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Procedure

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 27th February 1986.

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Photo of Mr Enoch Powell Mr Enoch Powell , South Down 6:20 pm, 27th February 1986

I believe that the House is, on the whole, best served by consensus on the part of a Select Committee which it appoints to advise it. Therefore, I believe that more attention should be given to those exceptional cases where Members who have addressed their minds in the Committee to the matters submitted to them have found it impossible, despite their sense of obligation, to arrive at a consensus.

The timetabling of Bills was one of those issues. It was an issue on which the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) and I found ourselves unable to accept the principle of the recommendation which forms the substance of the amendment of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery). It is very easy to ridicule and there is very much that is ridiculous about the procedure of the House in Committee—the manner in which it disposes of its time, the fact that in Committee apparently an inordinate amount of time is spent on the early clauses of a Bill—although they are often the more important—and less upon the remainder. It is ridiculous that the Government's desire to make progress often condemns the major part of the Committee to silence. All those and other matters of common observation are perfectly true and incontestable, but it is a mistake to assume that for all such inconveniences there is a remedy by way of Standing Order.

Many procedures of the House are indispensable for the purpose of controlling and criticising Government but which, nevertheless, expose the House to inadequacies and inconveniences. However, it does not follow from those inadequacies and inconveniencies that they can wisely be removed by Standing Order. That idea is akin to the delusion that all the inadequacies and difficulties of the human condition can be removed by legislation. Nothing can give more power to a Government or inspire a Government with less interest in the views of hon. Members than to know in advance that, when they have gained the Second Reading of a Bill, by a definite date that Bill will be out of Committee and by a definite date it will reach the statute book. To have the map of the Session laid out before them like a chart, controlled if necessary by a Committee on which they are in the majority, is exactly that paradise to which Governments look forward. [Interruption.] I am aware that they can pass a guillotine motion.

From the swan song of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), if it was the swan song, we heard how much he looked forward to a future Labour Government who could force through their programme and have the advantage of timetabling Committees and other procedures of the House.

There is only one way in which the two opposite requirements of the House —that the Queen's Government must be carried on and that the Government must be exposed to criticism —can be reconciled, and that is by means of the device of the open end. No open ends are entirely open, of course: the reference which has been made to the guillotine device is a reminder of that. Under a certain penalty, a penalty which appears to have diminished in severity in recent years, the Government can come to the House—and they must come to the House —in order to secure the curtailment of the proceedings. Not that by doing so they free themselves from many of the disadvantages of the Committee procedure without a guillotine. When a guillotine has been imposed, it still happens. Just as many clauses are jumped in each of the sections as would have been omitted in an uncontrolled Committee stage. Under a guillotine, clauses on which many hon. Members might have a special competence or a special constituency reason for wishing to contribute frequently are not debated.

Therefore, the House should not disarm itself of the great power which it has, however limited from time to time, of bringing pressure to bear upon Government and of inducing Government to talk to their opponents, supporters and all and sundry. It is the shortage of time which makes Governments talk.