Education Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd April 1970.

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Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East 12:00 am, 22nd April 1970

May I try to help the House? I am sure that the whole House is always interested when a procedural question without precedent arises. A great many hon. Members on both sides of the House will not regret that there has been a fairly full discussion about a procedural question of some novelty.

Your Rulings, Mr. Speaker, have been criticised on the other side of the House chiefly on one ground—namely, that the proposed Instruction lacks clarity as to whether the Standing Committee should have power either to insert Clause 1 in its original form or Clause 1 as amended. With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I should like to support your Ruling that the proposed Instruction is not lacking in clarity [An HON. MEMBER: " What does it mean, then? "] I am proposing to explain what I think it means. The Instruction gives the Committee permissive power. As I read it, it enables the Committee either to restore Clause 1 in its original form or to restore it in its amended form. [Interruption.] I hope that hon. Members opposite will have the courtesy to listen for a moment to arguments contrary to those which they have been expressing.

An Instruction to a Committee is not an Instruction to do something precise and specific; it is an Instruction, and called an Instruction, but it is coupled with permissive power. The words in the so-called Instruction give the Committee power to do various things. It would, therefore, be a mistake to suppose that, if it passed the Instruction, the House would be limiting or circumscribing particularly what the Committee is to do with Clause 1 when it comes back to it.

It does not seem to me to be contrary to common sense to say that what the House is being asked to do in this Instruction is to ask the Committee to reconsider Clause 1, and it gives the Committee power to reconsider it in its entirety. That means, does it not, that, notwithstanding any previous consideration or previous vote, it will be open to the Committee either to pass it in its original form, in its form as previously amended, or, indeed, in any other form?

That, it seems to me, is the obvious purpose of the proposed Instruction, to give the Committee the widest possible powers to deal with Clause 1, notwithstanding any previous votes which have occurred on it. If I am right in thinking that that is the obvious construction of the Instruction, it seems to follow that your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, cannot possibly be attacked on the ground that it lacks clarity.

The clear intention of the language of the Instruction is to give the Committee the fullest possible power to deal with Clause 1. Therefore, I personally would hope, now we have had this long and interesting discussion, that we could, as you have suggested, Sir, proceed to consider the Instruction.