European Communities (Amendments) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 30 June 1986.

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Photo of Mr Peter Shore Mr Peter Shore , Bethnal Green and Stepney 3:35, 30 June 1986

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Privy Seal startled the House at 2.30 last Friday when he announced the Government's petulant decision not only to introduce a timetable motion on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill that had had only three days in Committee but that the guillotine motion would be moved out of prime time at 10 o'clock on Tuesday night.

That affront has now been compounded by the terms of the motion of the Order Paper today, allotting a derisory two hours for completion of the Committee stage and one hour for Third Reading. This will not allow time even for votes to be taken on the outstanding amendments.

Since the Bill further reduces the powers of Parliament and the rights of British people, is this not to treat the House with total contempt? Is it not a flagrant abuse of power by the Executive? Is it not unprecedented for a timetable motion on a constitutional measure to be moved at the end of a parliamentary day? Is it not unprecedented for a timetable motion drastically to truncate the remaining time available for debate?

You, Mr. Speaker, are the custodian of the rights of Back Benchers and of the House itself. The precedent that the Government seek to establish in this motion on an important constitutional measure is dangerous to us all. Once created, it would make a shameful reference point for every successive Government. Is there any way in which you can prevail upon the Government not to pursue these arrogant and undemocratic procedures.

Photo of Mr John Biffen Mr John Biffen , North Shropshire

It might be helpful to the House if I were to respond immediately. The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) makes a valid point that I accept at once, but the motion is amendable. The best way I can help the right hon. Gentleman is to suggest that we can possibly look at the matter through the usual channels.

Photo of Mr Teddy Taylor Mr Teddy Taylor , Southend East

While I appreciate that you, Mr. Speaker, have no responsibility for Government motions, would it he possible for you to establish before tomorrow, first, whether it is in order for a motion to be moved on which it is not possible to complete the remaining stages? I think that any Clerk would agree that that would not be possible. Secondly, is it in order to move a guillotine motion without any reference to the Business Committee? We know that is because, obviously, there is not enough time that the Business Committee could allocate. Thirdly, is it in order under paragraph 8 of this motion to have an arrangement whereby hon. Members will be deprived even of the opportunity of voting on vital amendments? Is it possible to establish before tomorrow whether it is in order for such a constitutional outrage to be moved and placed before the House?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Without passing any comment on what the hon. Gentleman said in his final sentence, I say to him and to the whole House that the motion is amendable and the House will have heard what the Leader of the House said about discussions. It may well be that the House will decide a rather different motion when the matter is debated.

Photo of Mr Ron Leighton Mr Ron Leighton , Newham North East

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is all very well to have discussions through the usual channels, but from your high office, Mr. Speaker, what can you do to safeguard the rights of Back Benchers? It is a monstrous abuse of parliamentary procedure not only that time is not to be allowed to debate the issues but that there will not even be time to vote on the issues raised in the Bill. Do you, Mr. Speaker, not have a say?

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Sadly, it is not a matter for me. As the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) said, I am not responsible for Government motions on the Order Paper. I am responsible for the selection of amendments, and I shall bear these exchanges very much in mind.

Photo of Mr Nigel Spearing Mr Nigel Spearing , Newham South

I should like to take up the point about time, Mr. Speaker. Vv e have already debated this in Committee, and the Chairman of Ways and Means, acting on behalf of the Chair, has selected a number of groups of amendments. On my calculation there are at least eight groups upon which votes can be taken and another two or three groups on the clause stand part debate.

As has been pointed out, the terms of the motion that the Table and you, Mr. Speaker, have permitted to be tabled would prevent some of those votes if hon. Members exercised their right to vote and did not speak on the earlier debates. How is it possible for such a motion to be in order when it prevents even the Question from the Chair being put on the subject that the Chair has already selected for debate? Surely this is a unprecedented motion which requires to be looked at carefully by the Chair. As the protector of the minorities in the House and, indeed, the rights of Parliament against other persons in assemblies who would wish for our power, Mr. Speaker, you have a duty and an opportunity to see whether this is in order.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I am not responsible for the selection of amendments at Committee stage. That is a matter for the Chairman of Ways and Means. The Leader of the House has heard all that has been said about this matter. I think that he appreciates the anxiety expressed about the question of time. [Interruption.] From the point of view of the Chair, I can add nothing to what I have already sand, which is that it is in order for a motion to be placed on the Order Paper, and that that motion is amendable.

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth , Mid Worcestershire

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that the remaining amendments to be considered in this most important business deal with different and specific matters, some of them constitutional and some of them policy matters. You may also be aware that many of us, myself included, have not yet sought to speak on this matter, but may well be anxious to speak on one or other of the specific issues still to come. Therefore, when you, Mr. Speaker, consider the nature of the amendments which may be put down to the motion that will be considered by the House, will you bear in mind the desire of hon. Members to speak on and, following the point that has already been made, to vote on separate and importantly distinctive matters which are contained within this important Bill?

Photo of Mr Eric Deakins Mr Eric Deakins , Walthamstow

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. You are the guardian of the rights of Back Benchers in the House, irrespective of what the Government may do. There are, according to the Chairman of Ways and Means, up to 10 separate debates left for the Committee stages. As only two hours have been allocated, if my arithmetic is correct, there will be an average of 12 minutes per major debate. There is one debate in which we ought to be considering the whole subject of European union and economic and monetary union, and that in 12 minutes.

Is not that an abuse not merely of the rights of Back Benchers but of the constitutional process? Does that not create—I say this advisedly to the Lord Privy Seal—a dangerous precedent for a future Government who might come forward with a guillotine motion allowing, say, only two or three minutes per series of debates? At what stage, Mr. Speaker — I ask you in all sincerity—would you, and the authorities of the House generally, feel that the procedures of the House were being abused by this sort of timetable motion?

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There may be some confusion outside as to why there is so much anger amongst hon. Members on this issue. I am sure that you, Mr. Speaker, will recall that when the Leader of the House announced on Friday his intention to table a guillotine motion he was asked, and appeared unable to reply, when in the past any Government who had not at any stage sought to move a closure motion had sought to introduce a guillotine motion.

You, Mr. Speaker, will recall that on Thursday night and early Friday morning the Government at no stage sought to move a closure motion. On Friday the Government failed miserably to muster anywhere near 100 Members to secure progress. They are now proposing to introduce a guillotine motion to steamroller through important business in a thoroughly disgraceful way. I ask the Leader of the House and you, Mr. Speaker, to protect the right of Back Benchers to speak on these matters, and a number of us have not sought to speak on any occasion so far.

The guillotine motion is a constitutional outrage and a parliamentary abuse. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will respond to the views that have been expressed today and will give the House a reasonable opportunity to debate this important matter.

Photo of Mr Merlyn Rees Mr Merlyn Rees , Leeds South and Morley

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. There has been much protest from both sides of the House, and when the Leader of the House said, "Let's discuss it through the usual channels", I muttered to myself, "Good old Leader of the House; he's a decent chap. That is what one would expect from him." Ten minutes later I do not know what on earth it means. Could it be explained what the two sides will discuss? Why are we all feeling so pleased about it?

Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Chair, Treasury & Civil Service Sub-Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I appreciate that there are to be discussions through the usual channels and I am grateful for that because I have been unable to take part in these debates for quite "armless" reasons. I also appreciate that the distinction between this Bill, a vital constitutional issue which it is proposed to steamroller through, and the Shops Bill, on which the Government announced in advance that there would be no guillotine, is a matter for the Government. But a question for you, Sir, is what other opportunities we, as Members of the House, have to discuss the abdication of our rights and responsibilities to the EEC, which is implicit in the treaty, apart from the Bill, which is being truncated in this fashion?

Photo of Dennis Skinner Dennis Skinner Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I can tell you, Mr. Speaker, that the problem on Friday was that the Government could not find enough Common Market slaves to cut short the debate on the previous Thursday night. At 12.13 am, the Government asked leave to report progress. Long before that, Mr. Speaker, it had been said within your hearing that the debate would go on all night. The Government decided to get rid of nine hours of debating time. They even left the ex-leader of the SDP, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), without any chance to initiate his Adjournment debate as he was putting a supplementary question to the Liberals somewhere else. Of course the right hon. Gentleman should have been in the Chamber defending the Common Market because he was a champion of it. It was rather remarkable that he was absent. However, nine hours of debating time were lost not because of filibusters or long speeches from Opposition Members but because the Government could not find enough hon. Members to stay up and to vote in the Lobby in favour of closure motions.

Now, in your name, Mr. Speaker, the Government say that the House will have to have one hour in which to debate Third Reading and that there will be two hours for the Committee stage. Although I did not support the change, the House recently agreed that speeches could be limited to 10 minutes during debates in which many hon. Members wished to speak. But now you—or whoever is in the Chair—are in the nauseating position of having to stop hon. Members speaking after two minutes, never mind 10.

This constitutional issue means that the Common Market takes away powers not only from Back Benchers but from the Chair. Thus, I suggest that you have an interest in seeing that the constitutional position is upheld, and in ensuring that debate is not limited to three hours.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you not been placed in an invidious position in having to deal with these points of order? As I said on Friday, the Leader of the House has completely ignored your previous ruling that points of order should not be used as a method of making statements. We should have had a business statement today so that the Leader of the House could be answerable to the House. Instead, we have had a succession of disgraceful attempts to avoid interrogation by hon. Members.

At 11 am on Friday the Leader of the House raised a point of order and threatened the House with what he would do at 2.30 pm if we did not come to heel. At 2.30 pm he raised another point of order and announced that he would introduce a guillotine. Today, in response to a point of order, he has again left you to answer the questions and has failed to make a statement. Now that we have seen the terms of the guillotine motion and the truncated nature of the debate allowed under it, it is clear that the Leader of the House should have made a full business statement to the House today.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

I have allowed points of order on this important matter, which affects the rights of the House, to continue under the guise of a statement. I thought that that was the right thing to do, as the Leader of the House was helpful in rising immediately after the point of order raised by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). I am sure that the Leader of the House will have heard the views expressed, and I hope that something will come out of the discussions that are to follow.