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Aircraft And Shipbuilding Industries Bill (Mr Speaker's Ruling)

Volume 912: debated on Wednesday 26 May 1976

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

Yesterday afternoon I gave a ruling in relation to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, in reply to a point of order raised by the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop). This ruling was directed to the matters raised by the hon. Member in a written statement which he had been kind enough to give me earlier yesterday. However, in his oral point of order the hon. Member put forward new matter of which I had not hitherto been made aware.

I promised to make further inquiries and to make a statement when the Bill was reached. I have carried out my undertaking and have received representations from both sides of the House.

After long and anxious thought, I now rule that the Bill under discussion is prima facie hybrid.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Michael Foot)


May I first thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the way in which you received the representations that several of us made to you on this subject.

In view of your statement, it is clearly impossible for the House of Commons to proceed with the Bill today. But may I make it also equally clear—and I hope the House will agree with this—that the House should have the earliest possible opportunity of deciding how we proceed with the Bill.

The jobs and the livelihood of many people are involved—[Interruption.] We at least, Mr. Speaker, are not prepared to put those jobs and the livelihood of people at risk. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, the Government propose to table, as first business tomorrow, a motion which the House can decide to accept or to reject, whichever it wishes. It is for the House to decide. But the motion will have the full backing of the Government. Our motion reads as follows:
"That, in view of the grave consequences for the industries concerned and for those employed in them of further delay and uncertainty in further proceedings on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, the consideration of the application thereto of the provisions of any Standing Order relating to Private Business be dispensed with."

Is the Lord President addressing you, Mr. Speaker, on a point of order or is he making a Business Statement to the House? It is not clear to me which is happening.

I think that it is a little of both. But the Lord President was making a statement arising out of my ruling, and I think that he should be allowed to finish.

If the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) would prefer it, I can say that it is a statement about the business of the House. It is a statement which I began by saying that I did not believe that we could proceed now with the business on the Order Paper, and I was seeking—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I had risen on a point of order, but I was under the impression that the Lord President had preceded me on a point of order. I think, therefore, that this is the correct moment to thank you for the consideration which you were—

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Tiverton next. I think that we should allow the Lord President to finish what he was saying.

If I might continue with my statement, I was not making it on a point of order because I believed that it would have been a bogus point of order. I was rising to comment, Mr. Speaker, on your statement—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the statement of the Lord President—[HON. MEMBERS: "He has not finished yet."] In view of that statement, is not the right hon. Gentleman admitting that the Bill has to go to a Select Committee? That being so, is there any point in his continuing to talk about what he would like to happen, as opposed to what has to happen under the rules of the House?

The answer to that question is that it is customary, when a ruling is made which affects the House and Government business, that an opportunity for a statement follows. I suggest that we hear what the Lord President has to say, and then we can hear another point of view.

I was seeking to give the House the very first opportunity to hear the Government's view about how we should proceed, in view of your statement, Mr. Speaker. I was indicating to the House how the House of Commons itself could deal with this problem tomorrow—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Of course, it will be open to the House to decide—[Interruption.] It will be open to the House to decide this matter not by shouting but by votes. In the course of the debate tomorrow, in order to remove any element of doubt on the subject of hybridity—[HON. MEMBERS: "There is no doubt."]—the Government would at Report stage—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hesitate to interrupt the Lord President again, but I understood that you, Mr. Speaker, had given a ruling about the hybridity of the Bill. Therefore, it is not in the mouth of the right hon. Gentleman to challenge it now.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) has put it to you in terms that what the Lord President is saying is a challenge to your ruling. There can be no question about whether the rules apply. Will you rule accordingly?

I have already given a ruling to the House, and that ruling stands. But I think that it is only an act of courtesy to listen to the Leader of the House.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you rule whether it is in order for the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and several others—

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover. I shall try to get it right this time. Will you rule, Mr. Speaker, whether it is in order for the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and several other Opposition Members to use terms such as those which have been used in the past five minutes, including "Leader of the Reichstag" and "Fascist"—[Interruption.]—

Order. The House is not behaving with any credit to itself. I was about to say that I wanted to hear the point of order to its end, but I think that the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Sedgemore) has made his point. The House knows that I deprecate the hurling of abuse across the Chamber. I hope that the Lord President will be allowed to conclude his statement.

May I say that—[HON. MEMBERS: "Resign!"]—as I am sure you, Mr. Speaker, would be eager to confirm, I have said nothing which is in any sense a challenge to your ruling—

As I am sure you would be the first to confirm, Mr. Speaker, I have said nothing which is a challenge to your ruling. I am simply proposing to the House that we should have a motion tomorrow—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheat!"] I am proposing that we should have a motion tomorrow which can deal—

What I am proposing is that the House of Commons tomorrow should have the opportunity to deal with the consequences of your ruling, Mr. Speaker—the consequences for people in the shipyards and in the aircraft industry in this country. Our recommendation tomorrow, on which the House of Commons itself will be able to pronounce judgment, is that we should be able to proceed with this Bill with utmost speed. [HON. MEMBERS: "You are cheating."] As I was saying when I was interrupted by two bogus points of order—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is bad enough surely that the right hon. Gentleman should challenge your view that there is a hybrid Bill before the House. Even worse is the fact that he is suggesting that those who believe that we should follow the procedure for hybrid Bills should be ridden over by the Government.

Order. I hope that the House will listen to the remainder of the Lord President's speech.

As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, to remove any element of doubt from the subject—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I think that what the right hon. Gentleman has just said confirms that he is challenging your ruling. I do not believe there can be anyone in this House who detected an element of doubt in what you ruled.

I have heard no challenge to my ruling. The House has heard my ruling but now the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to put his point of view.

I will take this point of order but I must point out that points of order which are not really points of order hold up the business of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has a genuine point of order.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the fact that no progress is being made on this matter and that tempers are heated, would you suspend the sitting and reconvene the House when everyone has cooled down?

This is a matter for my judgment. The House surely can do now what it could do in 10 or 20 minutes' time.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Leader of the House is dealing now with what he thinks or expects will happen tomorrow. In 10 minutes' time there is a meeting of the Committee of Selection. You have said that this Bill is hybrid, and in 10 minutes' time we should be discussing whether we should set up another Committee—this time a Select Committee—to look at this Bill as a result of the ruling you have given.

I have ruled that it is prima facie a hybrid Bill. Now I want the Lord President to complete his statement.

I was trying to tell the House when I was interrupted how the Government believe we should proceed with this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Our, out."] What I suggested, which is apparently so objectionable to some hon. Members, was that we should have a full debate on the matter tomorrow. [HON. MEMBERS: "No. You are cheating."] That seems a perfectly reasonable proposition to me. That debate would arise on a motion which I have already read to the House.

What I was indicating to the House when I was interrupted was that there is no challenge to your ruling, Mr. Speaker—and you have confirmed that. To remove any element of doubt about the state of hybridity—[HON. MEMBERS: "There is no doubt."]—we would at the Report stage be willing to introduce the necessary amendment to make the technical change. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] If hon. Members opposite had listened a bit earlier they might have learned something. I am suggesting that we debate it tomorrow. If we do, I believe that we shall be able to overcome these technical difficulties and at the same time proceed speedily and get this Bill on to the statute book.

I now come to the business for today. As I said earlier, clearly we cannot make progress with the Bill today. [HON. MEMBERS: "Never."] We have to await the House of Commons decision tomorrow. It would not be convenient to proceed with the Industry (Amendment) Bill, which is also on the Order Paper for today, so I will ask the House to consider today the Second Reading of the Bail Bill [Lords], followed by the Public Lending Right Bill [Lords].

This is the first time in my experience that there has been such an objection to inviting the House of Commons to settle a matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sieg heil!"] That is what we are proposing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Resign!"] That is what we are proposing—

That is what we are proposing. Only those who are afraid of the merits of that debate will fear the debate.

I think that the events this afternoon have shown that it may have been wiser if my point of order had followed your statement immediately, Mr. Speaker, before the Leader of the House presumed to make his hybrid speech. I am extremely grateful to you for the hours you and your advisers spent honouring the undertaking you gave the House yesterday afternoon. I thank you for the care with which you looked at the objective and ascertainable facts presented to you, and the care with which you looked at the rulings of your predecessors. What you have confirmed with your ruling is that this is not a matter of a mere technicality as the Leader of the House has suggested.

The hybrid Bill procedure exists to protect the rights of minorities and to secure that equality before the law which you, Mr. Speaker, rightly recommended to Members both of this House and of our sister Assembly in the United States of America when you spoke on behalf of all of us in Westminster Hall this morning.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in what he said. With regard to the second point, I understand the position to be that when I have made the ruling, my part finishes, and the House itself then takes over.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to you for your ruling. However, I presume that it is in order to put one or two questions on the' Business Statement made by the Leader of the House.

Is the Leader of the House aware that if there is uncertainty in the shipbuilding industry, that is because of the introduction of this Bill? If there has been bungling over the Bill, the bungling is that of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman is proposing—as someone who has been posturing round this place for years and years as a lover of the House of Commons—to introduce a motion to get round a Speaker's ruling and to defeat the whole purpose of this House. His right course is either to withdraw the Bill or to treat it as a hybrid Bill, which it has been ruled to be.

If the right hon. Gentleman seriously thinks that the difficulties in the shipbuilding industry have been caused by this Bill, he can know precious little about shipbuilding. What I have proposed for the House tomorrow is a debate in which we can discuss the matter. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should keep an open mind until he has heard the case.

What would really be cheating would be to deny the ship workers of this country what they have been fighting for over all these years.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This is a different point of order, which I believe to be genuine. The Government have announced that they intend to introduce a motion which is designed to alter the procedure of the House during the passage of a Bill. That is wholly inconsistent with the practice and constitution of this country. Will you please, Mr. Speaker, at your leisure, consider this matter and make a ruling before the debate tomorrow whether it is proper and in keeping with our constitution for a procedure of this importance, as stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), designed to protect the interests of minorities, to be thus altered during the passage of a Bill? This is the vital point. If the procedure is altered at all, it should be altered at another time, when there is no Bill that is being affected by the change of procedure.

I respectfully submit this matter to you, Mr. Speaker, as I believe that it is an important and valid point requiring your adjudication.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Of course we would certainly be prepared to accept any ruling from you whether the motion which I have proposed is out of order. But as far as I am aware, it is fully in order, and the House of Commons itself can decide the matter. I should like to have your ruling on the subject.

Order. I have been asked to give a ruling. I can only say that if the motion is in order, as it appears to be, it is not for me to interfere with either side of the House putting a motion on the Order Paper. The House itself will decide.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to get this straight. Are we on points of order, as we appear to have been for some time, or is this now a debate on what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has been saying? If it is a debate, some of us want to get in, too. If we are on points of order, let the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition start by saying that, so that we know where we stand.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member long enough to know that after a ruling such as I have given, a short Business Statement was necessary for the House.

The Lord President fought his way through and made a business statement concerning tomorrow, and I have now called the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition.

We have rules of the House, Mr. Speaker, so that we do not have arbitrary government. If the Leader of the House is proposing to set those aside at 24 hours' notice, he is signalling the end of parliamentary democracy and the beginning of arbitrary government. May I ask the Leader of the House to consider this not only as a matter affecting the aircraft and shipbuilding industries but as a matter affecting the whole future of parliamentary democracy, and to think very carefully before he puts down on the Order Paper the motion that he has read out?

As you have confirmed, Mr. Speaker, the motion that I have read out is fully in order. The House of Commons itself can make its decision tomorrow. For the right hon. Lady to describe that as an attack on parliamentary democracy is parliamentary absurdity.

What the Leader of the House is proposing to do is to make the House the instrument of Government instead of their watchdog.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be aware that much of the indignation that is based on the fact that the Bill is now shown to be a hybrid Bill could be overcome by putting down a small amendment which defines a ship as a ship and a rig as a rig, and that that is what all this stuff and nonsense is about.

Order. I must tell the House that we shall soon be moving on to the next business.

Can either the Lord President or you, Mr. Speaker, say what is now to be the fate of the petition which has been presented by a petitioner to this House, in line with the rights of individuals for the past 500 years, and of those rights which will be overridden if the right hon. Gentleman's motion tomorrow should be passed by the House on its first stage towards an assembly subservient to the Executive?

All these matters are open for debate tomorrow. The Government have given the House the earliest possible opportunity to discuss this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Cheating."] To describe that as an interference with the rights of the House is an absurdity.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you confirm that, right or wrong and whether the House should have done something about it or not, it is common—it happens perhaps once a fortnight—for a motion to stand on the Order Paper and to be passed which begins with some such words as

"Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the procedures and practices of the House…"?
Whether it ought to be or not, the House is accustomed to using exactly this device to suspend its Standing Orders, and that is what is being proposed in this case.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Am I not right in thinking that the procedural motions which the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) has just described are normally used only to deal with procedures of this House? The difference in this case is that the procedural motion which we are discussing will be used to damage the interests of private persons outside this House.

Can the Leader of the House tell us whether his motion will include in the nationalisation plans that part of the company which the Government have undertaken to an American firm will not be nationalised or will exclude it, thereby doing grave injustice to other private concerns?

If the motion which we propose is carried, discussion of the Bill will proceed in the House. It will include what I have already stated and the kind of amendment to which I have referred. I believe that all this heat will very quickly evaporate. [Hon. Members: "No."] Far from interfering with people's individual rights we are doing this in order to give rights to people.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I was one of the Ministers responsible when this Bill was first being discussed and that I know that discussions took place on the question of hybridity? The Ministers who were responsible went out of their way to ask advice from ministerial lawyers because we wanted it made clear that we should, in all circumstances, avoid any hybridity.

Is it not clear that there has been an unfortunate error for which my right hon. Friend holds no responsibility? Is it not also clear that workers in the shipyards—I worked in a shipyard for many years myself—are quite aware what a ship is and what an oil rig is? They know that an oil rig is an oil rig and a ship is a ship.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the average worker in the shipyards will not understand the niceties and technicalities of a hybrid Bill? Jobs and the future of the industry could be put in jeopardy. If there is a disaster in this industry, the workers will put the full responsibility on the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and his colleagues.

My hon. Friend is correct in everything he has said. Perhaps I could refer particularly to what he said about the original Bill and the attempts to discover whether there was any element of hybridity in it. I gather that these matters are not put in writing, but when representations were made at the time, the previous Speaker indicated to the Ministers responsible that he did not believe that there was any element of hybridity in the Bill. That was the indication, and that has been our belief right up to the incidents of the last day or two. In view of the statement you made today, Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "A ruling."]—we had to see what was the right way to proceed. We propose a method of dealing with it which we think is the right one. When the Bill was introduced, it was done so following the indications about hybridity that my hon. Friend has stated.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for continuing On this point. [HON. MEMBERS: "So you should."] I have done so. I speak as one of the members of Mr. Speaker's Panel who have to take an impartial view.

Is it not a fact that this debate, if it can be called that, started with your ruling, Mr. Speaker, that the Bill was a hybrid Bill? That was settled. Is it not also a fact that the Leader of the House said that in order to eliminate any doubt we should have a debate tomorrow? It is not in the right hon. Gentleman's mouth to decide whether there is any doubt in a ruling from the Chair. I am defending the Chair when I say this. The right hon. Gentleman has no right to demand a debate tomorrow to remove doubt when you, Mr. Speaker, have given a ruling.

Is the Leader of the House aware that he is to be congratulated today much more upon the skill of his apologists than upon his own deplorable cynicism? Would he be good enough, before the debate he proposes for tomorrow, to let us have a draft of the kind of speech we could have expected from him had he been on this side of the House and the kind of cheat he is proposing to perpetrate had instead been inflicted upon him?

I do not think there would be any advantage in descending to the right hon. Gentleman's level, [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I cannot recall, in all the time I have been a Member of this House, that I was ever afraid of a debate. We shall have a debate tomorrow. Why should anybody be afraid of it?

Order. The word "cheat" as addressed to a hon. Member or right hon. Member is highly offensive.

I have received notice from the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) that he wishes to make an application under Standing Order No. 9.

In view of what you have said about the use of the word "cheat", Mr. Speaker, I withdraw it without qualification. I am very pleased to do so. At least we on this side of the House wish to comply with its rules.

Order. I am calling the hon. Member for Eastbourne to ascertain whether he wishes to make his application.

Order. I wish to know whether the hon. Member for Eastbourne seeks to pursue his application.

By way of clarification, Mr. Speaker, if my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) chose at this moment to seek to catch your eye, would that prevent any other Member of the House from commenting on the curious situation in which we find ourselves?

Order. I shall call the points of order in a moment, but I indicate to the House that in any case I shall bring these proceedings to a close within a short while. I shall hear the point of order of the right hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Fernyhough), as he has sought to catch my eye.

You have been here a very long time, Mr. Speaker, and I ask you whether in all the many years you have been a Member of the House you have ever known a Bill to have a Second Reading and 58 sittings in Committee before the Opposition realise that it is a hybrid Bill. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, as I know you cherish the good name of the House, to consider the impression upon people outside, especially those in the shipbuilding industry who have been meeting me today. What will be their impression when they know that an Opposition who are calling constantly for reductions in public expenditure have allowed the House of Commons to waste time and money on a Second Reading and 58 sittings in Committee and have now tried to stop the will of Parliament?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said that while he was a Minister in the Department of Industry, discussions took place—this is important—with the Ministry lawyers, who gave the advice that there was no element of hybridity in the Bill. The Leader of the House then said that your predecessor, Mr.Speaker, had given certain advice. If the hon. Member for Walton is right, does it not lie upon the then Secretary of State, or the present one, to accept responsibility for errors in the Department and to resign? If the Leader of the House has made a wrong accusation against your predecessor, Mr. Speaker, it should be justified. They cannot both be right.

Order. It was only yesterday that I gave a different ruling. New information was brought to my notice yesterday. The House will recall—it is in Hansard today—that I gave a different ruling yesterday, a ruling which I have had to reverse today in view of the information that has been supplied to me within the past 24 hours. I call the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Is it worth recording, Mr. Speaker, that this whole episode of parliamentary mumbo-jumbo during the past hour is set against a background of more than a million and a quarter people on the dole and 20,000 who have come to Parliament today to lobby their Members of Parliament? As the Bill is an attempt to give a great deal more security to some of those who have come to Parliament, would it not be a good idea for you, Mr. Speaker, to tell those assembled on the Opposition Benches who have been doing all the shouting to go to the Grand Committee Room and tell the assembled unemployed workers what they have been doing today against their interests? That is what should happen in this place today.

Order. I shall take the point of order of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths), but questions on the Business Statement have finished.

I wish to raise with you, Mr. Speaker, two points of order. First, on behalf of the whole House, will you repudiate the suggestion that questions about the proper order of our proceedings are to be described as mumbo-jumbo or as niceties? In these very matters are we not safeguarding the liberties of Parliament and of free speech, matters that are precisely maintained by the rules of order, which no Labour Member should describe as mumbo-jumbo?

Secondly, Mr. Speaker, will you be so kind as to revert to the point on which, with respect, I believe you did not rule, when my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) asked you whether it was right to change the rules in the middle of the passage of a Bill so that those who are affected by it will have been dealt with in one way in Committee and will be dealt with in another way on Report and Third Reading? I believe you did not rule on that point, Mr. Speaker, and I should be grateful for your ruling.

I did not rule on that point because I was concerned with the question of order. As regards whether certain matters are in order, on any item such as that raised by the hon. Member for Barry (Sir R. Gower) I always like time to give them consideration. If necessary, I shall make a statement tomorrow.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, your ruling is retrospective in its effect. You have ruled that the Bill has been a hybrid from the beginning. It is not the lodging of a petition which has made it so. In those circumstances will you give guidance as to the effect of the motion of the Leader of the House if it were carried, as it refers to the subsequent proceedings on the Bill? What about the proceedings in Committee which have already been completed, to which the motion does not refer and which may have been inappropriate proceedings?

The House is its own master in these matters, and the House will decide. All I have to rule, as I have done this afternoon, is that it is prima facie a Hybrid Bill. It is then up to the House, not to me. I merely give the ruling to the House.

Before we deal with the motion tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, will you rule on whether the motion, if passed, will have the effect, without referring to them, of validating the previous proceedings?

I shall consider whether there is any cause for me to make a statement, but as I am at present advised, there is not and the motion is in order.

Further to my hon. Friend's point of order, Mr. Speaker. Now that you have given your ruling, surely it is the situation that the Bill is and always has been a hybrid. That means that the proceedings in Committee were inappropriate and that the Bill should have gone to a Select Committee. As in a case of privilege, Mr. Speaker, when you rule and the Government automatically move that the matter be referred to the Select Committee on Privileges, the Government should automatically move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee to have an alternative Committee stage in place of the wrongful Committee stage that we have already had. If the House were to accept such a motion, the Bill could proceed normally to a Select Committee and then into Committee. if the House were to reject such a motion, the Bill would be presumed lost.

Therefore, is it not right that I should submit a manuscript motion to the effect that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee? Any procedures which may take place tomorrow are, of course, null and void compared with the need to deal with this Bill—which is now a hybrid, not a public, Bill—in the proper fashion in which hybrid or private Bills should be dealt with. It seems that the only conceivably correct procedure to adopt would be to move "That the Bill be now referred to a Select Committee".

I should like your ruling, Mr. Speaker, whether you will accept such a motion so that the House may proceed to commit the Bill forthwith.

I cannot accept such a motion now. It must appear on the Order Paper if the hon. Gentleman seeks to move such a motion.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Even if the Bill were hybrid from its inception, is it not right that the House of Commons has many times retrospectively validated something that was previously invalid—for example, the Wireless Telegraphy (Validation of Charges) Act 1954?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As I understand it, the Leader of the House made it clear that, whatever may have happened within the particular Department, the Bill was submitted in accordance with the customary and required procedure to Mr. Speaker who, as I understand the position, would certify that it either was or was not a hybrid Bill, having been properly advised.

It would be of considerable assistance in deciding on our attitude to the motion tomorrow to know whether an error made by the former Speaker and his advisers or by the Government had placed the House in considerable difficulty. If it is an error which has emanated not from the Government but from the former Speaker and his advisers, then it is perfectly proper that the House should be able to remedy an error made by its own officers. It would be another matter—I take the point made by the Leader of the Opposition—if the Government were attempting to usurp their position in the way that has apparently erroneously been suggested. Will you tell the House, so that we may know the position, whether this problem has arisen, as it appears to have arisen according to the Leader of the House, through an unfortunate error on the part not of the Government but of the former Speaker and his advisers?

Order. I should like to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). I want to make it clear that my predecessor acted as I would have acted. The Public Bill Office was satisfied in the early stages that this was not a hybrid Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Order. So was I as late as yesterday afternoon when I made my statement to the House. I have come back today, in the light of other evidence which has come forward within the last few hours, and made another statement.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you gave your ruling, you quite definitely told the House that it was a hybrid Bill. On two occasions since you have used the phrase "a prima facie hybrid Bill". May I ask that the phrase "prima facie" be removed and that we get back to your first ruling that it is indeed a hybrid Bill?

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken. It was in my original statement which I read to the House.

Further to the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), may I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether your officers, when deciding whether a Bill is a public or a private Bill, rest on advice from the sponsoring Department? Regarding your ruling yesterday and the earlier preparation of the Bill, did you and your officers rest on the advice of the sponsoring Department?

I do not know how far it is right for me to go into the details. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is the custom for the Department concerned to advise the Public Bill Office. [Interruption.] Order. I hope that there will be no further points of order to get me further involved in this matter.

Further to your reply to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the accurate position that neither Mr. Speaker nor the officers of the House are in any way responsible for the drafting of a Government Bill? In this case, the identities of those responsible are actually endorsed on the Bill: Mr. Secretary Varley, the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Foot, Mr. Secretary Shore, Mr. Secretary Mason, Mr. Secretary Ross, Mr. Secretary John Morris, Mr. Secretary Rees, Mr. Reginald Prentice, Mr. Edmund Dell, Mr. Gregor Mackenzie and Mr. Gerald Kaufman. Is the answer that it is not for Mr. Speaker or for those who advise him to advise Ministers of the Crown how they should draft a Bill competently? That is the function of the Ministers of the Crown. That is the function of the Government. It is not the function of officers or servants of the House of Commons. Therefore, is it not only wrong but unjust to endeavour to attribute incompetence within a Government Department to lack of diligence in either your predecessor or those who serve us as officers of this House?

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. There is no reflection at all upon my predecessor. I am sure that both sides of the House realise that. The normal process was followed. [HON. MEMBERS: "He made a mistake."] Order. The House might as well say that I made a mistake yesterday afternoon when I gave a ruling. I do not think that anything further is gained by this scrag end to our proceedings. I hope that we can now move on to the next business.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not this latter point which has been raised a blue herring? Is not the situation that it is the duty of Ministers and those working with them to prepare Bills and submit them to Parliament and that their civil servants are their servants, but that the people who work in the Public Bill Office are the servants of the House and of yourself? The distinctions between drafting a Bill and certifying whether it be hybrid or not are quite different and separate. We should not seek to blame my right hon. and hon. Friends or their civil servants in this matter.

Order. I am not seeking to blame anyone at all. All I want to do is to get to the next business. I call Mr. Ennals for the next business.

It is a genuine point of order, Mr. Speaker. This House lives by precedent. Can you tell us what precedent there is for a proposal such as that made by the Leader of the House following a ruling such as you made this afternoon?

I have looked into the question of precedent. There is no precedent for a Speaker giving a ruling such as I have given at this stage of a Bill. That is the advice that I have been given. Therefore, we are in an unprecedented area in that regard.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether we could tidy up what you described as "this scrag end to our proceedings" by clearing up matters which still remain in doubt. I hope that you will continue to accept points of order as long as you are satisfied that they are genuine.

If my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley) were to put down a motion to the effect that this Bill be treated as a hybrid Bill is normally treated—if he did, many of us might feel inclined to support him, if the Government would not—would such a motion take precedence over any motion that the Leader of the House might put down to alter the rules in his favour?

The answer is "No". It does not take precedence over the Government's business for the day.

On a totally different point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect, you cut fairly short questions to the Leader of the House on his Business Statement. May I therefore ask you, as the custodian of the rights and interests of Back Benchers, whether it is seriously being suggested that we proceed today with the debate on two Government Bills on notice given at 3.30 p.m. in the House by the Leader of the House? Notification was given on the Order Paper, but the Leader of the House chose to make a Business Statement at 3.30 p.m. saying what the business would be. Would it not be right in the circumstances, as the Leader of the House finds himself in difficulty, that the right hon. Gentleman should move instead that the House should adjourn today and that this matter should be taken at an appropriate time after appropriate consideration?

I think, Mr. Speaker, that we should get right what you have ruled. I understand that the Government are to move a motion tomorrow. You have ruled that the Bill is hybrid.

Is not the situation in relation to all prima facie hybrid Bills that it is open to any hon. Member to put down a motion of the kind suggested by the Leader of the House, or is the option reserved to the Government? Do such motions take precedence over Orders of the Day, or is it a fact that in all other cases all hybrid Bills will proceed normally along their normal path? Can anyone put down a motion such as the right hon. Gentleman is to table? If so, what are the precedents?

It is open to any hon. Member to put a motion on the Order Paper. The chances of its getting called vary.

May I ask the Leader of the House to consider the point that has been made? In circumstances which I can understand the Government must very much regret, is it right to ask the House, even though, it is admitted, the business has been notified on the Order Paper, suddenly and unexpectedly to consider these important measures? Would it not be right, in the circumstances, for the Leader of the House to move the Adjournment of the House?

I thought, Mr. Speaker, that you had brought questions to me to an end, but if I am in order in doing so, may I tell the right hon. Gentleman that I fully understand that it would have been advantageous if we could have given longer notice of the Bills to be taken on Second Reading today. However, there has been considerable discussion on both these Bills in another place. Notice was given on the Order Paper this morning of the intention to take them today. The business was not announced merely at the time that I made my statement. It is necessary for us to proceed with the business of the Government and the legislation that we wish to get through. There is wide support for the two Bills that we are to discuss today. They have passed through another place, and it is legitimate to ask the House of Commons to use the time that has become available because of the different circumstances to debate these measures today.

Bill Presented

Supplementary Benefit (Amendment)

Mr. Secretary Ennals, supported by Mr. Secretary Millan, Mr. Secretary John Morris, Mr. Joel Barnett, Mr. Stanley Orme, and Mr. Eric Deakins, presented a Bill to amend paragraph 23 of Schedule 2 to the Supplementary Benefit Act 1966 as respects the earnings of the parent in a one-parent family, and paragraph 24 of that Schedule as respects certain social security and other allowances for children: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 159.]