice was discontinued in the 1960s, it does not cover this matter. The second group of recommittal motions can also be discounted as they concern the recommittal of hybrid Bills, and we are not talking about one today.

In deciding whether we should commit the Bill to a Committee of the whole House now, we should consider that written notice has not been given. I address my remarks specifically to why we should not commit the Bill because written notice has not been given. A Bill may be recommitted
"to enable a new clause to be added to the bill when the House, on report, has passed the stage at which new clauses are taken."
That has happened in the past and we could proceed along those lines. New clauses are taken at the beginning of report stage before any amendments to the Bill.

Such a recommittal motion would require written notice. In the past, such a procedure has been used to recommit a Bill, but in this case no written notice has been given. Because of that, it would not be fair to rely on that purpose.

Secondly a Bill my be recommitted
"to enable the committee to take advantage of an instruction from the House to make amendments which would otherwise be outside the scope of the bill."
We are not talking about amendments outside the scope of the Bill, so this does not fall into that procedure. I understand that, again, the recommittal motion would require written notice so that the House could be properly informed of the amendments. No written notice has been given.

Order. The House has agreed the recommittal motion. The hon. Gentleman should stop referring to it.

Surely we are now talking about whether the motion should take effect now. I am coming to that point.

Finally, a Bill may be recommitted
"to enable the committee to reconsider amendments they had previously made."
We could perhaps use that procedure now. "Erskine May" cites the Education Bill 1970, when the Opposition defeated the Government in Standing Committee on the motion, That clause 1 stand part, thus effectively crippling the Bill. The Government moved to recommit the Bill to the same Standing Committee with a permissive instruction to the effect that it had power to put back clause 1. Once again, notice was given.

I rest my case on that. We should not allow this part of the Bill to be debated now, because no written notice has been given. I have gone through the precedents and, as far as I can tell—I am not a constitutional expert and others in the House know considerably more that I do—there is no precedent to recommit a Bill to a Committee of the whole House, which is what we have just done, or any precedent for this motion. No doubt, Madam Deputy Speaker, you can be advised by your Clerks, but that is the worrying point.

This matter is serious because a number of other Bills have been listed for consideration after this one. As well as that I have tabled a number of amendments to the Bill. If we were to discuss the matter now it would take up a great deal of time. A large amount of public money is involved and, given that it is past 1 pm, there is virtually no chance of the Bill reaching Report Stage. If that were the case, I would have no opportunity to discuss my amendments. For those reasons, and the procedural motions I have discussed, I believe that we should not deal with the Bill now. We should allow written notice to be given and come back to it on another Friday.

The matters that we are discussing are important, and it is right for them to deserve the attention of the House.

We are reminded this morning that the Bill obtained its Second Reading because more than 100 people were here to support it. That point was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd), who has always been a supporter of the Bill, who voted for it on Second Reading and who participated in its Committee proceedings.

It is interesting that, this morning, on the vote on the recommittal to a Committee of the whole House, only 85 hon. Members went through the Lobby in support. Many of them must have been my hon. Friends, because there have been precious few Opposition Members present all day. It looks as though enthusiasm for the Bill is declining. As it has proceeded through its different stages, it appears that fewer people have been prepared to be present to support it. That probably reflects the level of support and interest it has commanded outside the House. If the evidence of the postbag is anything to go by, there is little support for the Bill. That has given me comfort in my less than enthusiastic support for it—again noted by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills.

We must decide whether the House should now resolve itself into a Committee to deal with the important matter of clause 12. I can appreciate why my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) believes that we should let the Bill go through now so that we can get on to more important things.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind me saying that, given the bad acoustics, it would be easier if he addressed Mr. Deputy Speaker rather than talking to me. The acoustics are so lousy that I cannot hear much of what he is saying.

What a pity that we can no longer look at the colleague to whom we are addressing our remarks. I am conscious of what my hon. Friend has said, so, if he will forgive me, I shall talk out of my right ear so to speak in the hope that he can follow my remarks.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate asked why we could not let the Bill go through now. However, problems associated with the late appearance of the money resolution, referred to earlier, as well as problems associated with clause 12, must be considered. We must consider whether to go into Committee now so that we can address those matters, especially as we have yet to consider the money resolution in any detail given that it received its formal approval last night.

We must decide whether we are able now to deal with the money resolution and everything that flows from it. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has already asked whether other hon. Members could now participate in a Committee of the whole House. Do they know that that is about to happen?

Apart from anything else, we do not have a Treasury Minister present, but we may well want such a Minister to advise us on the implications of the money resolution. I could do my best on behalf of the Government, but I am not completely confident of dealing with all the matters that might arise as a result of that money resolution in the absence of a colleague from the Treasury.