EDUCATION (No. 2) BILL (ALLOCATION OF TIME)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:22 pm on 2nd April 1980.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:22 pm, 2nd April 1980

I beg to move, as a manuscript amendment, in line 18, to leave out from "Question" to end and to add: on each remaining Lords amendment, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment. I shall explain the effect of the amendment in a moment. However, I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for allowing us to discuss this matter, thus ensuring that this feature of the timetable motion gets proper consideration.

The House of Lords spent about a fortnight of long, and in some cases all-night, sittings on the Bill. It did a very good job, both in detail and on a major principle. This House and people in constituencies such as mine have every reason to be grateful to their Lordships for what they did. We are now discussing how much time we should spend discussing the work that they have done.

That ought not to take us very long. It is reasonable that a limited amount of time should be set aside for a timetable motion of this kind. However, tonight we are dealing with a timetable motion the like of which I have never seen before. From all the inquiries that I have made of the Officers of the House, it seems that they have never seen the like of it before either.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) has tabled another amendment relating to one of the points in the motion. I should like to refer to two other points, because I believe that these are disgraceful proceedings, which may be taken as a precedent on future occasions. In my opinion, this will do great harm to the House and to the way in which it discusses Bills.

My amendment is designed to deal with that problem. When the guillotine falls at the end of the four-hour period that has been allotted for discussion, what will we do with the amendments to which the Lords devoted so much time and attention in so many long sittings? The ones which are left, and which have not been debated, will be taken en bloc, and one motion will be put to deal with them.

According to the motion, Mr. Speaker shall then put forthwith the Question, That this House doth agree with the Lords in all the remaining Lords Amendments. It is not beyond the bounds of human reasoning that there may be some amendments with which we agree and some with which we disagree. We are rather fortunate that the Lords have done an excellent job on the Bill. It is pretty hard to find anything with which to disagree, except in respect of Government amendments which have been inserted and which we think we can improve, indeed, attempts have been made to do precisely that.

It is ludicrous to put on the Order Paper a motion that prevents hon. Members from distinguishing between the amendments passed in another place. It is equally ludicrous to vote on them en bloc. That is an insult to the proceedings that have taken place in another place. Frankly, if the other place dealt with the Bill in the same way as we propose to do. I am sure that the House would have some strong criticisms to make. If the other place decided to take the whole Bill en bloc and had only one vote—irrespective of whether there were individual items with which it agreed or disagreed—those proceedings would be regarded by hon. Members as ludicrous. That is what we are proposing to do with the amendments that they have pressed. If we make a practice of this, we are entering dangerous territory.

My amendment enables us to single out the odd case where we may wish to take a different view of an amendment that we have not discussed. Why should the Government put hon. Members in a position of voting for a block of amendments, some of which they agree with and some of which they do not? That is a ludicrous way of proceeding, and we should not give the Government the opportunity to continue with it. I hope that my amendment will gain widespread support.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West beat me to it by putting an amendment on the Order Paper about an even more appalling feature of this timetable motion. I do not think that there is a precedent for this motion. If there is, perhaps the Government will tell us. In effect, they are saying that any time that we spend discussing the timetable motion will automatically be deducted from the time that we have left to discuss the amendments. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down".] Conservative Members are telling me to sit down. I thought they were elected to this place to defend parliamentary democracy and to ensure that we have an opportunity to discuss these matters properly. It seems reasonable that our Standing Orders should set aside a fixed and limited period to discuss the timetable motion, but that is not what we have here.