You will be aware that this is a very important Bill and that connected with it are some 2,000-odd rules and regulations and directives. Since November of last year there have been hundreds of these which have been available to the Government but not to hon. Members. In recent weeks some of these rules and regulations have been published, and two weeks ago a booklet of 144 pages was published containing alterations to these 2,000-odd rules and regulations.
Try as one may, one cannot get from the Government in under six months the rules and regulations which we should have to enable us to take part in these debates. In those circumstances, would it not be advisable for the Committee to stand adjourned until such time as we have these various rules and regulations to enable us to proceed with the Bill on an adequate basis?
With respect to my right hon. Friends and, indeed, to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, we cannot adequately argue and debate these issues and explain them to the Committee if we have before us rules and regulations which the Government admit are wrong, and have been wrongly printed, with the result that they have had to issue this booklet of 144 pages of amendments.
I started to trace through the 2,500 regulations to find which ones were wrongly printed and which were out of order. That took me hours. How can I spend hours trying to trace these matters when I should be in Committee raising them here?
I sympathise with the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) in his dilemma, but I must point out to him and to the Committee that the Chair is not responsible for the sort of situation which he is depicting. I have no authority to intervene in this matter. From the point of view of the Chair, whatever lies in it lies between the hon. Member and the Government, and he must therefore deal with the Government. My only duty is to see that the directions of Parliament are followed and we get on with our business.
May I, Sir Robert, put to you a matter which I think is within your control? The Chairman of Ways and Means has the sole right to decide which Amendments, if any, he will or will not call, and in doing that there are a number of matters which he takes into account. One of those matters must be the relevance to the point at issue of the Amendments, bearing in mind the information, facts and figures that are available.
I do not mean it in any offensive sense when I ask how you can know whether a matter is or is not strictly within the rules of order and can or cannot be called as an Amendment if you cannot get papers and orders upon which to base your decision? If you have been supplied with information—and I say this without offence to the Government—which is not wholly accurate, because it is inaccurate it is a lying document. The Government have published inaccurate documents and have subsequently had to publish 144 foolscap pages of closely printed alterations and amendments.
In answer to a Question yesterday I was told that it would cost £90,000——
Order. I am obliged to the hon. Member. I have got his point, and I thoroughly realise his difficulty in the matter. Let me make that quite clear. I feel that I have no difficulty in carrying out my duty. On the information and advice which I have I am able to make the decisions that I have to make to enable the Committee to continue with its work. I must ask the Committee to accept that from me and allow us to get on with our business.
On a point of order, Sir Robert. Surely it is not just my hon. Friend's difficulty but is a difficulty for us all? We have spent a great deal of time passing a number of laws and making a number of Community regulations part of the laws of England. Now the Government have published a document saying that they are sorry but we have made all the wrong laws. Surely this is a hell of a situation for the Committee to find itself in?
After all this trouble we are told, without any reference back and without being asked to reconsider them, that all the laws that we have passed are the wrong laws. Are the laws which we have passed to be corrected?
The hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), with his knowledge, will realise that these are political matters. They are not matters essentially for the Chair to decide here and now. I have to decide on procedural cases. I assure the Committee that I see no reason why it should not proceed with the Bill.
On a point of order, Sir Robert. May I, with respect, challenge your interpretation that this is not a matter for you? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] May I suggest to you that this is a matter for you? When the Government are in possession of information which they give to the Committee in an inadequate or inaccurate form, it is your duty, as Chairman of Ways and Means, to ensure that hon. Members, on this side of the Committee at any rate, are not put at a disadvantage compared with the Government who have the source of the information under their control. May I therefore ask you to consider your ruling and adjourn the Committee for six months, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) suggested?
I am obliged to the hon. Member. I must repeat that these are political matters which are not for me to decide. I have to take what I have before me. All I can tell the Committee is that we are in order in going on with what we are doing. I should like to think that the Committee has enough confidence in me to believe that I speak absolutely bona fide when I say that I believe that to be the case. I be- lieve that to be the case because we would be wrong not to go forward with work which we were instructed to do by the House itself.
—and nobody has yet challenged him, and it is not my business on a point of order to issue a challenge of any sort, perhaps you would allow me to raise a matter with you.
You say that you have no responsibility except for procedure. Nobody is disagreeing with the fact that you have no responsibility except for the procedures of the Committee. Nevertheless, it is true that you, personally, are regarded very highly and, therefore, have immense influence with the Government, who appear to have put some back benchers on both sides of the Committee into an enormous difficulty.
This is not the first time this has happened during the course of the Bill, the discussion of which has become almost a farce since the introduction of the timetable Motion. You may think that we ought not to, but the fact is, Sir Robert, that we look to you for protection against being put into this kind of difficulty by the Government. I therefore plead with you to reconsider the point made by the hon. Member for West Ham, North.
I am greatly flattered by what the hon. Member has said, but I assure him that if he were a fly on the wall sometimes he might not hold the same view. There is nothing that I can do to help in this matter. We are bound to proceed with our work, and that is what I am convinced we should do.
On a point of order. In view of what you have said, Sir Robert, may I ask whether you know of any precedent for this Committee incorporating into the law of England legislation which exists but of which we are not aware? Secondly, I trust you realise that, although we accept your lack of responsibility for it, we cannot regard this as a good portent for the future as many people will be affected by this legislation which it is apparent will be translated into English late, badly, or not at all, and possibly will be corrected after their personal rights and duties have been affected by something which turns out not to be the law at all.
I do not want to take up the time of the Committee. The answer I have to give to the hon. Gentleman is that which I have already given. These are political matters which are not for me.
On a point of order, Sir Robert. I apologise for detaining the Committee a moment or two longer. Is not the Committee likely to find itself in a serious procedural difficulty, which I take to be a matter of order, not politics, when considering Part II of the Bill? I appreciate we have not got to it yet, but I think this is an appropriate time to raise the matter. Regulations are being churned out by Brussels daily and weekly. Many of those regulations amend, alter and in some cases revoke earlier regulations and policies. All the regulations up to 10th November, 1971, have been embodied in the amending legislation necessary under Part II. I put it to you, Sir Robert, that when we are considering Clause 4 onwards we may well find that there is a regulation which makes a nonsense of the particular Clause we are discussing because it has amended the original regulations on which the Clause was based. Is this not likely to put us in an impossible position of passing a Clause which contradicts a regulation made under Clause 2(1)?
It is clear that the House realised all this when it voted to proceed with Second Reading. This is a continuing process which must always be so in something like the European Communities because it is, naturally, almost always transacting business. There is nothing new about the situation which the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) has raised. It has been the situation all the while. The House must be deemed to have taken that into consideration when it decided to pass the Bill on Second Reading.
Am I to take it that the Chair is seriously telling the Committee that the House knew, when it came to discuss both Second Reading and the guillotine, that the Government were to publish a booklet of 144 pages of corrections and alterations to the rules and regulations that they had previously printed? Did the Chair and the House know that those corrections were to be made? If that is the case, why did the Government not publish the corrections at the time if they knew the rules and regulations were incorrect? It means that they were misleading the House because they had published documents which they knew to be incorrect. To put it the other way—the Government cannot have it both ways—they did not know that they had printed the rules and regulations incorrectly and only in May were they able to publish the corrections, which I have already said would cost £90,000, to put the originals into proper order.
Perhaps I could encourage my hon. Friend to stay for a moment longer, because I want to give my blessing to his plea. This is a serious defect, and it is not the first time that he and others have raised this matter.
We understand, Sir Robert, that your role in this matter is limited. Nevertheless, the Government Front Bench, in their yawning and studied indifference, must have heard that it is a matter of some concern on both sides of the Committee. There should at least be the minimum courtesy of the translation of those laws which the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his Friends are busy stuffing down our throats with the help of the guillotine. It is a situation without precedent in the history of this country. The only justification, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had the gall to make his own case for himself, is that, even if the regulations were correct and up to date and translated in front of us, this Committee has no power to do anything with them. That is precisely what the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends. We would not now have the time to discuss them, even if they were before us. The Government may think this is an amusing matter, but I cannot think that it will be thought to be amusing when the contents of these regulations come, as they will, to affect many people in many different ways.
One becomes a little tired of making pleas. I simply ask the Government, once again, to look at this matter seriously. We understand that there must be a short delay in the business of translation, but it is a serious matter and people can translate. Heaven knows, there are enough people without work in London who can be brought in to help with the business of turning the regulations and directives into the English language and laying them before the Committee. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to treat the matter seriously.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a number of assertions about the Government's lack of courtesy, not treating the matter seriously, looking amused, and so on. People reading the record might think that was a correct statement of the position.
The Committee, which has considered this matter fairly frequently, will appreciate the difficulty. It was a mammoth task to translate documents going back over the 10 years when we were not members of the Community. We cannot make a correction until we have found out that there has been an error. Looking at the volume of corrections, a lot of the matters covered are things like the omission of the arrangements which have been made about the price of Vietnamese shorts and matters of that kind. Some matters are of great importance and some of less importance. However, it is a difficult problem of translation.
There is a series of batches of new translations coming out all the time. We will try to speed up the process, but speeding up creates the danger of inaccuracy from time to time, which we will try to avoid. We have also indicated that we will help hon. Members when they want translations of draft directives, when the Departments themselves have them and where they are matters which are likely to affect the United Kingdom.
The Committee cannot be satisfied with the statement the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just made. I hope he will undertake to make a statement, either later in our proceedings today, although we are under great difficulties because of the guillotine and the time that is taken up, or in the House after the business tomorrow, on this subject of the documents and the alterations. It appears that a very serious matter has arisen on which the Government must make a statement.
Erskine May, on page 138, which deals with abstracting or altering documents presented to the House, quoting a case some years ago, states:
'That it is highly criminal, and a breach of the privilege of this House for any person whatever to make any alterations in papers or accounts presented to this House, without the special order of the House'.
Very serious questions are raised. I trust that the right hon. and learned Gentleman, now that he has heard the facts and realises the seriousness of the matter, will not dismiss it by saying that the matters dealt with in these alterations are of small importance, or, as I think he corrected himself, that some of the matters are of small importance, presuming to indicate that others were important. I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will give an undertaking that he will make a statement to the House on this matter tomorrow. We cannot deal with the matter now as we are under the guillotine, but I hope he will undertake to make a statement about the production of these documents and the questions which have been raised when he has had an opportunity to look at the matter.
I have offered to the right hon. and learned Gentleman a very fair way of escaping from the difficulty. It is that he should have a look at the matters which have been raised and make a statement in the House tomorrow. I hope that he will have the courtesy to say to the Committee that that is exactly what he will do.
Certainly I took it that the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) was inviting me to consider the matter further. I certainly appreciate how important it is to get these matters brought forward as quickly as possible. I shall bear in mind what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has said.
It is not a question of bearing in mind what I have said. I asked the right hon. and learned Gentleman to make a statement in the House tomorrow about these documents and about the rights of the House and Committees with reference to alteration of such documents.
On a point of order, Sir Robert. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has just read an extract from Erskine May. If what he read is true, the Government are guilty of misleading the House and of not carrying out the accepted practices of the House. I think that you, Sir Robert, ought to give a ruling on that issue because, in view of the extract which my hon. Friend quoted, we cannot allow the Government to get away with this by remaining silent.
This is not a matter for this Committee. I think that we should allow the right hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Shore) to continue his speech. If hon. Members make too many interventions a matter is likely to get into a state of muddle. If the right hon. Gentleman chooses to proceed with his speech for a little while and then to give way if someone else wishes to intervene, that will be in order, but long experience in Committee has led me to the belief that interventions upon interventions lead to disorder in debate. The right hon. Member who has the Floor should be allowed to continue his speech.
On a point of order, Sir Robert. I am grateful for the statement made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman that he will look into the matter and consider making a statement tomorrow in the House on this question. I also ask whether you, Sir Robert, will consider the matter and see whether a point of order arises for you in view of the quotation which I read from Erskine May and the situation which arises when a Government seek to alter documents which have been presented to the House and which raise important questions.
I say to my hon. Friends that I hope that these two undertakings—that the matter will be properly investigated—may enable us to proceed because we are under this difficulty imposed by the Government that we wish to debate extremely important matters now before the Committee and, unfortunately, have to do so under a guillotine Motion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that he will make a statement to the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]1—and I hope that you, Sir Robert——
With respect, I gave no such undertaking. I promised to consider the point raised by the hon. Member and see what appropriate action should be taken. The common sense of the case is that we try to present these translations as speedily as we can. What the hon. Member has now raised is a point in relation to Erskine May which I think is one of the things which we ought to have time to consider.
Sir Robert, I hope that you will make a statement on the subject to the effect that you will be prepared to reconsider the ruling which you made previously. I hope that you will make a statement to the Committee, either during today's proceedings or at our next sitting. We have given every opportunity to the Minister to consider the situation. I hope that he will realise that he is under an obligation to make a statement to the House on this matter and that he would be treating the House very scurvily if he did not do so, and also that failure to do so would add to his difficulties. I went out of my way to offer the right hon. and learned Gentleman a means of dealing with the situation.
I hope that now the Committee will be able to proceed because we wish to do the best we can in the limited time available to safeguard the House against the dangers now being incorporated into the law of the land.
Order. I think we should bring this discussion to a conclusion as early as we can. I will consider this matter and see what I can do, but I make quite clear that the question of presentation of papers to the House is not a matter on which I as Chairman of the Committee can rule. As the hon. Member knows, I am here to help in the dispatch of business, and I shall always try to do that.
Mr. Eric S. Heller:
On a point of order, Sir Robert. This matter must be cleared up. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) raised a question relating to Erskine May. This is not a matter for the whole House or for the Government; it is a matter for the Chair. I am very jealous of the rights of the Chair because the rights of the Chair in fact mean the rights of hon. Members. On that basis I ask whether you will go a little further than you have gone. I am not asking that you should make a statement now, for I understand that that would be very difficult. But will you give an assurance that the point raised by my hon. Friend will be taken into consideration by you and considered carefully outside this Chamber, and that there will be a statement later from the Chair in relation to it?
I understand fully what the hon. Member has said and I most readily give that undertaking. I cannot at this stage offer much hope that it may change the situation so far as I am concerned, but I will go into the question carefully.
Further to that point of order, Sir Robert. It seems that my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) has drawn the attention of the Committee to a contempt of the House. Since this is the first opportunity for this matter to be raised we realise your difficulties in your capacity as Chairman of this Committee, but could you perhaps advise us on when and how soon the matter could be brought before Mr. Speaker, who is the adviser on such an issue?
This is indeed a serious matter both for the Chair and for the Minister, but we obviously do not wish to press it further now because we are up against the usual problem of the timetable and the guillotine. Every minute which we take in discussing these matters takes away from the time that we have to discuss the substance. of the Clauses of the Bill with which we are primarily concerned.