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Procedure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:42 pm on 27th February 1986.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:42 pm, 27th February 1986

As the first member of the Committee to speak after the Chairman, I pay tribute to him. The hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) is a hard but courteous taskmaster, as the number of our reports demonstrates. I pay tribute to the way in which he runs our affairs.

One controversial recommendation of the Select Committee relates to short speeches. The Committee took the view that the 10-minute experiment should be repeated, but acknowledged that its effects have been relatively small. A price must be paid for the small benefit of perhaps one or two more Members being called in a debate. I know that some of my hon. Friends are not happy about the experiment continuing. The rule leads hon. Members to say that they are unwilling to give way. That even extends beyond the time in which the rule is in operation, because it becomes an excuse for Ministers speaking early in the debate to claim pressure of time.

I believe that Ministers should give way often. A long speech from a Minister subjected to many interventions is a service to the House if it enables points to be explored in detail. The Committee's report states: We have no doubt that Mr. Speaker will take into account the importance of his being able to call the spokesmen of parties other than the Official Opposition … before the rule comes into operation. I mention that because it has been a difficulty. If the Minister speaks for an hour, the Opposition Front Bench speech lasts three quarters of an hour and our spokesman is confined to 10 minutes, he will have no chance to cover the range of matters to which arguments have been addressed by others. I am grateful to the Committee for placing that proviso on the record, although it will remain a controversial point.

I am glad that the Leader of the House has accepted the recommendation on Special Standing Committees. The evidence of the Solicitor-General especially struck me during the proceedings. He has a way of committing interesting things to paper, some of which are not intended for publication. On that occasion, he discussed the Criminal Attempts Act 1981. He stated: I had the salutary experience of cross-examining two of the leading authorities on criminal law … as to the likely effect of a Bill about whose provisions I was already experiencing a sinking feeling …At the end of the final sitting of the special standing committee the draftsman informed me that not only did the Bill not do what it was supposed to do but that it could not be made to do it.It is unnecessary to relate here the unorthodox and urgent steps that were then taken to recast that part of the Bill in time for the resulting vast array of amendments to be on the paper when the ordinary standing committee first met the following week. The point is that, it was better that those defects became apparent before the ordinary standing committee began its examination of the Bill … I gratefully recognised this at the time and have never forgotten it. That is testimony to the value of the Special Standing Committee procedure.

I welcome the ingenious solution to the problem of the long opening speech in Committee —the power of the Chair to propose the Question—which is much better than the alternative of curtailing the debate on the amendment being moved.

I welcome the fact that we are getting rid of the Third Reading blocking motion, which is an interesting illustration of how procedures can be devised which the House does not follow. It has become automatic practice to table Third Reading blocking motions to the extent that parties fall over each other to table them. The House should have the opportunity to decide whether it wishes to debate a Bill on Third Reading and that would be the effect of removing the blocking motion.

I welcome the recommendation to limit Standing Order No. 10 applications to three minutes. I agree with the point that the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) raised in several interventions. An hon. Member who has applied for a private notice question should not, in my humble submission, be told by the Chair that he should not make a Standing Order No. 10 application out of the question. By putting in a private notice question application he is creating the chance that his arguments will get a reply. That does not happen with a Standing Order No. 10 application unless a debate is granted. The hon. Member who fairly says privately to the Chair that if possible he would like to ask a private notice question so that others can join in and an answer can be given should not be told that if that is not granted he cannot make a Standing Order No. 10 application. The hon. Member who takes the fair route first should not be disadvantaged.