Orders of the Day — Ports Bill

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th April 1970.

Alert me about debates like this

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

3.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

On a point of order. Looking through the provisional selection of Amendments, I notice that Amendment No. 5, in Clause 1, page 2, line 17, leave out ' five million ' and insert ' one hundred thousand ', tabled in my name, and the names of many of my hon. Friends, has, unfortunately, not been selected at this stage.

The Amendment raises the whole question of extending public ownership to ports with 100,000 tons of cargo rather than the 5 million tons in the Bill. I understand that in Committee there was debate on an Amendment which had the figure of 2 million tons—not as low as 100,000 tons in Amendment No. 5.

This is a matter of great importance. There is a considerable body of opinion, particularly in port areas like Liverpool and London, which feels that there must be an extension of public ownership along the lines suggested in the Amendment. In those circumstances, and so that the House should be able to express an opinion, I should like to ask you, Mr. Speaker, to reconsider your provisional selection of Amendments and give us the opportunity of having Amendment No. 5 selected for debate.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

Further to that point of order.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I will deal with the point of order as it arises.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) was courteous enough to inform me this morning that he might be pleading for the selection of Amendment No. 5. As I informed the House on Friday, if it became common practice to question the selection of Amendments on Report it would be an embarrassment to the House. I should hope that, as a general rule, Mr. Speaker's selection, which is made only after prolonged study of all factors, would be accepted.

I point out to the House that the principles which guide selection I gave in evidence to the Select Committee on Procedure, when it was considering the Report stage of Bills. I will not mention them all now.

On the other hand, as I have also observed, representations are made to me very occasionally on behalf of an Amendment. The representation to which we have just listened from the hon. Member for Walton, and the representations which he made to me this morning, fall into that category—[HON. MEMBERS: " Oh."] Order. So, after careful consideration of what he has said, I am prepared to add Amendment No. 5 to the list of selections that I have posted—[HON. MEMBERS:Oh."] Order. We are under the Guillotine. We have a lot of work to do.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

Mr. Speaker, I had hoped to catch your eye before you gave your Ruling, as this is a most crucial decision. Of course, it would not be for me to question your position once you have taken it, but the difficulty in which the Opposition find themselves is that a policy substantially along the lines of that advocated by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was debated on Amendment No. 92 in the Standing Committee. During the course of his submission to you the hon. Member referred to Amendment No. 80, which proposes to reduce the qualification tonnage from 5 million to 2 million. That is perfectly true; it was discussed, but so, at the same time, was another amendment, No. 92, which removed any qualification whatsoever and, in other words, went back to the original policy proposed by the Working Party on Ports of the hon. Member for Poplar (Mr. Mikardo), proposing total nationalisation of all ports.

Over five years there has been considerable debate within the Government as to what ports should be nationalised. This has formed the background to a major national discussion. It has been the subject of varying policies and varying times, starting with the hon. Member for Poplar moving to the right hon. Lady now the First Secretary of State, who advocated a policy along the lines of the Amendment suggested by the hon. Member for Walton. This policy was then abandoned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh), when he was Minister of Transport. It was, therefore, upon the basic policy reached by the Government that the Bill now before us was presented to the House. It was a fundamental and integral part of the Bill that it should be limited to the major ports—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. This debate will arise when we come to the Amendment.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

I am trying to make this particular point because I have to put it in context so as to submit to you, Mr. Speaker, the aspect on which I feel strongly.

This particular decision was taken by the Government as their fundamental and final recommendation to the House as the kind of Bill we should discuss. I would submit to you that it is, therefore, a subject essentially fit for Second Reading debate. It was, however, then discussed at various times in Committee. But much more important than that is the dilemma in which the Opposition now find themselves; because with your provisional selection of Amendments we have new Clause 1, all the Government Amendments and Government Amendment No. 4, all of which are relatively small Amendments on a vital major Bill.

We are, as you have rightly pointed out, Mr. Speaker, under the guillotine procedure and, therefore, the first major Amendment to be called will be Amendment No. 5, that which is now being added to your original selection; and it is more than possible that we on the Opposite benches shall find a debate that ranges, throughout the very limited time that we have available to us, not on the objections of the Opposition, but upon the pressures from the Minister's back benches.

I really do ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether this is not a precedent of a most serious nature by which the Government benches can hog the time of a guillotined debate to raise the whole question of principle underlying a Bill all on its own.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Selection is a matter for the Chair. It is normal for hon. Gentlemen on one side or the other to be disappointed by the Speaker's selection or non-selection.

Photo of Sir Lionel Heald Sir Lionel Heald , Chertsey

May I very respectfully submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that after you have allowed a speech to be made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) you should hear both sides before deciding the matter; and may I with the utmost respect suggest that if you do not allow further discussion you will have set a precedent with very great dangers. That a decision of major importance should be made after consultation between an hon. Member and yourself without your having heard any argument on the other side is, I submit, a very dangerous situation.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is not unknown in the history of representations that have been made about selection.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

Mr. Speaker, you have selected this important Amendment, but I wonder what the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Michael Heseltine) would have said had it been normally selected. Would he then have got up and opposed your selection on the basis that it would rob him and his hon. Friends of time? There is also the fact that, under a guillotine Motion, you select speakers for and against, as you normally do. There is, therefore, no question but that this important issue should not be discussed as you have suggested.

Photo of Mr John Peyton Mr John Peyton , Yeovil

On the point of order raised by my right hon. and learned Friend, I would like very respectfully to express my regret that in such a matter as this, Mr. Speaker, you did not see fit, before reaching your decision, to hear the point of view of the Opposition.

Speaking with great respect to you, Sir, and with acknowledgement of the difficulties you face, it seems to me at any rate that for a second time during a very short period the Opposition are being seriously prejudiced by a decision of the Chair. When the Opposition's chances of discussing a Bill of major importance are limited by a guillotine Motion, an inordinate amount of time is to be taken up by an attempt, which I hope will prove unsuccessful, to push further a principle which the Government have espoused and which we on this side wholeheartedly oppose.

I can only say with great respect to you, Sir, that I most profoundly regret a decision which I regard as unfair.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. If the hon. Gentleman considers a decision by the Chair is unfair he has his remedy. He must put a Motion on the Order Paper.

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

On a completely new point of order. Is it not the case that all these points of order must be out of order, because no one can question Mr. Speaker's decision on what he does or does not select? We cannot keep on raising points of order. It is solely for Mr. Speaker to decide what he does or does not select.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

In spite of what the hon. Gentleman has said, he has raised a point of order.

Photo of Sir Douglas Glover Sir Douglas Glover , Ormskirk

I rise on a point of order with great humility and a good deal of distress, because I believe that everybody in the House knows that I hold you, Mr. Speaker, in tremendous regard and think that you have done a magnificent job as Speaker of the House. But what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) is so relevant to this problem. Last week we were in some considerable difficulty on a very great matter of precedent in the House when you ruled before half the argument had been put to you in the Chair. My right hon. and learned Friend has said the same situation is now arising over this matter. You have changed your mind, Mr. Speaker, and you have done so on the representations of an hon. Member who happens to be the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller), for whom I have very great respect as a parliamentarian. Surely, under these conditions, if you are to change your mind after you have already ruled, the whole House ought to be able to put the argument, pro and con, to you before you reach your decision.

With great respect, I regret very much that you should have announced your decision before you had heard the arguments from this side of the House, which I believe are over-poweringly powerful where we are dealing with a guillotine debate. It means that the Opposition, who are Her Majesty's Official Opposition, will probably have little or no time to make their case because of the limitation of the debate, brought about because, without listening to the argu- ments from this side, you have changed the decision which you had already reached in the quietude of your own room.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

It is not unknown for Mr. Speaker to vary his decision about selection when he receives representations from one side or the other. Mr. Speaker's selection is never a matter of party political debate. It is a power given to Mr. Speaker by the House. If the hon. Gentleman studies the Ruling he will find the position set out there.

Photo of Sir Edward Boyle Sir Edward Boyle , Birmingham Handsworth

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, no one in this House, least of all hon. Members on this side, questions Mr. Speaker's right of selection, or the right to change his mind, but it has always been the custom, when a timetable Motion is before the House, for the Speaker so to arrange the course of debate that the greatest weight can be put on those aspects of the Bill as printed to which the Opposition attach the most importance. Is it not a serious matter when a major subject not contained in the Bill is introduced at the last moment which is of concern to the Government side, but not the Opposition?

Some of us can recall past timetable Motions—for example on the Transport Bill, in 1952—when Mr. Speaker of the day was punctilious in granting the Closure and so arranging the whole process of debate that those aspects to which the Opposition of the day attached most importance were given priority within the time available.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that was in my mind throughout the whole process of selection.

Photo of Mr Julian Ridsdale Mr Julian Ridsdale , Harwich

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of your Ruling, would you ensure that we give as much time to the debate on Amendment No. 5 as to the take-over terms of the Manchester Ship Canal Company?

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Epping

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While not questioning your Ruling, or commenting on it as such, may I ask whether it has escaped the notice of some hon. Gentlemen opposite that the Amendment to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred was signed, not merely by himself, but by more than 40 Members? Is it not in order for the views of back benchers to be heard just as much as the views of the Official. Opposition on an issue of this sort? Had the Amendment been excluded, it would not have been possible for an important point of view held by many hon. Members to be put to the House.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker. May I submit to you that the number of signatures to an Amendment has little or nothing to do with the power of selection? I do not wish in any way to criticise what you have done, because that would be wrong. If you were to select Amendments according to the number of signatures to them, all that we would have to do would be to circulate Amendment after Amendment to collect signatures, a practice which has never been carried out.

When a guillotine Motion is in operation, it is essential that those matters which are of the greatest importance to the Official Opposition should be debated if possible. There are 128 Amendments, and it is more than probable that a number of them will not be reached. The normal procedure under the timetable Motion is that a lot depends on the Opposition as to how quickly we get on with the business, and the number of Amendments that we are able to discuss. To some extent the Opposition control those matters which are debated. Control of the timetable and the matters to be discussed within it are now being allowed to move away from the Opposition to the unofficial opposition on the Government back benches. This seems to be a new approach—not a precedent —and I wonder whether you would be good enough to consider that aspect of the matter.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

All those factors were in my mind throughout the whole process of consideration.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Glasgow Cathcart

We do not wish to question your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but may I ask whether you bore in mind the fact that about half the Amendments have been put down by the Government and will take up a considerable amount of time, and, also, that the Opposition exercised the maximum restraint by putting down only a small number of Amendments on key issues? The number of Amendments tabled by the Opposition is less on this Bill than on any other major Bill of this kind.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is always the problem under the Guillotine.

Photo of Sir Eric Fletcher Sir Eric Fletcher , Islington East

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It must be embarrassing to some of us who have been in the House a long time that twice within a comparatively brief period there have been a number of criticisms of Rulings which you have given on matters which hitherto I had always thought were regarded as solely within the discretion of the Chair and not open to this kind of challenge and debate, even though hon. Members who appear to challenge your Rulings preface their comments by professions of great respect for them.

I intervene because I think that it would be unfortunate if some of the observations which have been made, notably by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sid E. Boyle), the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery), were to pass unchallenged.

As I understand the practice of the House, it has never been the case that the Chair, in reaching its decision on the selection of Amendments to be discussed on Report, whether under the guillotine or not, is influenced particularly by the wish of what is called Her Majesty's Official Opposition. I have always understood that where there is a controversial Bill on which hon. Members on either side have views and have put down Amendments, they have as much right to have their Amendments considered as those put down by Her Majesty's Opposition.

As you said, Mr. Speaker, in reaching your decision you give weight to all those considerations. It would be particularly unfortunate if, as a result of this discussion, it were thought that Amendments put down by the Official Opposition had some inherent priority, still less the right to exhaust the time available for discussion. Surely the over-riding consideration which the Chair and all of us should bear in mind is that all hon. Members are equal, and have equal rights to have considered those Amendments which they regard as worthy of consideration.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not want to comment on any of the various points of order which have been raised, but there is one point in the submission made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) which rather worries me, and I should like to express it so that you can set my mind at rest.

In persuading you that it would be a good thing to reconsider your decision and include Amendment No. 5 the hon. Gentleman laid great emphasis on the fact that many people were in favour of the Amendment. That is what he said, and that was his emphasis. What worries me, Mr. Speaker, is how you could possibly know whether his argument is correct, or otherwise, because this is a political decision. It has nothing to do with the selection of Amendments. My submission—I know that it is a dangerous thing to put forward but I have a right to do so—is that the country does not want the Amendment.

The hon. Gentleman emphasised one point of view when putting the matter to you in the Chair, but it may be that he argued differently when he came to see you. I am in no position to judge. It would be terrible if alterations, which we all acknowledge Mr. Speaker has the right to make, were made on the basis of purely political issues; and I do not like the political issue raised by the hon. Member for Walton. Can you reassure me by telling me whether the hon. Gentleman is right in the emphasis that he has given to this, or whether he is wrong?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I can assure the hon. Lady quite clearly on this point. From time to time, when I have made a provisional selection, both sides of the House argue, and one of their arguments is that the matter which they wish to have selected on Report is important. Whether it is important, I do not know: it is for the hon. Gentlemen who argue their case to say so.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Without wishing to dispute your decision in this matter, Mr. Speaker, and understanding your difficult position, perhaps I might point out that members of the Official Opposition hold the view, a political view, that the wholesale nationalisation of the docks would be a national disaster. Many who wish to use the docks realise that the service which they have given in the past may or may not be put in jeopardy, but feel that it would be put in jeopardy if it were in the hands of one owner and a State-controlled organisation such as the National Ports Authority.

The Opposition, in deciding which Amendments to table, have to be very careful when the Guillotine is operating about what to press and what not to press. In particular, the Official Opposition would be ill-advised to raise an issue which amounts to a Second Reading debate.

There was an Amendment, which was not tabled, in view of our need to conserve time for the other Amendments, in my name and the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) and Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney), which was: in page 2, line 15, leave out " five million " and insert " ten million ".

This Amendment was not tabled because we thought that an Amendment on what would amount to a Second Reading issue would not be wise. Therefore, may I ask two things? First, would you consider the fact that the Opposition have refrained from tabling an Amendment of this type? Second, at this late hour, would you accept a manuscript Amendment to be debated with this Amendment, in the names of my hon. Friends and myself?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

The simple answer to the hon. Member is that the point which he wishes to make can be made in the debate on Amendment No. 5, which is selected. I cannot rule on the Amendment which he did not put on the Notice Paper.

Photo of Sir Peter Emery Sir Peter Emery , Honiton

On a point of order—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. The hon. Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) might leave his hon. Friend to his own problem—

Photo of Mr Arthur Lewis Mr Arthur Lewis , West Ham North

On a point of order—

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

Order. I am being addressed on a point of order.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

You have accepted the Amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer), Mr. Speaker. There was an Amendment which we in the Official Opposition would have liked to put down, but which, in the interests of conserving time, we have refrained from putting down. Would it not be right for us now to debate both Amendments, and for you to accept a manuscript Amendment so that we can debate and vote on both Amendments later on—since you have accepted Amendment No. 5?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

That is something which I might consider, but I would have thought, offhand, that the hon. Gentleman can make his points in the debate on Amendment No. 5, and vote, if he likes, against the new Amendment and against the thing which is being amended. But, certainly, I would have no objection to taking a manuscript Amendment.

Photo of Mr John Osborn Mr John Osborn , Sheffield, Hallam

Further to that point of order. May I bring the manuscript Amendment to you now, so that you may have it before you?

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

While I personally—[Interruption.] I beg my hon. Friend's pardon. I did not realise that he was bringing up his Amendment just then.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) for bringing up his Amendment with such ceremony.

Photo of Mr Michael Heseltine Mr Michael Heseltine , Tavistock

Further to that point of order. While I welcome your decision, Mr. Speaker, to accept my hon. Friend's manuscript Amendment, has not a situation now developed in which anyone who wants to hold up a Report stage under a guillotine Motion will in future be tempted to put down a wide Amendment at the very beginning of the time to preclude vital Amendments on the Notice Paper ever being reached? Would it be in order for me to make representations to the Government that, as their back benchers are now responsible for this new delaying device, more time should be given to this very important debate?

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

We are under a Guillotine, and most of the time which has gone in the last half-hour has been used to dispute a selection by Mr. Speaker.